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Left Out in the Cold

Thu, 2014-02-20 17:57
This winter has been one for the record books. Wind chills have closed in on -30 and below, and with the exception of the recent warm snap we've rarely seen temperatures above freezing, not to mention the record-breaking snowfall. It's really been an inconvenience, assuming you have somewhere to warm up. But for thousands this winter, warmth is a luxury they don't have.

Last year 6,276 people were found to be homeless in Chicago, a number that is tallied by way of a one-night count. On one cold night in January, volunteers comb the streets in an attempt to count every individual who is homeless on that night. This count is extremely important -- the federal government relies on the numbers gathered through this effort to determine the amount of funding it will provide to programs and agencies serving those who are homeless.

The count is an enormous undertaking and the system is not perfect. It offers a snapshot of one night rather than a holistic picture of trends in homelessness, and it doesn't capture those who have lost their homes but are living doubled-up with friends and relatives. Nevertheless, it's the best tool we have and it's built on a sound strategy. During the winter, shelter usage is high and people can be most easily counted in that environment. To find the remaining individuals, volunteers are sent out.

This year this invaluable count fell on a below-zero night -- a now all too familiar occurrence - and when I leave my office at Heartland Alliance, the Midwest's leading anti-poverty organization, where I work, and am met with bitter cold, I think back to it. I couldn't be there, but Heartland Alliance's dedicated staff was out in force and the next morning I was excited to hear their stories. One that sticks with me to this day is the story of John, who our volunteers met in a train station.

When our staff surveyed him about his experience in homelessness, John told them that he came from a home where he always had enough to eat and didn't worry about having a bed at night. In that home however, he had experienced violence and struck out on his own at an early age to escape it, enduring homelessness on and off and struggling with addiction. But today life was looking up -- he was two months sober and had a job interview the next day.

What sticks with me most however is something John told our team just before they left. The team had given him a blanket and warm gloves, but what he was most thankful for was that they'd taken the time to listen to him. "It's so hard to keep hope alive," he said. "I have no one to talk to. You guys helped me get my hope back because you didn't judge me, you helped me get back to a positive place."

It's this blend of service and connection that we take such great pride in here at Heartland Alliance. We know that the way out of poverty is through housing, healthcare, jobs and justice -- the building blocks of a safe, stable, healthy life -- combined with personalized support. It's an approach that works for hundreds of thousands throughout the Midwest each year, but so many more are still left out in the cold.

These vital services are key to ending poverty and homelessness, but as crucial as they are, they are equally underfunded. So far there have been 21 cold-related deaths in the Chicagoland area and those who are homeless are especially at risk. As we all muddle through this winter, it's time we redouble our resolve to eliminate homelessness and to say that each and every person deserves a roof over their head, a safe, warm place to sleep at night -- and a path out of poverty. We need a robust safety net that not only provides emergency support to those in poverty, but that prevents homelessness, illness, joblessness and injustice.

When we invest in these services, we invest in those who, like John, are struggling to maintain basic human needs, and to simply survive this winter. These individuals have the potential to do so much more if only given the chance. You can provide it. Consider volunteering your time this season, or donating your old winter gear. If your financial means allow, consider making a donation to an organization whose mission speaks to you. Thousands are out in the cold this winter. Let's extend a little warmth.

Justin Bieber Billboard Raises The Stakes Big Time For Canada-U.S. Olympic Hockey Showdown

Thu, 2014-02-20 17:45
As if the stakes weren't already high enough for Friday's rematch between the U.S. and Canadian Olympic hockey teams in Sochi, this is certainly an ante-upper.

A Chicago-area electronic billboard debuted Thursday with a straight-forward, eye-catching wager pertaining to Friday's semifinal game: "LOSER KEEPS BIEBER."

Nothing is higher than the stakes of tomorrow’s game.

— Command Sign (@CommandSign) February 20, 2014

An executive with Skokie-based Command Transportation, which owns the billboard, told DNAinfo Chicago's Justin Breen they "just have fun" with it, noting they've previously featured the Bulls' Joakim Noah spraying the Heat's LeBron James with a fire extinguisher. And they've previously featured Bieber as well.

The billboard, located just off the Edens Expressway, also features Blackhawks players Patrick Kane and Jonathan Toews alongside the troubled teen pop star, whom more than a few people wouldn't mind seeing deported to his home country of Canada due to his skirmishes with the law and human decency.

Bieber has won few points with Blackhawks fans in the past. When he posed for a photo with the Stanley Cup in the Blackhawks' locker room last year, he not only touched the cup -- which is a no-no for anyone who didn't actually have a hand in winning it -- but also stood on the Hawks' logo, another big faux pas to fans of the team. Blackhawks fans were, understandably, very angry and almost immediately sought revenge.

State Senator Hopeful Soda Tax Can Succeed In The Heartland Despite Fizzling On The Coasts

Thu, 2014-02-20 16:36
CHICAGO -- With one of every 100 deaths of obese people per year reportedly linked to a sugary drink-heavy diet, the soda industry is increasingly facing criticism similar to that of "Big Tobacco" in the '90s.

And much like the earliest efforts to extinguish Americans' love affair with cigarettes, attempts to curb sweetened beverage consumption have mostly fizzled, even in the relatively health-conscious states of California and New York.

The resistance hasn't deterred Illinois State Senator Mattie Hunter, though: The Chicago-based Democrat is the latest lawmaker to put sweetened beverages in her crosshairs by introducing a proposal that would impose a penny-per-ounce tax on sugar-sweetened drinks statewide.

Hunter told The Huffington Post that in the scant week since she introduced the legislation, she's already facing pushback from beverage and corn production lobbyists. She's hoping to succeed where others have failed because Hunter says she can testify firsthand to the consequences of inaction. Five of Hunter's immediate family members have died due to health issues brought on by "improper diet," three of whom -- her father, a brother and a sister -- she lost over just a four-month period back in 2010.

"Watching the deterioration around you is enough to make you say 'enough is enough,'" she said. 


More than 60 percent of adults in Illinois are overweight and more than a quarter of them are considered obese, according to the latest data from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

A 2010 report from the Illinois Department of Public Health revealed state spending on obesity-related health totals approximately $3.4 billion a year.

Hunter's tax would apply to sugar-sweetened drinks sold in sealed containers as well as the syrups and powders used to flavor them. Part of a larger effort to promote health and wellness, the plan is to fund a variety of health and education programs with the anticipated $600 million in annual revenue the tax could generate.

Hunter said half of the money would be given to the state's Medicaid department. The rest would help community anchors like schools and hospitals promote education and awareness of healthy lifestyle choices like biking, walking and other active transit, nutrition and healthy cooking.

"Just imagine if we can add this one penny-an-ounce tax and put the dollars directly into the economy by implementing these life-saving programs," Hunter said.


Hunter is predicting the tax and the prevention programs it funds would save the state money in the long run, in addition to being a job creator, though her critics from the Illinois Coalition Against Beverage Taxes and other drink industry lobbyists disagree.

"You reduce consumption, and you reduce employment," Brian Rainville, a spokesman for Teamsters Joint Council 25 in Chicago and northwest Indiana, told NBC Chicago. "If there's less being made and distributed, there's fewer people doing those jobs."

But a newly-released study from the University of Illinois at Chicago suggested a 20 percent tax on sugar-sweetened beverages would actually result in small job gains for the private and public sectors:

"For example, truck drivers who previously delivered regular soda would transport other beverages, such as diet soda and bottled water (often made by the same companies), milk, 100 percent fruit juice, or entirely different products. Potential job losses also would be offset by employment increases associated with revenue generated from the tax."

Mark Denzler of the Illinois Manufacturers Association Denzler called the study "completely flawed," arguing consumers would follow the same trend they do with state's highly-taxed cigarettes and gas.

"You're going to have Illinois consumers going across state lines to buy the product," Denzler told the Quad-City Times.

Hunter, meanwhile, isn't afraid to meet the criticism head-on, even in the face of caution on the part of her statehouse colleagues, many of whom she said were supportive of the measure but were "frightened" to sign onto it. The lawmaker would be the first to admit it's going to be an uphill battle.

"The beverage industry has hired an amazing number of well-paid lobbyists to come against us," Hunter said. "Some of my colleagues are up for for re-election and they don't want their names on this, but someone is going to have to step out there and carry that banner."
As her bill faces an uncertain future, Hunter said she and her supporters like the Illinois Alliance to Prevent Obesity are continuing to research similar measures across the country and look at different strategies "to see if we can pick up pointers."

"This is going to be a challenge. We know that," Hunter said. "Even if it takes three years, five years, we're committed. We're going to hang in there."

Epilepsy Group Announces Support For Medical Marijuana

Thu, 2014-02-20 16:35
The Epilepsy Foundation has recognized medical marijuana as a treatment for epilepsy, calling for better access to the drug and more research into its possibilities.

"The Epilepsy Foundation supports the rights of patients and families living with seizures and epilepsy to access physician directed care, including medical marijuana," said Philip Gattone, CEO and president of the Epilepsy Foundation, and foundation chairman Warren Lammert in a joint statement on Thursday.

The foundation also urged the Drug Enforcement Administration to end restrictions that limit clinical trials and research into medical marijuana as a treatment for epilepsy.

Under the federal Controlled Substances Act, marijuana is currently classified as Schedule I, along with heroin and LSD. Schedule I drugs, according to the government system, have high potential for abuse and no accepted medical use. The classification also stands in the way of federal funding for research into possible benefits of the drug.

Recently, 18 members of Congress wrote a letter to President Barack Obama demanding that he remove marijuana from a list of the most dangerous controlled substances.

Epilepsy patients around the nation, including some children, are ignoring the federal government's stance and using medical marijuana to help treat their symptoms.

More than 100 families recently uprooted and relocated to Colorado to take advantage of the state's robust medical marijuana laws, and to find Charlotte's Web, one of the most coveted types of medical marijuana available.

Charlotte's Web is high in CBD, the non-psychoactive ingredient in pot, and low in THC, the component that causes users to feel high. Developed by Colorado's Realm of Caring non-profit group, it has effectively treated children who have debilitating illnesses and conditions.

Charlotte's Web and similar strains are administered in liquid or capsule form and, according to doctors, produce few or no side effects. Because of the low THC count, users don't experience the high associated with traditional marijuana.

Although medical marijuana appears to help many patients, some doctors are skeptical about its efficacy and safety.

"We don't have any peer-reviewed, published literature to support it," said Dr. Larry Wolk, the chief medical officer of Colorado's health department, to the Associated Press.

Despite the lack of hard scientific data, Paige Figi, who works for Realm of Caring, told The Huffington Post that more than 300 patients currently use the Charlotte's Web strain.

Her 7-year-old daughter, Charlotte, who inspired the name of the strain, used to suffer from hundreds of seizures each week. She was the first child in Colorado to be treated with cannabis and her recovery has been miraculous, her mother said. "She is getting a redo of all the years she was robbed by epilepsy."

The Epilepsy Foundation plans to take the following steps:

  • Calling on the DEA to reschedule marijuana so it can be more easily accessible for medical research

  • Supporting appropriate changes to state laws to increase access to medical marijuana as a treatment option for epilepsy, including pediatric use through a treating physician

  • Supporting the inclusion of epilepsy as a condition that uses medical marijuana as a treatment option where it is currently available

  • Supporting research on multiple forms of cannabis and seizures

"These organizations and the vast majority of Americans are sending a message to lawmakers that could not be any clearer -- it is time to recognize the proven medical benefits of marijuana and make it legal for those who need it," said Karen O'Keefe, state policies director for Marijuana Policy Project, in a statement. "Patients and their families should not have to move to other states or continue to suffer because their elected officials are still clinging to antiquated prohibition laws."

Twenty states and the District of Columbia currently have legalized marijuana in some form and about a dozen more are expected to in the coming years.

According to the Epilepsy Foundation, 2.3 million Americans live with epilepsy, a neurological condition that includes recurring seizures; more than 1 million of those people live with seizures that don't respond to traditional medication.

These Vintage Photos Remind Us How Far We've Come In Breaking Down Barriers That Divide Us

Thu, 2014-02-20 15:25
The United Nations' World Day of Social Justice is an opportunity to celebrate how far we've come in advancing civil rights. But recognizing the work we've done when it comes to advocating for the dignity of all people, regardless of gender, race, religion or sexual orientation, is also a reminder that we still have work to do.

Check out these vintage and modern photos of moments in history that demonstrate how far we've come in creating a more socially just world.

1. Women gain positions of power and influence.

THEN: Prominent English suffragette leader Emmeline Pankhurst is arrested at a demonstration outside Buckingham Palace in 1914.

NOW: Janet Yellen is sworn in as the first female head of the Federal Reserve. The position has been occupied by men since the office was founded in 1913.

2. An African-American leads a country once divided by race.

THEN: A mob protests the "Little Rock Nine," nine youths that became the first African-American students to integrate at an all-white high school in the South.

NOW: Barack Obama is sworn in by Supreme Court Chief Justice John Roberts as the 44th President of the United States, becoming the first person of color to hold the office.

3. The battle for marriage equality gets loud and proud.

THEN:LGBT rights activists march in a New York City protest. The first gay pride parade was held in 1970, a year after the LGBT community came together in the Stonewall Riots.

NOW: The first gay couple to marry at the annual Rose Parade in Pasadena, Calif., share a joyful kiss.

4. People with disabilities gain more equal treatment.

THEN: A 1972 delegation passes around petitions for higher incomes and pensions for the disabled.

NOW: Britain battles the U.S. in wheelchair rugby during the 2012 Paralympics.

5. Musicians are known for their talent, not the color of their skin.

THEN: In 1955, the "color bar" prevented Ella Fitzgerald from singing at a popular Los Angeles nightclub. Marilyn Monroe intervened, promising to sit in the front row of the audience every night that Fitzgerald was booked to play.

NOW: Beyoncé and Jay-Z own the biggest musical night of the year with their performance of "Drunk In Love" at the 2014 Grammy's.

6. Minority workers find a voice.

THEN: Latino American rights activist and labor leader Cesar Chavez, in plaid, joins members of the United Farm Workers to protest a grocery carrying non-union produce.

NOW: Actors Martin Sheen and Edward James Olmos march in 2002 to celebrate the United Farm Workers' 40th anniversary, The UFW was founded by Cesar Chavez in 1962 to improve working conditions and salaries of farm workers and has negotiated several successful contracts in recent years.

7. A gay man runs for office.

THEN: Riots break out after Dan White is convicted of the 1978 killing of beloved gay supervisor Harvey Milk and San Francisco Mayor George Moscone. Milk was a champion for gay rights and the first openly gay person to be elected to public office in California.

NOW: Former state Senator Richard Tisei announces his bid to run for a Congressional District seat in Mass. Tisei is one of three openly gay Republicans running for office in this year's midterm elections.

8. Athletes break barriers.

THEN: Famed American runner Jesse Owens defeats a German athlete for the gold medal in the long jump at the Berlin Olympics in 1936. Although Owens was met with disdain from Nazi Germany, he was also afraid of returning to the U.S. "When I came back to my native country," he told ESPN, "after all the stories about Hitler, I couldn't ride in the front of the bus."

NOW:In 2012, Gabby Douglas of team U.S.A. becomes the first woman of color and African-American gymnast to win gold in the individual all-around at the Olympics.

Chicagoans Deserve a Living Wage

Thu, 2014-02-20 14:17
Last month at City Council, I joined 10 of my colleagues in calling for a referendum on increasing the minimum wage in our city to $15 per hour. This referendum will be on the March ballot in 20 Wards and will specifically ask:

Shall the City of Chicago require a minimum wage of $15 per hour for employees of companies that perform work within the City of Chicago where the employing company had annual gross revenues in excess of $50 Million in the last tax year?

I had recently tasked one of my staff to look at how we could go about introducing something to this affect, unilaterally. As I've said in this blog and everywhere else, our Federal and State Governments are rendered inert by their incompetence and petty political considerations. Anything of real value that needs to be done by government will have to come from, at least start at, the municipal level.

Let's remove the justly angry populist political argument at the moment (don't worry, I'll get there later) and just look at why raising the wage to $15 makes economic sense.

In Illinois today, an estimated 400,000 people survive on minimum wage, which is $8.25 per hour. This gives these folks the grand annual total of only $17,000 a year if they work full-time. Behind these workers are hundreds of thousands of other people -- children, spouses, parents -- who rely on that worker for financial support. In our state nearly 110,000 people with full time jobs technically live in poverty.

This is a complete disgrace. Obviously, anyone who works full-time for a living should not be living in poverty. It's the antithesis of what we've been raised to believe about America.

It's an indisputable fact that $17,000 a year is not enough to live off. I'd love to offer any CEO or COO or whatever to take such a Mel Brooks in Life Stinks type-challenge. Because the current minimum wage is unlivable, many of these workers and their families have to rely on food stamps and other means-tested programs.

So basically your tax dollars are subsidizing these necessary programs, because multi-billion dollar companies don't want to pay their workers a living wage. It's a degrading and perverse corporate welfare.

The two America's is real and growing. Income inequality is probably, under climate change, the most important challenge of our generation. If we don't stop this trend we'll end up like many other countries whose super-rich live in luxury in the central parts of town, while the poor eat their garbage in outlaying shanty towns.

The banal arguments that will be made against this are already disproven. These workers are not teenagers; the average age is 29. Raising the minimum wage actually helps the economy (more money = more spending).

But more important than all these things, it's simply the fair thing to do.

You can join this campaign and find out more about the ballot initiative here.

Looking For The Uninsured? Just Hail A Taxi Driver

Thu, 2014-02-20 14:13
CHICAGO (AP) — Groups working to sign up uninsured people for health coverage are making a special effort to contact taxi drivers, hoping to get many enrolled as a deadline for the nation's health law creeps closer.

Cab companies don't offer health insurance, and only a small percentage of the nation's 233,000 drivers have policies. But drivers have particular health care needs because of the hazard of traffic accidents and the long hours they spend sitting. In Chicago, enrollment workers are catching cabbies at a convenient spot: the city office where drivers renew their licenses. Restaurant workers and community college students are being sought in targeted efforts.

The enrollment outreach has gone from a dragnet strategy to a targeted approach, as the March 31 deadline approaches.

Are College Athletes Employees?

Thu, 2014-02-20 13:42
Members of the Wildcat football team at Northwestern University have filed a representation petition with the Regional Office of the National Labor Relations Board in Chicago, seeking a Labor Board-conducted election to determine whether a majority of the players want to be represented by a union for purposes of collective bargaining. This week, a Labor Board hearing officer is receiving the evidence the Labor Board will need to determine whether it should proceed with the case. While this is a unique situation regarding college athletes, a representation proceeding is a common practice, occurring more than a thousand times a year.

The news media have focused on the Northwestern petition because of its potential implications for college sports. Some commentators portray the case as collegiate Armageddon. Our nation's college campuses would be polluted by millionaire college athletes. The football team could even strike! The results of this, we are told, would be disastrous for universities and for the sporting public.

Many folks can understand the raw deal college athletes receive when the NCAA cartel caps their compensation to tuition, books, room, board and a small stipend. College athletics produce millions in revenue for their colleges, but the stars of the game cannot receive compensation commensurate with their contribution to the entertainment they provide. It is a sweet deal for colleges.

The Northwestern case, however, has nothing to do with the fairness of NCAA regulations. In the interests of its constituent member colleges, the NCAA has designed and administered a system that minimizes the costs to the institutions. Walter Byers, the late executive director of the NCAA, even created a term for these sports entertainers. They are referred to as "student-athletes." The NCAA vigilantly protects the brand of college athletics to distinguish it from professional sports. Whether that is correct or fair is an issue for another day. The Northwestern petitioners just want the right to bargain collectively with Northwestern University.

The sporting public must understand two things about the pending Northwestern petition: First, the Labor Board will have to determine whether it has jurisdiction to proceed and that will happen only if it decides that the football players are "employees" covered by the National Labor Relations Act; second, if the Labor Board conducts an election and a majority of the football players vote to be represented by a union, the University would be required to bargain in good faith with the players over wages, hours, and other terms and conditions of employment such as medical coverage. Let's unpack these two issues.

The primary issue before the Labor Board is whether the men who play football wearing the purple and white jerseys of Northwestern University work for the institution. Other full-time college students who, for example, work at the University bookstore, in the libraries or in food services certainly are employees, and they could, if they wished, form a union. The Labor Board's decision will not turn on what the University (or the NCAA) calls these young men. Byers' label is clever marketing. It may not reflect the reality of what athletes actually do at their schools.

The evidence presented to the Hearing Officer will demonstrate whether the University retains the right to control how football players carry out their functions at the University. At most institutions, football and basketball players perform directed sports activities for their colleges on an almost full-time basis. They also must go to classes and maintain their good academic standing. Does the fact that they have to be students mean they cannot also be "employees?" That is not the case for any other students on campus who also work for the institution.

The second issue -- what would happen if the football players actually unionize -- is not directly relevant to whether they are "employees." If a majority of players decide to unionize, the University will likely contest their status by refusing to bargain with the union. The case would then proceed through the Labor Board to the Circuit Court of Appeals where the issue of the players' status will ultimately be determined. After that process is completed - and it will likely take years for that to happen -- and assuming the Circuit Court determines that football players are employees, the University would then be required to bargain in good faith with the union. The University is under no obligation to make a concession or to reach an agreement.

We are a long way from millionaire college athletes. The only millionaires on most campuses now are the football and basketball coaches who have been the beneficiaries of the millions made by the sports they coach. The Northwestern petition starts in motion a process that is long overdue. It is likely that none of the men on the current football team, however, will be around Evanston to receive the benefits of this case, assuming it is ultimately successful. It will be the generations of athletes that follow who will reap the rewards. They should remember who to thank for their good fortune.

<i>Thrive</i> and the $26 Philanthropist

Thu, 2014-02-20 13:23
Fourteen years ago, I began teaching history at a public high school in the Bronx. My students and colleagues were awesome, but I could see that the school where I was teaching did not have the same resources as the schools I'd attended.

My colleagues and I spent a lot of our own money on copy paper and pencils, but we often couldn't afford the resources that would get our students excited about learning. We'd talk in the teachers' lunchroom about books our students should read, a field trip we wanted to take, or a microscope that would bring science to life.

"Crowdfunding" wasn't yet a word, but I figured there were people out there who'd love to help -- if they could see where their money was going. So, using a pencil and paper, I drew a website where teachers could post classroom project requests and donors could choose a project they wanted to support.

Fourteen years later, more than a million donors have supported projects reaching 10 million students in low-income communities, demonstrating that micro philanthropists can have a macro impact.

Arianna Huffington is one of the greatest champions of this idea -- that anyone can make a difference. In her new book, Thrive, she shares her secrets to creating a life of well-being, wisdom, wonder, and giving. One of these secrets is the joy and satisfaction derived from acts of altruism, no matter the dollar amount involved. And Arianna is taking an incredible step to prove it.

In a history-making move for the publishing world, Thrive is offering to give every reader their money back -- to become a micro-philanthropist. If you purchase Thrive before March 25 and follow the instructions on, you'll be given a $26 gift code to spend on the classroom project of your choice. Even if you purchase the book at a discount from its $26 list price, you'll get $26 to help fulfill a teacher's dream.

Think of it as "satisfaction guaranteed AND your money back." I think it's pretty cool that Arianna is sacrificing profits from her book so that her readers can experience the joy of giving.

Thrive is about to give students across America a lesson in the Third Metric. I hope you'll take part.

Patrick Kane Makes Illinois Second Graders' Day With Greeting From Sochi (VIDEO)

Thu, 2014-02-20 12:25
When Christy Gibbs, a Chicago-area second grade teacher, tweeted a good luck message to Blackhawks star Patrick Kane on behalf of her class, she certainly was not expecting a response.

But that is exactly what happened Wednesday when Gibbs and her students received a video greeting from the U.S. Olympic hockey team member, thanking the class for their cheering him on.

"Hopefully we can bring back the gold medal," Kane said in the video from Sochi.

According to the Daily Herald, it all began when the teacher at Chesak Elementary School in Lake in the Hills, Ill., tweeted at Kane as part of the McDonald's-sponsored Cheers to Sochi campaign.

Gibbs told the Herald her students were "very excited and very surprised" by the message from Kane, who also signed a hockey stick for each student. The students also received Olympic jackets, an Olympic mascot toy and a McDonald's gift card.

One of Gibbs' students told NBC Chicago she was particularly excited by the signed hockey stick and that she plans to "hold it and wish him good luck" when she watches him play.

Thanks to Kane and co.'s Wednesday win over the Czech Republic, the U.S. hockey team is in the semifinal and will face off with Canada in a rematch of the 2010 gold-medal showdown on Friday.

Olympics All About Managing Anxiety

Thu, 2014-02-20 11:18
I've always been intrigued by the Olympic Games. Not because I have a big interest in most of the sports on display. I don't.

But I love watching elite athletes attempting to deal with the pressure of performing on the world's biggest international stage. Compounding that pressure is the fact the Olympics come around only once every four years.

For many of the athletes that have filled our screens the last couple weeks, they have a couple minutes to perform at their best and that's it. Their biggest competitor is not some athlete from another nation, it's choking. The medal winners are usually the athletes that are most successful in battling the choking monster.

Choking is a phenomenon that's common to all athletes, whether it's the Little League baseball player, recreational weekend warrior, or professional football player.

Those of us who have competed in athletics -- or who are still competing -- know there's one thing we all share: at various points we've all choked during a sporting event. We've gotten so nervous, so tight, that we couldn't perform anywhere near our potential. As a result, we've made mistakes and we've lost games or matches we probably shouldn't have.

Despite this universal experience, the subject of choking remains almost a taboo subject amongst athletes. It's almost as if the mere mention of the word will elicit the choking sensation.

At various points in my career in sports -- coach, sports industry consultant, sports studies professor, writer -- I've examined the choking phenomenon. I've researched the topic, analyzed it, written about it, and read more than a few sports psychology books addressing the issue. My research has resulted from as much personal curiosity as it has professional duty.

Recently, I was listening to a couple basketball analysts discuss the topic of choking in sports. It got me thinking. I jotted down the best things I've read, heard, and experimented with, regarding sports anxiety ...

First, as long as you play sports, you're going to experience anxiety on a regular basis. Whether it's during the seconds before tip-off in a basketball game or the few moments when you're standing on top of a ski mountain before starting an Olympic downhill run.

Anxiety, nerves, butterflies, jitters, fear, whatever you want to call it, the sensation comes with the territory and it's part of what makes sports exciting and fun. I once heard a pro football player say, "If you're not nervous before a game, you're not ready to play." I think that's true.

Nevertheless, it's important to realize that every athlete "chokes" at some point. Choking goes beyond pre-game butterflies. Choking negatively impacts performance. Even the greats like Roger Federer, Peyton Manning, and Michael Jordan have choked at critical times. They've screwed up in games or matches because they were overly anxious or tight. Once again, it's part of the game and part of being human. The challenge is to manage your anxiety and limit those choking moments.

Here are five tactics for dealing with nerves in sports that I think can be helpful for athletes at any level:

1) Realize Your Opponent is Nervous Too -- A lot of times we think we're the only athlete nervous during a game or match. In reality, our opponent is usually as nervous as we are -- and maybe more so. So, it's a matter of how each opponent deals with it. Tell yourself, "I may be nervous but my opponent is nervous too (whether or not he/she shows that anxiety outwardly)."

2) Admit to Yourself That You're Choking -- Serious. The natural reaction when you start to feel anxious is to try and push it away or ignore it. That seldom works. There's an old adage that says, "What you resist, persists." Fighting against anxiety just makes it stronger. According to famous golfer turned golf analyst Johnny Miller, the best approach to choking is to simply admit it. Say to yourself, "I'm choking. It's completely natural. It just means that what I'm doing is important to me. So, I'm going to acknowledge the nervous feeling and then focus on what I'm trying to do on this next play." If you're really adventurous, you can joke about it, e.g., how you might set the all-time record for choking that day. Or, you can even ask your brain for more choking sensations. "Bring it on!" This actually helps dissipate the choking feelings.

3) Be Willing to Fail and Make Mistakes -- It seems counterintuitive but being willing to mess up is the best attitude to take. Most fear in sports comes from being unwilling to fail, or make a mistake. The more you resist losing, failure, or making an error, the tighter you become. The natural tendency is to try and avoid being embarrassed. Ironically, the key to success in sports is the willingness to fail. And that's where a big part of confidence comes from too. If you say to yourself, "I prefer not to fail or make a mistake but if I do, I do. I can handle it," you're going to have the advantage over the athlete who's telling him/herself "I can't screw up. We have to win this game. If I mess up, or we lose, that would be terrible." That athlete's going to be as tight as a drum, while the first athlete, who's mindset is "If I fail, I fail, I can handle it," is going to play a lot more loosely and confidently.

4) Focus on the Present Task -- There's a famous sports psychology book called, The Inner Game of Tennis by W. Timothy Gallwey. One of the key things I remember from reading it is to focus on what's happening NOW, not what happened last point, or last play ... or what might happen in the future. Easier said than done, right? Well, to do that Gallwey recommends what could be called the "One-Two Technique." Here's how it works: Focus on the opposing player, when he/she serves, say to yourself "One." Then, focusing on the ball, say "Two" when you make contact and hit the ball back; "One" when he/she hits it back to you and "Two" when you return it, etc. This gets your mind focused on the present point rather than thinking about a missed shot in the last game, or a potential outcome in the future (e.g., "What if I lose this set?").

5) When Nervous, Focus on Your Process Routines -- When a match or game gets close, focus on your pre-established routines in order to stay in the moment. For example, if shooting a free throw, focus on your free throw process (e.g., bounce the ball three times, spin the ball once, focus on the rim and shoot). A tennis example: before serving, take a deep breath, adjust your strings, bounce the ball twice, look at your target and serve. Whatever your routine, always do the same thing. Therefore, whether it's during practice or the national championship game, your brain and body will recognize the routine, allowing you the best chance to perform effectively.

The mental game is a big part of sports but an aspect that coaches don't talk about much - even at the Olympic level -- relative to the time they spend on physical topics. The mental/emotional side of sports remains the next great frontier in elite-level sports competition.

For the rest of us non-Olympic caliber athletes, here's the takeaway: As long as we're going to continue participating in sports, we might as well adopt a mental approach that maximizes our chances of success and enjoyment.

Adopting the mindset in these five tips is a good place to start.

Several Nonprofits Benefit From Foundation's Large Gifts

Thu, 2014-02-20 11:06
CHICAGO (AP) — The MacArthur Foundation has chosen seven nonprofits for grants of as much as $1 million to recognize their success and future potential in work ranging from promoting the rights of Nigerian women to researching anti-crime programs in Chicago, the foundation announced Thursday.

The groups chosen for the 2014 MacArthur Award for Creative and Effective Institutions — whose annual grants range from $750,000 to $1 million — are all previous recipients of the Chicago-based foundation's largess. They were chosen for this award after foundation staff reviewed how well each was run, MacArthur Foundation President Robert Gallucci said. "These are stars in my view — organizations that stand out in the work that they do," Gallucci said. "In every case, getting this award from the MacArthur Foundation, I'm told, helps them in their work and it adds to their effectiveness and their credibility.'"

Five groups will receive $1 million each. They are the Washington-based National Housing Trust, which preserves and improves affordable housing; NatureServe, an Arlington, Va.-based group that promotes environmental conservation; New York-based investigative reporting group ProPublica; the Citizen Lab of Toronto, which helps monitor political activity that could affect human rights; and the University of Chicago Crime Lab, whose focus is on urban crime rates.

Grants of $750,000 each were given to Nigeria's Women's Rights Advancement and Protection Alternative, which promotes and protects the rights of women, and the Washington-based Campaign Legal Center, which seeks to reduce the influence of money in politics.

Crime Lab executive direct Roseanna Ander said she was "very excited" about the award. She said the lab uses scientific research to evaluate the effectiveness and impact of strategies used to combat violence and crime, with the ultimate goal of providing facts that inform policymakers on which programs do the most good for the dollars spent.

The grant, she said, will help make the laboratory nimble and able to expand its reach beyond Chicago and a few other cities.

"What's helpful about the money is that we will be able to turn on a dime and move on a project immediately,'" she said. "We won't have to find a funding source before taking on a project.'"

The Citizen Lab of the Munk School of Global Affairs at the University of Toronto helps other nonprofits monitor governmental political activities in cyberspace and the human rights violations that could result. The organization gained prominence in 2009, when it issued a report documenting cyber espionage that targeted and compromised computer systems in the Offices of the Dalai Lama. The espionage was linked to China's hacking community.

Citizen Lab Director Ron Deibert said he was blown away by the MacArthur award.

"We look in places where government and companies don't always want us to look," Deibert said. "To remain impartial, we don't accept funding from the state. ... We seek out research grants, which come and go and are finite. Something like this helps us create an endowment which can offset core operating costs.'"

Gallucci noted that he recently visited the offices of ProPublica, calling it an extremely well-run organization whose goals are to "shed a light on accuracy and fairness in the media and exposing fraudulent business practices and improve the democratic system.

The John D. and Catherine T. MacArthur Foundation is a private, independent group that hands out about $230 million in grants annually. It may be best known for its "genius grants," $500,000 no-strings-attached fellowships that have gone to hundreds of people since 1981.



MacArthur Foundation:

These Things You Do Every Day Have Changed The English Language As We Know It

Thu, 2014-02-20 11:01
We're always adding new words to the English language -- selfie, twerk, hashtag, et cetera. This isn't about that.

We tap out more messages each day than the one before. We've got SMS, email and online chats -- but channels of communication are always changing. And with their evolution, it shouldn't come as a huge surprise that the language that comprises them is, too. Yep, every email to your mom, tweet to your celebrity crush, and drunk 3 AM text to your friend is changing the English language as we know it.

"Language itself changes slowly, but the Internet has speeded up the process of those changes so you notice them more quickly," David Crystal, honorary professor of linguistics at the University of Bangor, explained to the BBC.

Here's a look at what we've done to our language. So far.

Periods are for haters.

Consider the following texting examples, wherein one party wishes to locate a pint of delicious frozen dessert.

"Where's the ice cream?"

"Bottom shelf"

A normal 21st century interaction. But if it had gone like this:

"Where's the ice cream?"

"Bottom shelf."

The second respondent would sound a bit aggressive, and all because of a little period. In short lines of communication -- such as a text message or online chat -- we're relying more on line breaks to do the job of indicating a complete thought or sentence. A 2013 American University study of texting habits found that students used periods to end a sentence only 39 percent of the time in texts and 45 percent of the time during online chats (and even fewer used them to indicate the end of conversations).

Periods, while still (obviously) commonplace in any written composition longer than a tweet, have taken on the new responsibility of letting others know you're serious... or pissed.

It's okay to use ellipses everywhere… Kind of…

Hey… have you noticed the way people have been using ellipses lately? They'll just kind of add them… around sentence fragments… so that people can type the way they speak. Typing is much quicker when you don't have to think about punctuating your sentences correctly. Because when you're tapping out over 180 billion emails per day, you've got to take shortcuts somewhere, right? New York University Journalism professor Clay Shirky explained to Slate the proliferation of ellipses in casual (and even some business) communication is just one way to speed things up. “People are communicating like they are talking, but encoding that talk in writing," he said.

Ending a sentence with ellipses also presents a friendlier alternative to the angry period. But it can convey a passive-aggressive or irritated tone that you may or may not intend. Take these two scenarios, for example:

"Are you okay?"


"Are you okay?"


The first is simple and straightforward. The second, however, adds a layer of ominous ambiguity. Yes, but what? Yes, and you don't need to ask? Yes, but you should have asked twenty minutes ago? What did we do? Why won't you tell us?

And everyone likes exclamation points!

You wouldn't want to come off as rude! Everyone from your boss to your mother is likely using exclamation points in his or her emails. But why, exactly, are we all suddenly down with the texting habits of preteen girls?

Maybe it's because digital communication, no matter how advanced the smartphone or fast the wifi, is still a lonesome pursuit between yourself and a cold, soulless machine. Exclamation points and the warmth they convey are a way of injecting some humanity into the process.

They also add some personality. It sounds much better to respond "See you there!" to an email detailing the when and where of happy hour, than "See you there," which is comparatively unenthusiastic. David Shipley and Will Schwalbe explained the phenomenon in their book Send: Why People Email So Badly And How To Do It Better. "Because email is without affect," they write, "it has a dulling quality that almost necessitates kicking everything up a notch just to bring it to where it would normally be."

The exclamation mark can also help us out when someone mistakes our tone for one of sarcasm or artificiality. "Were you being sarcastic?" could be answered with a quick "No!" to emphasize the writer's sincerity. But you still might want to steer clear of using a lot of them in succession!!!!!

*Jumps up and down*

Using an asterisk to set off onomatopoeia isn't anything new -- comic book writers have been doing it for decades. What's new here is the fact that so many people are using asterisks to indicate stage direction in the neat imaginary plays of their lives. Part joke, part quirky storytelling technique, asterisks can be used to set any number of action sequences apart from the main prose.

And of course, they're also a *great* alternative to bolding or italics when use of those emphasizing format tools isn't available. Or when bold, italics, or all-caps seem just a bit too harsh.

*forgets what im talking about halfway through a sentence*

— no (@tbhnoonecares) January 25, 2014

Sometimes it seems like we ask a lot of questions?

More and more, we're typing like we speak. You've noticed, certainly, the way some people will take a statement and end it like they would a question. Linguists call it "high rising intonation" (HRI). It's not new -- we widely attribute HRI to the "Valley Girl" speak that proliferated in the 1980s. But now we're putting it in our writing?

Not academic or professional writing, of course. But maybe we're looking at a new way to indicate uncertainty in our written thoughts?

Because technology.

The history of the English language is filled with lazy shortcuts. We've said goodbye to noun declensions and we've simplified spellings. Did you know Old English speakers would actually take the time to use a different form of "name" to say "His name is Sam" versus "They don't know his name"? Ha! Losers.

Now we have a new and easier way to convey explanations -- the "because-noun." Traditionally, there are two ways to use the subordinating conjunction "because." One, you can follow it with a finite clause, as in "I'm not hungry because I just ate a ton of ice cream." Two, you can follow it with a prepositional phrase, as in "I'm not hungry because of that ice cream."

The because-noun replaces that second usage. It casts aside excess prepositions and articles to give us a clean, neat, "I'm not hungry because ice cream." No understanding is lost -- we assume the speaker feels full due to the amount of ice cream he or she recently consumed. Saying "I'm not hungry because of the ice cream" is unnecessary. Right now, the because-noun is only really used in speech as an amusing nod to Internet culture, but maybe one day the written shortcut will make a real jump to spoken language. Because logic.


One of the greatest challenges of digital communication has been privacy concerns how to express laughter. LOL and other acronyms were meant to solve the problem, but have only made it more complicated.

You're totally judged based on how you choose to type out laughter. Most of us seem to prefer some version of "haha" these days, but of course that varies based on who your friends are and where they are in the world -- last year, a popular Reddit thread detailed all the ways laughter is typed out on keyboards worldwide. Thai people, for example, use the number five, which is pronounced "ha" in their language. 55555.

While it varies, there have been attempts to nail down the rules of laugh-typing. Katie Heaney over at BuzzFeed attempts to define 42 different ways to let people on the Internet know you're cracking up (or not). But whatever you choose to type, we all know you're not really laughing out loud when you type "lol."


Nowadays, we're all nerds. Some of us have started borrowing from HTML coding, using the forward slash as a way to indicate the end of something. For example, "/rant" means "end rant," or perhaps in the present context, "I'm done going on and on about grammar on the Internet."

Walk Softly

Thu, 2014-02-20 11:00
"When you go to dig your fields, or make a pot from clay, you are disturbing the balance of things. When you walk, you are moving the air, breathing it in and out. Therefore you must make payments."

Oh, unraveling planet, exploited, polluted, overrun with berserk human technology. How does one face it with anything other than rage and despair, which quickly harden into cynicism? And cynicism is just another word for helplessness.

So I listen to the Arhuaco people of northern Colombia, quoted above at the Survival International website, and imagine -- or try to imagine -- a reverence for planetary balance so profound I am aware that when I walk I disturb it, so I must walk with gratitude and a sense of indebtedness. Walk softly, walk softly . . .

Instead, I live in this world:

"Deep sea ecosystems are under threat of mass industrialization, warned a panel of scientists on Sunday," according to Common Dreams.

"Speaking at the American Association for the Advancement of Science meeting in Chicago, the scientists warned that without international cooperation with a focus on 'deep-ocean stewardship,' deep sea mining will follow the destructive examples set by commercial fishing and offshore fossil fuel operations."

And this:

"Native Americans in the mid- and upper-mid West are not waiting idly as President Obama and the State Department finalize their ultimate decision on the Keystone XL pipeline which would transport tar sands -- the planet's dirtiest fuel -- from mining operations in Canada to the U.S. gulf coast for export," also according to Common Dreams.

"In Montana, North Dakota, South Dakota and Nebraska, tribal groups and indigenous activists are busy planning the best ways to resist the pipeline -- which they have dubbed the Black Snake -- if it gains approval."

Chemical spills, radiation leakage, broken mountaintops, plastic waste that will never decompose, a depleted ozone layer, a floating garbage dump in the Pacific Ocean the size of a continent -- all this, and so much more, are the result of normal life in the 21st century. And then there's war, the biggest polluter of all, with its horrific, toxic aftermath, from depleted uranium contamination to unexploded bombs to the lingering animosity of the defeated, waiting to explode.

Maybe it's the human condition that's toxic, but I don't really believe that. I don't think it's greed that is pushing us to the outer limits of self-destruction, but something more complex. Call it addiction, call it servitude. We're trapped in obedience to a force that demands, in payment, everything that we value and everything that we are: our planet, our souls.

Consider, for instance, this looming matter of deep-sea mining and the inevitable disturbance of deep ecosystems. What could propel such reckless audacity? A panelist at a recent meeting of the American Association for the Advancement of Science simply described it, according to Common Dreams, as a "surge in demand for consumer devices, such as portable electronics and batteries for hybrid vehicles," which, she said, "is pushing mining companies to expand their operations to the ocean floor to seek out hard-to-find rare earth elements such as nickel, cobalt, manganese and copper."

I don't think consumer demand -- for throwaway high-tech paraphernalia -- would drive the human race to the bottom of the ocean in search of rare metals, at some unknown but possibly terrible cost to the planetary ecosystem. I actually think most "consumers" would vote no on this activity, and so many others that have already occurred. I don't think we're so utterly separated from indigenous tribespeople that we can't imagine and long for deep connectedness to our planet and a sense of responsibility for its continued state of delicate balance.

I think, rather, we're driven, as a global culture, by the phenomenon of money, which is an invisible force more than it's something tangible and graspable.

"Created as interest-bearing debt," Charles Eisenstein writes in his excellent book, Sacred Economics, "(money's) sustained value depends on the endless expansion of the realm of goods and services. Whatever backs money becomes sacred: accordingly, growth has occupied a sacred status for many centuries."

The economy we're caught in is out of control. It can't stop growing. Thus it keeps pushing into new territory, consuming what Eisenstein refers to as "the commons," i.e., the context in which we live: environmental, social, cultural, spiritual. Economic forces invade, claim and sell everything, from the split atom to our own imaginations. This is what we serve, and this is what we must stop serving. We have to learn what we once knew: how to live in grateful service to what we truly value.

To the Arhuacos, indigenous residents of the Sierra Nevada de Santa Marta mountain range, "the Sierra is the heart of the Earth and their role is to protect it," according to Survival International. ". . . . Their religion, culture and cosmology are staggeringly complex."

We know so much. I hope we don't know too much to learn from the marginalized peoples of the world, who still value and strive to protect the context in which we all live.

- - -
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


With All That Snow Melting, The Midwest Has Another Big Weather Problem On Its Hands

Thu, 2014-02-20 10:59
CHICAGO (AP) — The sunny skies that started melting the snow in earnest this week gave way to steady rain — and more melting — in Chicago Thursday morning, causing some flooding and raising commuters' fears that they will later be confronted by submerged streets, sidewalks and basements.

"It flooded in front of my house up to my boot," said Lisa Robertson, a 50-year-old computer operator, after she got off a train in Chicago from her home in the suburbs south of the city. "Last night we made sure nothing was on the floor of the basement." Others said they were taking precautions such as stacking belongings in their basements atop milk crates, while others merely hoped their basements would not be lakes when they arrived home.

Ruth Muscato, 66, said the streets near her home in suburban Oak Lawn were flooded but not impassable.

"But my husband had a doctor's appointment and the doctor called him (and said), 'I can't get out of my house, I'm totally flooded,'" Muscato said after disembarking from a train in downtown Chicago.

Meanwhile, Thursday promised to be a gray, sloppy stew of rain, sleet and some snow — a far cry from Wednesday when the streets and parks were crowded with joggers, mothers pushing strollers, and people walking their dogs on what seemed like the first sunny, relatively warm day in months.

A whole new layer of snow and sleet was forecast to accumulate early Thursday, particularly across Wisconsin, northern Illinois and parts of Indiana, before temperatures rise and change the precipitation to rain, according to the National Weather Service. The warmer temperatures may be accompanied by fog and strong winds that could reach 50 miles per hour.

Ahead of Thursday's rain, communities and private companies spent the day before clearing catch basins of debris and answering calls from worried homeowners and businesses to load up their snow so that it melts somewhere else.

"They're calling me to say, 'With this rain coming, where is that water and the snow going to go when it melts?'" said Jodey Schmiedekamp of Countryside Industries in suburban Chicago.

Officials in Will County, south of Chicago, prepared to siphon warm water from a nuclear power plant's cooling pond into the Kankakee River in hopes of melting ice that can jam the channel and push floodwaters over the banks. Emergency management authorities warned people in low-lying areas to be ready to move to higher ground, even going door-to-door to ensure families were aware of the danger.

In Indiana, the weather service cautioned that melting snow piled as high as 18 inches wouldn't be able to flow into rivers and streams because those channels are frozen. Between the snowmelt and the rain, some flooding would be unavoidable.

Parts of Michigan have had so much snow that authorities fret about more roof collapses like the one that injured two women Wednesday in the Grand Rapids area, which has received 101 inches of snow this season. Other collapses have been reported around the state since January.

And add this to the things to worry about: With temperatures expected to drop as low as 10 degrees on Sunday, and perhaps lower Monday, puddles along roads and sidewalks are expected to freeze.

The thaw may also reveal a struggle for survival that has played out all winter close to the frozen ground. As the ice and snow recedes around rivers, lakes and ponds, it could reveal dead fish, turtles, frogs, toads and crayfish that didn't make it.


Associated Press writers Jeff Karoub in Detroit, Charles Wilson in Indianapolis and Ron Todt in Philadelphia contributed to this report.

Seven Dental Myths for Pets

Thu, 2014-02-20 09:54
I thought it would be fun to recognize February Pet Dental Health Month with seven of my favorite dental myths.

Myth 1: When it comes to dental health, dry food is definitely better than canned food for your pet.

For cats, this statement is false. In general, dry is not better for your cat's oral health when compared to canned cat food. Most dry cat food offers no significant chewing resistance due to its small size and brittle nature. When the cat's teeth come in contact with the dry pellet, the food shatters before the tooth penetrates it, losing any of its abrasive action benefit. In fact, as carnivores, cats frequently swallow their dry food whole. There are some dry food exceptions, like Hill's Prescription Diet Feline T/d and Purina Veterinary Diet Dental Health Feline Formula. For a more comprehensive list of tarter and plaque reducing diets and treats, see Veterinary Oral Health Council's website.

For dogs, in general, feeding dry food may be slightly better than canned food with regards to plaque and buildup. Compared to dry food, moist food can become more easily trapped in the crevices around your pet's teeth and may provide a substrate for bacterial growth. Wild dogs that eat fresh meat and small bones may have slightly reduced tarter to that of domesticated pets who eat dry food only, but they have equivalent periodontal disease. There are some dry dog foods that are definitely better for your pet's teeth, like Prescription Diet Canine T/d and Purina Dental Health for Canines.

In general, the texture of your pet's food does not make a dramatic difference in tarter and calculus build up. What does make a difference, is brushing your pets teeth daily and chewing on specially formulated chew toys or treats.

Myth 2: Animal Bones are good for your pet's teeth.

False. Animal bones are extremely hard and can fracture your pet's teeth. Please read my earlier Huffington Post, "Don't Give a Dog a Bone," for more information.

Myth 3: All fractured teeth need to be extracted.

False. If a tooth is fractured and the pulp cavity is not exposed, the tooth may be saved. This is called an uncomplicated tooth fracture, and the fractured crown surface can be smoothed and treated with a dental bonding agent. A dental bond seals the pores of the crown, minimizes bacteria from adhering to its surface, and decreases your pet's dental pain. A complicated tooth fracture is when the crown is fractured and the pulp cavity is exposed. If your veterinarian identifies a complicated tooth fracture, the tooth may be saved if the root structures beneath the gum are healthy. A dental specialist can perform a root canal to preserve the integrity of this complicated fractured tooth. Unfortunately, if the root structures are unhealthy, the fractured tooth must be extracted.

Myth 4: Baking soda and human toothpaste can be used to brush your pet's teeth.

False. Pets do not know how to rinse after brushing. Baking soda is too high in salt, and human toothpaste is too high in fluoride, to be ingested. Both these products can be irritating to your pet's gastrointestinal tract when swallowed.

At Animal Medical Center of Chicago, we recommend veterinary approved pet toothpaste that is malt, vanilla or poultry flavored that most pets seem to enjoy. For a tooth brushing demonstration watch my associate, Dr. Timothy England clean his dog's Gladys' teeth.

Myth 5: An anesthesia free dental is safe for your pet.

Absolutely false. Anesthesia free dentistry is dangerous to your pet's health. 70 percent of the pathology in your pet's oral cavity is beneath the gum line and will be missed without evaluation. A thorough oral evaluation, which may include dental radiography, can only be performed in an anesthetized animal. Restraining the pet for a potential painful dental cleaning procedure and probing is inhumane and should never be tolerated by any pet owner.

Anesthesia has its risks, but with a comprehensive pre-anesthetic evaluation and a skilled anesthetic team by your pet's side, your pet's anesthetic risks are negligible.

Myth 6: Dogs can give strep throat to adults and children.

False. People with strep throat are infected with Group A Streptococcus bacteria. Dogs and cats are not natural reservoirs for this group and species of bacteria. Dogs and cats are natural reservoirs for Group G Streptococcus canis, and it can be found on their skin, in the pharynx and upper respiratory tract. So, don't blame your pet for your sore throat.

Myth 7: Dogs and cats with dental pain will not eat.

False. Pets have a very strong survival instinct. They will continue to eat despite being in substantial pain. In fact, last year a client dropped her dog off for what she thought was going to be a routine dental cleaning appointment until we discovered during our pre-anesthetic examination that her pet had a fractured jaw. The dog's mandible was fractured secondary to an abscessed tooth. When I contacted the owner to discuss my findings, the owner was in shock. She reported that her terrier showed no sign of dental pain, ate dry food only and chewed a rawhide the previous night.

Honor this February's dental month by giving your pet a new toothbrush and pet toothpaste. Brush you pet's teeth and gums daily to reduce tarter, plaque and periodontal disease. At least once a year have your pet's teeth evaluated by your veterinarian. A clean mouth is a healthy mouth.


Dr. Donna Solomon is a veterinarian at Animal Medical Center of Chicago and invites you to email her your questions or future topic ideas to

Caroline Myss, Spiritual Author, Explains Why Intuition Is Often A Source Of Suffering (VIDEO)

Thu, 2014-02-20 08:23
As a spiritual teacher and medical intuitive, Caroline Myss says she can see into people's bodies and souls. What the best-selling author has learned through her three decades of work is that the mind, body and spirit are all deeply connected.

Your spirit, Myss says, is the part of you that seeks meaning and purpose. Each day, we have a choice as to whether we enhance that spirit or drain it -- a choice that presents itself in the form of our intuition. Myss believes that ignoring our intuition leads us away from our life's purpose and can cause serious damage to our spirit. She explained this belief in detail to Oprah on an episode of "Super Soul Sunday."

"We have an intuitive voice in us. We are born intuitive," Myss says. "We are so intuitive that it's actually for most people the source of their greatest suffering."

"How is your intuition -- your intuitiveness -- the cause of your greatest suffering?" Oprah asks. "I think it would be the opposite."

"Oh, no. No, it isn't, Oprah," Myss responds. "Because people hear when they betray themselves."

This betrayal happens when you ignore your intuition which often causes a nagging voice in your head to question your choice -- whether you've said something you shouldn't or whether you're sticking around a dead-end relationship. "This is the voice of your conscience. It's the voice of your consciousness, your gut instinct," Myss explains. "It's the voice you don't want to hear, that never turns off."

Following that voice and listening to your intuition allows you to evolve and push further toward your life's purpose. "[Intuition is] the part that keeps us moving and turning the wheel of our life," Myss says. "It will guide you."

Also in the interview above, Myss explains the difference between acceptance and simply doing nothing.

"Super Soul Sunday" airs Sundays at 11 a.m. ET on OWN.

The Best Restaurants in America for 2014

Thu, 2014-02-20 08:16
It becomes more difficult every year to rank America's best restaurants. We say that having done it for nearly a half-decade. As interest in dining out increases, and more great chefs train younger good ones, fantastic food continues to spread out across the country. Exceptional culinary landscapes in big cities get even better, and new and different dining scenes are born and in turn attract and inspire even more greatness from a growing number of talented cooks. This makes trying to rank the country's best restaurants in 2014 all the more challenging, but also all the more interesting, worthwhile, and intriguing.

Click Here to see the Slideshow for 101 Best Restaurants in America 2014

We have always believed that good food is good food, and so our previous 101s have compared iconic pizza parlors and joints serving transcendent cheeseburgers with the lapidary perfection of a French Laundry or the genre-bending inventiveness of a Next. That said, as we continue to watch the nation's culinary scene improve, we've come to the conclusion that in fairness to both categories of restaurants we should now rank them in their own lists. In 2014, then, for the first time, The Daily Meal's ranking of 101 Best Restaurants in America will be followed by a list of America's 50 Best Casual Restaurants -- the most amazing spots in the United States serving the ribs, red hots, pizzas, burgers, tacos, and other less expensive (but no less important or mouthwatering) dishes. Watch for it next month.

We formed our first 101 list in 2011 by asking: Where did we, The Daily Meal's editors, like to eat? Accounting for our mood, budget, and where we happen to be when we get hungry, how would we vote -- not only with our critical faculties, but with our mouths and our wallets? Where would we send friends? We devised a list of 150 places and argued, advocated, and cajoled each other on behalf of restaurants ranging from old-fashioned to avant-garde, ultra-casual to super-fancy. Then we invited an illustrious panel of judges (restaurant critics, food and lifestyle writers, and bloggers) from across America to help order restaurants via an anonymous survey and tallied results to assemble a ranked list. We did that again in 2012, considering 2011's winners and nominees, and suggestions from judges and readers, resulting in 202 nominations, and again in 2013, considering readers' suggestions and those of panels with a wider geographic reach than ever.

Click Here to see the Complete list of 101 Best Restaurants in America 2014

In 2014, we took the added step of asking restaurant experts and critics across the country to submit nominations of their own, both locally and nationally. We ended up with more restaurants to consider than ever, some 430 from Maine to California, Washington to Florida, and everywhere you can imagine in between.

The results were thought-provoking and contentious. Evenly distributed across the nation? Absolutely not. While we try hard to represent a wide geographical spread, and as good as our overall food scene has become, there are "food towns" around the country -- Chicago, Los Angeles, New Orleans, both Portlands, San Francisco, and a few others, including (grumble away) New York City -- where many of the best restaurants are congregated, often because talented chefs and restaurateurs from other regions gravitate to them. We realize that there are some 71 urban areas in the U.S. with populations of 500,000 and above, and though they're full of restaurants, does every one of them have one or two places that can really be compared with America's best? Maybe. But even today, probably not.

As always, the question we'd encourage panelists (and readers) in areas that seem underrepresented to ask themselves is: Is the restaurant I love here, something I'd recommend people make a special trip to experience? The answer would be yes for most of the top-ranking restaurants that made 2014's 101 best list, one that includes every kind of restaurant you could imagine.

You may question the results, you may think you know better than we do how to order this list, you may think it obvious that we should replace a number of winners with restaurants you think are more deserving. With a ranking like this, it would be surprising if there weren't disagreements. Indeed, there were places we were pulling for ourselves that didn't make the cut, and places we thought should have been higher or lower.

Click Here to see The 101 Best Restaurants in Europe

Please let us know what you think we missed or misranked -- we do read your comments even if we don't always agree with them. As we have every year, we'll publish a follow-up with your opinions -- and hey, if you turn us on to places we missed, so much the better.

We're excited about our 2014 list of America's best restaurants. Their quality and sheer diversity of menus and cuisines and the hundreds that almost, but didn't quite make it demonstrate that we live in an exciting time in America for food. There are some truly exciting chefs in America, chefs raising the bar to a level this country has never seen. We salute the hard-working people who make dining out in America a rewarding adventure. We'd also like to thank our panelists for helping. You can be certain we will continue to sign up more trusted panelists and refine the process by which we make our choices. What will the next 101 installment bring? You'll find out on The Daily Meal.

-Arthur Bovino, The Daily Meal

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Illinois Residents Stand Up to Peabody Coal at Historic EPA Hearing: Will AG Madigan Bring Justice to Rocky Branch?

Thu, 2014-02-20 07:11
Outnumbering Peabody Energy supporters more than four to one among those willing to make public comments, outraged residents, farmers and former miners expertly broke down the inconsistencies and errors in the Illinois Environmental Protection Agency's tentative determination to issue a water quality permit at a packed strip mine hearing on Tuesday in the heart of Illinois' coal country.

It was a historic evening in Harrisburg, Illinois--only a few miles from where Peabody Coal sank its first coal mine in 1895--and for the first time in decades, southern Illinois residents brought the spotlight to issues of civil rights and the state's spiraling crisis from a poorly regulated coal mining rush.

After tolerating the reckless fallout of nearby blasting, toxic coal dust and threatened waterways of the adjoining Cottage Grove strip mine--which has left only a cemetery in the ruins of a once thriving rural community--residents and their supporters have drawn the line in the sand for Peabody's request to expand its strip mine and effectively wipe out the close-knit farm community of Rocky Branch.

"They are ringing the bell for the death of Rocky Branch," said Rita Karns, whose family has farmed and lived in the famed Shawnee Forest area for generations, "and we've got to stop it."

"We the people of Rocky Branch," declared resident Jennifer Dumberis, "we will decide what happens to us and our civil rights--not Peabody."

Among the long line of residents speaking out against the strip mine expansion, compared to a handful of Peabody employees, Karns held up a jar of discolored tap water already affected by mine discharges, which would effectively expand into area drinking water sources and tributaries leading to the Saline River under the present permit plan.

Karns holds jar of contaminated tap water. Photo courtesy of Jeff Biggers.

Ranging over 1,000 acres, the mine would destroy over 35,000 feet of natural streams, and discharge waste into area waterways.

But on the heels of a disappointing Department of Natural Resources hearing in December, where residents say Illinois agency officials refused to accept documentation and photographs of blasting and pollution violations, Tuesday's hearing revealed unanswered questions and troubling errors in the EPA permitting process, including incorrectly labeled streams. Only one of the the five-member IEPA panel admitted to having visited the nearby strip mine location.

And IEPA official Dean Studer repeated an earlier comment on the record that his agency had never rejected such a permit for a coal company in recent memory.

Last month, due to the Department of Natural Resources inaction, federal official were called in to make sure state officials halted illegal logging by Peabody in the proposed mining area.

At the IDNR hearing in December, residents also questioned whether Peabody had already built a haulage road exit onto Rocky Branch, without proper Illinois Department of Transportation permits.

Legal or illegal haulage road exit to Rocky Branch? Photo by Jeff Biggers

"These hearings seem to be a farce," said Judy Keller, who sits on the Cottage Grove town council. "When there are this many questions, without any answers, it makes you wonder what's going on behind closed doors. We call on Governor Quinn and Attorney General Madigan to come to Saline County for themselves, to see the price we are paying for this mine."

Given the mounting administrative inconsistencies, residents now wonder if the time has come for Illinois Attorney General Lisa Madigan and her investigators to intervene in the Saline County strip mine, just as she did three years ago for the failed Banner strip mine proposal in Fulton County.

"The facts indicate that a strip mine at this location will be harmful to the local environment and the people that live nearby," Madigan said in a statement in 2009 on the Banner mine proposal. "I am asking the court to hear the many voices from the Banner area who have expressed their concern and to reevaluate the facts regarding this permit."

Will Madigan bring a similar justice to Rocky Branch?

Besieged residents reminded Peabody officials that their "good neighbor" policy was lacking, and challenged the company's claims of reclamation yields on their land, water quality plans, as well as the mine's economic impact. A study released last year actually found that the state's antiquated tax policies, subsidies and maintenance racked up a $20 million annual deficit to support the coal industry.

Peabody, in fact, laid off 400 coal miners at the nearby Willow Lake mine in the fall of 2012, after the death of a coal miner and an MSHA ruling on safety problems. Last year, retired coal miners descended on Peabody headquarters in St. Louis to protest the loss of health benefits from a bankruptcy scheme.

That same sense of outrage dominated the hearing in Harrisburg on Tuesday.

Rocky Branch residents speak against strip mine proposal. Photo courtesy of Jeff Biggers.

Rocky Branch resident Rhonda Dillard distributed photos of 2011 flooding in the area designated for mining, and questioned feasible emergency road arrangements.

"The IEPA no longer has the luxury of pleading ignorance," third-generation miner and Shawnee Forest resident Sam Stearns said.

Recalling past damages by strip mining, Steve Karns challenged the discharge allowances, and asked--without any answer--if the state or Peabody had prepared any emergency contingency in "case of acts similar to what happened in West Virginia."

In an area historically rich in indigenous artifacts, dating back to nearby prehistoric mounds and settlements, Shawnee Vinyard Indian Settlement spokesperson Barney Bush questioned why the state was allowing mining in probable Native village sites. It was unclear if Peabody had properly carried out an archaeological survey,

"Before we totally destroy the whole thing," said Rocky Branch farmer Allan Porter, calling on the state and federal officials to recognizing the community's civil rights, "if we don't consider the human side of this, we're going to miss the whole thing. The greatest environment we need to protect is human life. Let's consider there's more to it than water down a stream."

These 8 Female Characters In Literature Deserve Their Own Damn Books

Thu, 2014-02-20 07:03
Books give readers the unparalleled opportunity to assume the perspective of someone other than themselves. But in assuming the perspective of one character, the reader is often denied the chance to explore the internal joys and woes of other characters in the story. We'd argue that literature is bursting with female characters who deserve stories of their own.

Here are eight female characters who definitely deserve their own books.

1. Sunny from ‎JD Salinger's The Catcher In The Rye

The Catcher In The Rye is celebrated for its authentic,
if somewhat whiny, portrayal of teenager Holden Caulfield. While Salinger evocatively narrates Caulfield's prep school discontents, that voice offers very little insight into one minor character: Sunny, the prostitute that Caulfied hires one night in a hotel. Her awkward, anxious youth makes her seem to be somewhat new to the sex industry. She refuses to use crude words, which amuses Caulfield, but hints that she may possess more nuance and complexity. In her journey as a young woman in New York City's underbelly, Sunny undoubtedly encountered more substantial struggles than Caulfield's momentary escape from his family and privilege.

2. Mary Lou from Jack Kerouac's On the Road

Who is the exciting, rebellious Mary Lou, besides the third passenger on America's most lionized road trip? We never really find out. Kerouac's Beat Bible, On The Road, rarely offers insight into the thoughts and psychology of Mary Lou, an alias for the real-life Luanne Henderson. Mary Lou is married to the wild Dean Moriarty, and her character is overshadowed by the wandering, raucous male Beatniks described in the novel. Luckily, Henderson's story was told later on in a biography of her life, titled One and Only.

3. Lolita from Vladimir Nabokov's Lolita

The novel's narrator Humbert Humbert and his delirious longing for Lolita overshadow any details the reader can glean about the young girl's internal life. The reader never truly knows Lolita outside of Humbert's fantasy caricature of his nymphet. Indeed, Humbert paints himself as a victim at the mercy of his 12-year-old love, as a deranged justification for his actions. When we last see Lolita, she is 17, pregnant and married to a man who knows nothing of her twisted, tragic childhood -- and ultimately, we know very little of her, either.

4. Brett from Ernest Hemingway's The Sun Also Rises

As one of Hemingway's most memorable characters,
the glamorous Lady Brett Ashley wields power over the adoring men who perpetually surround her. While her seductive and chaotic energy catalyzes much of the novel's action, her internal world remains enigmatic to the reader. At one point, the narrator notes that Brett "can’t go anywhere alone.” Still, her wistful gaiety makes us wonder who Brett really is when she's left in the solitude of her hotel room. Perhaps our best clue into her life and regrets rests in her memorable line, in which she says, "Oh, Jake... we could have had such a damned good time together."

5. Penelope from Homer's The Odyssey

Penelope is almost lethally faithful: She waits and waits as Odysseus romps his way through one of Western literature's most grandiose journeys. Though Penelope has her share of suitors, she's never tempted to move on from her long-since departed love (though Odysseus was having his share of extra-marital dalliances). We want to hear the internal dialogue of a wife willing to spend 10 years at her loom awaiting Odysseus, because we suspect she wasn't that perfect.

6. Gertrude from Shakespeare's

Hamlet's mother, Queen Gertrude, appears a most unsavory character. After all, she marries her brother-in-law shortly after her husband's death. In the play, we meet Gertrude after the wedding, and audience's alliance naturally falls with her son, Hamlet, who is furious with his mother. Of course, Gertrude's side of the story remains murky, as John Updike proved when he penned Gertrude and Claudius, which acts as a prequel to the famous play. He imagines a more sympathetic narrative of Gertrude's marriage to Hamlet's father and her affair with Claudius.

7. Miss Havisham from Charles Dickens's
Great Expectations

Miss Havishman is perhaps English literature's most famous spinster. In her youth, she was abandoned at the altar by a deceitful fiancé, after which she vowed never to leave her house or remove her wedding dress. Havishman seeks vicarious revenge for her ill luck, instructing her adopted daughter, Estella, in the art of breaking hearts. Her fascinating, if ultimately cruel, emotional transference is so legendary that it inspired a scientific term,"The Miss Havisham effect," which describes a painful longing for love lost. Her psychological journey surely could fill a novel of her own. (She gets her own retelling in a book by Jasper Fforde.)

8. Merry from Philip Roth's American Pastoral

American Pastoral chronicles the tragedies of the charismatic "Swede." The Swede's moody teenage daughter, Merry, is the only blemish on his perfect portrait of the American dream, and that makes her
the novel's most incomprehensible puzzle piece. Merry commits an act of political terrorism in protest of the Vietnam War, after which she retreats into hiding. Years later, the Swede finds her living in squalor. He cries, "You are an American girl from Rimrock New Jersey! A very, very screwed up American girl." Merry's journey from the Swede's beloved American girl to the ghostly figure she becomes merits its own story.

These beloved books are perhaps best known for their male narrators and protagonists. Still, we'd contend that these novels' dynamically flawed and endlessly fascinating female supporting characters each possess depth and complexity deserving of a novel all their own.