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The Most Popular Drugs In Hip-Hop Lyrics And The Top Rappers Talking About Them

Fri, 2014-05-09 13:56
Following the report of hip-hop artists with the largest vocabularies, Project Know decided to tap into the RapGenius database and pull out the prevalence of drug-related lyrics in hip-hop, breaking it down by slang variation. To little surprise, results show that marijuana and cocaine are by far the most common drugs discussed in songs. Separated into the five categories of weed, cocaine, pharmaceutical drugs, codeine and MDMA, Project Know then determined the top five rappers for each category. Lil B takes the top spot for referencing cocaine, codeine and MDMA (surprising, despite his seemingly endless discography). Eminem mentioned pharmaceutical drugs most, while Three 6 Mafia cited marijuana more often than anyone else.



To see how the prevalence of each of these categories has chalked up over the last 25 years, head over to Project Know's full report.

10 Things <i>Not</i> to Say to Someone With Cancer (and What to Say Instead)

Fri, 2014-05-09 13:54
First off, you're an awesome person. You're reading this because someone you know is touched by cancer and you want to know how to avoid hackneyed phrases and suggestions which tick them off. As a person who recently finished treatment for cancer (Hodgkins Lymphoma) and a physician, I'm happy to take you through a brief tour of 10 things not to say:

10) How are you feeling?

How do you think they feel? They have cancer! How would you feel?! Next!

9) Have you tried praying?

Really? Now is the time you want to proclaim your faith? I write this as a person who believes in God: keep your personal beliefs to yourself. Not the time for missionary work.

8) Have you tried yoga/natural health products/getting rid of your cellphone to cure yourself?

Maybe it's just me as a physician, but they're probably on chemotherapy. Whatever your particular gripes are with the pharmaceutical companies (and you do have a point) chemotherapy has been trialed on tens of thousands, maybe hundreds of thousands of patients. The effects have been studied in depth. I received four rounds of ABVD chemotherapy because I believe in science and unlike yoga/kale/being gluten-free, it actually has been proven to cure my type of cancer.

7) Are you going to lose your hair?

Yes, most of us lose our hair. But thanks to Breaking Bad, Walter White cancer chic is in. Rock it with pride.

6) Have you heard from (insert ex-lover or ex-friend here)?

Is this the best time to remind someone that the love they probably cultivated for years or the friends they once were close to didn't reach out to them? No. No it isn't.

5) How are your parents/kids doing?

The whole family is so excited I have cancer! Said no one, ever. But, seriously what are they going to tell you other than everyone is doing the best they can?

4) We should go out for dinner/clubbing/take a trip!

Hmm, restaurants and clubs are usually no-nos. Think infection control: where can I take this person where there are a small number of people, none of them children, and for a short time that breaks up the monotony of their house/bed rest?

3) Think positive/read The Secret


Is thinking positive and cultivating a happy and balanced outlook important to people with cancer? Absolutely. Is telling someone else to think positive even the slightest bit helpful? Not at all. And don't get me started on The Secret.

2) You can beat this. You're strong.

People don't die of cancer because they've "lost the fight." That's an incredibly simplistic way of looking at it. People die of cancer because their tumor burden is simply too high and sometimes chemotherapy is ineffective depending on the type of cancer. This has nothing to do with their will to live, or their personal character, or how much suffering they've experienced.

1) You'll be fine.

Are you this person's physician? Are you just saying this because you want them to be fine but really know that no one knows how this is all going to play out? I hope so. I hope you face up to the reality that I did: that no one knows or has control over what happens in the course of any serious illness. Pretending everything is going to be fine is ridiculous and yes, condescending.

Hey! Now that this list is over, thanks for reading it. If you've said one of these phrases before, don't sweat it; you're at least one of the people who is trying to care about someone, so that makes you pretty great. What else can we ask for beyond someone trying to reach out to us? I'm the last person to actually give people a hard time over awkward but well-meaning phrases.

In the end, the most important thing to say to a person with cancer is anything at all. Because the isolation from cancer is sometimes the worst part of the disease. But here are my tips on a few good places to start:

5 Things You Should Say

5) Did you see the game last night?

One of my best friends called me a day before a round of chemotherapy to talk about football. I remember because we were talking about the Cowboys and I happen to like Tony Romo and was defending him as he played his heart out against the Broncos. But what I really appreciated about my friends' phone call was that it did not have anything to do with cancer. It was about normal guy stuff. Normal. It's almost enough to feel like winning the lottery to a cancer patient. Therefore you don't actually have to ask about football -- just ask about something normal. In fact, open up every conversation with something normal. If cancer gets talked about, great, if not, that's great too. Let the patient decide if they want to talk about it.

4) Remember that time when we... ?


Most patients like to recall the better times in their lives. Lots of people do. Sometimes the hardest part of having cancer is remembering that you are more than the patient version of yourself. That there is a person behind the diagnosis who once laughed and loved.

3) Did you hear about so-and-so?

This can only work if you actually know people in common. Letting someone know about the outside world which seems too far away for most of us can be both hilarious and soothing. Talking about someone else's problems was a relief from my own.

2) Netflix

Netflix. I lived on Netflix through my chemotherapy. I will always be grateful to the service for recently uploading all seven seasons of The West Wing. As a Canadian, I kept hoping Martin Sheen would consider coming here and becoming our next prime minister. But I digress. The bottom line is recommend movies or shows to watch that might have a humorous bent.

And the #1 thing to tell someone with cancer is...

1) You look great!

Cancer is a strange bedfellow. Somehow you go from being a normal person with normal desires to becoming this fragile human specimen sometimes on the cusp of life and death. And to be honest, after chemo, the last thing on your mind is being desirable. But as you recover, it never fails to crawl back into your mind. I never realized how important intimacy and human contact were until I couldn't have them freely anymore. Until my friends, family and romantic interests were afraid to touch me. To you this might seem trivial, but to me it was devastating.

So when I was going out to dinner before my last round of chemotherapy on a date and she told me I looked great and kissed me goodnight I realized not all compliments or kisses are equal. I truly appreciated it.

Dr. Nikhil Joshi is a physician, writer, speaker and author of The End of Suffering. Visit his website: nikhiljoshi.ca

Skyscraper's New Tourist Magnet Is Basically Hell On Earth For Acrophobes

Fri, 2014-05-09 13:51
If you're afraid of heights, you might want to sit this one out.

But if you like the idea of getting a bird's eye view of the Chicago streets from 94 floors--and 1,000 feet--above the ground, the John Hancock Center's new "Tilt!" platform on its observation deck is right up your alley.

The attraction opens to the public on Saturday at 9 a.m. and entails a moving glass and steel platform that relies on hydraulic pumps to tilt eight participants at a time forward to get an unusual--and, surely, terrifying to many--downward-facing look at Chicago's Magnificent Mile from a 30-degree angle.


Marketing manager Leslie Cooke, left, and Laura Collins, of Isabelli Media Relations, lean back on 'Tilt' in Chicago, May 7, 2014. (Phil Velasquez Chicago Tribune/MCT via Getty Images)


On media preview day, May 7, 2014, Chicago Tribune reporter Steve Johnson, left, and marketing manager Leslie Cooke (center) and Laura Collins, right, of Isabelli Media Relations try out 'Tilt.' (Phil Velasquez Chicago Tribune/MCT via Getty Images)

Get ready for the "Tilt!" http://t.co/YfCkqFs2fV #Chicago pic.twitter.com/StQJHomrOR

— Ashlee Rezin (@Ashlee_Rezin) May 8, 2014


John Peronto of Thornton Tomasetti, the engineer behind the new tourist attraction, insisted to DNAinfo Chicago it is "very, very safe" and has "many layers of safety embedded in it" so those wary of the adventure should feel at ease.


John Peronto of the engineering firm Thornton Tomasetti describes the design and effort needed to build 'Tilt.' (Phil Velasquez Chicago Tribune/MCT via Getty Images)

Hancock's "Tilt" deck opening this weekend, scaredy-cats need not apply: http://t.co/f4QxSRYXjB pic.twitter.com/volYO2GZPW

— ABC 7 Chicago (@ABC7Chicago) May 8, 2014


"Tilt!" is said to be the Hancock Center's answer to the Willis Tower's popular "Ledge" boxes, which allow visitors to experience the illusion of, essentially, standing on air. Some Chicago journalists are already suggesting the Hancock may have outdone the "Ledge" with "Tilt."

A ride on the "Tilt" costs an extra $5 fee on top of the $18 admission fee for the Hancock's 94th floor observation deck and reservations -- 72 hours in advance -- are required.

The Hancock Center is Chicago's fourth-tallest skyscraper and the seventh-tallest tower nationwide.

This Teeny, Tiny Dwarf Antelope Looks Like A Disney Creature Come To Life

Fri, 2014-05-09 13:01
From bite-sized penguins to miniature deer, zoo creatures just keep getting cuter -- and tinier.

The latest addition to the stable of aww-inducing zoo babies is a female klipspringer calf, born in March at the Lincoln Park Zoo in Chicago.

If someone drew the cutest animal they could imagine for Disney and brought it to life, it would probably look something like this tiny dwarf antelope species:



There's almost nothing about the native central and east African creatures that isn't adorable: klipspringer only reach about 20 inches in height when fully grown, and they tend to walk around on their tip-toes.

"If you look at their hooves, you see they're almost always standing on their tip-toes," Mark Kamhout, the zoo's curator of mammals told HuffPost by phone. "[The calf] can stand on a inch or half-inch ledge comfortably. It helps them avoid predators."

In addition to their perchability, Kamhout said klipspringers have cheetah-like speed and can "go up and down really quick" as they richochet off rocky habitats like parkour champs of the animal kingdom.

Zoo officials intervened when the little one was born and her mother was "unable to provide the proper care after birth," and are now looking to name the thriving calf via public vote.

Given the ubiquity of extra-small animals that are a pygmy this or mini that, HuffPost asked Kamhout if klipspringers and other animals were part of a trend of incredible shrinking zoo babies.

"It may seem like that, but it's certainly not the case," Kamhout said. "[Zoo's] come up with different name for different animals and we kind of come up with generic names for small animals because it's easier to use a name like 'dwarf' than use their scientific names."

Sharon Dewar, director of public relations for the zoo chalked the proliferation of pint-sized creatures as a strange coincidence and says the names simply help to differentiate them from other similar, larger subspecies in their family group.

Kamhout noted that while babies and other tiny animals generate initial buzz, the fussing over cuteness ends up benefiting all the zoo's animals in the long run.

"Attention does focus initially on the babies, but then it broadens out to other animals and most importantly, our conservation efforts."

Make sure you have something to hang on to, because these next few photos of the yet-to-be-named calf are almost too much to handle.

Brazilian Teens Video Chatting With Elderly Americans Is The Sweetest Thing

Fri, 2014-05-09 11:49
Teens get a bad rap for the number of hours they log in front of their computers, but this group of students is using their screen time for something really wonderful.

Thanks to FCB Brasil and the CNA language school network, Brazilian teens are able to practice their English skills through a speaking exchange -- with senior citizens living in Chicago retirement homes.

"What our students really want is to speak English fluently," says Vanessa Valença, a program coordinator. "And we're always asking ourselves, 'How can we make it more real? More human?'"

Using a video chatting tool, the students are able to interact face-to-face with elderly Americans, where they have formed real relationships talking about everything from their families to big dreams. Watch the heartwarming video above.

[h/t Business Insider]

"These Days, You Have to Rob a Bank to Get Mental Health Treatment"

Fri, 2014-05-09 11:43
This is a quote from a prison psychologist. She was not joking or exaggerating -- many of her imprisoned psychiatric patients had committed a fake crime to get "three hots and cot." And even more had been arrested for nuisance crimes easily avoided had they received anything approaching adequate treatment and housing.

This is the cruel paradox haunting our mental health non-system- we deliver way too much care to basically normal people who don't need it, while providing way too little care to the really sick people who desperately do.

The result is bad for both groups, but especially terrible for the severely ill. Because of draconian mental health budget cuts, the colossal misallocation of resources, and poor coordination of services, we have almost 400,000 adults with serious mental illness living in jails and prisons and 200,000 others who are homeless, living precariously on the streets.

I get a strong and encouraging response whenever I write or talk about saving normals from excessive treatment. I get almost no response when I write or talk about the shameful and wasteful neglect of the severely ill. We mistreat them barbarously and almost no one seems to care.

So I was delighted to receive the following passionate and enlightening email from DJ Jaffe; Executive Director of Mental Illness Policy Org., a non-profit, non-partisan, science-based think-tank on serious mental illness. Mr. Jaffe writes:

"While 25% of the population might qualify as having a mental disorder in any given year, only 4% have a severely disabling mental illness. To its shame, the mental health industry has consistently focused on the former, not the latter.

The latest egregious example is its opposition to the widely supported and much needed Helping Families In Mental Health Crisis Act (introduced by Rep. Tim Murphy along with 77 co-sponsors). This bipartisan bill would encourage federal agencies to prioritize in favor of the most seriously ill- sending them to the head of the line for services.

Unhappy about this, the mental health industry convinced Representative Ron Barber to propose an alternative - the Strengthening Mental Health in our Communities Act. This has some of the same provisions that are in Murphy's bill but is stripped of the changes that focus care on the most seriously ill.

Here are four crucial provisions the industry convinced Barber to drop:

  1. 1. Medicaid Reform: Medicaid prevents states from receiving reimbursement for people with mental illness who need to be hospitalized for an extended period. So states tend to kick the seriously ill out of hospitals and many wind up incarcerated or homeless. The original bill makes small revisions in Medicaid so that those who need hospital care can receive it. The Barber bill does not.


  2. 2. Assisted Outpatient Treatment (AOT) helps a small subset of the most seriously ill who have a history of getting into trouble when they stop the treatment needed to prevent decompensation. After full due process, AOT allows judges to order severely ill patients into six months of community treatment, often including medications. AOT markedly reduces homelessness, arrests, hospitalizations, incarcerations, and cuts costs in half. Funding for AOT is in the original bill, but not the Barber bill.


  3. 3. HIPAA and FERPA are useful laws that keep patient records confidential- but doctors sometimes hide behind them to avoid having to spend time telling parents about the treatments and pending appointments for their children. Parents of the seriously mentally ill need this information to help make sure their loved ones have medications, stay in treatment, and make it to the appointments. The original bill includes narrow exceptions to HIPAA and FERPA so parents of seriously mentally ill who are providing care and housing can get this information. The Barber bill does not.


  4. 4. SAMHSA should be the government agency most dedicated to the welfare of the severely mentally ill- but it is not doing its job. As Representative Murphy pointed out: 'SAMHSA has not made the treatment of the seriously mentally ill a priority....serious mental illness such as schizophrenia and bipolar disorder may not be a concern at all to SAMHSA...its strategic plan continues to think in broad terms of behavioral and emotional health, promoting wellness and not once in its entire 117 page strategic document will you find the words schizophrenia or bipolar disorder.'


Dr. Fuller Torrey told Congress that SAMHSA has only one psychiatrist among its 574 employees. Dr. Sally Satel told Congress only four of the 288 programs in SAMHSA's National Registry of Evidence Based Programs and Practices are designed to help people with serious mental illness.

The original bill returns SAMHSA to its proper and primary mission of helping the seriously ill and prevents it from funding non-evidenced based programs. The Barber bill does not.

The lobbying against the Murphy bill is led by mental health groups receiving funding from SAMHSA under its current disordered priorities. Mental Health America which receives nearly twenty percent of its funding directly or indirectly from SAMHSA testified against the bill (and on questioning admitted to not having read it). The SAMHSA funded Technical Assistance Centers emailed their members, 'Tell your Representative NOT to Co-sponsor the Murphy Mental Health Bill'. To oppose provisions in the Murphy bill that help ensure the seriously ill can get a hospital bed when needed, The National Coalition for Mental Health Recovery put out a press release declaring 'It would bring America back to the dark ages before de-institutionalization, when people with mental health conditions languished in institutions, sometimes for life.' NCMHR ignores the fact that without hospitals, many are languishing for life in jails.

The mental health industry supports the Barber bill because it gives them mental health dollars, while freeing them from the responsibility to use those dollars to help the seriously ill. For example, it proposes higher Medicare reimbursement for marriage counselors engendering support from American Mental Health Counselors Association. But having a marriage you wish to improve is not a mental illness.

Rather than promoting mission control, the Barber bill promotes mission-creep. It's an eye-off-the-prize, head-in-the-sand approach that pretends the seriously ill don't exist. It is cruel to individuals with serious mental illness and those of us who love them."

Thanks, Mr. Jaffe for defending those who most need and deserve defending and for helping us to get our priorities straight.

Budgeting is a zero sum game. When dollars are spread out too widely, there is far too little left to provide decent and cost-effective care for those who most need it. In mental health treatment, as in everything else, the rich are getting richer and the poor are getting poorer and winding up in prison or on the street.

Many institutions and organizations should be doing a great deal more for the severely mentally ill and share in the shame of our current neglect. The National Institute Of Mental Health has become a future directed brain institute indifferent to the disastrous state of current patient care. The American Psychiatric Association has produced a DSM 5 that dilutes mental illness even further -- deflecting attention away from the really ill and toward the worried well. I am all for the efforts of psychologists and counselors, but their professional associations don't include the severely ill as a core constituency. And social workers have been strangely passive. The National Alliance on Mental Illness started life as an organization dedicated to advocacy for the severely mentally ill but has dropped the ball and done very little for the imprisoned and homeless.

Two hundred years ago, Pinel freed the mental patients from their chains and initiated enlightened and respectful care. Now we imprison patients again or relegate them to the streets in a new disgusting dark age.

These Stunning Photos Show The Strength And Beauty Of Children Battling Cancer

Fri, 2014-05-09 10:48
At the time these children are photographed, they are quite literally fighting the battle of their young lives. And that's exactly why the images taken of pediatric cancer patients and their families for the Flashes of Hope project are so evocative.

Founded in 2001 by Cleveland parents Allison and Kip Clarke after their oldest son Quinn was diagnosed with cancer that would claim his life, Flashes of Hope is a national volunteer-run organization created with the mission of photographing every child with cancer until every child is cured. The group today also raises funds toward pediatric cancer research.


Photo by Roger Pelisier in Boston, courtesy of Flashes of Hope.

How it works is simple: Flashes of Hope connects children with cancer and their loved ones with local photographers -- as well as makeup artists and sometimes stylists -- willing to donate their services for free-of-charge photo shoots. After the shoots are complete, families receive framed photos, plus proofs and CDs they can use to make reprints.

The organization grew quickly from its humble beginnings and currently has 55 local chapters, each of which helps organize the shoots at area hospitals and special events and picnics, as well as recruit photographers and makeup artists. They also fundraise to make all of their efforts possible.


Photo from NYC chapter shoot by Eric Hason, courtesy of Flashes of Hope. Hair and makeup by nuBest Salon and Spa.

The largest of those chapters was founded in 2008 in Chicago when current chapter president Carrie Gowans helped organize the first photo shoot at the University of Chicago's Comer Children's Hospital. Then, the group was comprised of just eight volunteers. Today, the chapter actively partners with six area hospitals and three oncology camps and boasts nearly 400 regular volunteers.

Given that pediatric cancer has a five-year survival rate of about 80 percent, some of the shots will end up being the last photos ever taken of the child. Others will serve as a reminder of what the family overcame, documenting their journey from sickness back to health, particularly as some children are photographed multiple times as part of the project.

The power of what Flashes of Hope does, Gowans told HuffPost, is that when you look at the photographs produced as part of the project, "you see a child, not the illness."


Photo from NYC chapter shoot by Eric Hason, courtesy of Flashes of Hope. Hair and makeup by nuBest Salon and Spa, pictured photographer is Dennis Kleiman.

"You have these keepsakes you can look at and say, 'Look at how strong you are, how strong you all were,'" Gowans added.

Barrie Decker, the chapter's development director, agreed.

"[The photos] show their grace, dignity, bravery and all these beautiful things. You sit and look and say, 'That could have been my child, or it could be my neighbor's son.' It speaks so much more to what's going on."


Photo from NYC chapter shoot by Eric Hason, courtesy of Flashes of Hope. Hair and makeup by nuBest Salon and Spa, pictured photographer is Geoff Green.

Nationwide, the organization photographs more than half the children diagnosed with cancer in the U.S. each year. Thanks to the help of thousands of volunteers, they've taken shots of 33,000 children through the end of 2012. This year, they expect to photograph 8,000 children.

But Flashes of Hope is about so much more than photo shoots.

Despite the organization's fast growth, Flashes of Hope opted to broaden their mission a few years ago to include raising funds toward pediatric cancer research. Decker notes than less than 4 percent of federal cancer research funding goes toward pediatric cancer -- a large gap the group is working to do its part toward closing. In 2012, they raised $476,000 toward pediatric cancer research.


Photo by Dilip Vishwanat in St. Louis, courtesy Flashes of Hope.

"It's nobody's fault and it is what it is, but we're letting people know about that and trying to change it," Decker told HuffPost.

Ideally, the group hopes they would have no sick children to photograph at all.

But until then, the work continues. The pair are gearing up for shoots next week at the Lurie and Comer hospitals during which another 30-40 families are expected to participate in the project, getting their day of royal treatment.

"It is so rewarding because it literally gets in your soul," Decker said.


Photo by Forrest MacCormack in Washington, D.C., courtesy Flashes of Hope.

Celebrities Talk LGBT Equality on the 2014 GLAAD Media Awards Red Carpet in NYC (AUDIO)

Fri, 2014-05-09 10:24
This week I talked with 25 celebrities as they made their way down the red carpet at the 25th Annual GLAAD Media Awards in New York City.

First I spoke with GLAAD's CEO and president, Sarah Kate Ellis, and her wife, Kristen Ellis-Henderson. Sarah talked about clearing up the idea that the fight for LGBT equality has been won, and about how much more work needs to be done to achieve full equality.

Next I talked to Derrick Gordon, the first out NCAA basketball player, about his NBA aspirations and the future of LGBT athletes.

Then I talked with transgender model Geena Rocero about how we need to spotlight the "T" in "LGBT," and about launching her "Gender Proud" campaign.

I was then joined by Stafford Arima, who was there to present George Takei with the Vito Russo Award and chatted with me about directing his upcoming Broadway musical Allegiance, starring George Takei.

New Orleans bounce performer Big Freedia, who won the GLAAD Media Award for Outstanding Reality Program at the L.A. ceremony, talked about his show's second season.

GLAAD National Spokesperson Omar Sharif Jr. shared his personal story about how GLAAD saved his life, and he talked about the programs he's involved with to deal with the LGBT teen bullying epidemic.

Comedian Fortune Feimster, who hosted the event, gave her spin on LGBT issues.

Perez Hilton, who was there to see global superstar Kylie Minogue and Grammy Award-winning country music artist Kacey Musgraves perform, talked about how fatherhood has changed his life.

GLAAD National Spokesperson Wilson Cruz informed me about GLAAD's current projects addressing Southerners' stories and global initiatives.



Transgender actress Candis Cayne, who played Ms. Hudson on CBS' Elementary, chatted with me just prior to accepting the Outstanding Individual Episode Award on behalf of the show. (The series is without a regular LGBT character.)

Reality star Sonja Morgan dished about her series The Real Housewives of New York City on Bravo.

Actress Robin Weigert, who starred in the film Concussion, which won Outstanding Film (Limited Release), talked about how LGBT equality continues to advance.

Then actress Yael Stone from Orange Is the New Black, which won Outstanding Comedy Series, talked about the show's upcoming second season.

Tony- and Emmy-winning actress Swoosie Kurtz, who opened the presentation ceremony, talked compassionately about LGBT issues.

George Takei, who received the 2014 Vito Russo Award, talks about how honored he is to be recognized with this award, named for one of the founders of GLAAD. George and his husband Brad also talked about their new documentary, Being Takei.

LISTEN:



Boy George, who was there to introduce Kylie Minogue, gave his advice to LGBT teens that they should not suffer in silence but should reach out.

Martial arts fighter Jessica Aguilar was there to represent LGBT athletes with her partner Elena Rodriguez.

Out Olympic speed skater Blake Skjellerup was also there to represent LGBT people in sports and talked about the advancements we have made in the last year.

Actress Alysia Reiner was present to celebrate her show, the fabulous Netflix series Orange Is the New Black, which is changing hearts and minds about the LGBT community.

Next I talked to actor Raúl Castillo, who appears on HBO's Looking, which has been renewed for a second season.

I concluded with the fabulous actress Laverne Cox (Orange Is the New Black), who was honored with GLAAD's Stephen F. Kolzak Award last month in L.A. Laverne talked about how grateful she is for her career and how she wants to create a safe world for her inner child.

The 25th Annual GLAAD Media Awards were held at the Waldorf Astoria in New York City. For more information, visit glaad.org.

Listen to more interviews with LGBTQ leaders, allies, and celebrities at OUTTAKE VOICES™.

Download interviews on iTunes.

WATCH: For 8 Years, She Convinced The World She Was A Boy. Now, She's Making Us Rethink Sexuality

Fri, 2014-05-09 09:47
What if most of us aren't "gay" or "straight," but somewhere in between? Artist and activist iO Tillett Wright makes a passionate case for accepting the complexity of individuality -- without making anybody feel like a second-class citizen. If her words don't persuade you, the images she shares just might.

We want to know what you think. Join the discussion by posting a comment below or tweeting #TEDWeekends. Interested in blogging for a future edition of TED Weekends? Email us at tedweekends@huffingtonpost.com.
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The Hedge Fund That Ate Chicago

Fri, 2014-05-09 08:02
There's a battle royale raging in Chicago. It pits hedge funds, the Chicago financial exchanges, real estate interests and Mayor Rahm Emanuel on the one side, against public employee unions and community groups on the other.

At issue is whether public employee pension benefits should be slashed. Mayor Emanuel claims that "If we make no reforms at all across our pension funds, we would have to raise City property taxes by 150%.... Businesses and families would flee, not just from our city but from our state." By 2017, He argues that the city will have to pay $2.4 billion a year into the pension fund.

The public employee unions and community activists contend that city's fiscal problems could be solved easily through a small sales tax on financial trades on the Chicago Mercantile Exchange and the Chicago Board Options Exchange.

The outcome may determine the health and well being of pension funds as well as public services all across the country.

Wall Street buys a mayor?

When Rahm Emanuel worked as a presidential assistant in the Clinton administration, he earned $118,000 a year. After he left his White House job in 1998, he got a raise, making over $18 million in the next two and a half years working for the "boutique" investment banking firm of Wasserstein Perella. Emanuel had no previous banking experience.

Ken Griffin, the CEO of the Chicago-based Citadel hedge fund and "his wife Anne Dias Griffin, donated more than $200,000 to Mayor Emanuel's campaign for Mayor in 2011," report David Sirota and Ben Joravsky in Pandodaily. "Griffin describes the mayor as his 'good friend'. Other Citadel employees have donated about $178,000 to Emanuel's campaign."

The 45-year-old Griffin's income for 2013 was $900 million (or about $492,632 an hour.) Apparently a good deal of his income comes from high frequency trading (see my summary) that runs through the two Chicago financial exchanges. "His Citadel LLC returned more than 300 percent in a fund started as a high-frequency strategy," according to Bloomberg News.

Griffin, alone, could fund all of Chicago's pension liabilities for the current year (estimated at $692 million) and still have $208 million left to scrap by on. Yet Griffin is terribly worried that the mayor is being too soft on retirees. He "castigated Chicago and Illinois politicians for not making "tough choices," blaming Democrats who control city, county and state government for not fixing pension, education and crime problems," reports Crain's.

Mayor's pay-back?

"On March 5," report Sirota and Joravsky, "Chicago's city council overwhelmingly voted to approve Mayor Rahm Emanuel's proposal to divert $55 million of taxpayer resources into a new privately run hotel in the city's south loop." The Marriot was selected to run "one of America's largest hotels next to America's largest convention center -- and doing so with massive taxpayer subsidies, but without having to pay to construct the hotel and without having to pay property taxes."

As luck would have it, Griffin is likely to make a great deal of money on this deal: "In the months before the development deal was announced, Griffin's hedge fund was buying up large blocs of Marriott stock." What a coincidence!

Why are a millionaire mayor and a billionaire hedge fund CEO teaming up to attack public pensions?

Because that's where the money is, and lots of it. Mayors and governors want to reduce pension fund contributions so that they can continue to lavish tax breaks and subsidies on their corporate patrons and still balance their budgets. In Chicago, the yearly cost of those corporate tax subsidies is already higher than the yearly costs of Chicago's pension fund outlays, according to an analysis by Goods Jobs First.

Hedge funds and other financial firms join the attack, and perhaps instigate it in the first place, because they want the lucrative business of advising and investing all those pension dollars. In New Jersey, Governor Christie's administration awarded a $300 million pension management contract to a controversial hedge fund that also is major contributor to Christie's re-election campaign.

The Wall Street-trained treasurer of Rhode Island, Gina Raimondo, rammed through severe cuts to public pension funds, while her hedge fund allies lined up at the troth. As Matt Taibbi reports, Rhode Island's "strategy for saving money involved handing more than $1 billion -- 14 percent of the state fund -- to hedge funds, including a trio of well-known New York-based funds: Dan Loeb's Third Point Capital was given $66 million, Ken Garschina's Mason Capital got $64 million and $70 million went to Paul Singer's Elliott Management."

The amazing irony is that there would be no talk of a pension "crisis" at all where it not for the fact that Wall Street crashed the economy. The hedge funds that covet pension fund reform and pension fund contracts were full partners in the reckless gambling spree that took down the economy and destroyed 8 million jobs in a matter of months. As economist Dean Baker shows the pension shortfall is primarily the result of the 2007-08 crash in the financial markets. "If pension funds had earned returns just equal to the interest rate on 30-year Treasury bonds in the three years since 2007, their assets would be more than $850 billion greater than they are today."

The lesson learned should be this: If you use hedge funds to run your pension funds, you'll get fleeced come the next crisis.

Why are the financialists getting away it?

Rahm Emanuel, Chris Christie and hundreds of other politicians are able to attack public pension funds with impunity because defined benefit pensions in the private sector are an endangered species. One demagogic question is all they need to ask and they ask it again and again:

"Why should you pay taxes for public employee benefits that you don't have?"

Such an attack only works because Wall Street already has systematically destroyed private sector defined benefit pension funds -- which are funds that provide retirees with a set payment for life (and sometimes beyond for spouses.) Employers can reduce their costs by switching from defined benefit pensions to defined contribution 401(k)s. Better yet they might be able to eliminate the employer contributions altogether. Employees usually benefit more from defined benefit pensions and are very reluctant to see them altered. (For more about defined pension funds see here.)

As the chart below demonstrates less than 15 percent of private sector employees now have defined benefit pension programs, down from nearly 40 percent in 1979. Meanwhile, 401(k)s have grown from 16 percent to over 42 percent. This didn't happen by accident.



Wall Street Strip-mines private pension funds

Defined pension funds are disappearing for two overlapping reasons. The first is that unions, the main driver of defined-benefit pensions, are in decline. Today, union's represent less than 7 percent of the private sector workforce, down from 35 percent in 1955. But that's only part of the story.

The most crucial causes is the deregulation of the financial sector which started in the late 1970s. Once freed from their New Deal shackles, corporate raiders (now called private equity firms, hedge funds and investment firms) strip-mined thousands of corporations using borrowed money. Those debts were (and still are) placed on the books of the target company and its cash flow is used to pay the interest on the debts as well as pay huge sums to the raiders, their investment advisors, their bankers, and the compliant top managers of the target company.

How does the target firm pay for all these new costs? The raiders, of course, claim that through their own entrepreneurial genius, they "unlock" hidden value. In reality, they milk the company in every way imaginable. They sell off product lines, shut down facilities, move work off-shore, slash r & d, and raid the pension fund, claiming it was "overfunded." Often the target company also tries to discontinue the pensions entirely or shift to 401(k)s forcing the employees to kick in most of the money. Many corporations become so loaded up with debt that they go into bankruptcy, through which they can further whittle away employee benefits and reduce or discontinue pensions.

As the financial strip mining proceeds through thousands upon thousands of corporations, the average worker loses his or her benefits, and the financial strip miners become filthy rich. As the chart below shows, in 1970 the top 100 CEO earned $45 for each dollar earned by the average worker. By 2006, the ratio jumped to 1,723 to one.



A Tax on financial strip mining?

The financial transaction tax (sometimes called a financial speculation tax or Robin Hood Tax) is designed to retrieve some of the money that is being siphoned away from our wages, benefits and tax dollars. Because the super-rich, their hedge funds and their corporations have a myriad of ways to avoid income taxes, especially by shifting money offshore, the financial transaction tax hits them where they live -- buying and selling financial assets on the markets, especially on the Chicago exchanges where derivatives and futures contracts are sold.

It is estimated that a minuscule tax on each trade would generate $12 billion a year for Illinois. (House Bill 5929 calls for "a rate of $1 per contract for all transactions for which the underlying asset is an agricultural product and $2 per contract for all other contracts.") That would be $9.6 billion more than $2.4 billion dollar pension shortfall Mayor Emanuel claims Chicago will face in 2017. That still leaves more than enough money to dramatically improve education and even make higher education tuition free in Illinois (thereby cutting into Wall Street's predatory student loan business.)

While such a tax could easily fulfill the promises made to public employees, it might also be prudent and just to use some of the financial tax to create a statewide defined benefit pension fund for private sector as well as public employees. That should put an end to the divide and conquer tactics that opportunistic politicians and their hedge fund cronies use to enrich themselves and their political ambitions.

Can the financial transaction tax become reality?

Let's take heart from what Rahm Emanuel infamously said when serving as President Obama's chief of staff at the height of the financial crisis: "You never let a serious crisis go to waste. And what I mean by that it's an opportunity to do things you think you could not do before."

This blog originally appeared in Alternet.org

Les Leopold is the director of the Labor Institute in New York. His most recent book is
How to Make a Million Dollars an Hour: Why Hedge Funds Get Away with Siphoning off America's Wealth (Wiley, 2013)

Rahm Emanuel Backs Hillary Clinton For President

Fri, 2014-05-09 07:46

By Gabriel Debenedetti

WASHINGTON, May 9 (Reuters) - Chicago Mayor Rahm Emanuel, a former White House aide to Presidents Barack Obama and Bill Clinton, on Friday joined the Ready For Hillary group that is urging former U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton to run for president in 2016.

Emanuel, who also served in the U.S. House of Representatives, will headline two fundraisers for the group in June. His support comes less than a week after Virginia Senator Tim Kaine also backed the effort.

"I've seen firsthand how Hillary has inspired women and men, and girls and boys, here in America and across the globe, and I know that as president, she would continue to move our country forward," Emanuel said in a statement from Ready For Hillary.

The group - a super PAC that voluntarily caps donations at $25,000 - is not officially affiliated with Clinton, who says she will decide whether to pursue the White House after November's congressional elections. But it boasts the backing of numerous Democratic officials and donors.

Clinton is the overwhelming favorite to be the Democratic nominee in 2016 if she chooses to run again. Preliminary polling shows her leading all other potential White House aspirants after she served for four years as Secretary of State under Obama.

The former First Lady and New York senator lost the hard-fought 2008 nomination battle to then-Illinois Senator Obama, and has since openly spoken about the difficulties of presidential campaigns.

The June release of Clinton's memoir of her time at the State Department is expected to kick off a more intense national discussion of her presidential prospects. (Reporting by Gabriel Debenedetti; Editing by Bernadette Baum)

Vintage Photos Of Children Dressed As Flowers Are The Creepiest Way To Welcome Spring

Fri, 2014-05-09 07:20
A recent peek into the archives at The Field Museum in Chicago reveal that when it came to celebrating springtime flora, few people were more enthusiastic than the members of the Progressive Era's Wildflower Preservation Society.





Vintage photos on hand-painted lantern slides caught the eye of Slate's history buffs on Wednesday, so HuffPost reached out to to museum to learn more about the curious and bizarrely beautiful collection.

"There are no records for exactly when the 'Flower Children' slides came to The Field Museum, so that they are dated 'circa 1920,'" explained Nina Cummings, photo archivist for the Field Museum. Cummings said at least one eagle-eyed viewer has suggested to the museum that based on the style of clothing in the photos, the images may have actually been made circa 1900-1910.

Lantern slides were first introduced in 1849, about a decade after the invention of modern photography. According to the Library of Congress, a large format transparent slide could be projected on to different surfaces, "changing it from an intimate medium to one that was appropriate to entertainment and educational purposes."

Calling them the "pre-pre cursor to Power Point slides" that also pre-dated 35mm color slides, Cummings said the Lantern slide-making process included printing a negative onto a thin sheet of glass and, once the black and white image dried, hand-painting the slide to "colorize" it.

Evidenced by the photos below, the effect lands somewhere between ethereal and eerie -- not quite "doll room in a haunted mansion" level creepy, but more than a few levels beyond bizarre.

As for the children in the photos, they were dressed for an event for the Chicago chapter of The Wildflower Preservation Society. As Slate notes, the Wildflower Preservation Society was founded at the New York Botanical Garden in 1902 with the goal of promoting "love of flowers and of nature through preserving tracts of land and planning educational events."

Now that winter is firmly in the rearview, here's a look the Wildflower Preservation Society's littlest members welcoming spring in style.















(h/t Slate)

11 Pieces Of Advice These Insanely Successful People Got From Their Moms

Fri, 2014-05-09 07:08
When it comes to giving great life advice, moms just have a knack.

Even if it was as simple as "think good thoughts," chances are the first really great piece of advice you got came from your mom. The same holds true for some of the world's most successful people, several of whom are gathered below. From a billionaire to a former supermodel, these sons and daughters have been inspired by the wise words of their mothers to do great things.

"From those to whom much is given, much is expected."
-- Bill Gates' mom, Mary




The multi-billionaire philanthropist Bill Gates quoted this advice from his mother, Mary Maxwell Gates, during a commencement address at Harvard University in 2007. The advice is likely inspired from a passage in the Bible.



"If you really want something, you work hard enough, you take advantage of opportunities, you never give up, you will find a way."
-- Jane Goodall's mom, Vanne


Jane, seated left, with her family.

Jane Goodall, the world-famous expert on chimpanzees, said these words from her mother helped provide the confidence she needed to fulfill her dream of studying animals in Africa.



"Failure is not the opposite of success. It is a stepping stone to success."
-- Arianna Huffington's mom, Elli Stasinopoulos




The president and Editor in Chief of Huffington Post Media Group said her mother's advice helped her overcome adversity.



Your "own internal compass" is the "best guide in life."
-- Matt Damon's mom, Nancy




Actor Matt Damon's mother told The Daily Beast that she tried to instill a "sense of inner security" in her sons that would allow them to guide themselves.



"The habits of a vigorous mind are formed in contending with difficulties."
-- John Quincy Adams' mom, Abigail




Abigail Adams, the second woman ever to become First Lady, wrote the above advice to her son, future president John Quincy Adams, when he was just 12 years old.



"Ignore the chattering crowds and set [your] own course."
-- Sallie Krawcheck's mom, Townie




Sallie Krawcheck, a Wall Street veteran and advocate for the economic advancement of women, wrote in a LinkedIn blog post that this advice allowed her to "find her voice" early in her career.



"Have no regrets."
-- Richard Branson's mom, Eve


Richard Branson with his mom.

The founder of Virgin Group said his mother's advice was ingrained in him through words, as well as actions. "She explained how to think of setbacks as part of a learning curve," he wrote in a blog post on LinkedIn. "Sometimes it will be steep, but if you concentrate on looking forward rather than back, the climb will be easier."



“Plan for the end at the beginning.”
-- Tyra Banks' mom, Caroline London-Johnson




The TV personality and supermodel said during an interview with CNNMoney that this advice from her mother kept her "three steps ahead" throughout her career.



“If you want to be happily married, marry a happy person.”
-- Julian Fellowes' mom, Olwen


The British actor and writer pictured with his wife, Emma.

Perhaps best known as the creator of PBS' "Downton Abbey," Fellowes calls this advice the best he received from his mother. "I am glad to say I took her at her word," he told The Telegraph.



"You have to have alligator skin. You can't believe the good stuff, and you certainly can't believe the bad stuff."
-- Maria Bartiromo's mom, Josephine




The CNBC anchor said in a 2010 interview with Business Insider that her mother's advice kept her from "believing my own press releases."



“There's always room for improvement in every area of your life, so strive to get better in all the things you do, from sports to real life. Continue to learn as long as you live."
-- Shaquille O’Neal's mom, Lucille




Shaq's mom once said that while her son may be one of the NBA's all-time greats, she always taught him that people can always strive to be better human beings.

Michael, Moms, and the NRA

Thu, 2014-05-08 23:10
Michael Bloomberg, the mega-rich former Mayor of New York, announced last month he's spending $50 million bucks to fight the NRA with an army of moms.



He spent $12 million last year trying to get members of the Senate to vote for background checks, but his return on investment was lousy. Senators -- including some Democrats -- didn't have the guts to pass the bill, even though polls showed mandatory background checks for most gun buyers was supported by 91 percent of U.S. voters at the time, including 96 percent of Democrats, 88 percent of Republicans and even 88 percent of gun- owning households.

So this year Mr. Bloomberg has as a new strategy. Instead of trying to change lawmaker's minds, he's going to try and change their faces. Borrowing a page from the NRA playbook, his new group, Everytown For Gun Safety, will campaign against lawmakers who don't support their agenda.

Everytown will concentrate heavily on the women's vote -- particularly moms. Good strategy. Research shows that women support gun control in greater numbers than men, and there's a reason. Men view the gun debate mostly in terms of hunting and losing their rights to own a firearm. Women worry about their kids getting slaughtered at school or getting raped at gunpoint. I'd call that a basic difference.

Gun violence is a big factor in violence against women. The numbers don't lie. Women are over three-and-a-half times more likely than men to be killed by an intimate partner. And a gun in a household with a history of domestic violence increases that risk by twenty fold. Stalkers also use guns against their victims, but right now picking one up at a gun show or online is no problem, even if they've been convicted in the past. Before this month is over 50 women will be murdered with a gun by a husband or boyfriend.

And school shootings? According to Everytown's website, there have been more than 60 since Newtown.

We've all heard the expression "Don't get mad, get even." Everytown for gun Safety is hoping that if enough moms get mad, they'll get even all right. With politicians who value the NRA over their safety and the lives of their kids.

So here's to ya, Michael Bloomberg. I'm a mom. Sign me up.

Listen to the 2 minute radio commentary here:

9 Things About HuffPost I Know Now That I Wish I'd Known When We Started

Thu, 2014-05-08 23:04
Today is the 9th anniversary of the launch of The Huffington Post. There is so much to celebrate, so much that has exceeded my wildest dreams -- no, back in 2005, I wasn't dreaming of more than 90 million unique visitors a month, more than 60 verticals, more than 50,000 bloggers, more than 300 million comments, or double-digit international editions, a game-changing live streaming network, and a wall-full of awards.

Looking back, however, there are a number of things that I know now that I wish I'd known then. To mark our 9th anniversary, here are 9 of them:

  1. That WTF, LOL, CMS, FTW, ICYMI, meme, selfie, share, like, and RT would become such essential parts of my daily work vocabulary. I also wish I knew how to correctly pronounce "gif" (actually, I still don't know).


  2. That I'd end up watching more video on my phone than on my TV (and speaking of TV, it would've been nice to know that Lost would get so weird; that The Sopranos would end so unsatisfyingly; that the Red Wedding would be so, well, red; and that that sweet little Hannah Montana would turn into a crotch-grabbing wrecking ball).


  3. That Tom DeLay (aka "The Hammer"), who I wrote my first HuffPost blog post about, would go from the most feared man in the House to a bespangled, Texas two-stepping contestant on Dancing with the Stars who left the competition after developing stress fractures in both feet.


  4. That HuffPost Divorce would be such a big hit. Nora Ephron, who suggested it, was right when she said, "Marriage comes and goes but divorce is forever." If I had known, we would have started our section about endings a lot sooner.


  5. That nine years after we launched, Americans would still be coming home from Afghanistan in body bags, and that we'd still be paying a price for the lies that got us into Iraq and kept us there for a decade. We've kept our promise to stay on these stories; I just wish they'd had a much shorter shelf life.


  6. That Facebook, Twitter, Vine, and Instagram -- none of which existed when we launched -- would become such a vital part of my daily work life. Of course, if I'd known that, we would have launched Facebook, Twitter, Vine, and Instagram ourselves!


  7. That NapQuest 1 and NapQuest 2 -- HuffPost's nap rooms -- would be so popular ... we certainly could have used them during the early years. They might even have helped me avoid, two years after we launched, my wake-up call of collapsing from exhaustion, which set me on the path to understanding the vital importance of unplugging and recharging -- for myself, for all HuffPosters, and for our readers.


  8. That I'd need to know how to say "HuffPost" in French, Italian, Spanish, German, Japanese, Portuguese, Korean -- and with a British and Canadian accent -- to better communicate with our many international editors. I still have time before we launch in India, the Middle East, and Greece to get it right in Hindi and Arabic (thankfully, I'm fully up to speed on the Greek).


  9. That HuffPost would always be a work in progress, even as we grew from a handful of people working out of my house in Los Angeles to an international media company with over 700 people worldwide -- and that there would never be a moment when we could put a bow around it and say, "this is HuffPost."



Happy anniversary, HuffPost! Here's to many, many more!

NFL Draft 2014 First-Round Results: Texans Make Jadeveon Clowney The No. 1 Overall Pick

Thu, 2014-05-08 19:26
The clock at the 2014 NFL Draft is finally ticking. The mock drafts will be obsolete shortly but the latest line of caps worn by players selected will be garish in perpetuity.

NFL Commissioner Roger Goodell officially opened the first round of the 2014 NFL Draft by stepping to the podium at Radio City Music Hall in New York City on Thursday night and announcing that the Houston Texans had just 10 more minutes to reveal their selection. The Texans earned the first overall selection by finishing the 2013 season with an NFL-worst record of 2-14. Following months of speculation that the Texans could trade out of the top spot in the first round, Houston went ahead and kept the pick. They also used it on the player that has long been expected to be taken with the No. 1 overall selection: defensive end Jadeveon Clowney out of South Carolina.

With the No.1 pick in the 2014 #NFLDraft the #Texans select... JADEVEON CLOWNEY. pic.twitter.com/zBEh4vF5x7

— Houston Texans (@HoustonTexans) May 9, 2014


"It feels great," Clowney told ESPN's Suzy Kolber after getting his hug from Goodell. "I'm glad to be a part of the organization. I'm ready to get to work."

After Clowney was off the draft board and the St. Louis Rams were on the clock, the spotlight shifted to quarterback Johnny Manziel, wide receiver Sammy Watkins and the remaining players on the scene at Radio City Music Hall.

SCROLL DOWN FOR ALL FIRST-ROUND PICKS

The War To End All Wars

Thu, 2014-05-08 18:32
"Peace, as we have seen, is not an order natural to mankind: it is artificial, intricate and highly volatile. All kinds of preconditions are necessary." -- Michael Howard, The Invention of Peace

And here comes World War I, wrapped in World War II, wrapped in the Cold War: tremors on one of Planet Earth's human fault lines.

We have enough angry, manipulable people on this planet to carry out the game plan of the political ideologues and war profiteers, who are always on the lookout for the next war, the one that's too volatile and "inevitable" to stop. As David Swanson, author of War Is a Lie, put it: "The search for a good war is beginning to look as futile as the search for the mythical city of El Dorado. And yet that search remains our top public project."

And the searchlight stops at Ukraine, full of neo-Nazis, corrupt oligarchs, nuclear reactors, an unelected government, a wrecked economy, a simmering civil war. God help us. Old animosities and ideological divisions come back to life. The United States and NATO stand off against Vladimir Putin's Russia. Thirty-one people -- maybe more -- die in a burning building in Odessa. This kind of thing could be the pretext for a world war. Sanity is up in flames.

"The crisis in Ukraine is serious," Floyd Rudmin writes at Common Dreams. "At some point soon, reality needs to become the priority. No more name-calling. No more blaming. If there are any adults in the room, they need to stand up. The crisis in Ukraine is going critical, and that is a fact."

What if one of the adults were an elected official, specifically, the president of the United States? In an open letter, a group called Veteran Intelligence Professionals for Sanity has urged Barack Obama to look beyond John Kerry and Washington's neocon consensus for advice and direction on Ukraine -- as, it turns out, he ultimately did with Syria -- and "schedule a meeting, one-on-one, with President Putin as quickly as possible."

There are numerous acts of geopolitical rationality and goodwill -- e.g., rescind Ukraine's invitation to join NATO -- that could avert the crisis. That's all that matters.

"In 2014, on the one century anniversary of World War I, European nations are again mobilizing for war," Rudmin writes. "As in 1914, so in 2014, war is not for repelling an attack, but for loyalty to an alliance, even when some members of the alliance are belligerent. The 1914 war was supposed to be over by Christmas, but went on and on and on for years, killing 9 million people. The 2014 war, if its starts in earnest, will be over in one week, maybe less, and could kill a 100 million people depending on how many nuclear reactors break open and how many nuclear missiles are launched."

He adds: "The 1914 war was called 'the war to end all wars.' The 2014 war will be that."

Human civilization is walking along the edge of collapse. Endless material growth, driven by a profit-based economy, is wrecking our natural habitat, but our antiquated systems of leadership answer primarily to the destructive status quo and are unable to implement meaningful, crucial change. That same status quo is addicted not simply to fossil fuels but to a perverted, reptile-brain sense of "survival of the fittest" that requires constantly identifying, engaging and defeating an enemy. This is called war, and we prepare for it more than for anything else, including the education of our children.

With the development and stupefying proliferation of nuclear weapons, war has become the fast track to annihilation -- which, of course, the world grasped during the four-plus decades of the Cold War. Lacking the will and courage to pursue nuclear (or any other kind of) disarmament, the leaders of the two sides of the arms race settled for the concept of "mutually assured destruction"--MAD -- to maintain security. Beware of our nukes!

And, voila, there were no more world wars, no more direct conflagrations between superpowers: proxy wars only. And most of the casualties were Third and Fourth Worlders. In the U.S., the military-industrial complex grew fat and prosperous. But the Soviet Union, economically less able to maintain the arms race, spent itself into oblivion and collapsed in 1991. MAD was declared a success.

But of course there was more going on here than a short-term competition between East and West. When the Cold War ended, peace hardly prevailed. In the U.S., there was no "peace dividend": no diversion of military spending into education, infrastructure maintenance or the social safety net. We just looked for new enemies. The military budget expanded.

And the Cold War itself -- this deep, unspoken commitment to mass suicide -- merely went on hold. And now it's back, with the two sides still in command of thousands and thousands of nuclear weapons. Of the 15,000 nuclear weapons currently housed on Planet Earth, 95 percent are controlled by the U.S. and Russia, and 3,000 of those warheads are on hair-trigger alert, according to Ira Helfand, co-president of International Physicians for the Prevention of Nuclear War.

The neo-Nazi nationalists who attacked the pro-Russian protesters in Odessa last week, burning their tent encampment, driving them into a building and setting that building on fire with Molotov cocktails, reputedly called their dying enemies "Colorados" (which are black and red potato beetles, the color of the ribbons symbolizing a pro-Russian political commitment). So here we have it: the full spectrum of "human nature" on display in Ukraine: from dehumanizing insult to . . . potential nuclear war.

"Peace, as we have seen, is not an order natural to mankind."

Reaching for our higher -- angelic -- nature is not a natural reach, but now is the time to try.

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

It Hasn't Been A Good Year For Chicago Hot Dog Fans

Thu, 2014-05-08 17:11
CHICAGO (AP) — In a city known for its love of both eating and bragging about its hot dogs, this was news nobody relished: Gourmet stand Hot Doug's, known for serving up options made of rattlesnake and yak, is closing. And the owner of another local hot dog institution, Portillo's, is thinking of selling.

Doug Sohn's announcement this week that he's closing his "sausage superstore" in October after more than 13 years — saying only that it was time to move on — triggered an outpouring of distress. And taking inspiration from Green Bay, where fans own the Packers football team, some Portillo's devotees have called on others to band together to buy the chain of 38 restaurants, most in the Chicago area. "When I heard (Hot Doug's) was closing, it was heartbreaking," said Lakhi Siap, 25, a community organizer whose place in line there put him maybe an hour from ordering.

If it all seems a bit extreme, it makes sense in Chicago. The city's love affair with hot dogs dates back to 1893, when visitors to the World's Columbian Exposition gobbled up the odd-looking sandwiches by the thousands, and industry experts say sales remain steady. An estimated 200,000 are sold in the Chicago area a week, according to Timothy O'Brien, co-president of Chicago-based Vienna Beef.

"The hot dog is a symbol of Chicago," said Peter Alter, archivist at the Chicago History Museum, which features a giant plastic bun where kids can lie down like a frank and cover themselves in fake relish, mustard, pickles and the rest of what gives a hot dog its Chicago style.

The food is also a connection to the past of both the city and its residents.

"My grandfather took my dad to Portillo's and my dad took me there," said Eric Holtrop, a banker who supports what he and others acknowledge is the longest of long shot efforts to buy the half century-old business. "What if a bunch of Chicagoans pull together?"

The owner of Portillo's has suggested he's considering selling to capitalize on the brand's popularity.

Sohn's Hot Doug's, meanwhile, is important for another reason, said Bruce Kraig, a historian, hot dog expert and co-author of "Man Bites Dog: Hot Dog Culture in America."

"He was on the cutting edge of turning hot dogs into a kind of cuisine, a kind of fine dining," said Kraig.

Even if Sohn didn't invent the upscale hot dog, he was in the room when they started making them out of rattlesnake (Siap's favorite), kale and walnut pork sausage (one of Wednesday's specials), and foie gras (an ingredient that netted Sohn a $500 citation when he flouted a city ban, since overturned, a few years back).

Hot Doug's reputation drew Jeff and Angie Bridges, the owners of a San Antonio wine bar, to decide they had to stop there after seeing it win praise on television by the likes of chef and author Anthony Bourdain.

"We would have been devastated if we'd not come here before it closed," said Angie Bridges.

Kraig contends that the lines outside Hot Doug's and the front-page attention Sohn's announcement received say something else about the city — "We can say, 'We do this better than New York,'" he said.

Sohn prefers to talk about what he believes the reception to his announcement illustrates — Chicago's undying loyalty to its beloved fare.

"All the fancy stuff is nice, but in Chicago it's the hot dog," he said. "That's why I opened."

5 Things To Watch For On The 2014 NFL Draft's Opening Night

Thu, 2014-05-08 17:10
NEW YORK (AP) — Every NFL draft is filled with intrigue. When the crop of college players has 102 early entrants, including the likes of Jadeveon Clowney and Johnny Manziel, that simply ratchets up the excitement.

Here are five things to watch for in the first round Thursday night: WE'RE NO. 1: That would be the Texans, who went 2-14 last season to more than earn the first spot in the proceedings. But there's no certainty who they will grab, or if they will stay there.

General manager Rick Smith has made it clear the Texans have listened to offers for the first pick.

"If we take the first pick, we know who we want," Smith said. "(But) we are obviously open to moving out of the first pick, if in fact there is an opportunity for us to do so and if we think that is in the best interest of the organization."

Teams that could be interested in jumping up to the top, presumably to select South Carolina star defensive end Clowney, are Atlanta, Tampa Bay and even Dallas, which needs lots of work on its defense.

GOING DEEP: Many analysts have dubbed this the best draft for wide receivers in years, perhaps ever. The consensus top guy is Clemson's Sammy Watkins, followed by Mike Evans of Texas A&M, Brandin Cooks of Oregon State, Odell Beckham Jr., of LSU, Marqise Lee of Southern California, and Kelvin Benjamin of national champion Florida State.

Watkins is projected to go in the first five picks, unusually high for a wideout.

"I think what sets Sammy apart is his sincerity and passion for the game," ESPN analyst and 2003 Super Bowl-winning coach Jon Gruden said last week. "Everyone I've talked to has come away very impressed with Watkins' passion to be great and to put forth a tremendous work ethic."

QB CLASS: No one is comparing this to the 2012 class that produced Andrew Luck, Robert Griffin III and Russell Wilson. Still, there's talk four quarterbacks could go in the opening round.

There's also some thought that only two, Texas A&M's Manziel and Central Florida's Blake Bortles, will be taken Thursday night.

The other highly rated quarterbacks to watch for are Louisville's Teddy Bridgewater, Fresno State's Derek Carr, and two late risers: Georgia's Aaron Murray and Pittsburgh's Tom Savage.

Manziel, the 2012 Heisman Trophy winner, has lots of boom or bust in him. Nobody can deny he is a big-time playmaker, though.

"When you're dealing with a high-profile position like the quarterback, obviously there's some well-documented things to cover and to consider," Gruden said. "Manziel brings a lot of excitement and interest to your organization. Maybe some people don't want to be part of it. That will be up to them."

IN THE TRENCHES: No fewer than a dozen guys who play on either the offensive or defensive line figure to go Thursday. They range from the NFL-ready tackle Jake Matthews of Texas A&M, whose dad, Bruce, is in the Pro Football Hall of Fame, to UCLA guard Xavier Su'a Filo on offense. On defense, look for Pittsburgh tackle Aaron Donald and Notre Dame nose tackle Louis Nix III.

It's possible that the first three players chosen all will do their work in the trenches: Clowney, Buffalo DE-LB Khalil Mack, and Auburn tackle Greg Robinson.

LESSER KNOWNS: Some players from smaller schools to watch out for, if not in the first round then certainly in the second:

LB-DE Khalil Mack, Buffalo — A certain high pick who can disrupt any offense with his pass-rushing skills and is no slouch against the run.

S Jimmie Ward, Northern Illinois — Hits a ton and had an impressive Senior Bowl. But he comes off foot surgery.

QB Jimmy Garappolo, Eastern Illinois — From the same school that produced Tony Romo, he's skilled, mature and a leader.

OL Joel Bitonio, Nevada — Versatile blocker who can play anywhere on the line, he has a real mean streak.

___

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A Bald Girl Speaks Out: I Don't Want Your Hair

Thu, 2014-05-08 15:43
Morally speaking, I could never donate my hair -- that is, if I had hair to donate.

I have had alopecia areata, an autoimmune disease that causes hair loss, from the earliest I can remember. Throughout my childhood, my bald spots would come and go in every size and shape. Some were no larger than a dime, while others were as large as a gold medal.

It wasn't until my junior year of high school, however, that I began to lose large clumps of my hair, an experience that was absolutely devastating to me. Naturally, as a young girl, I wanted to feel pretty.

At that time, wearing a beanie seemed like an easy enough fix. I had enough hair left that wearing a wig or shaving myself completely bald seemed over the top.

But within half a year, I had only tufts of hair left. I was sick of always having to wear a beanie. I hated that I also managed to close myself off emotionally from the rest of the world -- I felt no one understood what I was going through. Most of all, I couldn't stand feeling like I had something to hide all the time. That something turned out to be myself.

I decided to shave my head completely. I came to school one day with a shiny, bald head. And that's how it's been ever since.

Of course, coming out as bald was by no means easy. It took awhile for me to become used to the curious stares, the innocent questions, and the occasional mean-spirited remarks.

But I wouldn't trade any of that now for where I had been before. I feel secure in knowing my friends are my friends because of who I am -- and not because of how I look. I am fortunate that people recognize my transparency and that I am someone who can be trusted. Above all, I love that I have become a repository for people's life stories. People see that I have been through some sort of life-changing experience, and as such, they recognize me to be someone with whom they can openly share their own experiences.

I hope that I make more sense now when I state that donating hair is actually an immoral thing. I understand the good intentions behind such donations, but such good intentions only really amount to a lack of understanding.

If you give a bald little girl a wig to wear, you perpetuate the idea that her lack of hair is unacceptable to you and the rest of society. You train her to believe that she can't be pretty the way she is. She is led to believe that people will judge her negatively for her so-called imperfections. Her identity amounts only to her appearance. She must hide anything that makes her unique: all that matters is that she fit in.

We as a society have come to believe that donating hair is a show of support for people who have diseases like alopecia. I challenge that notion. Supporting a bald little girl involves more than just handing her a wig. Simply put, there are more powerful ways to advocate for people like her. Come to a support group meeting. Participate in a run/walk. Lobby on Capitol Hill. But really, it's not so much support that a bald little girl needs, as it is validation. Telling her that she is beautiful the way she is will make her feel validated -- and that's something she will never forget.

Nothing is fundamentally wrong with the little girl who has no hair. But there is something wrong in telling her that her baldness is a problem she needs to fix.






Photos from the 2012 National Alopecia Areata Foundation Conference, when we lobbied on Capitol Hill.

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