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The 10 Best Dive Bars in America

Fri, 2014-10-24 10:01
By: Andy Kryza and Liz Childers

Sometimes, you go to a bar for a fancy cocktail. Sometimes, you go for a rare beer paired with some gastropub innovation. And sometimes -- most times -- you go to drink in a dark, windowless room, where the drinks are stiffer than a 2x4, beers are as yellow as a Frank Zappa snowcone, and conversations are limited to grunts and threats over sitting on "Dave's stool".

For Thrillist's second-annual list of America's best dive bars, we surveyed co-workers, travelers, readers, and several stool-hoarding Daves to find the best no-frills bars in the country. Granted, there are divier bars out there, but these are the ones we recommend spending time in, rather than ones we'd dare you to slam a tallboy in before running for your life. Yes, we know we missed some spots. Let us know in the comments where we should nab our next well whiskey. In the meantime, consider us your personal Ben Kenobi: you won't find more wonderful hives of scum and villainy this side of Tatooine.

More: The 43 Worst People You See In Every Bar

Credit: Kevin Alexander

Alpine Inn -- Portola Valley, CA

First of all, it's called Zott's because it used to be Rossotti's, and everyone just calls it that, okay? Second, it looks like an old-timey saloon from the movie Tombstone, and allegedly was a roadhouse back in the 1800s along the Old Spanish Trail. Third, you need to go here on a sunny day (luckily, most days in Portola Valley are sunny), walk past all the old video games and the scarred, carved-up tables, order a beer and their cheeseburger on a sub roll, and then sit in their glorious beer garden in the back, among the bikers, Stanford kids, and Peninsula locals. And then you need to stay there for a long, long while.

Credit: Crystal Kryza

Back Porch and B&B Bar -- Spearfish, SD

"I know you! You slept with my sister," a shot-slurping woman declared on my first visit to the Back Porch. That seemed unlikely, since I was 20 and with my Grandma the last time I visited this Black Hills town. But then again, a lot of wonderfully salacious things can happen at this wondrous joint housed in a historic old bank building on the college town's Rockwellian Main Street. Bikers en route to Sturgis and locals congregate on the dance floor or look down on the revelry from the balcony as SoDak bands and touring acts rage away. On quieter nights, you can knock back gigantic shots and beers with the regulars who seemingly never leave, served up by staff that straddle the fine line between surly and charming and never let your glass go empty. Which leads to the inevitable question: "Where's that chick's sister?" Probably on the dance floor... two Fireballs, please!

Credit: Flickr/Paul Narvaez

Burt's Tiki Lounge -- Albuquerque, NM

Burt's has a dark, moody vibe, which operates in stark contrast to the sunwashed vast expanse of the nearby New Mexican desert. Add to that a serious bric-a-brac fetish -- with surfboards, oars, and other tropical junk covering the walls -- live rock, and tropical drinks, and you've got yourself a bizarre oasis. It's like stepping into a TGI Fridays that married a dive bar in Oahu, then wandered off into the desert to raise their weird kids. We've said it before, and we'll say it again: Burt's is fantastic.

Credit: Flickr/Wayne Hsieh

Clermont Lounge -- Atlanta, GA

The institution pulls a double hit as a neighborhood dive located in the basement of a former flophouse and as a strip club with such a reputation that tourists flock to its single stage to see 65-year-old dancers take the poles or watch a younger girl light her nipples on fire. You can also catch live bands, but that's only when the strippers aren't choosing their dance songs on the jukebox. The upstairs hotel is in redevelopment as a boutique luxury space, but we can only hope that PBRs will still cost you $2 each, and you can drink those cans while watching Blondie -- the most famous stripper -- crush empty ones between her, uh, cans.

Credit: Laura Hayes

Dan's Cafe -- Washington DC

If you look up "no frills" in the dictionary, you will likely not find it, because it is two different words. But that doesn't stop it from being a damn accurate description for Dan's Cafe, from the name to the decor to the famous sign that's peeling paint as I type. But the glory that is Dan's comes from their heavy hand on the liquor. Seldom do you need to go past two drinks at this place before you are set for the night. So while you have that dictionary open, you may want to re-look for Dan's under "best damn deal". You won't find it in there either, but you get what I'm saying.

Credit: Dan Gentile

Dry Creek -- Austin, TX

From the diary of Thrillist sage David Blend: "I spent four years of college trying to get Sarah Ransom to like me. I wasn't alone. The woman who spent almost 50 years running Dry Creek -- a one-pool-table fixture on Mt. Bonnell with a rickety upper deck that miraculously supported the aimlessness of generations of college slackers and regulars alike -- well, she didn't like anyone, which is why every single piece of press about her (including her obituary) identifies her as 'the meanest bartender in Austin'. My senior year, I finally broke through when I noticed a photo of FM 696 she'd tacked to the wall and told her it was one of the most perfect stretches of road in Texas. She agreed, the first words she'd ever spoken to me besides her infamous warnings of 'Bring down your bottles!' and 'No gambling!'. I think she might have smiled as well, but I can't say for sure. Sarah passed in 2009, but Dry Creek's still there, the beer's still cheap and cold, and the dogs out front still look like they might be feral. They won't really bite you though. At a dive bar, just because you don't act nice doesn't mean you're not welcoming."

Credit: Karin McKenna

Duck Island -- Cleveland, OH

It's a late, snowy night in Cleveland's Tremont neighborhood, and we're approaching the ground level of the old house -- formerly a speakeasy -- that Duck Island calls home. A familiar sound -- Humpty bragging about a Burger King bathroom -- greets us. A DJ is spinning in the tiny den, accompanied by an older woman slamming a set of bongos between drinks of her incendiary whiskey & Coke. This place was once trouble, home to bikers and metalheads. It's since turned into the city's most friendly dive, with retro-futuristic furniture, deep-red walls, and a bar serving a mix of fizzy yellow beer, a surprisingly well-curated selection of micros, and cocktails ranging from standard to complex... unified by their extreme generosity of spirits. Speaking of generous spirits, everyone -- young and old -- in the crowded bar was offered a solo on the bongos. And hugs were doled out freely. This place feels like home, and it would even if it wasn't actually in a house. Peace and Humptiness will do that to people.

Credit: Sean Cooley

Happy Village -- Chicago, IL

Parked on a nondescript residential corner like so many quintessential Chicago taverns, Happy Village nails many of the expected dive bar essentials. Darkness? Check. The feeling that you might be drinking in someone's basement? Check. Visits from a dude selling tamales out of a cooler? Well, maybe that's just a Chicago dive staple... but, still, check. Separating Happy Village, however, is a side room devoted entirely to a pair of coveted ping-pong tables (don't try to play beer pong in here, these are for real feats of athleticism). But the crown jewel is the beer garden out back, with its tent and fountain and cheap plastic furniture all adding up to the feeling that you're attending an eighth-grade graduation party with a bunch of people who took WAYYY too long to finish eighth grade.

Credit: Suzi Pratt

Linda's Tavern -- Seattle, WA

Before she opened Seattle's King's Hardware, The Bait Shop, and Tallulah's, prolific booze-slinger Linda Derschang's first (and eponymous) drinking destination started serving suds & spirits to the musicians/cool kids of Capitol Hill over 20 years ago, all under the watch of a beautiful taxidermy buffalo hung in a rough-hewn, wood-heavy space that's hosted everyone from political candidates to Kurt Cobain, who was seen entering the bar a day before his death. To this day, they say it still smells like Teen Spirit. And by Teen Spirit, we mean whiskey.

Credit: Lindsey McClave

Magnolia Bar & Grill -- Louisville, KY

Don't be mistaken: there's absolutely no grill inside the Mag Bar -- but you're not there for the food anyway. The dimly-lit dive has the requisite pool tables, a pinball machine, and a loaded punk-heavy jukebox. Plus, one of the most disgusting bathrooms you'll ever consider -- and then reconsider -- stepping into. Don't touch the pole on the dance floor. Do show up for the Wednesday dance party that manages to combine dive standards with EDM music and college girls dancing on tables. It all somehow works. As long as the rickety tables hold up.

Head over to to check 11 more of the best, no-frills, dive bars in the country!

More from Thrillist:

23 American Beers To Drink Before You Die

15 Sure-Fire Ways To Get On Any Bartender's Bad Side

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The DEA Once Turned A 14-Year-Old Into A Drug Kingpin. Welcome To The War On Drugs

Fri, 2014-10-24 09:47
This is the second part of a two-part series. Read part one here.

Americans spent approximately $100 billion a year on illegal drugs between 2000 and 2010, according to a 2012 report published by the RAND corporation. Part of the Drug Enforcement Administration's job, alongside several other law enforcement agencies, is to make that process more difficult at home, where harsh federal drug laws have ensured that such transactions are conducted -- until recently, in some states -- entirely on the black market. The DEA also works to cut off imported illicit drugs at the source, which means mounting operations around the world to tackle a global drug trade that generates $322 billion annually, according to UN estimates.

It's a gargantuan task. Critics of the war on drugs say it's an impossible one. Over 40 years, the U.S. has spent more than $1 trillion in the fight. Thousands of people on both sides of the battle have lost their lives. In the end, it's led only to cheaper, higher quality drugs at home and abroad, and by most accounts, little change in the number of people using them. While the momentum may finally be shifting away from an enforcement-first national drug policy and toward prevention and treatment, aggressive enforcement of the nation's drug laws doesn't appear to be going anywhere just yet.

Until the nation drastically rethinks its approach on drugs, the DEA will continue to play an integral part in the war against them, and that sometimes means resorting to controversial tactics. Below, find out how domestic spying, broken promises and a 14-year-old from Detroit have all played a part in that seemingly endless struggle.

The DEA has been spying on U.S. citizens with a surveillance program more expansive than the NSA's.

Just months after Edward Snowden unmasked the National Security Agency's massive domestic spying program, The New York Times broke news of the Hemisphere Project, which pairs experts from telecommunications giant AT&T with federal and local anti-drug officials, including DEA agents. It gives law enforcement officials access to "every call that passes through an AT&T switch -- not just those made by AT&T customers -- and includes calls dating back 26 years," according to the Times report. That's around 4 billion call records every day, each logged with information on the location of callers. The official government slideshow describing the program suggested it had been helpful in tracking drug dealers who frequently change phones, or use disposable "burner" phones.

The White House attempted to allay privacy concerns about the Hemisphere Project last year, noting that AT&T stores the collected data, unlike in the NSA's program, in which data is turned over to the government. Federal officials can quickly access the records, however, often within an hour of a subpoena.

The ACLU criticized the apparent secrecy of the program, which had been in existence for six years before being revealed by the Times in 2013. The organization suggested that blanket surveillance and close federal involvement could represent a violation of the Fourth Amendment protections against unreasonable search and seizure.

"Hemisphere is deeply troubling, not only because the government is amassing detailed, comprehensive information about people who've done nothing wrong, but also because the government has deliberately kept Hemisphere secret, even from criminal defendants who've been subjected to the program," wrote ACLU attorney Linda Lye.

And the DEA instructs agents not to tell the truth about sources of key intelligence.

A Reuters report, also from 2013, detailed how the DEA's Special Operations Division, or SOD, teaches agents to cover up vital tips that come from the department. A DEA document obtained by Reuters shows that federal agents are trained in "parallel construction," in which essential intelligence obtained SOD wiretaps, informants or other surveillance methods can be concealed by crediting it to another source.

An unnamed former federal agent who received tips from the SOD gave an example of how the process worked: "You'd be told only, 'Be at a certain truck stop at a certain time and look for a certain vehicle.' And so we'd alert the state police to find an excuse to stop that vehicle, and then have a drug dog search it," the agent said.

If an arrest was made, agents were instructed to hide the fact that the initial tip had come from SOD, and instead use "normal investigative techniques to recreate the information." This process is sometimes used to hide case details from prosecutors and judges, as well as defense attorneys. Several lawyers told Reuters that the practice could jeopardize a defendant's constitutional right to fair trial and cover up evidence that might otherwise be inadmissible.

DEA officials defended the technique, however, calling it a common law enforcement tool that allows the SOD to crack high-profile cases.

The DEA has confidential informants who have made it a lifetime career.

Confidential informants -- sometimes referred to as "snitches" -- are crucial assets in the DEA's war on drugs. In 2005, the agency told the Justice Department it has around 4,000 of these sources actively working for it at any given time. Many of these informants are recruited after being caught for drug crimes themselves, and are offered a chance to work for the DEA as a way to earn a reduced sentence. Others have made a full-time profession out of informing, a controversial practice in itself, as some critics suggest it encourages longtime informants to go after and potentially entrap low-level dealers rather than higher profile targets.

Informants can make tens or even hundreds of thousands of dollars helping the government prosecute and convict drug dealers, with payment often contingent on how much money is seized in an eventual bust. That's how Andrew Chambers Jr. once made a name for himself as "the highest-paid snitch in DEA history," with a 16-year career as a federal informant between 1984 and 2000, during which time he reportedly netted as much as $4 million in government money, nearly half of it from the DEA. A report earlier this year in the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette found that Chambers was only one of the agency's million-dollar informants.

Chambers, seen in a YouTube video from the Speakers Agency.

The "highest-paid snitch in DEA history" was also found to have lied repeatedly in testimony. Despite his reputation, he recently resumed work with the DEA.

Chambers' work with the DEA halted in 2000, after a review of testimony revealed he'd committed perjury in at least 16 cases, when he lied on the witness stand about his credentials. Agents who'd worked closely with Chambers during the time, however -- including Michele Leonhart, who became DEA administrator in 2010 -- spoke highly of him despite the criticism that made him a national story. Around the time of Leonhart's confirmation, the DEA reactivated Chambers as an informant.

While his current role with the DEA is unclear, legal professionals have expressed concerns beyond Chambers' record of perjury. Defense attorneys told the Arizona Republic that he regularly failed to record introductory meetings, which left open the possibility that he was entrapping suspects and compromising cases.

Shortly after news broke that Chambers had resumed working with the DEA, a case in which he served as the primary informant fell apart and federal prosecutors asked for the charges to be dismissed.

Confidential informants are given so much free rein that one top DEA source actually had his own sub-network of informants.

While the DEA has released information about the general size of the program and the basic guidelines under which it operates, less is known about exactly how -- and to what extent -- the agency controls its informants.

The perils of this ambiguity were exposed in 2004, when it was revealed that a star DEA informant was actually paying his own sub-informants to help him set up drug deals. In one case, in which this arrangement wasn't initially revealed to defense attorneys, a sub-informant made a number of calls to a defendant who would later be facing charges for trafficking methamphetamines. The calls weren't recorded, however, which opened up the possibility that the alleged meth trafficker had actually been pressured to go through with the deal that led to his arrest. A judge determined that this raised the possibility of entrapment and ordered federal prosecutors to release a full list of the cases in which the informant and sub-informant had collaborated. When the government refused, the judge threw out the indictment and freed the defendant, writing that the DEA had tried to "shield itself from accountability by hiring someone outside of law enforcement who is free to violate citizens' rights."

In a ruling explaining her decision, the judge also blasted the DEA, suggesting it was "highly unlikely" that it was unaware of the informant's sub-contractors. In an earlier case, the informant had testified that he'd never told his DEA handlers about his network, and that they'd never asked.

The DEA allows informants to break the law, but have no records as to how often it happens.

Federal agencies came under fire in 2012 in the wake of the Fast and Furious gun-walking scandal for not adequately tracking instances in which they authorize informants to commit crimes in the line of government duty. In the case of Fast and Furious, gun dealers working with the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives sold 2,000 weapons to Mexican cartels, but failed to have them traced. In response to a USA Today report, both the ATF and DEA claimed they were "in compliance" with rules determining when they could advise their informants to break the law.

Both agencies also acknowledged that they didn't track how frequently they granted such permission.

Some congressional representatives have called for more accountability among federal agencies with regard to informants. Rep. Stephen Lynch (D-Mass.) sponsored an unsuccessful bill in 2013 that would have required federal agencies to report to lawmakers whenever an informant commits a serious crime, with or without authorization.

One of America's most notorious terrorists once served as a DEA informant.

In 2013, David Coleman Headley, an American of Pakistani descent, was sentenced to 35 years in prison for plotting the 2008 Mumbai terrorist attacks, which killed at least 164 people and wounded hundreds more. Government officials with knowledge of Headley's past spoke of a man who had grown increasingly radicalized in the years leading up to the attack, but subsequent reporting also followed up on his work as a confidential informant for the DEA between 1997 and 2005, according to sources.

The DEA, which sent Headley on a number of trips to gather intelligence on heroin traffickers in Pakistan, has denied that he was working officially with the agency as late as 2005, or at any time when he was receiving training at militant camps in the region.

An Indian soldier takes cover as the Taj Mahal hotel burns during gun battle between Indian military and militants in Mumbai, India. (AP Photo/David Guttenfelder, File)

Another informant allegedly shot and killed a man who confronted him for molesting his child.

Sometimes informants get caught doing unauthorized dirty deeds while on the agency's payroll. In Albuquerque, the DEA is facing a lawsuit claiming it was negligent in supervising an informant who allegedly shot and killed another man earlier this year. The informant has been charged in the man's death, as well as with criminal sexual penetration of a child under 13 and a host of other charges. The victim had allegedly confronted the informant over the sexual assault of his son when he was shot. The suit is seeking $50 million in damages, alleging that the informant had prior felony convictions and a history of violence and should not have been recruited by the DEA.

The DEA strung one informant along for 20 years with the promise of citizenship. She still hasn't received it.

When Norma was just 19 years old, she became a confidential informant for the DEA. She told her story to Yolanda Gonzalez Gomez as part of a partnership between New America Media and HuffPost Voces. Norma explained how desperation and the promise of citizenship led her to sign up for a commitment she knew little about. Over the course of 20 years, Norma says she repeatedly put her life on the line for the DEA, and in return, she got paid, although she said agents sometimes refused to give her the money she was owed. Citizenship, however, never came, and now Norma fears she'll be deported and sent back to Mexico, where she hasn't lived since she was 5 years old. She also said she believes her life would be in danger there as a result of her work for the DEA.

Norma is an alias -- she asked that her real name be withheld -- but immigration attorney Jodi Goodwin knows stories like hers are not uncommon. "Federal government agencies use and abuse undocumented confidential informants for years, trample their rights with impunity, promise them permanent residency and never deliver on it," she told Gomez. "And they know they don't have to deliver on it. But they keep pressuring them with that promise so they will keep cooperating."

The DEA has also been accused of using other exploitative means to recruit assets.

In a lawsuit filed earlier this year, a New Mexico man and former DEA informant alleged that the agency had recruited him by targeting his history of substance abuse. An attorney representing 38-year-old Aaron Romero claimed that her client had recently beaten a crack cocaine addiction in 2011, when a DEA-sponsored informant offered him the opportunity to sell drugs -- provided to him by the U.S. government -- and to feed the agency information on other drug dealers. His payment, Romero's attorney alleged, came in the form of crack for personal use. Romero relapsed, his attorney said, and was eventually arrested on federal counts of distributing crack cocaine near a school, charges that were ultimately dropped after he spent a number of months in jail.

The DEA once turned a teenager into a drug kingpin so he could act as an informant.

In the 1980s, federal agents with the DEA and FBI plucked 14-year-old Richard Wershe from his Detroit high school and began crafting a new identity for him as a drug kingpin. Over the next few years, the teenage Wershe would live a double life, one as the legend who'd later be known as White Boy Rick, one of the most notorious drug lords in city, and the other as a valuable informant for the DEA and other law enforcement agencies.

"I was just a kid when the agents pulled me out of high school in the ninth grade and had me out to 3 in the morning every night," Wershe told The Fix in 2013. "They gave me a fake ID when I was 15 that said I was 21 so I could travel to Vegas and to Miami to do drug deals."

With intelligence provided by Wershe, authorities were able to make a series of high-profile arrests, disrupting Detroit's rampant drug trade and the police corruption that had grown alongside it.

But in 1988, then 17 and no longer an informant, Wershe was pulled over and busted for work in the same drug business as the one to which the DEA had introduced him. The 17 pounds of cocaine found in his car resulted in a life sentence. He's the only convict still behind bars in Michigan to receive a life sentence as a minor under the state's now-repealed "650-lifer" law. Many of the targets whom Wershe helped put in jail have long since been released.

The DEA did treat one informant very nicely, giving him nearly $900,000 for information it could have gotten for free.

The Associated Press reported in August that the DEA had paid an Amtrak secretary $854,460 over nearly 20 years as an informant to pass confidential information about passenger reservations. But as the AP reported, Amtrak police are already part of an anti-drug task force that includes the DEA, and would have given the agency that information free of charge.

For more on the sketchiest things the DEA has done, read part one of this series.

Chefs Kornick, Izard, Gand and Restaurateurs Levy and Stefani Inducted Into the Chicago Chefs Hall of Fame

Fri, 2014-10-24 09:39
On October 16, chefs Stephanie Izard of Girl and the Goat and Little Goat (Chef of the Year), Gale Gand of Spritz Burger (Pastry Chef of the Year), Michael Kornick of MK, Ada Street and DMK Burger Bar among others (Legendary Chef), and restaurateurs Phil Stefani of 437 Rush among others (Industry Leader) and Larry Levy of Levy Restaurants (Industry Legend) were inducted into the Chicago Chefs Hall of Fame for 2014.

The celebratory event took place at Castle nightclub with over 25 restaurants and chefs in attendance offering food samples to the large crowd. Before the festivities started in full, I interviewed Izard, Gand, Stefani and Kornick, a previous guest chef on The Dinner Party. However, due to the crowds and music, we had to conduct the interviews on the first floor, through and behind the kitchen in the back dry storage area! A first for me...and them!

In short interviews with four of the five inductees (Levy was out of town and wasn't in attendance), we discussed how the Chicago culinary scene has developed over the years, where it is going and how it compares to other international cities around the globe, as well as advice for young chefs and a few regrets.

Enjoy this candid and off-the-cuff podcast below with four of Chicago's most influential chefs and restaurateurs highlighting the fact that we live in one of the most important and creative culinary cities in the world.

12 Reasons Why Writer Jamaica Kincaid Is A Total Badass

Fri, 2014-10-24 08:03
Jamaica Kincaid is simply not one to mince words.

When she speaks, the revered 65-year-old Antiguan-American novelist does so deliberately -- and she's not afraid to interrupt a question when she sees it fit.

Kincaid, who got her start at the New Yorker during the magazine's William Shawn era in the '70s, has produced work that has earned her an enviable list of awards, including an American Book Award for her latest novel, 2013's See Now Then.

One gets the impression Kincaid is afraid of nothing -- something that comes across in her writing, as well. Her work, at times, has been criticized for being "angry," a criticism she's rightfully dismissed as invalid, saying her work is only labeled that because she is black and a woman.

Based on an interview with The Huffington Post, here are just some of the many qualities that make Kincaid -- and her work -- so incredible.

She's humble. Very humble.
When asked about her writing process, Kincaid said it changes with every book: "I don't really have a standard. I'm not really a professional anything, a professional teacher or a professional writer. I suppose I'm a professional breather of oxygen."

She doesn't like taking life too seriously.
"I've never thought of myself as having a profession because then I'd have to take life really seriously," she said. "I hate taking life seriously, because there's time enough for seriousness. What is death if not serious, and that seems to last forever."

She saves her nice side for students.
When Henry Louis Gates Jr. asked Kincaid to teach at Harvard, where she's taught since 1992, she said had "never really thought of doing it before" and didn't feel particularly drawn to it.

However, she says she enjoys it: "It forces me to be kind and to be in a very present state of mind. Writing requires its opposite -- it requires no kindness or consideration of others. It forces me to be a nice person."

She has no need for Twitter, Facebook or any other social media.
"I plan to never know how to use these things. Life is too short."

She can always get down with a good ol' literary classic.
Kincaid said Herman Melville's Moby-Dick is the last book she read. "I read every sentence twice because I couldn't believe how beautiful it was," she said. "I read it when I was young, but it's still so fresh and wonderful. I still like books with pages."

She doesn't hesitate to address her haters.
"I wish people would just say, 'I'm too stupid to understand this book' and maybe just leave things alone. People tend to blame a writer for writing something they're too stupid to understand."

(Story continues below)

Kincaid in Rome, Italy, in 2010.

She doesn't appreciate being pigeonholed -- and will let you know it.
When asked what about her writing is most frequently misunderstood, Kincaid said she's grown tired of her work being viewed through the prism of race, something she has little interest in. "I'm almost never thinking of race in particular since I have no real respect for race and don't particularly understand it or care about it," she said.

Still, she doesn't hesitate to speak frankly about race in America.
When asked about the New York Times' controversy concerning TV writer and producer Shonda Rhimes being depicted as an "angry black woman," as well as the protests in Ferguson, Missouri, Kincaid called present-day racism mystifying.

"I think when we look at black people, we just lose our senses. We still can't believe we're here, that they're here. There are black people in America and, God, they're kind of smart! It's still a surprise," she said. "It's like everyone lived in a dream when they were voting for Obama. Who did they think they were voting for? He's a black guy!"

She's more than OK with changing her mind.
Kincaid resigned from the New Yorker, where her career took wind, in 1996 due, in part, to the magazine becoming more celebrity-oriented. But she says has absolutely no problem with Hollywood A-Listers like Tom Hanks writing in the magazine today.

"It's possible that Tom Hanks is a great writer. There's a possibility that we all will be great writers," she said.

And though Kincaid has previously been critical of civil rights leaders like the Rev. Jesse Jackson, she says now "nothing about Jesse Jackson frustrates me. I leave Jesse Jackson alone. I wish we had more Jesse Jacksons and Al Sharptons and less of that idiot Rick Scott from North Carolina or wherever, or Ben Carson."

In her opinion, there is such a thing as a dumb question.
Kincaid also said she's grown weary about being asked the specific degree to which her semi-autobiographical fiction is autobiographical.

"We live in a world in which everyone is very interested in your private life and I don't really have a private life," she said. "But I suppose I object to the idea that I can't reflect on something without it being my life as a scandal, as opposed to my life as a thinking person. The questions about whether [my work] is autobiographical are annoying for sure."

She's got a searing sense of humor.
When asked about what she's working on, Kincaid said: "Oh the usual: a book with very long sentences, and only two or three people on the face of Earth who speak English will like it."

She doesn't care about the noise.
"I know what I'm trying to do: I'm trying to write a book and trying to write an original book. Those are the things that concern me. I'm always trying to write an original sentence or trying to figure out why I can't grow blue poppies in Vermont or how to keep a woodchuck out of my garden or something like that."

Jamaica Kincaid will appear at Cahn Auditorium in Evanston as part of the Chicago Humanities Festival on Oct. 25.

8 Super Weird Things You Didn't Know About Halloween

Fri, 2014-10-24 07:29
This weird Halloween trivia isn't boo-gus.

Halloween is a time for candy, costumes and the Charlie Brown cartoon special, but how did it become this way? Why are children and teens encouraged to run around the neighborhood threatening tricks? Jack-o'-lanterns are a pretty strange concept, but historically, strangers giving you candy was supposed to be a bad thing.

You may already think that Halloween is a pretty bizarre holiday: What other celebration could inspire both a Sexy Olaf costume and spooky drones? That said, sexy snowmen can't hold a candle to Halloween's truly bizarre origins (even if that's just because a snowman would melt if it held a candle). Chances are you really have no idea just how weird Halloween truly is, so here are eight facts to fix that...

1. Originally, you had to dance for your "treat."

Most experts trace trick-or-treating to the European practice of "mumming," or "guysing," in which costume-wearing participants would go door-to-door performing choreographed dances, songs and plays in exchange for treats. According to Elizabeth Pleck's "Celebrating The Family," the tradition cropped up in America, where it would often take place on Thanksgiving.

In some early versions of trick-or-treating, men paraded door-to-door, and boys often followed, begging for coins. Most of these early trick-or-treaters were poor and actually needed the money, but wealthy children also joined in the fun. Door-to-door "begging" was mostly stopped in the 1930s, but re-emerged later in the century to distract kids from pulling Halloween pranks.

2. Halloween is more Irish than St. Patrick's Day.

Halloween's origins come from a Celtic festival for the dead called "Samhain." Celts believed the ghosts of the dead roamed Earth on this holiday, so people would dress in costumes and leave "treats" out on their front doors to appease the roaming spirits. Granted, the Celts were not solely based in Ireland when these customs started taking shape around the first century B.C., but as will be talked about more in a later section, the Irish Celts were the ones who invented the jack-o'-lantern. This Halloween prototype was eventually disrupted and adapted by Christian missionaries into celebrations closer to what we celebrate today, including partly by the not-Irish St. Patrick, whose work was later mostly recognized by Americans.

"St. Patrick's Day was basically invented in America by Irish-Americans," said Philip Freeman, a classics professor at Luther College in Iowa. According to National Geographic, the holiday was only a "minor religious holiday" until the 1970s in Ireland. So it's not all that Irish. And for what it's worth, St. Patrick probably wasn't Irish himself, his color was a type of blue, not green, and that story about banishing snakes is actually just a metaphor for his triumph over Irish paganism. The type of paganism that invented Halloween.

3. If you'd been around for the earliest Halloween celebrations, you might have worn animal skins and heads.

According to ancient Roman records, tribes located in today's Germany and France traditionally wore costumes of animal heads and skins to connect to spirits of the dead. This tradition continued into modern day celebrations of Samhain, the Celtic holiday that inspired Halloween in America. On this day, merry-makers often dressed as evil spirits simply by blackening their faces. The leader of the Samhain parades wore a white sheet and carried a wooden horse head or a decorated horse skull (a modern Welsh version of this costume is shown above). Young people also celebrated by cross-dressing.

Image: WikiCommons

4. Jack-o'-lanterns were once made out of turnips, beets and potatoes -- not pumpkins.

The jack-o'-lantern comes from an old Irish tale about a man named Stingy Jack. According to folklore, Stingy Jack was out getting sloshed with the Devil when Jack convinced his drinking partner to turn himself into a coin to pay for the drinks without spending money. Jack then put the Devil, shaped like a coin, into his pocket, which also contained a silver cross that kept the Devil from transforming back. Jack promised to free the Devil as long as the Devil wouldn't bother him for a year, and if he died, the Devil could never claim his soul. Jack tricked the Devil again later, getting him to pick a piece of fruit out of a tree and then carving a cross into the bark when the Devil was in the branches. This trick bought Jack another 10 years of devil-free living.

When Jack finally died, God decided he wasn't fit for heaven, but the Devil had promised never to claim his soul for hell. So Jack was sent off to roam Earth with only a burning coal for light. He put the coal into a turnip as a lantern, and Stingy Jack became "Jack of the Lantern" or "Jack o' Lantern." Based on this myth, the Irish carved scary faces into turnips, beets and potatoes to scare away Stingy Jack or any other spirits of the night.

Images: WikiCommons

5. Halloween used to be a great day to find your soulmate.

In some parts of Ireland, people celebrated Halloween by playing romantic fortune-telling games, according to Nicholas Rogers' "Halloween: From Pagan Ritual To Party Night." These games allegedly predicted who they'd marry, and when. Since Halloween, like Valentine's Day, was one of the main celebrations of the year where young people could mingle with the opposite sex, it was also considered a good day to scope out a sweetheart. In America, young people, particularly girls, continued the old Irish tradition. Games, like bobbing for apples, tried to predict future romances, according to the "Oxford Encyclopedia of Food and Drink in America."

6. In a few American towns, Halloween was originally referred to as "Cabbage Night."

This came from a Scottish fortune-telling game, where girls used cabbage stumps to predict information about their future husbands. In the early Framingham, Massachusetts, teens skipped the fortune-telling and simply went around throwing cabbage at their neighbors' houses, according to Framingham Legends & Lore. This was no isolated tradition: In late 19th century America, country boys reportedly rejoiced in throwing cabbage, corn and assorted rotten vegetables, according to "Candy: A Century of Panic and Pleasure."

7. Some animal shelters won't allow the adoption of black cats around Halloween for fear they'll be sacrificed.

It's unclear whether black cats are actually sacrificed around Halloween, but various animal shelters refuse to let people adopt these cats in the lead-up to the holiday. Lynda Garibaldi, director of The Cats' Cradle in Morganton, North Carolina, told The Huffington Post that the shelter "does not adopt out black cats during the month of October ... because of superstition and the concern that the wrong people (who might harm them) might adopt them."

This type of ban is starting to wane, however. When reached for comment, Emily Weiss, vice president of Shelter Research and Development at the ASPCA, said, "Years ago, this used to be pretty common -- that shelters would not adopt out cats during Halloween for fear of something horrible happening to the cats, but we don't hear too much anymore. And many, many shelters are actually [holding] a special black cat promotion around the holiday."

ASPCA provided this list of a few of the black cat adoption promotions that have been tied to the holiday. As Weiss put it, "Most people who go to shelters to adopt a pet are not going to adopt a pet to sacrifice into ritual."

8. Studies have shown that Halloween actually makes kids act more evil.

As io9 points out, putting costume-wearing kids into groups and introducing a clear object of desire, such as candy, has been shown to lead to "deindividuation." This psychological term explains what happens when a group of maturing young minds begins to care less about the consequences of their individual actions, leading them to do things that they might not do alone.

One study in particular found that unsupervised costumed children in groups were far more likely to steal candy and money than both non-costumed kids and children not in a group. Another similar study found that masked children were significantly more likely to take more Halloween candy than they were supposed to if they believed there was no adult supervision.

All photos are from Getty Images, unless otherwise noted.

ReThink Review: <i>Dear White People</i> -- Lessons for Republicans and the "Post-Racial" Generation

Fri, 2014-10-24 03:53
A lot of people interested in race issues (including myself) have been eagerly awaiting the arrival of Dear White People, a film about a group of black students at a mostly white university that was funded through Indiegogo and eventually made it to the 2014 Sundance Film Festival where its writer/director Justin Simien won the U.S. Dramatic Special Jury Award for Breakthrough Talent. With Dear White People currently earning a 95% Fresh rating on Rotten Tomatoes and spreading to theaters nationwide this week, the film has palpable momentum as issues like white privilege, cultural appropriation, and the systemic racism and discrimination illuminated by Michael Brown's killing in Ferguson, Missouri are getting more attention than ever. But even with its seemingly perfect cultural timing, is Dear White People as relevant and hype worthy as it seems? Watch the trailer for Dear White People below.

The film takes place at the fictional Winchester University, an Ivy-League-type school whose small population of black students has been roiled by new housing rules that have effectively eliminated the school's only traditionally black residence hall, Armstrong Parker House. That issue gets a jolt when Samantha White, a black film student (Tessa Thompson), unexpectedly becomes head of Armstrong Parker, deposing golden boy Troy Fairbanks (Brandon P. Bell) who also happens to be the son of Winchester's dean of students (Dennis Haysbert). Sam, an artist at heart with a rebel soul, shares her outspoken views on racism and cultural identity on her radio show "Dear White People," informing the white student body why racism is flourishing and why many of the ways white people attempt to prove their lack of racism fall flat.

Sam is secretly dating a white teacher's assistant in her film class (Justin Dobies), but she used to date Troy, who's having his own problems with his white girlfriend (Brittany Curran) who happens to be the daughter of Winchester's president (Peter Syvertsen) who's jerk of a son (Kyle Gallner) runs the school's National Lampoon-like comedy magazine Pastiche, which Troy would love to join. Also vying for a place on Pastiche is Colondrea "Coco" Connors, a black student (Teyonah Parris) who believes the best way for her to move up in the world is by assimilating, though she's willing to be more controversial if it earns her more YouTube subscribers and a role on a reality show casting on the campus. Meanwhile, the more militant Reggie (Marque Richardson) has a crush on Sam and seems to be a more socially and culturally acceptable match for her. Bearing witness to all of this is Lionel (Tyler James Williams), a gay nerd (though he hates the categorizations) who doesn't feel comfortable in any of Winchester's social groups, though he seems to find a home with the school newspaper, whose editors feel that Lionel's blackness will give him extra insight, access, and permission to write about the race issues brought out by Sam's election.

If that seems like an awful lot of characters and subplots, it should, and my main problem with Dear White People is that it tries to do way too much with too many characters, like Simien felt that this may be his only chance to make a feature film so he had to jam everything he'd ever wanted to say about racism and racial campus politics into this one film. This leads to a movie that's constantly jumping from issue to issue, character to character, and subplot to subplot, providing a lot of breadth without much depth. The acting is mostly good with dialogue that's a little too earnest and on-the-nose. And as someone who's done some stand up comedy, I was personally offended by the fact that all of the people involved in or aspiring to join Pastiche are the film's most humorless characters, though the film is consistently seasoned with clever humor.

Dear White People may suffer for its many ambitions, but I'm certainly glad it has them and am even more glad that this film exists at all. That's because Dear White People is the first film to really address race in the post-Obama era head on, where even influential black people like Pharrell, Raven Symone, and Donald Glover (in what's called the "New Black" movement) have declared that racism against blacks is no longer relevant, seemingly agreeing with white Republicans who go further to claim that even invoking the subject of racism amounts to race-baiting unless it's talking about how straight white people are the only REAL victims of discrimination in America today. And I understand how a lot of young people may honestly feel that racism is a relic of the past that America just needs to get over, especially since so many of their pop culture heroes, and even the nation's first family, are black.

But that idealistic, or perhaps ignorant, mindset doesn't seem to have an answer to things like Ferguson, Republicans' blatant efforts to disenfranchise black voters, how black people are discriminated against in the workplace, or the large, small, and inadvertent indignations that so many black people continue to face every day just because they're black. And Dear White People is quick to point out that sometimes these indignations come from within the black community itself, as characters sometimes struggle with their own blackness, worrying if they're seen as too black, not black enough, or can be comfortable carving out their own spaces somewhere in between.

Dear White People is sure to become both a cult hit and a staple on college campuses across the country, and I'm glad for it since the movie ultimately ends with more questions than answers. And with an issue as multi-faceted as racism, that is as it should be -- if there really were easy answers, we'd all agree on them and quietly and unanimously abolish racism forever. But there aren't, especially as a large percentage of Americans refuse to even acknowledge that racism and its role in America's history have any effect on how Americans live today. But one thing Dear White People is crystal clear on is that racism exists, and that we're nowhere near the post-racial America so many wish us to be.

As my girlfriend and I were leaving the screening of Dear White People, an older black woman who was reviewing the film stopped us to ask what we thought of it. Because what struck her most about Dear White People is how most of the issues that were brought up in the film are the same ones she faced as she fought for black people's civil rights over 50 years ago. And that's a message that Republicans and the so-called post-racial generation need to get through their heads. Just because you don't see racism or don't want to see it doesn't mean it's not there. As Bergen Evans said, and quoted in the movie Magnolia, "We may be through with the past, but the past is not through with us." Or perhaps more appropriately regarding racism in America, we can look to William Faulkner who said, "The past is never dead. It's not even past."

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A Trend in European Cities: The Anti-Cafe

Fri, 2014-10-24 02:31
Image by Ziferblat

There's an interesting trend emerging in some cities in Europe, called Anti-Cafe. For those unfamiliar with it, it might conjure up a great deal of questions as to what it is. When I asked around if people knew about it I got back answers like "A place where there's no coffee allowed," or "Somewhere you can only work, but not drink or eat, like a museum" or even "A hipster name for take-out coffee, you can't stay and hang out like you would in a cafe." It was a small-scale 'questionnaire' if you will, which helped me realize that A: Some people have the wildest connotations with Hipsters, and B: An Anti-Cafe is quite an unknown concept for some.

Image by Ziferblat

Here's what it actually is: at an Anti-Cafe you do not pay for the things you consume like drinks or snacks, but actually for the time you've spent there. When I revealed this to some of my 'subjects', I saw some wide-eyed looks of people expecting visitors to pay through the nose to spend an hour in such a place (one guessed it had to be around € 10 per hour, no faith that one!). Well, no worries, pioneer Ivan Meeting in Moscow assures visitors they can't spend more than 540 RUB a day (about € 10) at his locations in Moscow. His chain of Anti-Cafes is called Ziferblat (Clock Face) and can be found around the world in cities like Saint-Petersburg, Ljubljana, London, Kiev and soon also in New York.

Besides the Ziferblat chain, there are some similar places in Europe. Spotted by Locals has 57 city blogs where a team of locals (Spotters) blog about their favorite places. Two of our Spotters, Dmitri Korobtsov (Tallinn) and Ivan Marra (Rome) have listed an anti-cafe as one of their favorite spots. There's 'The Flat' in Tallinn which we also visited when we were there and we loved it. It was so communal and social, a great place to meet the locals. Ivan's favorite in Rome is AntiCafè Roma. What's unique about that last one, is you can bring your own snacks but you also have unlimited access to their bar which serves hot and cold drinks, snacks and sweets.

Image by Ziferblat

This concept is perfect for folks looking for a quiet place to work as most locations also have printers and scanners and such. You're allowed to bring your own snacks and drinks and sometimes you can attend (or organise) some great events, exhibitions, readings and parties. So one could say it's an Anti-Cafe because it's MORE than a cafe. It's a social and cultural epicentre.

The Women's Vote: Ebola or Equal Pay?

Thu, 2014-10-23 23:20
Ebola panic is sweeping the nation, with schools closing and people barricading themselves at home, even if they're thousands of miles away from one of the three individuals who have contracted virus on U.S. soil. Politicians, always eager to take advantage of voters' fears, are jumping on the bandwagon hoping it will pay off at the ballot box.

Republican Senate candidates Thom Tillis (NC) and David Perdue (GA) blame President Obama -- and by reflection their Democratic opponents -- for the crisis in Africa. In Minnesota Republican Mike McFadden has revamped his stump speech to capitalize on Ebola fears here at home in his bid to unseat democrat Al Franken.

Voters, especially women, aren't buying the baloney. According to Gallup equal pay is the number one concern for women, followed closely by equal opportunity. Women are still making only 77 cents on the dollar when compared to men for full time year round work.

Women know that when you get paid what you're worth, you can buy the necessities for your family. When you have equal opportunity, you can take pride in your job and give the employer your best. When you get paid what you're worth, you can stay off public assistance and contribute more to charity and your community.

But many politicians don't want women to get paid what they're worth. They'd rather dodge the conversation by hyping extremely unlikely events like a U.S. Ebola "epidemic" and hoping you won't notice their records when it comes to women. The Paycheck Fairness Act, which would not mandate what employers pay, but would prohibit them from firing workers for discussing pay, has languished in Congress for over 20 years. The last time it came up in the Senate in September, Republicans wouldn't even let debate go forward, much less allow a vote.

Ebola-hawking candidates are trying for a bait and switch, but my bet's on women. Voting for someone who plays on Ebola fears while denying female workers a chance at equal pay is a fool's game -- and female voters are not fools. Unless they're health care workers actually treating an Ebola patient, the chances of a U.S. citizen contracting the virus are virtually non-existent. On the other hand, the chances of a woman in the U.S. workforce making less than a man beside her doing the same work are close to 99 in 100.

And the chances of a Republican-controlled Senate voting for equal pay in the next two years? Approximately zero.

Listen to the 2 minute radio commentary here:

Marijuana Industry Could Be Worth $35 Billion In 2020, If All States And Feds Legalize It

Thu, 2014-10-23 18:13
If all 50 states legalized marijuana and the federal government ended prohibition of the plant, the marijuana industry in the United States would be worth $35 billion just six years from now.

That's according to a new report from GreenWave Advisors, a research and advisory firm that serves the emerging marijuana industry in the U.S., which found that if all 50 states and the federal government legalized cannabis, combined sales for both medical and retail marijuana could balloon to $35 billion a year by 2020.

If the federal government doesn't end prohibition and the trajectory of state legalization continues on its current path, with more, but not all, states legalizing marijuana in some form, the industry in 2020 would still be worth $21 billion, GreenWave projects.

In its $21 billion 2020 model, GreenWave predicts 12 states plus the District of Columbia to have legalized recreational marijuana (besides Colorado and Washington, which legalized it in 2012). Those states are: Alaska, Arizona, California, Hawaii, Maine, Maryland, Massachusetts, Nevada, New Hampshire, Oregon, Rhode Island and Vermont, according to data GreenWave provided to The Huffington Post from the full report. By that same year, the model assumes, 37 states will have legalized medical marijuana. To date, 23 states and the District of Columbia have legalized marijuana for medical use.

"Our road map for the progression of states to legalize is very detailed –- our assumptions are largely predicated on whether a particular state has legislation in progress," Matt Karnes, founder and managing partner of GreenWave as well as author of the report, told HuffPost. "We assume that once legalization occurs, it will take a little over a year to implement a program and have product available for sale. So for example, for Florida, we expect the ballot measure to pass [this year] yet our sales forecast starts in year 2016. We think the time frame will lessen as new states to legalize will benefit from best practices."

As Karnes noted, some of these states are already considering legalization this November -- voters in Oregon, Alaska and D.C. are considering measures to legalize recreational marijuana, while Florida voters will weigh in on medical marijuana legalization.

GreenWave isn't the first group to suggest the federal government may end its decadeslong prohibition of marijuana. One congressman has even predicted that before the end of the decade, the federal government will legalize weed. And as outlandish as it may sound, it's already possible to observe significant shifts in federal policy toward pot.

The federal government allowed Colorado's and Washington's historic marijuana laws to take effect last year. President Barack Obama signed the 2014 farm bill, which legalized industrial hemp production for research purposes in the states that permit it, and the first hemp crops in U.S. soil in decades are already growing. And in May, the U.S. House passed measures attempting to limit Drug Enforcement Administration crackdowns on medical marijuana shops when they're legal in a state.

The GreenWave report also projects a substantial shift in the marijuana marketplace -- the merging of the medical and recreational markets in states that have both.

"In the state of Colorado, we are beginning to see the sales impact -- i.e., cannibalization of medical marijuana sales by the adult-use market -- when the two markets co-exist," Karnes said. "We expect a similar dynamic to unfold in those states that will implement a dual marijuana market."

Beginning in July, recreational marijuana sales in Colorado began to outpace medical for the first time, according to state Department of Revenue data.

Karnes writes in the executive summary that just what the marijuana industry will look like in 2020 will largely depend on how the industry is regulated and how it is taxed by that time.

"Since 'chronic pain' is the most common ailment among medical marijuana users, it is likely that recreational users can already purchase marijuana without great difficulty in states where medicinal use is legal," the report reads. "Accordingly, it can be argued that a merged market already exists in medical marijuana states. Less currently popular, but arguably providing more economic stimulus, would be a regulatory regime providing for only adult recreational use."

Darren Vann, Man Accused Of Killing 7 Women, Puts Spotlight On Abandoned Buildings

Thu, 2014-10-23 17:48
GARY, Ind. (AP) — The two-bedroom home in Gary's Bungalow Heights area went up in the Roaring '20s, when the Indiana steel town was thriving and filled with prosperous subdivisions. By the time Anith Jones' body was found in its basement Saturday, the building was one of thousands of dilapidated, abandoned houses serving as havens for crime in cities like Detroit and Chicago that have battled neighborhoods in decline.

Police say Darren Vann, a 43-year-old former Marine, has confessed to killing Jones and six other women. All but one of the victims were found in abandoned homes in Gary, including two whose bodies were placed in a vacant dwelling next door to where Jones was found. Vann, a convicted sex offender, is charged in the strangulation deaths of the 35-year-old Jones, whose body was found beneath a pile of tires and teddy bears, and 19-year-old Afrikka Hardy, who was found in a Hammond motel. He is scheduled to appear in court Wednesday in those cases, and authorities say more charges are expected once more causes of death and identities are determined.

Officials say the estimated 10,000 abandoned dwellings in Gary serve as magnets for drug dealers, squatters and others seeking cover for criminal acts. It's unclear how long the victims' bodies went unnoticed in the deteriorating, weed-encircled homes. At least one woman, Teaira Batey, was reported missing in late January, and investigators say some of the unidentified remains are badly decomposed.

Cpl. Gabrielle King, a spokeswoman for Gary police, said the vacant structures "serve as a free-for-all."

"You may be able to get away with different types of crimes, for a season anyway, because it's abandoned, it's not being cared for — anything can happen there," she said.

Abandoned buildings make it harder for a community to spot criminal activity on the streets, because the residents who once provided police with tips or discouraged criminal activity with their very presence are gone, said Patricia Fron, author of a study that found about 2,600 crimes were committed in the more than 15,000 vacant or abandoned buildings in Chicago in 2012.

At least one-fifth of Gary's homes are abandoned, and a survey that is now 75 percent complete has found about 8,000 vacant homes so far, said Joe Van Dyk, director of Gary's Department of Redevelopment. That tally could jump as crews survey areas with high vacancy levels, he said.

In Chicago, investigators have been checking vacant buildings in the city's south suburbs as they track Vann's movements in the hours after Hardy's body was discovered.

Eliminating blight — and cutting the crime associated with abandoned buildings — has been a focus in Detroit. The city, which has more than 40,000 vacant houses, has made demolishing them a part of its rehabilitation strategy as it goes through bankruptcy. Crews are razing about 200 each week, and Detroit has stepped up lawsuits against owners of abandoned properties.

City officials say vacant houses often are used in drug deals and pose threats to children walking to and from school. In the early 1990s, a man used vacant buildings in Detroit and Highland Park, Michigan, to kill and leave the bodies of his victims. Benjamin Atkins was convicted in 1994 of strangling 11 women — primarily prostitutes.

For Gary residents, the blighted areas are depressing reminders of how far the city has fallen from its heyday. More than 100,000 people have left, and the city's poverty rate hovers around 40 percent. The home where Jones' body was found is slated for a tax sale to pay nearly $8,000 in back taxes, according to township records.

Van Dyk said the city has received about $10 million in the past year to demolish vacant buildings and hopes to have about 150 razed by year's end, and up to 500 more leveled next year.

Mayor Karen Freeman-Wilson rejected suggestions that the number of abandoned buildings contributed to the slayings.

"This was a crime that was concealed," she said. "When you talk about the size of the city, when you talk about the concealment that was done — that could have been done with 500 abandoned homes, or 1,000 or 10,000."


Callahan reported from Indianapolis. Associated Press writers Corey Williams in Detroit and Don Babwin in Chicago contributed to this report.

Illinois Needs Positive Action, Not Negative Ads

Thu, 2014-10-23 17:41
The head of the Small Business Advocacy Council of Illinois has had it with the barrage of negative ads TV viewers are enduring this election season.

Small business owners and all Illinoisans want vision, not vicious attacks.

From Richardson:

This election cycle, the small business community is looking for candidates and politicians to set forth a coherent, substantive plan to improve the economic environment in Illinois. Instead, the state's electorate has been bombarded with negative advertising that is juvenile, irritating and pathetic.

ABC's Charles Thomas reports that Governor Quinn and Bruce Rauner have spent between $15-20 million on predominately negative TV ads since last March. The non-partisan Center for Public Integrity reports that Illinois has seen a roughly 30 percent increase in the money spent to air TV ads compared to the elections four years ago. Illinois politicians, and their opponents, have spent more than $26.4 million to air an estimated 34,589 television ads between January 1, 2013 and September 8th of this year. As reported by the Northwestern Herald, this staggering number does not include the costs of producing the ads, the money spent on local cable TV or for radio and Internet ads.

See how Richardson says these negative ads can affect the good of the sate at Reboot Illinois.

No matter who wins next month, the new governor is going to be faced with dealing with Illinois' large amount of debts. According to Bill Bergman, director of research at Truth in Accounting, Illinois' debt increased to 13 times its original amount in the 32 years between 1981 and 2013. Find out how this happened at Reboot Illinois.

Illinois Wasting Millions on Another Coal-to-Gas Pork Project

Thu, 2014-10-23 16:38
The state of Illinois is throwing millions of taxpayer dollars at another coal-to-gas plant just two years after a similar project ended in failure.

The Coal Development Fund has so far given Homeland Fuels two grants totaling $4.25 million in taxpayer dollars. The first grant was awarded in 2013 to fund a study for the proposed "Coal to Diesel Pilot Project" next to their coal supplier, which will apparently be a nearby Chris Cline-owned mine in central Illinois. The company moved addresses from Hillsboro to Litchfield before receiving a second grant for $3,500,000. There's no indication of how the plant would limit their global warming emissions or other environmental impacts.

Coal is king of corporate welfare in Illinois with a portion of the state energy tax dedicated to subsidizing the industry. The Department of Commerce & Economic Opportunity grant tracker shows the agency gave nearly $23 million to support coal during the 2014 fiscal year. That doesn't include additional state and local tax breaks. This happened during a state budget crisis that prompted cuts to social services and public employee pensions.

Handing out millions in taxpayer funds with few questions asked means there's little risk for companies to begin far-fetched projects that may never be completed. That was the case with a coal-to-gas plant that failed in 2012.

A coal to synthetic natural gas conversion plant proposed by Power Holdings received millions in state grants and additional subsidy legislation signed by Governor Quinn. After failing to find additional investors, the company was forced to admit the market wouldn't support their project and gave up.

Power Holdings will face no consequences or have to pay back a single dollar of the millions they wasted on a risky, unrealistic project. It's a routine result of Illinois operating a grant program with little transparency or oversight to benefit a single industry.

Despite claiming to be a leader on climate change, Governor Pat Quinn has failed to advocate cutting coal subsidies. He dramatically expanded industry welfare instead by signing two bills to exempt coal mining equipment from the state sales tax during a budget crisis. The six figures in campaign contributions Quinn has taken from Chris Cline coal companies over the years may have something to do with his reluctance to act on climate.

Downstate Illinois will prosper by creating diverse economies with green jobs. Depending on fossil fuel subsidies to provide false hope of reviving coal jobs will only send more money and better opportunities down the drain.

Why Go Outside To See The Solar Eclipse When You Can Watch Our Live Blog Right Here

Thu, 2014-10-23 15:38
Today the moon will "take a bite out of" the sun in a partial solar eclipse, the likes of which won't recur in the U.S. until 2023.

But maybe the weather is crummy where you are. Or maybe those warnings about going blind have you too worried to venture outside. In any case, you can sit right where you are and watch the eclipse unfold on our live blog.

It runs through 7 p.m. EDT.


Here to guide you are HuffPost Science editors David Freeman, Jacqueline Howard and Macrina Cooper-White. For the duration of our live blog, we'll be joined by Dr. Federica Bianco, a physicist from New York University.

We encourage you to leave comments here and tweet your photos of the eclipse with the hashtag #HuffPostEclipse. Or submit them directly to our "Partial Solar Eclipse" slideshow below.

We'll be collecting photos from all over, and yours may be featured!

Caution: If you're outside enjoying the eclipse, use eye protection.

One My Lai a Month

Thu, 2014-10-23 15:24
"When somebody asks, 'Why do you do it to a gook, why do you do this to people?' your answer is, 'So what, they're just gooks, they're not people. It doesn't make any difference what you do to them; they're not human.' And this thing is built into you," Cpl. John Geymann testified almost 44 years ago at the Winter Soldier Investigation, held in Detroit, which was sponsored by Vietnam Veterans Against the War. "It's thrust into your head from the moment you wake up in boot camp to the moment you wake up when you're a civilian."

The cornerstone of war is dehumanization. This was the lesson of Nam, from Operation Ranch Hand (the dumping of 18 million gallons of herbicides, including Agent Orange, on the jungles of Vietnam) to My Lai to the use of napalm to the bombing of Cambodia. And the Winter Soldier Investigation began making the dehumanization process a matter of public knowledge.

It was a stunning and groundbreaking moment in the history of war. Yet -- guess what? -- the three-day hearing, in which 109 Vietnam veterans and 16 civilians testified about the reality of American operations in Vietnam, doesn't show up on the "interactive timeline" of the Department of Defense-sponsored website commemorating, as per President Obama's proclamation, the 50-year anniversary of the war.

This is no surprise, of course. The awkwardly unstated, cowardly point of the site, as well as the presidential proclamation -- "they pushed through jungles and rice paddies, heat and monsoon, fighting heroically to protect the ideals we hold dear as Americans" -- is to "nice-ify" the ghastly war, wipe off the slime, return public consciousness to a state of unquestioning adoration of all U.S. military operations and banish "Vietnam Syndrome" from the national identity.

So what if somewhere between 2 and 3 million Vietnamese, Laotians and Cambodians were killed in it, along with 58,000 American soldiers (with, by some measures, a far greater number of vets committing suicide afterward)? A bad war is nothing but trouble for those who want to wage the next one. It took a generation of retooling before the military-industrial economy was able to launch the war on terror, which itself no longer has massive public support. Maybe restoring Vietnam to a state of false glory is part of a larger plan to make the American public proud of all its wars and, thus, more compliant about the idea (and the reality) of permanent war.

The Vietnam War Commemoration website is generating serious pushback, such as the Veterans for Peace "full disclosure" campaign; and a petition, signed by such iconic antiwar activists as Tom Hayden and Daniel Ellsberg, demanding that the tidal wave of protests against the war in the '60s and '70s be included as part of the war's legacy. I agree, of course, but hasten to add that there's far more at stake here than the accuracy of the historical record.

As long-time journalist and Middle East scholar Phyllis Bennis told the New York Times, "You can't separate this effort to justify the terrible wars of 50 years ago from the terrible wars of today."

I repeat: The cornerstone of every war is the dehumanization, a terrifying process with long-lasting and infinitely unfolding consequences. And the Vietnam War was the first in which the full horror of this process, stripped of all glory and pseudo-necessity, reached significant public awareness.

The website's effort to undo this awareness is pathetic. In an early version of the timeline, for instance, the My Lai massacre was dismissed as an "incident." Public objection forced the website to bite the bullet and acknowledge, in its March 16, 1968 listing: "Americal Division kills hundreds of Vietnamese civilians at My Lai."

Ho hum. It was still a good war, right? My Lai was just an aberration. A scapegoat was arrested, tried, convicted...

But as the vets' Winter Soldier testimony and numerous books and articles make horrifically clear, My Lai was not an aberration but situation normal: "They're just gooks, they're not people."

As Nick Turse and Deborah Nelson pointed out in a 2006 article in the Los Angeles Times ("Civilian Killings Went Unpunished"), based on the examination of declassified Army files: "Abuses were not confined to a few rogue units, a Times review of the files found. They were uncovered in every Army division that operated in Vietnam." The documents substantiated 320 incidents of torture, abuse or mass murder of Vietnamese civilians, with many hundreds more reported but not substantiated, they wrote.

The article describes in detail a number of incidents of wanton killing of Vietnamese civilians and includes a letter an anonymous sergeant sent to Gen. William Westmoreland in 1970, which "described widespread, unreported killings of civilians by members of the 9th Infantry Division in the Mekong Delta -- and blamed pressure from superiors to generate high body counts."

The letter stated:

"A batalion [sic] would kill maybe 15 to 20 [civilians] a day. With 4 batalions in the brigade that would be maybe 40 to 50 a day or 1200 to 1500 a month, easy. If I am only 10% right, and believe me it's lots more, then I am trying to tell you about 120-150 murders, or a My Lay [sic] each month for over a year."

And there's so much more. Some of the testimony is unbearably gruesome, such as Sgt. Joe Bangert's testimony at the Winter Soldier Investigation:

"You can check with the Marines who have been to Vietnam -- your last day in the States at staging battalion at Camp Pendleton you have a little lesson and it's called the rabbit lesson, where the staff NCO comes out and he has a rabbit and he's talking to you about escape and evasion and survival in the jungle. He has this rabbit and then in a couple of seconds after just about everyone falls in love with it -- not falls in love with it, but, you know, they're humane there -- he cracks it in the neck, skins it, disembowels it. He does this to the rabbit -- and then they throw the guts out into the audience. You can get anything out of that you want, but that's your last lesson you catch in the United States before you leave for Vietnam where they take that rabbit and they kill it, and they skin it, and they play with its organs as if it's trash and they throw the organs all over the place and then these guys are put on the plane the next day and sent to Vietnam."

This much is perfectly clear: American soldiers were pressured from above, indeed, trained and ordered, to treat the "enemy" -- including civilians, including children -- as subhuman. All the carnage that followed was predictable. And as the morally injured vets who come home from Iraq and Afghanistan keep letting us know, it's still the way we go to war.

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


Report: Chicago Police Are Getting Away With Brutality, And Most Of It Is Against Minorities

Thu, 2014-10-23 15:12
A report to be presented to the United Nations next month alleges the Chicago Police Department has engaged in "ongoing, pervasive" violence targeting the city's youth of color in a way perpetuated by its "culture of impunity."

Alarming statistics are presented alongside youth testimony, collected at an August 2014 community hearing and via a confidential "police encounter line," in the report released Wednesday by the We Charge Genocide coalition.

The group of activists, which will present to United Nations Committee Against Torture in Switzerland, is calling for a response from CPD, identification of the department's treatment of colored youth as torture, and an investigation by the U.S. Department of Justice.

"Behind these stories and numbers are real people—real people’s severe pain, humiliation, suffering, and death at the hands of those charged with the duty to 'protect and serve' Chicago," the report reads.

Though about 33 percent of Chicago's population is African-American, the city's arrest rate of black youth is disproportionately high, according to the report. In 2011, 77 percent of the Chicago Police Department's youth arrests were of black youth. In 2012, that percentage increased to 79 percent.

The report also notes that black and Latino targets were involved in 92 percent of the Chicago Police Department's uses of stun guns from 2009 to 2011. Throughout the first half of 2014, black targets have been involved in 78 percent of the department's stun gun uses, the report notes.

The use of stun guns has also failed to significantly reduce the number of police-involved shootings since they were implemented by the department in 2010, the report notes. Black Chicagoans are, again, drastically overrepresented among those who are shot by police. As the Chicago Reporter previously observed, black Chicagoans are 10 times more likely than their white peers to be shot by a police officer.

The report notes it's also rare for a Chicago police officer to be held accountable for misconduct allegations. Among 10,149 complaints of excessive force, illegal searches, racial abuse or false arrest filed by residents between 2002 and 2004, only 124 -- 1.2 percent -- were sustained, and only 19 cases led to a penalty of suspension of at least a week or worse, according to the document.

Citing a 2007 report by a University of Chicago Law School professor, the report notes that a brutality complaint filed against police in Chicago is 94 percent less likely to be sustained than elsewhere. In the city, only 0.48 percent of brutality complaints are sustained, compared to 8 percent nationally.

Specifically, the group is calling for the United Nations Committee Against Torture to demand a response from the CPD "regarding the steps it will take both to end this treatment and to fully compensate the individuals, families, and communities impacted by this violence." It further calls on the committee to identify the CPD's treatment of youth of color as torture and for the Department of Justice to launch an investigation into the department.

The release of the report came on the eve of a status hearing for Glenn Evans, the Chicago police commander relieved of his duties in late August after he was charged with aggravated battery and official misconduct for allegedly sticking his gun into the mouth of a suspect. Evans was the subject of more excessive-force complaints than any other CPD officer between 1988 and 2008 but was still promoted to commander. He has pleaded not guilty to the charges.

The We Charge Genocide coalition gets its name from a 1951 petition filed to the U.N. that documented a number of police-involved shootings and human rights abuses.

We Charge Genocide Report On Chicago Police Violence

Sears Reportedly Closing More Than 100 Stores, Laying Off 5,457 Workers

Thu, 2014-10-23 13:49
Sears Holdings Corp is shuttering more than 100 stores and laying off at least 5,457 employees, investor website Seeking Alpha reported on Thursday, indicating the struggling retailer may be stepping up store closures.

Sears said in August it had closed 96 stores in the six months since February and planned to close a total of 130 underperforming stores during the full fiscal year. It added at the time that it may shutter additional stores beyond the 130 target.

Sears spokesman Chris Brathwaite declined to comment on the number of planned closures, saying the company would provide an update when it reports quarterly earnings next month. Reducing operations to the best performing stores is key to Sears' revival strategy, he said.

"While this has resulted in store closures where appropriate - decisions that we do not take lightly - we continue to have a substantial nationwide footprint with a presence in many of the top malls in the country," Brathwaite said.

Sears shares rose 5.9 percent to $36.46 on Nasdaq at mid-afternoon.

Since August the company has moved to close at least 46 Kmart stores, 30 Sears department stores and 31 Sears Auto Centers, Seeking Alpha said, citing local media reports and liquidation notices. (

Sears is closing stores to cut costs as it shifts to an "asset-light" business model. The company lost nearly $1 billion during the first half of the fiscal year in a downturn that has worried some vendors and prompted a series of moves by the company to generate cash.

On Monday Sears said it would raise as much as $625 million through an unsecured loan and equity warrants, about half of which will be purchased by Chief Executive Eddie Lampert and his hedge fund. It was the company's third fundraising in a little over month.

It also said on Monday that it would lease seven stores to discount fashion chain Primark for an undisclosed amount, reflecting its effort to use generate rental income from better performing retailers.

Sears had 1,077 Kmart stores and 793 Sears stores in the United States as of Aug. 2. The company had 226,000 U.S. employees as of Feb. 1. (Reporting by Sruthi Ramakrishnan in Bangalore and Nathan Layne in Chicago; Editing by Kirti Pandey and Richard Chang)

8 Signs You're in the Hipster Part of Town

Thu, 2014-10-23 12:06
By: Gianni Jaccoma

Credit: Flickr/Bill Dickinson

These days, the term "hipster" has become so mainstream that it almost entirely lacks meaning, lost in a sea of skintight jeans, Flock of Seagulls haircuts, and cruelty-free almond butter. Even so, nearly every major city hosts a neighborhood where occupants are just a little too cool for their own good, and it's important to identify the key characteristics of such "freethinking" areas.

The next time you see anything remotely resembling the following 18 warning signs, don't panic. Just know that you're out of your element, and then run as fast as you can. Or, at least as fast as skinny jeans allow.

More: The 15 Most Annoying Travelers In The World

Credit: Flickr/Malingering

1. Beard oil and mustache wax are everywhere
The gentleman behind you in line can be heard bemoaning the fact that his favorite brand of small-batch mustache wax was bought by "Big Pharma," even though that makes no sense whatsoever.

2. Absurd alternative lifestyles are the norm
Between loads at the laundromat, you're sucked into an in-depth conversation with a militant vegan couple about the merits of composting, and why cheese is murder.

3. Walkmen and dated technology are fashion statements
You meet a guy who's wearing those old AM/FM radio headphones, but only as an ironic critique of "the garbage they play on the radio these days."

Credit: Flickr/Dauvit Alexander

4. Graffiti is ironic, not gang-related
You see numerous billboards spray-painted over with inane slogans like "DON'T BELIEVE THE HYPE," or "LOVE USED TO MEAN SOMETHING." Obscure Beatles lyrics may also appear, depending on what city you're in. "OBEY" stickers and ironic "YOLO" tags are also distinct possibilities.

5. You don't understand the music
You pass by a cramped music venue where a dude wearing a flannel shirt and ultra-distressed jeans reads a passage from Moby Dick while repeating the same two mournful chords on his secondhand keytar.

6. Residents are overeducated and underemployed
Each bar has an A-stand outside with a misspelled Mark Twain quote written on it, likely paired with a crudely drawn PBR can.

Credit: Flickr/Britt Crawford

7. Ridiculous bicycles glide down the streets
While attempting to cross the street, you're nearly run over by two guys riding atop penny farthing bicycles. You hear one of them hiss something about "bespoke shoelaces," before they both disappear into the night.

8. Children are named after tween novel characters
You meet a young couple pushing a stroller in the park. Their baby's name is Shiloh, and they just heard a riveting report on NPR about the pork lobby this morning.

Found yourself surrounded by V necks and people knitting in bars? Head over to for 10 more signs that you've entered the hipster part of town!

More from Thrillist:

America's Most Hipster Cities

These Are The Most Bike-Friendly Cities In The World

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Awake And Lonely At 5 a.m.? Just Call A Boomer

Thu, 2014-10-23 11:09
Almost half (47 percent) of Baby Boomers rise before 6 a.m. and the very first thing most of them (73 percent) do is check their personal email, according to new research from AOL about people’s morning rituals.

The AOL Morning Rituals study of 1,000 participants didn't delve into why they get up so early -- 42 percent never even hit the snooze button on their alarm -- but we suspect many Boomers may just be eager to end the nightly tossing and turning that comes with aging and plagues that generation.

Millennials, on the other hand, stumble out of bed later: The study found that only 4 percent of Millennials get up before 5 a.m. and 19 percent between 5 a.m. and 6 a.m. In fact, Millennials are the latest risers of all; they wake up, on average, at 6:58 a.m. compared to 6:17 a.m. for Generation X and 6:02 a.m. for Boomers.

Denise Brien, senior director of Consumer Analytics & Research at AOL, noted that one in four people (overall) looks at their smartphone before getting out of bed (for Millennials, it’s three in five). "It speaks volumes about how innately attached we are to tech," she said. "It’s the first thing we think to do after opening our eyes!”

The study also asked about morning rituals. More married people -- 46 percent -- ate breakfast regularly during the week, compared to just 41 percent of singles. Boomers feel the most informed in the morning -- 41 percent. And
compared to Millennials, Baby Boomers feel more prepared (37 percent), organized (36 percent), productive (32 percent), and mentally stimulated (26 percent). Millennials, on the other hand feel more tired (26 percent), stressed (13 percent) and lazy (14 percent) than Baby Boomers (tired 10 percent, stressed 5 percent, lazy 3 percent).

A full belly vs. a full inbox? Belly loses. While only around 40 percent of working adults make time for breakfast before heading off to work, 61 percent of full-time employees check their work email in the morning before leaving home.
There’s always time for technology.

Half of us check our social networks before heading out the door in the morning. Millennials are 20 percent more likely to do this than Generation X and 40 percent more likely to do this than Boomers. It's probably because they have so many more social media networks to check. Millennials look at Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, and SnapChat.

It wasn't just age that set apart people's morning routines. People who live in the Northeast are much more likely to stop on the way to work for coffee. People in the South are the most likely to pray or meditate in the morning (almost half of Southerners say they pray or meditate at least some days throughout the week). Those in the Northeast are the least concerned about their spiritual well-being (at least in the morning); less than one in three prays or meditates during the week. And apparently the early bird gets the workout. Only one in five of us exercises every morning, but the early risers -- those up before 6 a.m. -- are 20 percent more likely to do it than the late risers (those getting up after 8 a.m.).

<i>Class Dismissed</i>: New Indie Documentary On Home Education Receiving Amazing Audience Response

Thu, 2014-10-23 10:46

A new independent film, now showing in select theaters on the West Coast and making its way to the Midwest and East Coast in November, is currently screening to sold out audiences. Class Dismissed explores the fast growing movement in the U.S. toward home education and learning outside of the traditional confines of a classroom. Produced by 3StoryFilms, the movie follows a homeschooling family from LA who decide to take their two children out of school to pursue learning in a completely different way.

I recently spoke to the film's director and co-producer Jeremy Stuart. Stuart, who produced the film with Dustin Woodard, is himself a homeschooling dad. He talked about the surprising response to the film and what he hopes audiences, viewers, and critics will take away from seeing it:

How did you arrive at the decision to create a documentary about learning outside the classroom?

As my own family began our journey into the world of home education, it became clear to me from the response we got from friends and strangers alike, that many people, despite being dissatisfied with the current educational model, felt they had no choice about their children's education. They weren't aware that they had options and if they did, they had no idea how to begin. Also at that time, there were a couple of documentaries about education that were making the rounds, Waiting for Superman, and Race to Nowhere, both of which I'd seen and both of which I'd been disappointed in for their failure to present alternatives to conventional schooling.

Why was nobody talking about alternatives? Why were people so willing to just go with convention despite it being so clearly broken?  I felt also that there was much misunderstanding in the general public about home education, so I decided to make a documentary about it to challenge their assumptions and to highlight the fact that children who learn outside the classroom can be successful.

You've sold out the last three screenings of Class Dismissed in California, including the premiere in LA. Did you expect this kind of enthusiastic response to the film?

The response to the film so far has been overwhelming and has far exceeded our expectations. We had done a few test screenings early on in the process of editing the film and had received good feedback, but I honestly wasn't sure what to expect from a larger audience. The subject of education in general can be a contentious one and opinions can be polarizing, but the film seems to have hit a nerve among homeschoolers and non-homeschoolers alike and we're thrilled that the conversation is happening.

What are some of the comments you've received from audience members, questions you've been asked during the post show discussions?

The comments so far have been very positive. If they are already homeschooling many people have commented about how the film offers validation and encouragement to their own journey and experiences. And there have been a number of non-homeschoolers in the audiences who have shared that after seeing the film they are inspired to make the leap. I think the film addresses and answers many of the typical questions that people have about homeschooling and the comments we've been getting seem to reflect that.

You have screenings in Portland and Washington, with a screening in the Chicago area in mid-November. What are your hopes for this film looking into the next few months?

We're going to do as many independent theater screenings as we can logistically and financially manage, but with no big distributor behind us and very limited resources (there's only two of us on the team) we're only going to be able to sustain that method for so long, which is why we have put together a Screener Pack that anyone can buy. The Screener Pack contains a DVD of the film, a guide to hosting a screening in your community, homeschool group, church or even your own home and a Homeschool Resource Guide packed full of information, links and useful resources for those who want to know more about homeschooling options.

We're encouraging people to purchase the Screener Pack, organize their own event and invite friends, relatives and neighbors, especially those who are "homeschool curious". Afterwards they can engage in conversation, answer questions, share their own experiences, and hand out information for those new to home education. The Screener Pack is available for purchase now and will ship in early November.

For those who prefer a big-screen theater experience, they can contact their local theater and arrange a screening providing they can gather enough people to make it profitable. There's nothing like seeing the film on a big screen with a group of people. Here's the link with information about these options.

Additionally we are submitting the film to festivals around the country. We've submitted to five so far and will continue to do so as they become available and if they are an appropriate venue for the film. And finally, the film will be widely available on DVD and as a digital download sometime early next year.

Your documentary features educators, activists and writers who emphasize the unlimited learning potential of education outside the classroom. Do you think that Class Dismissed will help viewers to finally realize that home schooling can be everything but isolating?

Yes, absolutely. I think the film does a good job of dispelling the myths that surround homeschooling and sheds light on various ways to make it viable as an educational and social model. I want the film to stir up dialogue around the topic of home education, persuade people to re-think their notions of what homeschooling is about and to consider other possibilities for learning outside the classroom. I envision Class Dismissed as a wake up call that education has been in crisis for a long time and it's time to confront long-standing assumptions about what it means to be educated in the 21st Century.

After watching the film, I want the audience to feel moved to do something, to find out more about the information presented in the film, and to walk away with their hearts and minds opened to the prospect of new possibilities for themselves and their families.

Here's my favorite quote from one of our recent screening attendees:

Watch out parents of America; this film gives any bullied, unchallenged, misrepresented, creative students all the information to advocate an alternative to a week where they are required to spend 40 hours in desks with an additional 20 dedicated to homework.

View the trailer for the film here:

- Christine

No One Should Have to Go Through the Bullying That I Did

Thu, 2014-10-23 10:42

No one should ever experience being bullied. It's a cowardly action that unfortunately occurs all too often in our schools. According to the National Education Association, it is estimated that 160,000 children miss school every day due to fear of attack or intimidation by other students. I was one of those students being bullied. I would hear constant comments and snickers from students about my height. "Hey, you are taller than my dad and all dads! You are taller than the rest. Why are you so tall? Why aren't you normal?" Those comments bothered me, made me feel small -- made me wonder why I was different than everyone else. Why I was the one being picked on.

Then two things intervened: The game of basketball and most importantly, my older sister Lizzie, who was born without sight, without hearing and with autism and cerebral palsy. Although Lizzie and I could never talk through sight or hearing, we built our relationship through touch, smell and other sensations. Lizzie taught me so much without ever saying a word. Through her triumph over daily struggles, she taught me to be proud of my uniqueness. People will love me for my uniqueness. I should want to be different and distinct and I should even have compassion for the people who bully others -- they are always the ones who have insecurities themselves.

Lizzie gave me perspective and led me to appreciate my gifts of height, strength, determination, skill and talent, which combined with work ethic and opportunity, allowed me to pursue and thrive in a career in the WNBA. It's that success that has provided me a platform to help others. My relationship with Lizzie has inspired me to help create a more inclusive world for everyone -- a world in which no one is bullied. A world in which people who are different from each other including people with intellectual disabilities, are not only accepted for their differences, but celebrated for their uniqueness.

Because of Lizzie, I work tirelessly to promote inclusion and respect for all individuals, especially those with intellectual disabilities and use the power of basketball to inspire change. For the last two years, during my off-season, I have been hosting a basketball skills training camp for girls that include Special Olympics basketball players from the ages of 7 to 18 years old, with the goal to "Play Unified." "Playing Unified" is inspired by a simple principle: training together and playing together is a quick path to understanding, acceptance and friendship, breaking down the barriers that exist for people with intellectual disabilities.

Last year I hosted a camp in my home state of Delaware, but this year I am able to reach even more athletes and am traveling across the country with stops in California, Virginia, Delaware, Chicago and Pennsylvania. I have also been very deliberate in making sure my camps are a "safe" and inclusive space for athletes of any race, ethnicity, sexual orientation, gender identity or gender expression. Working with these young women has been a life-changing experience for me and I know a life-changing experience for them. These athletes are building friendships that will last a lifetime -- these women are learning skills in sport that will serve them in everything they do -- working together, listening to each other, embracing each other's differences. These women are breaking down barriers and are champions of change and real understanding.

This was perfectly illustrated at my camp this last weekend in California. Taylor, a standout player at Archbishop Mitty High School befriended a Special Olympics athlete named Sophia. Sophia had walked in the door not knowing anyone and I'm sure, was nervous about the experience. Taylor, the star who knew everyone, took it upon herself to make sure Sophia always felt included. They partnered on every drill and Taylor encouraged her throughout the day. They quickly developed a special bond and their energy became contagious. The other campers caught on fast and before long, the gym was buzzing with athletes cheering each other on.

Together, through unified play they created an atmosphere of acceptance and one where there was no fear of failure -- and no fear of being different. I walked away feeling so inspired about the impact the experience had, not just on an athlete like Sophia whose confidence has now grown, but on Taylor and her teammates. The leadership and kindness they demonstrated is what we need to make the world a better place for everyone.

This post is part of a series produced by The Huffington Post and Special Olympics in conjunction with National Bullying Prevention Month this October. To find out more about how Special Olympics is urging the world to #PlayUnified to stop bullying and support inclusion for all, please visit here. Read all posts in the series here.