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Japanese-Born Artist Brings Fantasies To Life In Enormous, Paper-Cut Masterpieces

Mon, 2014-10-06 16:15
This story is one in a series of four profiles on unknown American artists, selected for an exhibit at the Crystal Bridges Museum of American Art (click here to explore the full series). Crystal Bridges president Don Bacigalupi and curator Chad Alligood split a map of the U.S. into four regions before setting off on a journey to find the best artists currently working in America. Each artist profiled here hails from one of the following regions:

Northeast | West | Midwest | South


Hiromi Mizugai Moneyhun, 37

When she was a girl in Japan, Hiromi Mizugai Moneyhun fell in love with the paper-cut illustrations in the children’s books of the time. But it wasn’t until she moved halfway across the world, to Jacksonville Beach, Florida, that she tried her hand at the intricate art form herself.

Moneyhun, a self-taught paper artist, is one of the subjects we picked from State of the Art, an unprecedented exhibit featuring contemporary art from across the country. For nearly a year, two staffers of the Crystal Bridges museum in Bentonville, Arkansas — president Don Bacigalupi and curator Chad Alligood — traveled thousands of miles in search of great American artists based outside of New York City’s art-world epicenter. It was a curatorial adventure unlike any that’s come before, and Moneyhun was one of 102 people to make the final cut.

Her enormous works do not sacrifice detail for size. She cuts the mythical-looking creatures and oversized faces with an X-Acto knife, in her living room. Seen in person, the shadows are as mesmerizing as the pieces themselves, playing on the gallery wall like a scene from a Balinese puppet show. Below, Moneyhun tells us about the simple appeal of what she does.

"UKIYO Floating World," paper. Courtesy of the artist.

What is your artistic background?

I’ve been drawing since I was a child, and I’ve done a little bit of tattooing. About four years ago, I had a lot of free time. My husband’s mom had a stroke. My husband was working, and I had to stay home to care of her. It was hard. So I thought, I have to do something for myself, something fun.

I had always thought I wanted to try paper cutting because I grew up reading children’s books with paper-cut illustrations. It’s not an uncommon medium. So one day I just tried cutting out paper.

What were your materials?

Regular paper. At first it was a hobby, and I just used whatever was lying around the house. I had an X-Acto knife already, so I used that and I’m still using it today. My supplies haven’t really changed. But as time passed, my figures became more intricate. At the very beginning, it was simple, only outlines. Now, it’s a lot of line patterns. My figurative images are all of my daughter. She’s 10 now, but I use images of her when she was a baby.

"Visionesses I," 2013, paper. Courtesy of the artist.

What drives you?

Of course, it’s fun. I really can’t stop doing it, as I’m always getting more and more ideas. I start with a subject, and then I have some kind of message for each subject, each series.

How did Crystal Bridges come to know of you?

The curator of my local museum, MOCA Jacksonville, put my name on their list of artists. He had been familiar with my work ever since I had a group show in Jacksonville, and he kind of supported my art. He give me advice, and told me he couldn’t really take my art to the museum yet because I was a new artist. But he said to keep showing my work.

And now you’ve made it to a museum.

To tell you the truth, the day Don and Chad came to see my work, I wasn’t sure what they were doing there, who they were and what Crystal Bridges Museum was. Because it’s in Arkansas, I just hadn’t done much research at that time. But when they came, I could tell they were serious art people. I just did my best explain my work to them. I didn’t really think about it until a few months after their visit. It was kind of a long few months to me, and I thought, OK, I’m not in this exhibition.

Hiromi Moneyhun, Paper Cut Artist from Wishbone Media LLC on Vimeo.

Moneyhun discusses her intricate papercuts.

When did you start to understand the scope of Crystal Bridges?

After their visit, I kept researching and getting more information from articles. I found a New York Times article. So I started to understand little by little that, wow, this a big deal. Showing at a museum is an artist’s dream, and Crystal Bridges is really a beautiful museum.

Has anything changed for you in how you think about yourself as an artist, having seen your work in a museum?

I feel other people take me seriously for my art, so that’s changing, but as for myself, I feel no change. I just want to keep on making progress.

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This Sculptor Is Using Trash To Inspire One Of Pittsburgh's Toughest Neighborhoods To Make Art

Mon, 2014-10-06 15:55
This story is one in a series of four profiles on unknown American artists, selected for an exhibit at the Crystal Bridges Museum of American Art (click here to explore the full series). Crystal Bridges president Don Bacigalupi and curator Chad Alligood split a map of the U.S. into four regions before setting off on a journey to find the best artists currently working in America. Each artist profiled here hails from one of the following regions:

South | West | Midwest | Northeast


Vanessa L. German, 38

In an abandoned house in Pittsburgh, kids gather after school to turn the day's frustrations and joys into artwork. They call the space the Art House, and they owe its existence to a woman named Vanessa L. German.

An artist, German is one of the subjects we picked from State of the Art, an unprecedented exhibit featuring contemporary art from across the country. For nearly a year, two staffers of the Crystal Bridges museum in Arkansas — president Don Bacigalupi and curator Chad Alligood — traveled thousands of miles in search of great American artists based outside of New York City’s art-world epicenter. It was a curatorial adventure unlike any that’s come before, and German was one of 102 people to make the final cut.

Working out of her house in Pittsburgh, German crafts beguiling sculptures she’s dubbed “power dolls,” from items otherwise doomed for a trash heap: collections of spoons, for instance, or the old, glittery high heels of a drag queen. She also acts as a sort of den mother for the neighborhood kids, whose constant visits to her porch to watch her work led her to establish an after-school studio down the street. As with the three other artists in our series, she’s new to the national stage. Below, we chat about her enduring faith in the unexplainable.

"White Naptha Soap or, Contemporary Lessons in Shapeshifting," 2013; mixed media assemblage.
Courtesy of Pavel Zoubok Gallery, New York

How did you get into art-making?

Me and my family...we were just always making things. My mom was a fiber artist, she did costumes. She was the kind of person who could take materials and turn them into something together that you could never believe. I just thought, that’s the way you live. We didn’t have a whole lot of money, and there were five kids in the family. If we wanted something — new toys, new books...what my mom would tell us is, “You’re going to have to make that yourself.” What I found when I was young is it felt really good to make things.

And now you make dolls for the children in your neighborhood.

As a kid we didn’t have a lot of dolls to play with. Dolls were expensive, and so they were always literally special things. The figures [I make] are not all just [for] children. Some of them are about protecting the spirit of imagination. I just have a sense of magic, and I always have.

But I will make figures for anything. I have friends … I call them ghost mothers, because they’re women who you think are childless, but really their kids have been murdered. They don’t talk about them. I’ve made some power figures for them, really ensconced and weighted with a slew of blue things. I make those figures for the grief to be lifted off their hearts, so they are not paralyzed by their grief, but able to honor their experience.

Where do you find materials?

I live in the 'hood. People do renovations and literally dump everything in the alleyway, so I can find great materials off the street. People are always dropping things off at my front porch. Somebody’s grandma died and she collected those travel spoons, and they gave me her collection. Somebody else, his partner was a drag queen and she left all her drag shoes. Huge, beautiful, glittery, stacked drag queen shoes.

Details of some of the materials German works with in her sculptures. Courtesy of Vanessa German.

How did the kids in the neighborhood become a part of your art practice?

I work in a small basement in my house. The basement ceiling is what they call a Pittsburgh basement … too low for some of those sculptures. I have to pull them out to my front porch [to work]. I live at an intersection where there are buses and people would stop and say, “What are you doing? Is it art? Will people pay you for that?” Kids would say the same thing, but they would want to help me. “Miss Vanessa, can we help you?” I’d say, “No, I’m working right now. Your mom works at a hotel; this is my work.” I’d say, “You can watch, but you have to stand at the fence.”

They would do the thing kids do where they would swing on the fence. They’d do that and jump over and they’d say, “Oops, Miss Vanessa, I landed in your front yard.” They thought they were so cute and funny, and inch themselves until they were closer and closer, and then say, “Can I touch this flower, Miss Vanessa? Oh Miss Vanessa, you dropped a shell.”

I tried letting one of the kids help on my sculpture, but I realized I have a sense of touch that allows me to work with a facility that they don’t have. My girlfriend at the time was a scene designer. She’d given me this old scene design paint. So I picked up a bunch of slate from a house that got demolished down the street and let them paint. Eventually they felt really comfortable and they’d come home from school and change into play clothes, come to my house, and invite their friends walking down the street.

It was fascinating to me to see you didn’t have to teach them. Just like anybody, they had things inside of them.

German on discovering materials that resonate with her.

What’s happening with the kids now?

People got evicted across the street, so I called public housing and asked if we could use that property. Eventually, they said yes. We’re calling it the art house. There’s a kitchen, a bathroom, a place where they can wash their hands.

They know where everything is and know what they’ve been working on, and we work together. I make sure the house has snacks in it. A lot of kids come home and there’s nobody. They need a safe place. It’s not just that people get murdered at night. It’s that kids see an accumulation of things happen. There’s a lot of fighting, people yelling and cursing. It builds up this history of ugliness and meanness inside of them. My goal [with the Art House] is to be consistent, and open the door when I say I’m opening the door.

It was something I’d never heard of before, Crystal Bridges. I honestly thought it sounded like the name of a country music singer.”

What was it like to see your work at Crystal Bridges?

Everybody says the same thing, but it’s kind of a wonder to drive in and park the car. Walking to this concrete colonnade, all of a sudden, a museum springs out beneath you. You take an elevator four levels down into a ground. It’s built into a hollow over a stream.

It was something I’d never heard of before, Crystal Bridges. I honestly thought it sounded like the name of a country music singer. Of course, I Google it. Even in the research that I did do, they hadn’t talked about what they were doing, just how beautiful the museum was and how there were people who really didn’t appreciate [Alice Walton] buying some great American art and leaving it in Arkansas where not a lot of people from New York would get to it.

The visit from Don and Chad must have been mysterious, if you had no concept of their museum.

I had been in environments before where I was around artists who were really nervous about something called a studio visit, but I didn’t understand what they were nervous about. I didn’t go to art school. I had no frame of reference.

I talked to them about all the parts of the process, about how I pick objects that look like artifacts, like precious objects from 100 years ago. I think because I work in a basement and I go down to work, I have this idea that it’s like my secret world. There’s something about having someone there, something really affirming about it to me. You can imagine, getting visited and then getting an email that says, “We’d like you to be in this exhibition,” with a link to a New York Times article.

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The ‘Mom Booth' Turns Real-Life Mothers Into Performance Art

Mon, 2014-10-06 15:52
This story is one in a series of four profiles on unknown American artists, selected for an exhibit at the Crystal Bridges Museum of American Art (click here to explore the full series). Crystal Bridges president Don Bacigalupi and curator Chad Alligood split a map of the U.S. into four regions before setting off on a journey to find the best artists currently working in America. Each artist profiled here hails from one of the following regions:

South | West | Northeast | Midwest


Andy DuCett, 35

Growing up, Andy DuCett liked to rearrange his furniture so much, his parents placed a limit on how many times he could do it in a week. His obsession with disorientation lives on today in installations that use familiar objects, like chairs, in unusual ways.

DuCett, a Minnesota-based artist, is one of the subjects we picked from State of the Art, an unprecedented exhibit featuring contemporary art from across the country. For nearly a year, two staffers of the Crystal Bridges museum in Bentonville, Arkansas — president Don Bacigalupi and curator Chad Alligood — traveled thousands of miles in search of great American artists based outside of New York City’s art-world epicenter. It was a curatorial adventure unlike any that’s come before, and DuCett was one of 102 people to make the final cut.

Below, DuCett examines the roots of his Crystal Bridges contribution, the “Mom Booth” — a deceptively simple piece of performance art that turns the typical museum information booth on its head. Staffed by museum volunteers who are also mothers, the booth is a detergent-scented twilight zone where a presiding mom might ask visitors to help fold her fresh laundry (which she’s brought in), or cluck at a fallen Lego piece (which she covertly dropped). The idea is to invite contemplation of a truly Midwestern sentiment: Mothers guide us all.

DuCett with the moms of "Mom Booth," 2013/2014, interactive installation. Photo by Marc Henning.

When did you start to understand the scope of State of the Art?

The initial email was very mysterious. It was, ‘Hey, we’re these two guys and we would love to come visit your studio.’ It was like, ‘Wait a minute, is this one of those art scams?’

Finding out who they were slowly is a great metaphor for the museum. It’s the best-kept secret. From the initial conversation to learning about the museum, every step of the way got more exciting.

How was the visit itself?

Chad and Don worked off each other really well. If [the visit] was a Venn diagram, they overlapped really nicely. I can’t remember how long it lasted. You could tell me it lasted two hours, and I’d believe you. You could tell me 10 minutes, and I’d believe you. There was definitely something exciting about it. It wasn’t a local institution, wasn’t somebody that you knew. There was this mysterious set of circumstances that led people from a different state, from a museum you hadn’t heard of, that when you did your research you were impressed by, to show up at your door.

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What’s the elevator pitch for your work?

If I look back at my practice, it’s evolved a lot. [Early] assemblages grew out of my training in painting. They were arranged in a very specific way. Capital-A Art. You don’t touch it, you just look from a distance and ponder it.

[I used] everyday objects, cultural ephemera, very quotidian stuff — chairs and end tables and lamps, video game consoles, just things that harken back to the stuff of life. People wanted to [interact with] them. They were activated in life, whereas sculpture is more inert. So in 2012, I got an opportunity where I had a solo exhibition at a place called the Soap Factory [titled “Why We Do This”]. Twelve thousand square feet of raw space, beautiful beams, just gorgeous. It was a little unnerving! Rather than just show the end table or the lamp mixed in with a bunch of things, I wanted to show them in context so someone could be immersed in that space.

Why use everyday materials?

People have a lot of ideas about what contemporary art means. I’m not trying to democratize the whole thing, but at the same time, I want someone to get interested in it enough to peel back the layers, to have this fun or poignant or thoughtful or meaningful experience, go back home and unpack it, digest it as they lie in bed, and then want to come back to that in the same way they would do with a non-artistic experience.

For instance, my favorite day at the grocery store is free samples day. The king of free samples day is the pizza oven. That smell just hits you when you walk in. I was walking through a grocery store, got a slice from a local pizza institution, walked away, and just turned around and said, “I have a strange request.” Six months later, they donated 50 or 60 pizzas to my show at the Soap Factory, and the owner and his girlfriend were there handing out a slice, so it added a smell component and a textural nuance. You understand what this means in the grocery store context, but what does it mean in this context?

“I did mom training when I was down in Arkansas. They had earnest questions. I really appreciated it, but I told them... I can’t tell you how to be a mom.”

What inspired the Mom Booth?

One of the through lines in my work is the idea of collage. My parents put an embargo as a kid on how many times I could rearrange my bedroom. They were scared I’d wear out the carpet. I was dragging furniture around two, three times a week. I would relish those first couple of disorienting moments when you wake up and you’d be in a different place, and then you’d say, wait that’s my dresser, these are my things.

With the Mom Booth, I still feel like it’s a form of collage, a slippage between colloquial and high art. [It] was an actual commission from the curator of contemporary art at the Minnesota Institute of Art. The museum was putting on their first contemporary art show. It was called “More Real Art In The Age of Truthiness,” a play on Stephen Colbert’s concept. A lot of the work in the show was asking you to make distinctions between fact and fiction. This was for an established audience going to this museum for years and years. So, decades of people getting used to what they expected in a museum — of where the art lives and where the art doesn’t. I had shown a range of projects to Don and Chad, and the one they really liked was the Mom Booth, [placed] right next to the information booth, where you go to ask questions like, ‘Hey, where’s the restroom?’ In the museum, where are spaces that museumgoers wouldn’t expect to encounter art?

Are you worried about your work being ephemeral?

It would be ignoring somewhat what I’m trying to do if I don’t let it go away in some sense. If you think about a Sol Lewitt drawing, it’s instructions of how to create this piece long after he’s gone. There could be something worked out in helping to generate new work and how to expand something like the Mom Booth.

What sort of direction did you give the volunteers at the Mom Booth? Is the idea just, ‘Be mom-ish’?

I did mom training when I was down in Arkansas. They had earnest questions. I really appreciated it, but I told them [...] ‘I can’t tell you how to be a mom.’ It was more like set design, where I provided a place for them to perform. I heard that one of them brought in her clean laundry that needed to be folded. And visitors would be walking around, and she’d be like, ‘I’m really busy. Could you help me?’ Or one would throw Legos on the ground, and when someone would walk by, she’d wag her fingers and say, ‘Why did you drop those?’ Some would sit and knit, just stare ahead, smile over their glasses. Maybe that look was more than saying things.

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'Lowrider Piñata' Encompasses The Beauty And Violence Of Latino Culture In One 19-Foot Beast

Mon, 2014-10-06 15:29
This story is one in a series of four profiles on unknown American artists, selected for an exhibit at the Crystal Bridges Museum of American Art (click here to explore the full series). Crystal Bridges president Don Bacigalupi and curator Chad Alligood split a map of the U.S. into four regions before setting off on a journey to find the best artists currently working in America. Each artist profiled here hails from one of the following regions:

Northeast | South | Midwest | West


Justin Favela, 28

A piñata is a singular party prop, made to be beaten into shreds. Its complex character — both celebratory and suggestive of violence — is what drew Justin Favela to push the bounds of the form, to figure out what happens to a viewer when you festoon unlikely plaster shapes (say, a life-size lowrider car) with ribbons.

Favela, a Las Vegas-based artist, is one of the subjects we picked from State of the Art, an unprecedented exhibit featuring contemporary art from across the country. For nearly a year, two staffers of the Crystal Bridges museum in Bentonville, Arkansas — president Don Bacigalupi and curator Chad Alligood — traveled thousands of miles in search of great American artists based outside of New York City’s art-world epicenter. It was a curatorial adventure unlike any that’s come before, and Favela was one of 102 people to make the final cut. His “Lowrider piñata” is currently on display.

Last week, Favela ducked into a storage closet in Caesars Palace — where he works as an administrator at an art gallery — just long enough to share his recipe for making a giant piñata.

"Lowrider Piñata," 2014. Paper, cardboard, and glue. Photo by Steve Marcus

Setting up a studio visit with a renowned museum can’t be an everyday experience. How did you feel when Crystal Bridges first contacted you?

At first I was a little confused because I had just been in a group show in Fayetteville [Arkansas], right next door to Bentonville, so I thought for some reason they were friends of my friends. When Chad showed up to my studio, it took me a minute to figure out what was happening. I was kind of shocked and surprised as to how big a deal it was after they left and I looked up Crystal Bridges online. I knew that it was a museum in Arkansas with a crazy-looking building, but then I learned more.

Not knowing what’s going on must be kind of a blessing, though, because you’re not stressed.

It was a fun studio visit. I just kind of showed them my work. At the time I had just made a giant, 6-foot-long turkey for a lighting studio in town. I had that and all these piñatas hanging around. The car was there, but it was in pieces. It was flat because I had showed it earlier — I think the year before. It was just so big that I had to take it apart and save the parts.

How did it feel to know that broken-up piece made it in?

I was overjoyed, of course. I almost threw up. It was amazing. I just couldn’t believe it. I knew that they visited other people in Vegas, and thousands across the country. When I found out I’m the only person from the whole state that made it into the show, it was just overwhelming. It was very real.

When did you start making piñatas?

When I was in college. I’ve had a history with piñata-tying since I was a kid. I never really liked it, just because I was a calm kid, and piñata time is very celebratory but also very violent. Just the idea that we’re going to put a blindfold on you and you’re going to hit this thing and you’re going to perform for us. Can we just get the candy? What’s going on here?

One of the first piñatas I did was kind of morbid. I made a life-size donkey out of fabric and wire, kind of like papier-mâché. I hung it from the ceiling, and it looked like this droopy dead donkey. I kept thinking about the piñata as a way to represent my background. It’s a fun medium, and it’s about violence. When I initially thought about the car, my friends and I were just brainstorming what symbols would represent Chicano or Latino culture. Eventually, we thought of a lowrider car.

“When I found out I’m the only person from the whole state that made it into the show, it was just overwhelming. I almost threw up.”

How do you make a piñata that’s car-sized?

I’m really bad at numbers and measuring, so I took a photo of the car and projected it onto a wall. It’s the size of what a car is supposed to be. With the projection, I get the right measurements. For those tracings, I cut the cardboard out and start making the shell out of whatever I have — cardboard, Styrofoam and then papier-mâché to make a real piñata shell. [The lowrider] is 19 and a half feet [long].

What is about the piñata that keeps you hooked?

Most of the things I do are covering something up with something else, but covering it up and either decorating it or just making it brighter and more visible. So taking a donkey and covering it in paper, or taking a car and making it fluffy. It’s like covering up the truth, but at the same time, it’s highlighting that it’s not a real thing.

A lot of my work is very accessible. It’s very easy to understand. Everybody knows what a piñata is. So people already understand what it’s for, and just taking that, and kind of messing with it, is kind of exciting. I like to make people laugh, so when something as celebratory and fun as a piñata is made into something that makes you think of something differently, I think that’s what I like about it.

Has the exhibit changed anything for you?

This has given me the confidence to say, “Yes, I’m an artist.” Yes, I want to be an artist, and I want to do whatever it takes to be an artist.

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Robert Morris University Becomes First To Recognize Video Games As Varsity Sport

Mon, 2014-10-06 14:37
CHICAGO (AP) -- As a teenager, holed up in his bedroom, illuminated by the glow of his laptop, Youngbin Chung became addicted to video games. Ten-hours-a-day addicted.

His grades tanked. His parents fretted.

A few years later, the 20-year-old from the San Francisco area leads a team of headset-wearing players into virtual battle in a darkened room at a small private university in Chicago. He's studying computer networking there on a nearly $15,000 a year athletic scholarship -- for playing League of Legends, the video game that once jeopardized his high school diploma.

"I never thought in my life I'm going to get a scholarship playing a game," said Chung, one of 35 students attending Robert Morris University on the school's first-in-the-nation video game scholarship.

Once regarded as anti-social slackers or nerds in a basement, gamers have become megastars in what are now called esports. In professional leagues, they compete for millions of dollars in prizes and pull in six-figure incomes for vanquishing their enemies in what have become huge spectator events packing tens of thousands into sports stadiums around the world.

Games have evolved from the days of Pac-Man and Donkey Kong into something much more complex. They demand hyper mental acuity and involve multiple players communicating with each other in teams, plotting strategy, predicting opponents' moves and reacting in milliseconds.

Robert Morris, a not-for-profit university with about 3,000 students, believes those are not so different from the skills one uses on a football field or a basketball court and that spending money to recruit these students, too, will enrich campus life and add to its ranks of high-achieving graduates.

"It's coming; it's coming big time," Associate Athletic Director Kurt Melcher said of the esports trend and what he's sure is its looming recognition by a bigger chunk of the collegiate sports world.

Hundreds of other colleges and universities have esports clubs, but Robert Morris is the first to recognize it as a varsity sport under its athletic department. The scholarships, which cover up to half off tuition and half off room and board (worth a total of $19,000 in a typical three-quarter academic year) are for a single game, League of Legends, in which teams of five on five use keyboards and mouses to control mythical fighters battling it out in a science fiction-like setting.

The first practices started last month in a $100,000 classroom outfitted with an expansive video screen, computers and an array of eye-dazzling gaming paraphernalia.

The space is dimly lit and window blinds are drawn to keep glare off monitors. In the darkness, dozens of students wearing microphone headsets flit fingers and thumbs over the controls with blistering intensity and concentration. Death comes in a multitude of forms and is often sudden. Accordingly, the hum of game chatter is punctuated by the occasional whooping cry of victory or anguished sigh of defeat.

The Robert Morris Eagles will play teams in two leagues that include the likes of Harvard and MIT with hopes of making it to the League of Legends North American Collegiate Championship, where the members of the first-place team take home $30,000 each in scholarships.

Melcher dreamed up the scholarship idea while searching online for the video games he used to play.

Some soccer players were bemused, but he said there was no real pushback from the university, which already has scholarships for everything from bowling to dressing as the mascot.

Some 27 million people play League of Legends each day, according to developer Riot Games Inc.

This year's professional championship is Oct. 19 in Seoul at the stadium South Korea built to host the 2002 soccer World Cup. The 45,000 seats are expected to sell out. The top team will take home $1 million.

The traditional sports world is still trying to figure out what to make of the phenomenon.

ESPN has dabbled in esports coverage, but network President John Skipper recently declared it a non-sport.

"It's not a sport," he said at a conference in New York. "It's a competition, right? I mean, chess is a competition, and checkers is a competition. ... I'm mostly interested in doing real sports."

Still, he added, "You can't really ignore it."

You Can Now Video Chat Your Dog Thanks To This Brilliant Teen's Invention

Mon, 2014-10-06 14:25
At age 12, Brooke Martin of Spokane, Washington came up with a new way to stay in touch with her golden retriever. Now-14-year-old Brooke, armed with her resulting invention, iCPooch, just competed against some of the most renowned entrepreneurs in today's tech world -- and won.

Last Thursday, Brooke was named the victor of GeekWire's first-ever "Inventions We Love" challenge for iCPooch, an automated dog-treat dispensing device and app that lets owners two-way video chat with their pets via any Android, Apple or Kindle device.

The app automatically connects your two devices, so your pet doesn't have to "pick up the phone." iCPooch also lets you automatically deliver a treat to your furry buddy through a device similar to a Pez dispenser.

As one of five finalists in the competition, Brooke presented her invention onstage at the 2014 GeekWire Summit. Brooke's savvy idea and impressive stage presence won over the Summit attendees, who voted via Twitter. She beat out impressive competitors like John Legere, the CEO of T-Mobile. As her prize, she'll be featured on a GeekWire radio show and podcast.

[h/t GeekWire]

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32 Hilarious Haunted House Reactions Caught On Camera

Mon, 2014-10-06 12:59
Who needs to be scared when we can look at these and laugh instead?

For the last few years, we've looked to Nightmares Fear Factory in October for some of the funniest haunted house reactions caught on camera. The Niagara Falls tourist attraction's stealthy camera captures every terrified face (and plenty of other hilarious reflexes) that walks through its spOoOky halls.

Check out a batch of this year's best photos so far below.

Shaw: Illinois governor's race is dramatic, but where are the answers?

Mon, 2014-10-06 12:25
Elections are exciting. The future of Illinois' governance is up for grabs, and with it come answers to questions about what could happen to the state's income tax, minimum wage and pension reform efforts. So it makes sense that campaigns would be infused with a sense of anticipation. But Andy Shaw of the Better Government Association cautions voters from getting too caught up in the drama of it all and to focus on the issues.

He writes:

One of television's hottest dramas is playing out daily right here in Illinois.

No, it's not "The Good Wife," "Shameless" or "Chicago Fire," and "Breaking Bad" isn't coming back with a Windy City setting.

I'm talking about the rock `m sock `m, neck-and-neck race for governor, starring Democratic incumbent Pat Quinn, Republican nominee Bruce Rauner, and a deluge of attack ads they've been bombarding us and each other with for months...

Considering Illinois' monumental fiscal and ethical challenges, voters deserve honest answers to tough questions about what the candidates plan to do if they win on Nov. 4.

Some of that useful information should come out in series of candidate debates beginning this week. And we're doing our part to educate voters before the election.

Check out the rest of Shaw's column at Reboot Illinois.

In addition to slamming each other with accusations during the governor's race, the candidates have also seemed to disagree with themselves. Quinn and Rauner have both changed their tunes on at least one issue each: income tax increases and the minimum wage. Watch the video at Reboot Illinois to hear the candidates flip-flops in their own words.

White Castle Or Krystal? This Map Reveals A Stark North-South Divide

Mon, 2014-10-06 12:25
Regional differences permeate many aspects of American life, from speech patterns to sports loyalties to smoking rates. This new map allows us to visualize another great American divide: Proximity to the country's most iconic slider burger chains, White Castle and Krystal.

The map, created by geospatial information scientist Matt Wingard, shows whether you're closer to a White Castle or a Krystal restaurant based on your location in the eastern U.S. (neither chain has restaurants in the West). Wingard built the map by plotting the location of every restaurant and performing a Euclidean distance analysis to determine which restaurant is closer, for any given spot on the map.

Wingard told The Huffington Post that he wanted the map to "to quantify southernness (or lack thereof)" for the areas it covers.

Which chain is superior for Wingard, who has lived in both the North and the South?

"Krystal -– for no particular reason other than it is Southern like me," said Wingard.

Here's the North versus South divide over tiny square burgers:

The 5 Best Cities To Live In America

Mon, 2014-10-06 09:12
If you think your city is the best place to live, know this: There are over 500 other cities in the country with residents who probably feel the same way. And yet, only five locations actually come out on top.

From high household incomes to below-average unemployment rates, these top metropolises are where The Wall Street Journal says Americans are probably living better than most of us right now. Check out the video above to see if your city made the cut, and read more about how this ranking was compiled over on MarketWatch.

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Food Stamp Enrollment Underscores Illinois Jobs Crisis

Sun, 2014-10-05 22:20
In Illinois, people are more likely to end up on food stamps than they are to find a job.

Nearly five years since the end of the Great Recession, Illinois is lagging behind the rest of the Midwest in job creation, creating an environment where opportunity and hope for a better future seem out of reach for those who are down on their luck.

Today, there are nearly 300,000 fewer Illinoisans working than in January 2008 - on top of that, there are 157,000 fewer payroll jobs in the state.

The situation is particularly dire for minorities. Fewer than half of black adults can find work, and the Latino employment rate has fallen 6.4 percentage points since 2008.

Things are so bad that food-stamp enrollment in Illinois outpaces job creation by nearly 2-to-1, and the number of Illinoisans dependent on food stamps has risen by 745,000 in the recession era.

The food-stamps benchmark, especially when compared to other Midwest states, provides troubling insight into just how desperate the situation is in Illinois.

While Illinois has gained just 250,000 payroll jobs and added 425,000 Illinoisans to the food-stamp rolls since 2010, job creation is outpacing food-stamp enrollment in every other Midwest state. Michigan, North Dakota and Missouri have all seen food-stamp enrollment decline since 2010.

This reality doesn't jive with headlines crowing about the state's dropping unemployment rate and the fanciful celebrations of state politicians.

Over the past five months, the state's jobless rate has fallen to 6.7 percent from 8.4 percent - but because of the 82,000 people who have dropped out of the workforce, the unemployment rate doesn't mean much at all. That's because unemployed people who stop looking for work aren't counted toward the unemployment rate. In fact, the share of Illinoisans successfully looking for work is at a 35-year low.

It all comes back to opportunity... or a lack thereof.

Companies aren't hiring. New businesses aren't opening up. People down on their luck can't find work -- because there simply isn't enough to go around.

Illinois has taken a backward approach to turning the tides on its jobs environment: giving big companies money to do business within state lines.

The state gives millions of dollars in tax breaks each year to giants such as CME Group ($77 million annually), Sears ($15 million annually) and Motorola ($10 million annually).

But while politicians dole out funds to well-established businesses, homegrown entrepreneurship is dwindling. In 2013, Illinois had one of the lowest rates of entrepreneurial activity in the nation, according to the Kauffman Index of Entrepreneurial Activity, a leading indicator of new business creation in the United States.

These measurements matter, because nationwide nearly half of all private-sector jobs come from small businesses, and two-thirds of the jobs created in the last 20 years came from small businesses.

And so the cycle continues -- corporate handouts lead to a decrease in small-business growth, which leads to fewer jobs, which leads to fewer opportunities, meaning many are forced to turn to government assistance to get by. Government officials see an uptick in joblessness and food-stamp enrollment, and give out more corporate handouts in the hope of spurring economic growth... and the cycle repeats ad nauseam. Illinois can't carry on this way much longer.

Finding a Long-Lost Ancestor on the Streets of Chicago

Sun, 2014-10-05 20:42
I have an autograph book that belonged to my maternal grandmother. Written on the inside cover is "Anna Gustavason, 162 Townsend Street, Chicago, Ill." I can't find 162 Townsend on any map, nor can I find her on any census record. She was in N.D. High School in Chicago in 1887. She died in Orinoco, MN, in 1931. She was married to Christian Matthias Haas in Chicago. I would appreciate any help you can give me. - Judy W.


Dear Judy,

When most people think of the things they'd like a genealogist to do for them, at the top of the list would be finding a long-lost ancestor, someone whose name they've heard, but who seems to have dropped off the paper trail completely, without a trace. Truth be told, finding a lost ancestor is one of the greatest gifts that a genealogist can give to anyone. While it's true that we find lost ancestors whenever we trace a person's family tree, nothing compares with finding a person whose name you know but whose identity is shrouded in mystery--like the life and times of your maternal grandmother, Anna Gustavason. So, we have chosen your letter among the many we have received, and decided that it is time that Anna should be found, and her descendants should be reunited with her.

Today, thanks to digitization and the Internet, there are some great tools available for discovering individuals lost even in the United States Federal Census records. (Yes, as incredible as it seems, that has happened more often than one thinks possible.) In your case, you were fortunate to have some facts to go on: your grandmother's name, her street address at one point in her life, the name of her high school, and the date and place of her death. That is quite a lot of information, even if she seems to be invisible in the federal census. Always start with the few facts you know, and go from there.

Let's start with that address: 162 Townsend Street, in Chicago. With a quick search, you can find city maps online which identify both old and new locations--even places and streets in cities that no longer exist today. We'll outline a few of those options that helped us find your grandmother for you, starting with a "city directory."

City Directories

What is a city directory? Well, imagine a telephone book without telephone numbers. That is what a city directory was; residents of a city or town were listed in alphabetical order, just like they were in the phone books that followed. We can't stress how valuable these directories are when you are searching for a lost ancestor. These precursors to phone books list names of working adults, along with occupations and street addresses. Fortunately, many historical directories are now available online. Not only are city directories a marvelous source for finding individuals, but they can be used to locate schools and other institutions in any given year. We know that over the years, many street names changed. Chicago was no exception and, adding to the confusion, Chicago renumbered its streets in 1909!

We found an 1887 Chicago (Lakeside) directory on While there isn't a listing for a "Gustavason" at any Townsend address, there are several "Gustaveson" names (spelled with an "e" rather than an "a") included. Considering the fact that names are often misspelled, or spelled variously, in records, we continued to look for alternatives. There was a C.A. Gustavson at 91 Townsend. This may or may not be the individual we are looking for, but it is a logical place to start your search.

City Directories at Chicago 1887, No Gustavason listed at any Townsend address, however, there are several Gustavesons listed and a C.A. Gustavson at 91 Townsend.

Since we were looking at the 1887 Chicago Lakeside Directory, we thought it a good idea to see if we could figure out what "N.D. High School" might have been and where it was located. It would appear that N.D. stood for North Division High School, Wendell near North Wells (not far from Townsend Street).

The Chicago City Directory for 1887 found online.

The N.D school was opened in 1875 and underwent several name changes since then. It still exists, as a matter of fact, but now its name is Lincoln Park High School and its history can be found directly on the school's current website.

Map Search for Townsend Street

A search of the historical maps at David Rumsey Map Collection shows that Townsend Street was on the North Side of Chicago located near Goose Island.

Townsend Street is highlighted in green on this historical map, but it is apparent that there is no street in Chicago by that name on contemporary maps.

Chicago Street Name Changes

Chicago history expert Daniel E. Niemiec created a wonderful website where original Chicago street names and numbering changes can be found. According to the website, Townsend Street was changed to Hudson Avenue in 1936.

A quick look at a current Chicago street map confirms that Hudson Avenue is exactly where Townsend Street used to be--in what was a predominantly Swedish neighborhood.

Swedish Contributions to Chicago

During the Civil War Era, Chicago became a magnet for Swedish immigrants. The community jumped seven-fold--from a population of 816 in 1860 to 6,154 in 1870. Construction job opportunities attracted more Swedes (as well as other groups) when the city needed rebuilding after The Great Chicago Fire of 1871. By 1890, Chicago claimed to be the world's largest Swedish city after Stockholm and Swedes comprised the third largest immigrant group after the Germans and Irish.

Finding comfort in a common language, a common culture and often a common religion, immigrants tended to cluster together in cities. Their close proximity becomes evident when you are looking at city directories and census records. Yet, while it's a good idea start a search in an ethnic neighborhood, we should not confine our searches to those places. Work opportunities, friendships and love know no boundaries. It is quite possible that Anna met her future husband outside of her own neighborhood. Locating them in census records revealed that Christian's father was German-born.

Finding Anna and Christian in Census Records

When searching for anyone in census records (or anywhere else), we begin with what we know and work backwards in time. Since your previous searches hadn't yielded desired results, we guessed that indexed spellings were the culprits. So we began with the 1930 Census, trying alternative spellings, including "Anna Hass." There she was, as Anna G. Hass (her married name), born about 1872 in Sweden (having immigrated to the United States in 1874), living in Oronoco, Minnesota, in 1930. Other identifying information included the name of her husband, Christian M. (minister) and the names and birthplaces of her children. J. Calvin Hass, the eldest, was age 20 at the time the census was taken in 1930. He and his siblings Harriet (16) and S. Herrick (14) were born in North Dakota.

A detail from the 1930 U.S. Federal Census record on highlighting the family of Anna Haas, listed as Anna Hass.

The information in the 1930 Census enabled us to locate the Haas family in the 1920 Census, living in Chester, North Dakota. It appears that their eldest child, Alice G. Haas, was 15 years old, born in New Mexico. Their son Francis was 14 and was born in South Dakota, as were his younger siblings. Using children's ages and birthplaces, it is easier to trace the family's moves across the country.

The 1910 Census finds the Haas family living in Mapleton, North Dakota with children Alice C. (5) born in New Mexico and Francis N. (4), Christian W. (2) and John C. (0-12) born in North Dakota.

Further Research Suggestions

We also searched for Anna Gustavason in earlier census records. While there are some potential identifications, it is impossible to identify your grandmother positively without knowing more about the Gustavason family.

Are there other names or clues in the autograph book that might be useful in tracking her down? Names of parents or siblings? Even tracking the names of friends who signed her autograph book might enable you to find her living near them in subsequent or previous census enumerations.

Our initial search did not yield a marriage record for Christian Haas and Anna Gustavason.

Because we found out that Christian's occupation was a minister, it's likely they were married in a church. While many church records have been digitized, many remain buried in the basement of churches. One day, we hope to digitize as many records related to ancestry tracing that we can find, but that process is still under way. The record of your grandmother's marriage may be in a written record among a church's archive, and perhaps wasn't ever registered at the county level. Does the Chicago marriage record to which you refer include any additional clues? When were they married? Witness names and the name of the clergyman who performed the ceremony can be quite useful in tracing a family's story.

As you can see, finding one clue about a lost ancestor can lead to many more discoveries. The process of tracing ancestry is a bit like walking up steps: take one step at a time. We hope that now that you have found your grandmother, Anna, you continue your search to uncover the rest of her story, and that of her ancestors. Good luck, and keep us posted about your progress!

Do you have a mystery in your own family tree? Or have you wondered what family history discoveries you could make with a DNA test? Send Henry Louis Gates, Jr and his team of Ancestry experts your question at

'SNL' Warns White People Won't Be Calling The Shots For Long

Sun, 2014-10-05 15:28
White people of the United States, get ready. Because your reign is coming to an end.

The satirical Saturday Night Live segment aired Oct. 2nd with guest host Sarah Silverman, and prompts white people from all white walks of white life to come together to celebrate their last days of white racial dominance.

Because let's face it: when minorities become majorities, the world becomes a more equal place. Dun dun dun!!!

But for now, white people can soak it up with plenty of hiking and camping.

"Whites: still calling the shots till 2050. 2060 tops."

"Saturday Night Live" airs Saturdays at 11:30 p.m. ET on NBC.

Second Lunar Eclipse Of 2014 To Bring 'Blood Moon' On October 8

Sun, 2014-10-05 08:14
If you've been feeling a strong urge to howl lately, there's a reason why: A full "blood moon" is coming Oct. 8. Just check out the NASA video above.

All werewolf jokes aside, the total lunar eclipse will be the second -- and final -- "blood moon" of the year. It will be visible in the United States and Canada early Wednesday morning, with better viewing for those in the western part of the continent, as indicated in the map below.

The full eclipse will start at 6:25 a.m. EDT and last until 7:24 a.m, according to NASA.

Full lunar eclipses are often called "blood moons" because of the reddish tint they adopt as sunsets and sunrises seen from Earth reflect onto the surface of the moon.

Because this eclipse will happen two days after a lunar perigee, which is the point when the moon is nearest to Earth, NASA says the moon will appear 5.3 percent larger than the previous "blood moon," which occurred on April 15.

This eclipse marks the second in a series of four lunar eclipses in a row, known as a "tetrad." We'll experience just eight tetrads this century, according to the Washington Post, and we won't experience the next tetrad until around 2032 or 2033.

12 Unbelievable Things People Have Actually Been Arrested And Thrown In Jail For

Sat, 2014-10-04 10:53
Many Americans will see the inside of a jail cell at some point in their lives. And if you think it only happens to criminals and troublemakers, think again. According to FBI estimates cited by the Wall Street Journal, authorities have made more than a quarter of a billion arrests in the past 20 years -- a period that was marked by a surge in federal funding for local police departments and law enforcement priorities, like New York City's "broken windows" strategy, that encouraged crackdowns even on minor offenses.

That astronomical figure includes arrests of all sorts, from the completely legitimate to the downright bizarre. It also includes arrests and jail sentences for things we've all probably been guilty of at one time or another. Some of the below situations might seem funny or trivial, but they're all examples of how questionable police behavior helps contribute to broader distrust between law enforcement officers and the communities they are supposed to protect. And in many cases, they're more representative of a crackdown on poverty than a crackdown on lawbreakers.

Here are some of the most unbelievable acts that got people taken into custody and put behind bars:

1. Possession Of SpaghettiOs

It began innocently enough for Ashley Huff. The 23-year-old was riding in the passenger seat of a car when police in Gainesville, Georgia, pulled the car over for a routine traffic stop. When cops searched Huff's bag, they found a spoon that was covered in a mysterious residue. It was dirty, Huff explained, because she had recently eaten SpaghettiOs and placed the dirty spoon in a bag in order to return it to a friend. Officers thought it might be methamphetamine, so they conducted a field test -- which reportedly came back positive. Huff was charged with possession of methamphetamine and spent two weeks behind bars before being released.

Huff was later thrown back in jail in August, where she remained for a month and a half until more thorough lab results on her spoon came back. They revealed that she'd actually only been guilty of possession of SpaghettiOs sauce all along.

2. Not Wearing A Seat Belt

In a case that would later be decided by the Supreme Court, Gail Atwater was pulled over by police in Lago Vista, Texas, in 1997. The officer noticed that she and her two kids were not wearing their seat belts. But instead of giving her a ticket for the violation, the officer arrested Atwater and took her to the local police station, where she remained behind bars for about an hour before posting bond. At the end of the ordeal, Atwater ended up pleading no contest to the seat belt violation and paying the maximum $50 fine.

In a 5-4 Supreme Court decision in 2001, justices held that the Fourth Amendment does not forbid a warrantless arrest for a minor criminal offense that is only punishable by a fine. Maybe the "Click It Or Ticket" campaign needs a scarier slogan.

3. Littering

When Brandon Amburgey flicked a lit cigarette into the middle of a busy street in Albuquerque, New Mexico, earlier this year, a police officer apparently saw it as an offense worthy of arresting the 31-year-old for. Amburgey was booked into the Metropolitan Detention Center, where he was offered a chance to post cash bail or bond or to be released on the condition that he appear at a mental health court. Amburgey didn't take these options, however, and remained in jail for nearly a week before being bailed out. A followup report by KRQE found that Albuquerque police had tossed at least seven people in jail for littering charges alone since 2012. Most of them, including Amburgey, had substance abuse or mental health issues, according to KRQE.

4. Jaywalking

In 2010, Oregon resident Scott Miller was rushing across the street when a police officer noticed that he hadn't used a crosswalk. The officer ran after Miller and confronted him. It's not clear exactly what happened next, but according to court filings cited by Oregon Live, the officer took Miller to the ground, handcuffed him and told him he was under arrest. After being held at the precinct for about 30 minutes, Miller was given a ticket for jaywalking and released. A later lawsuit found that the officer had no authority under state law to arrest Miller for jaywalking, but that Miller's constitutional rights hadn't been violated.

Even when a jaywalking citation doesn't directly result in someone being hauled off by police, Radley Balko of the Washington Post has documented how basic tickets for minor violations often lead to later arrests and jail time, because recipients aren't able to pay fines. Critics have called this practice a modern manifestation of the debtor's prison.

5. Having Homemade Soap

In another case of mistaken substance identity, 26-year-old Annadel Cruz and 30-year-old Alexander Bernstein were booked on cocaine trafficking charges in Pennsylvania last year when police officers refused to believe that two bars of homemade soap in her car were not actually cocaine. After being pulled over in Lehigh County, Pennsylvania, troopers said they smelled marijuana in the car. Cruz admitted to having smoked earlier in the day, according to the Morning Call. When officers found the soap in the car, they tested it and it came back positive, Lehigh Valley Live reported. The pair spent the next month in jail, presumably unable to post bail, which was set at $500,000 for Bernstein and $250,000 for Cruz. The charges were eventually dropped after a state lab turned up no traces of illicit substances.

A lawyer for Cruz later told Morning Call: "After this, everyone should pause about jumping to conclusions when a field test is said to be positive by law enforcement. There are people going to jail on high bail amounts based upon these field tests."

6. Profanity

All speech isn't free, as Wesley Force of New Bern, North Carolina, found out last year when he was arrested and taken to jail for saying the word "fuck" in public. Force was eventually released without bond, but when he returned for a court date the next month, a judge sentenced him to 10 days in jail. He was allowed to serve his hard time at home while wearing an electronic monitoring device.

Arrest of this nature are rare, but not unheard of. A mother was arrested in South Carolina earlier this year for swearing in front of her children at a supermarket.

7. Spitting On The Ground

Here's another common behavior that can actually get you arrested and jailed, at least briefly, depending on where you are. In one more ridiculous incident, Joseph Stoiber was confronted by a police officer while walking around his Florida neighborhood last year. It was around 2 a.m., and the officer was suspicious of what was in Stoiber's pocket, The Ledger reported. The cop asked if he could search Stoiber, but Stoiber refused. According to The Ledger, the officer began to pat Stoiber down anyway, and then Stoiber -- who had chewing tobacco in his mouth -- spat on the ground. It was apparently enough to land Stoiber in jail, where he was released on a $250 bail.

The arresting officer and another officer who later appeared at the scene were eventually disciplined for the pat-down and misconduct during their encounter.

8. Farting

In 2012, school districts in Meridian, Mississippi, came under heavy scrutiny for overseeing what the Justice Department called a "school-to-prison pipeline," in which students were regularly referred to juvenile detention centers for even the most minor infractions. In a letter unveiling the findings of a federal investigation, the Justice Department explained that some students had been incarcerated for things like “dress code violations, flatulence, profanity and disrespect.”

And in 2008, a 13-year-old Florida student was arrested and hauled off to the police station after disrupting class by farting and turning off other kids' computers. He was charged with disruption of school function and later released into the care of his mother.

9. Possession Of Jolly Ranchers

A New York City police officer who had presumably been watching a little too much "Breaking Bad" arrested Love Olatunjiojo and two others in 2013, charging them with drug possession after finding some "crystalline rocks of solid material" on the suspects. Olatunjiojo claimed they were Jolly Rancers -- still in their wrappers -- but the officer thought they might be meth. Again, a field test reportedly took place and came back positive, which was enough to put Olatunjiojo and his companions behind bars for 24 hours. When further lab tests came back negative, the suspects were released. The three later filed a lawsuit against the NYPD, and last month received a $33,000 settlement.

10. Loitering

For decades, cops used arrests for loitering to target homeless people for behavior that was later found to be completely legal. New York City tried to rectify these mistakes in 2012, offering a $15 million settlement to the 22,000 people who had faced loitering charges in the 20 years prior. While a charge for loitering may sound both ridiculous and relatively insignificant, many of these suspects spent time in jail for their "crimes." Some stayed behind bars because they couldn't post bail, while others were incarcerated because they failed to appear for later court dates after the initial loitering arrest.

In one notorious case in Florida in the '80s, a man spent 13 months in jail after an arrest for loitering alone.

11. Twerking

In Lake County, Florida, last year, a homeless woman was arrested and charged with disorderly conduct after allegedly "dancing in a vulgar manner" in front of a school bus full of children. The arresting officer claimed she was also screaming profanities at the bus. The woman was released from jail after posting a $250 bond. A month before, a YouTube video that was supposed to show a vlogger twerking in front of an Orlando, Florida, bar ended up showing her getting arrested by an undercover cop instead.

12. Worshipping Too Loudly

Pastor Johnnie Clark of Columbia, South Carolina, was a repeat offender for God. Last month, he was found guilty of unlawful sound amplification and sentenced to two weeks in jail for a regular and rambunctious Pentecostal worship service that had brought police to his church more than 50 times. Neighbors had complained repeatedly that instruments played during the service were disruptive, and that Clark was still using microphones and drums despite a previous injunction against them. Clark was released later in September.

What Parents Should Know About The Respiratory Bug Plaguing Kids

Fri, 2014-10-03 15:37
NEW YORK (AP) -- A wave of severe respiratory illnesses has swept the country in the last two months, propelled by what was long considered an uncommon germ.

The enterovirus 68 has caused serious breathing problems in many children, and now is being eyed as possible factor in at least four deaths, and muscle weakness and paralysis in children in Colorado and perhaps other states. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention on Friday released a report on the Colorado cluster. The investigation continues and many questions remain unresolved.

Some questions and answers about the germ:

Q: Is this virus new?

A: No. It was first identified in the U.S. in 1962, and small numbers of cases have been regularly reported since 1987. Because it's not routinely tested for, it may have spread widely in previous years without being identified in people who just seemed to have a cold. It's one of a group of viruses that contribute to an uptick in cold-like illnesses every year around the start of school.

In August, the virus got more attention when hospitals in Kansas City, Missouri and Chicago had many children with trouble breathing. Some needed oxygen or more extreme care such as a breathing machine. Tests found enterovirus 68.

Q: How many people have been severely sickened by the virus?

A: Lab tests by the CDC have confirmed illness caused by the germ in 538 people in 43 states and the District of Columbia. Almost all are children. Testing is limited and has been focused on very sick children, so it's likely that many, many more people -- including adults -- have been infected.

Q: Why are most of the severe cases in children?

A: They generally have not been exposed to enteroviruses as often as adults are, and are less likely to have developed immunity to them. Some children are especially vulnerable because of pre-existing conditions-- for example, many hospitalized children were kids who had asthma.

Q: Why are more severe illnesses from enterovirus 68 being reported this year?

A: That's a mystery. Health officials have not found a recent mutation or other change in the virus that would cause it to become more dangerous. Clusters have been reported in other countries, including some Asia nations and the Netherlands, in recent years.

Q: What about the reports of deaths?

A: This week the CDC said four people who were infected with enterovirus 68 died last month, but what role the virus played in the deaths is unclear. Investigators are trying to sort out if the viral infection was coincidental, a contributing factor or a main cause. One case was a 10-year-old Rhode Island girl who died last week after infections of bacteria and enterovirus 68. Rhode Island health officials suggested the bacteria -- Staphylococcus aureus -- and the virus may have formed a rare and deadly combination, but the investigation continues.

Q: And what about the reports of weakness?

A: Last week, the CDC sent doctors an alert about nine children at a Denver-area hospital who suffered muscle weakness or paralysis in the neck, back or limbs about a week after they had a fever and respiratory illness. The number since has grown to 10.

Four of the children tested positive for enterovirus 68. But health officials don't know whether the virus caused any of the children's arm and leg weaknesses or whether it's just a germ they coincidentally picked up.

The CDC asked doctors to report patients 21 or younger who developed limb weakness since August 1 and who have had an MRI exam that showed abnormalities in the nerve tissue in the spinal cord. Since putting out the call, several reports have come in, but the CDC is still evaluating which should be counted as similar cases.

Q: What can I do to protect my child?

A: The CDC recommends making sure children and their parents are up to date on all vaccinations, including those against respiratory diseases like flu, measles and whooping cough. The other advice has to do with basic hygiene -- wash hands frequently with soap and water, stay away from sick people and disinfect objects that a sick person has touched. See a doctor right away if your child starts having severe problems breathing, develops difficulty moving their limbs or walking or standing.




The 10 Most Vulnerable Governors In The Country

Fri, 2014-10-03 14:46
While the odds favor a Republican takeover of the U.S. Senate, the story is slightly different across the gubernatorial map. Democrats are optimistic they'll take back the governor's mansion in Pennsylvania, Maine and Kansas, while the margins remain close in a handful of other states.

Below, a look at the governors who look the most vulnerable with 30 days to go until Nov. 4. The list excludes close open-seat races in Arkansas, where former Rep. Asa Hutchinson (R) is favored to succeed retiring Gov. Mike Beebe (D), and in Arizona, where state Treasurer Doug Ducey (R) maintains a lead over former state Board of Regents member Fred DuVal (D).

Conducting Tchaikovsky's Swan Lake

Fri, 2014-10-03 14:42

Dylan Gutierrez & Jeraldine Mendoza, Photo by Cheryl Mann

Conductor Scott Speck is with us to talk about the music of one of the most famous ballets of all time--Swan Lake. He has been in rehearsal with Chicago's Joffrey Ballet, and they will open October 15th doing Christopher Wheeldon's version of this ballet classic. We're excited to share a deeper look at this wonderful Tchaikovsky piece with you here...

This is one of the big story ballets. Is there more preparation involved in conducting a piece like this than in doing a mixed rep program? Why or why not?

More preparation is involved, but not because it is big. This is one of the most specific​ ballets of all time, meaning that this ballet has an inordinate number of special moments, solos, pas de deux (and trois and quatre....) that require very specific attention to what the dancers are doing onstage. In addition, each dancer has a personal mode of expression within the choreography, and my goal is to create the musical backdrop to support that expression and allow it to shine. For that reason, each moment requires several different kinds of preparation--and that makes Swan Lake one of the trickiest pieces to conduct in the whole history of ballet.

Tchaikovsky's music is well-known and well liked. Can you talk a bit about him as a composer?

Tchaikovsky was the essence of the Russian Romantic era. He wore his heart on his sleeve, and his unforgettable melodies are full of the most honest expression. It's like listening to an old friend pour his heart out to you. I think that's why people love Tchaikovsky so much.

It was with pieces like Swan Lake, his first work for the Bolshoi Ballet, that Tchaikovsky burst upon the musical scene. He was very influenced by Ludwig Minkus, his extremely talented and facile (yet much less deep) predecessor at the Bolshoi. Minkus's clever and tuneful music to La Bayadere, which the Joffrey performed last fall, had recently premiered.​ Minkus was a master of miniatures--those wonderful short characteristic movements that create a mood and atmosphere in a very short period of time--and in Swan Lake, Tchaikovsky was able to try his hand at the form. Although his "foreign"-sounding characteristic dances--Spanish, Neopolitan, Hungarian. etc.--are probably not as idiomatic as those of Minkus, Tchaikovsky allowed his true character to show in the body of the ballet.

And so, in most of Swan Lake, you hear the same personality that you can hear in the 6 symphonies, multiple operas, concertos and tone poems that Tchaikovsky is famous for. In other words--when he wasn't trying to imitate Minkus directly, he appeared clearly as the immortal composer that he was.

Joffrey worked with choreographer Christopher Wheeldon on this version of the ballet. Is there anything different here musically?

Yes, We are still using the original Tchaikovsky, but Chris has created a more streamlined version of the ballet--it moves very excitingly from beginning to end. Some of the movements are in a different order​ than listeners may expect, but all the favorite melodies are intact, Most ballet companies do cut the music somewhat, as the full score would take about three hours to play.

Is there anything that the audience can listen for musically in terms of distinguishing Odette and Odile?

The character of Odette is presented as very elegant and poised, with great control; and Odile is very confident, with bravura technique. To a certain extent this is reflected in the music. For example, both the White Swan (Odette) and Black Swan (Odile) have a pas de deux with young Siegfried, and each pas de deux features a violin solo. In the White Swan Pas de Deux, the violin solo is extremely elegant and mingles beautifully with cello and harp. But in the Black Swan Pas de Deux, there are moments of astounding virtuosity for the violin. But other than that, I think that most of the distinguishing characteristics are visual.

What are the most challenging parts of this ballet in terms of the orchestra?

We are so lucky to have the Chicago Philharmonic, which has been called one of the nation's finest symphonic orchestras, playing for us in the pit. These musicians can really do anything. My challenge will be the communicate the specific needs of the stage, with my baton, to musicians who cannot see the dancers. That communication will be most important in the pas de deux and solo movements, which can vary the most from show to show. These movements will require the most lightning-quick reflexes from all of us.

What do you enjoy most about conducting this ballet?

The opportunity to hear Tchaikovsky's glorious music -- ten times!​

Joffrey's Swan Lake runs from October 15th through October 26th at Chicago's Auditorium Theatre.

This post first appeared on

Hot Doug Before He Was Hot

Fri, 2014-10-03 13:23
For anyone living in or around Chicago and not under a rock, it's hard to escape the fact that the most famous hot dog stand in America, Hot Doug's, is closing today. BOOM. Just like that, Doug Sohn is walking away from a sure thing. He is the Michael Jordan of purveyors of encased meat, the standard bearer of leave 'em wanting more.

More power to him. I wish him well. I like Doug.

We first met in my 20s when I was head over heels in love with a close friend of his. It was embarrassing, really, but that's a different story for a different blog post. Word to the wise, never date a musician. Like ever. You're welcome, young women of America!

But way back when, our mutual friend organized a road trip to all things Elvis in Memphis and Tupelo, Mississippi. I was way out of my league with these folks, who were super hip and grungy and lived in Wicker Park when it was still full of tenements, but love is blind, right? And so, I went. It was awesome, actually. And despite my social awkwardness and insecurities, I had a great time.

Elvis was introduced to me on that trip and I've been a fan ever since. How did I not appreciate Elvis before that?!

Me trying to pass with some folks who are much more cool than I, Hot Doug being one of them.

Doug and I were in a group of eight or 10. Some of them were established musicians -- Cath Carroll and Santiago Durango, anyone? I didn't know them either, but they both exuded cool. Like serious cool. I was this dork drunk on unrequited love who lived in a studio apartment with a twin bed.

Doug was always kind and approachable when I saw him. He was cool without being oppressive about it, you know? He was easy to talk to and didn't get that bored expression on his face if we found ourselves sitting next to one another. I like cool and easy and Doug was both those things. He still is.

This was the '90s, pre-cell phone and digital cameras. At the time, Doug was in culinary school. A few weeks after the trip, he hosted the road trip crew at his apartment so that we could all trade copies of the photos we had taken. Can you even imagine that today?! Oy, the technology.

Anyway, Doug made a feast for us, featuring a buffet of Elvis' favorite foods -- and yes, fried peanut butter and banana sandwiches are that delicious.

Me and Doug hanging out on Elvis' front porch in Tupelo, Mississippi, looking like an old married couple.

That was almost 20 years ago now. Good God.

In that time, I got over my unhealthy and counterproductive infatuation with unavailable musicians and headed to grad school, marriage, motherhood and Cancerville. Doug graduated culinary school and created the phenomenon that is Hot Doug's. You've got to hand it to him, he has cultivated the reputation of the humble hot dog to never seen before heights. Restaurant ownership is a tough, tough gig, and Doug has done it with smarts and a fine balance of gravitas and joie de vivre. All while closing at 4 p.m.

I missed the Hot Doug's frenzy since he announced he would be shuttering last May. My husband's office window looks over Hot Doug's and after the spring announcement, he would come home and report on the length of the lines. We always meant to go one last time when things calmed down, but things haven't calmed down.

Inevitably, when I did make it in to Hot Doug's, I was always met with the same cool and easy Doug that was so kind to me on that Elvis road trip so long ago. He never failed to ask about the family, the kids, the husband.

When he learned our daughter had died of cancer, he somehow managed to show compassion and sincerity while still taking my order and moving that line along. And he never ever charged me full price. Or raised an eyebrow when I ordered, as I always did, ketchup on my char dog.

As my Dad would say, Doug Sohn is a gentleman and a scholar.

Doug taking a moment to pose with my son, long lines be damned. A true mensch.

Protecting the Southeast Side and All of Chicago

Fri, 2014-10-03 13:16

Long overdue credit was given last night. At their annual dinner, the Illinois Environmental Council rightly cast a bright spotlight on the work of the Southeast Environmental Task Force as their organization of the year.

You would be hard pressed to find a better recipient. Why?

Just think, what the Southeast Side of Chicago look like if not for the Southeast Environmental Task Force’s advocacy and leadership?

Well, a lot worse.

There would be bigger garbage mounds around the edges. And a big facility burning and refining coal right in the middle of tidy working class neighborhoods. Not coincidentally, it would have been right next door to the Koch Brothers’ and Beemsterboers’ massive petcoke piles with other folks clamoring to add to the mess of oil refining waste in the area.

Thankfully, SETF has been active: they helped lead the fight to get the solid waste ban extended. They mobilized the community to fight back against the stupid boondoggle that Leucadia proposed and the project went out with a whimper, dying the ignominious death it deserved. The Task Force sounded the alarm on the petcoke piles blighting the neighborhood—and while that fight is far from over, they forced action from City, State and national leaders and pressured the Beemsterboer petcoke piles next to the 106th Street Bridge out of existence.

When talking about the petcoke problem, Mayor Emanuel made a point of admitting that government had failed the SE Side. It was an illustrative example of why citizen advocacy is as important right now as it has ever been. Tom Sheppard and Peggy Salazar are tough and tireless advocates work on behalf and with their neighbors--and all Chicagoans. Their work is as good an example of citizen advocacy protecting the common good as you will find. This award is well-deserved and overdue. We can all learn a lot from Tom and Peggy who are not only helping to protect their neighborhood, but also our democracy.

This post originally appeared on NRDC's Switchboard blog.