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Odell Beckham Jr., Russell Wilson Lead Pro Bowl Snub Team

Sun, 2014-12-28 11:44
By Joel Corry, National Football Post

Despite what some may say, the new unconferenced teams format for the Pro Bowl does not decrease snubs. Nonetheless, there are plenty of deserving players who didn’t make it this season because popularity and reputation play a role in the selections. Here’s my team of players snubbed for the Pro Bowl, which will be played on January 25 in Glendale, Arizona.

Offense

QB-Russell Wilson, Seattle Seahawks
RB-Justin Forsett, Baltimore Ravens
FB-Anthony Sherman, Kansas City Chiefs
WR-Odell Beckham, New York Giants
WR-Golden Tate, Detroit Lions
TE-Antonio Gates, San Diego Chargers
T-Andrew Whitworth, Cincinnati Bengals
T-Sebastian Vollmer, New England Patriots
G-Joel Bitonio, Cleveland Browns
G-Evan Mathis, Philadelphia Eagles
C-Rodney Hudson, Kansas City Chiefs

The unconferenced format really hurt Wilson, as only two NFC quarterbacks were selected. The league’s top dual-threat quarterback is 15th in the NFL in rushing with 842 yards and has a 95.7 passer rating (ninth in the NFL). Forsett leads NFL running backs with 5.3 yards per carry and his 14 runs of over 20 yards tie him with DeMarco Murray for the most in the NFL. The NFL’s sixth-leading rusher (1,147 yards) has also been named AFC Offensive Player of the Week twice this season.

Beckham is among the NFL’s most productive wide receivers since recovering from a hamstring injury that kept him out of the Giants’ first four games. During the second half of the season, Beckham leads the NFL with 858 receiving yards and is second in receptions (61) and receiving touchdowns (8). Tate has set career highs with 96 catches and 1,286 receiving yards. The Lions aren’t in the playoffs because they don’t go 3-0 without Calvin Johnson if Tate doesn’t catch 24 passes for 349 yards with two touchdowns in those games Megatron missed. Whitworth anchors the offensive line and hasn’t given up a sack this season.

Defense

DE-Michael Bennett, Seattle Seahawks
DE-Everson Griffen, Minnesota Vikings
DT-Muhammad Wilkerson, New York Jets
DT-Sheldon Richardson, New York Jets
OLB-Khalil Mack, Oakland Raiders
OLB-DeAndre Levy, Detroit Lions
ILB-Dont’a Hightower, New England Patriots
CB-Sean Smith, Kansas City Chiefs
CB-Corey Graham, Buffalo Bills
FS-Devin McCourty, New England Patriots
SS-Antoine Bethea, San Francisco 49ers

Stuffing the run was undervalued in this year’s selections. Bennett is Pro Football Focus’ (PFF) top rated 4-3 defensive end against the run and is also second among all defensive ends with 68 quarterback pressures (combined sacks, hurries and hits). 3-4 defensive ends Richardson and Wilkerson were listed on the Pro Bowl ballot at defensive tackle. Wilkerson was PFF’s No. 2 rated 3-4 defensive end this season before being sidelined for three games (Weeks 13-15) with a toe injury, which opened the door for Richardson to move into the slot. Mack quickly established himself as a dominant force against the run. The lack of sacks (only four) contributed to him being overlooked, but the rookie matches Connor Barwin with 54 quarterback pressures and has more than Clay Matthews (48) and Tamba Hali (42).

Levy has been a tackling machine (third in NFL with 140 tackles) for the NFL’s second-ranked defense in total yards and points allowed. Patrick Peterson was a reputation pick, as he’s given up eight touchdowns this season. As the NFL’s highest-paid cornerback, Peterson should be limiting quarterbacks to a 48.4 completion percentage for a 56.5 passing rating when targeted like Graham.

Specialists

K-Matt Bryant, Atlanta Falcons
P-Johnny Hekker, St. Louis Rams
PR-Adam Jones, Cincinnati Bengals
ST-Kelcie McCray, Kansas City Chiefs

Bryant has the most field goals from 50 yards and beyond in the NFL this season, with seven. Overall, he has converted 90.3 percent of his field goal attempts (28 of 31), which is fourth in the league. Jones may have gotten a berth if kickoffs were still a part of the Pro Bowl. He’s leading the NFL with a 33.2-yard kickoff return average and is third in punt returns (11.9 yard average).

Follow me on Twitter: @corryjoel

Joel Corry is a former sports agent who helped found Premier Sports & Entertainment, a sports management firm that represents professional athletes and coaches. Prior to his tenure at Premier, Joel worked for Management Plus Enterprises, which represented Shaquille O'Neal, Hakeem Olajuwon and Ronnie Lott. You can email Joel at jccorry@gmail.com.

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U.S. Formally Ends War In Afghanistan

Sun, 2014-12-28 06:54
KABUL, Afghanistan (AP) — The war in Afghanistan, fought for 13 bloody years and still raging, came to a formal end Sunday with a quiet flag-lowering ceremony in Kabul that marked the transition of the fighting from U.S.-led combat troops to the country's own security forces.

In front of a small, hand-picked audience at the headquarters of the NATO mission, the green-and-white flag of the International Security Assistance Force was ceremonially rolled up and sheathed, and the flag of the new international mission called Resolute Support was hoisted. U.S. Gen. John Campbell, commander of ISAF, commemorated the 3,500 international soldiers killed on Afghan battlefields and praised the country's army for giving him confidence that they are able to take on the fight alone.

"Resolute Support will serve as the bedrock of an enduring partnership" between NATO and Afghanistan, Campbell told an audience of Afghan and international military officers and officials, as well as diplomats and journalists.

"The road before us remains challenging, but we will triumph," he added.

Beginning Jan. 1, the new mission will provide training and support for Afghanistan's military, with the U.S. accounting for almost 11,000 of the 13,500 members of the residual force.

President Ashraf Ghani, who took office in September, signed bilateral security agreements with Washington and NATO allowing the ongoing military presence. The move has led to a spike in violence, with the Taliban claiming it as an excuse to step up operations aimed at destabilizing his government.

ISAF was set up after the U.S.-led invasion as an umbrella for the coalition of around 50 nations that provided troops and took responsibility for security across the country. It ends with 2,224 American soldiers killed, according to an Associated Press tally.

The mission peaked at 140,000 troops in 2010. U.S. President Barack Obama ordered a surge to root the insurgents out of strategically important regions, notably in the southern provinces of Helmand and Kandahar, where the Taliban had its capital from 1996 to 2001.

Taliban spokesman Zabihullah Mujahid called Sunday's event a "defeat ceremony" and said the insurgents' fight would continue.

"Since the invasion in 2001 until now, these events have been aimed at changing public opinion, but we will fight until there is not one foreign soldier on Afghan soil and we have established an Islamic state," he said.

Obama recently expanded the role of U.S. forces remaining in the country, allowing them to extend their counter-terrorism operations to the Taliban, as well as al-Qaida, and to provide ground and air support for Afghan forces when necessary for at least the next two years.

In a tacit recognition that international military support is still essential for Afghan forces, national security adviser Mohammad Hanif Atmar told the gathered ISAF leaders: "We need your help to build the systems necessary to ensure the long-term sustainability of the critical capabilities of our forces."

Afghans have mixed feelings about the drawdown of foreign troops. With the deteriorating security situation, many believe the troops are needed to back up the Afghan effort to bring peace after more than three decades of continual war.

"At least in the past 13 years we have seen improvements in our way of life — freedom of speech, democracy, the people generally better off financially," said 42-year-old shop keeper Gul Mohammad.

But the soldiers are still needed "at least until our own forces are strong enough, while our economy strengthens, while our leaders try to form a government," he said.

NATO Secretary General Jens Stoltenberg has said that Afghanistan's 350,000-member security forces are ready to take on the insurgency alone, despite complaints by officials that they lack the necessary assets, such as air support, medical-evacuation systems and intelligence.

On Sunday, he said that ISAF's mandate was "carried out at great cost but with great success."

"We have made our own nations safer by denying safe haven to international terrorists. We have made Afghanistan stronger by building up from scratch strong security forces. Together we have created the conditions for a better future for millions of Afghan men, women and children," he said.

As Afghan forces assume sovereignty, the country is without a Cabinet three months after Ghani's inauguration, and economic growth is near zero due to the reduction of the international military presence and other aid. The United States spent more than $100 million on reconstruction in Afghanistan, on top of the $1 trillion war.

This year is set to be the deadliest of the war, according to the United Nations, which expects civilian casualties to hit 10,000 for the first time since the agency began keeping records in 2008. Most of the deaths and injuries were caused by Taliban attacks, the U.N. said.

In the latest insurgent violence, two teenage boys were killed late Saturday in the Nirkh district of eastern Wardak province when a rocket was fired near a children's volleyball match, an official said. Another five children, ages 11 to 14, were wounded by shrapnel, said the governor's spokesman Attaullah Khogyani. He blamed the Taliban.

In Kapisa, also in the east, Gov. Abdul Saboor Wafa's office said eight insurgents were killed Saturday night in an army counter-insurgency operation.

This has also been a deadly year for Afghanistan's security forces — army, paramilitary and police — with around 5,000 deaths recorded so far. Most of those deaths, or around 3,200, have been police officers, according to Karl Ake Roghe, the outgoing head of EUPOL, the European Union Police Mission in Afghanistan, which funds and trains a police force of 157,000.

___

Associated Press Writer Amir Shah in Kabul contributed to this story.

___

Follow Lynne O'Donnell on Twitter at https://twitter.com/lynnekodonnell .

The 29 Most Spectacular Space Photos Of 2014

Sat, 2014-12-27 08:10
The year 2014 was a stellar one for spaceflight, what with ESA's Rosetta mission putting a robotic lander on a distant comet and NASA successfully testing its Orion spacecraft.

But 2014 was also a great year for space photography, as you can see from these remarkable 29 images (scroll down) picked for your viewing pleasure by your friends at HuffPost Science.

Join us for a trip through the cosmos--and be prepared to pick your jaw up off the floor.




Photos curated by Damon Scheluer and Macrina Cooper-White.

Sony Tries Unusual Experiment With Simultaneous Release Of 'The Interview' In Theaters, On Demand

Fri, 2014-12-26 17:16
LINDSEY BAHR, AP Film Writer

LOS ANGELES (AP) — "The Interview" was never supposed to be a paradigm-shifting film. But unusual doesn't even begin to describe the series of events that transpired over the past few weeks, culminating in the truly unprecedented move by a major studio to release a film in theaters and on digital platforms simultaneously.

Sony is in uncharted waters now with the film, which earned $1.04 million from 331 locations on Thursday, according to studio estimates, in addition to the untold VOD grosses.

"Considering the incredibly challenging circumstances, we are extremely grateful to the people all over the country who came out to experience "The Interview" on the first day of its unconventional release," said Rory Bruer, president of worldwide distribution for Sony Pictures in a statement.

For a film that would have just come and gone in the usual 3,000 theaters without much fanfare, the $40 million comedy has now become an accidental case study in the world of day-and-date releases, in which titles are available both in theaters and for digital rental simultaneously. The industry is watching closely to see just where audiences will choose to place their dollars in the coming days and weeks. The big question is whether or not this strategy could be viable for major releases in the future.

While a $3,142 per-theater average and sold-out showings when audiences had the option to watch the film from the comfort of their own homes is nothing to scoff at, analysts agree that it probably doesn't signal the beginning of a significant change in how Hollywood does business.

Day-and-date releases are nothing new, for one. Independent distributors have embraced this strategy for years. But those are generally small films with even smaller budgets_ones that can't afford a more traditional, widespread marketing campaign.

For the major studios, it's never really been an option.

Theater chains depend on exclusive first-run content to survive. If audiences were given the choice to just rent anything from a mid-budget comedy to a $200 million blockbuster on the day of its release, theaters would undoubtedly suffer.

"The last thing the major theater chains want is for this kind of strategy to be employed by the major studios on a more frequent basis," said BoxOfficeGuru.com editor Gitesh Pandya. Earlier this year, Warner Bros. experimented with an unconventional day-and-date release for "Veronica Mars." Theater chains Regal and Cinemark declined to screen the film because of its online availability. The film ended up showing on 270 screens, most of which were AMC.

"The relationship between big studios and exhibitors is so monumental that they're not going to start changing things around anytime soon. Possibly down the road, little by little. But the old-school model of putting your major releases in 3,000 theaters nationwide will stay intact for the time being," Pandya said.

Paul Dergarabedian, a senior media analyst for box office tracker Rentrak, agreed. "Theatrical is the engine that drives everything else. I don't think this is a sudden gateway to studios wanting to release films this way," he said.

Also, "The Interview" is an imperfect case. Patriotism, free speech, pure curiosity and even the desire to be part of the nationwide conversation have all played in to why audiences flocked to theaters on Christmas Day to see the movie.

"Awareness is through the roof," Dergarabedian said. "People went out to the theaters and made an event out of it. They're going to be talking about this for a long time. That's a very interesting and unusual phenomenon that's usually reserved for films like 'The Hobbit' or 'Star Wars.' "

Added Pandya: "Audiences who would otherwise never go to see a Seth Rogen movie were hearing about it and decided to come out to see what all the fuss is about."

Long-term prospects for "The Interview" at the box office remain a mystery. Pandya believes that theatrical grosses will be frontloaded, and that's at least partially attributable to the quality of the film.

"The movie is mediocre," he said. "If it were a brilliant film, the word of mouth would carry it week to week." He predicts a dramatic drop off when the holidays end.

Also, the public may never know how the movie fared on the digital platforms. Smaller distributors like Radius-TWC, who released "Snowpiercer" on demand while it was still in theaters, have started pulling back the veil on VOD financials, but it's unlikely that Sony will ever give the public a peek into "The Interview's" success or failure online.

"I'm sure they're not that impressive. For studios, the biggest part of reporting box office is to brag," Pandya said. "If the numbers aren't brag-worthy, they're probably going to keep it in their own files."

"The Interview" might now forever be in the history books, but it probably won't change the way audiences see new movies. For the big movies, theatrical will always come first, Dergarabedian said.

"It's a system that works and audiences like it," he said.


Copyright 2014 The Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.

Sam Kass, Obama Family's Personal Chef, Hanging Up Apron After 6 Years

Fri, 2014-12-26 10:10
WASHINGTON (AP) — Political advisers, chiefs of staff, press secretaries and national security advisers have come and gone in the nearly six years Barack Obama has been president. Now, Obama's personal chef is waving goodbye.

Sam Kass has been a fixture at the executive mansion, serving up nutrition policy alongside meals for Obama, his wife, Michelle, and daughters Malia and Sasha. He was not only their personal chef but senior adviser for nutrition policy, giving him a seat at the table where administration officials hashed out everything from updated food labels to new requirements for healthier school lunches. Kass, a newlywed, is leaving the White House at the end of the month, but don't ask him what the Obamas like or don't like to eat. "Top secret," he said.

"I love this family and believe in everything the president and first lady are doing and this has been the greatest job of my life and I assume will be the greatest job of my life," the 34-year-old Chicago native said in an interview. "But I'm going to be with my wife. Once you're married you kind of need to be together."

Kass' wife, MSNBC host Alex Wagner, is based in New York City.

Kass' relationship with the Obamas started when they hired him to cook healthier meals for the family in Chicago before the 2008 elections. Michelle Obama was a vice president at the University of Chicago Medical Center and caring for young daughters, while Obama was a U.S. senator spending most of his time in Washington.

But the relationship sprouted well beyond the professional. Besides Kass' tireless work for Mrs. Obama, for whom he wore a third hat as executive director of her anti-childhood obesity campaign, Kass sometimes traveled with Obama and joined his weekend or vacation golf outings. Obama, in turn, blocked out several hours on his busy schedule to attend Kass' late-August wedding.

Obama said Kass "has grown from a close friend to a critical member of my team" and has left "an indelible mark on the White House." Mrs. Obama praised Kass' "extraordinary legacy of progress," which she said includes healthier food options in groceries, more nutritious school lunches and initiatives to improve how food is marketed to kids.

Unlike any White House chef before him, Kass helped make decisions with far greater potential consequences than whether the president's veggies, which Kass often plucked from the first lady's garden on the South Lawn, should be steamed or sautéed.

The school lunch changes have led Mrs. Obama into a public spat with the School Nutrition Association, an industry-backed group that represents school cafeteria workers and food companies that sell to schools. The group has lobbied Congress to weaken the standards, arguing they are a burden on financially pinched districts and a big reason why kids are throwing their lunches into the garbage.

A House Republican-led effort to allow some districts to ignore the new lunch standards altogether failed to advance in Congress, but requirements for more whole grains in school foods will be eased instead. The fight over the broader standards is expected to heat up again next year when Republicans, who are sympathetic to the association's arguments, will control both houses of Congress.

Nutrition advocates say anyone who hopes these issues will disappear with Kass will be disappointed.

"This administration is very committed to nutrition and obesity prevention. That commitment runs very deep," said Margo Wootan, a nutrition lobbyist for the Center for Science in the Public Interest, who has pushed for healthier school meals.

Despite her group's issues with the lunch standards, Patricia Montague, the School Nutrition Association's chief executive, said Kass and "Let's Move," the first lady's anti-childhood obesity initiative, played "an important role in promoting healthier lifestyles for children both at school and at home."

Kass will stay involved with "Let's Move," along with broader efforts to improve childhood nutrition, the White House said.

Testifying to Kass' commitment, former colleague Kristina Schake said Kass spent weekends living the work he did at the White House, including visiting farms, farmers markets and food purveyors. "He can talk about different types of lettuce the way other men talk about sports teams," she said.

Kass said his plan after leaving the White House is to get some sleep, and "I guess I'll also be the chef for my wife."

As for who will prepare Obama's dinners going forward, Kass said the White House kitchen staff has it covered.

___

Associated Press writer Mary Clare Jalonick contributed to this report.

___

Follow Darlene Superville on Twitter: http://www.twitter.com

2 Critically Wounded In Shooting At Chicago Train Station

Thu, 2014-12-25 09:16
CHICAGO (AP) — Police say three people have been wounded, two critically, in a shooting at a Chicago Transit Authority train stop.

Chicago Police Department spokeswoman Amina Greer says the shooting occurred on the mezzanine level of a Red Line "El" station on the city's South Side. She says a 25-year-old man and a 41-year-old woman were shot and taken to a hospital in critical condition. A third victim, a 24-year-old man, sustained wounds to his face from glass fragments. He was hospitalized in stable condition.

Greer says preliminary information indicates that the female victim was arguing at the station with an acquaintance, who produced a gun and fired shots.

No one is in custody.

There was no service interruption for the CTA.

Academy Award Winning Costume Designer Colleen Atwood Vies For Yet Another Nomination

Wed, 2014-12-24 15:15
You might not know her by name, but costume designer Colleen Atwood's visual impact on the silver screen has hardly gone unnoticed. A frequent collaborator with heavy hitters Tim Burton, Jonathan Demme and Rob Marshall, Atwood has lent her creative talent to more than 60 feature films, including "Edward Scissorhands," "Beloved" and "Silence of the Lambs." She's picked up three Academy Awards for Best Costume Design ("Chicago," "Memoirs of a Geisha" and "Alice in Wonderland"), with another seven nominations. And she shows no signs of stopping there.

"I moved to New York in 1980 with $800," she told The Huffington Post. "I sewed labels on for bespoke designers in SoHo." Her technical skills would quickly improve as she's become known for inconceivably intricate designs and brilliant, one-of-a-kind pieces. Honored recently at the Middleburg Film Festival, Atwood received the Distinguished Costume Designer award.



Colleen Atwood, with an Oscar-nominated design for "Snow White and the Huntsman.


Atwood's latest project embodies her strengths, creating far more elaborate designs than fans would recognize from a stage production of Stephen Sondheim's "Into the Woods." "The trickiest aspect of about 'Into the Woods,' and the thing that changed when it became a Disney film, is that Little Red was played by an adult [on Broadway] and in the film she is played by a child," Atwood explained.

Rob Marshall, director of the ambitious and star-studded adaptation of "Into the Woods," in theaters Dec. 25, has had the good fortune to join forces with Atwood on numerous occasions.

"Johnny [Depp] was actually very involved in the creation of [his costume]," Marshall told HuffPost, "because he is a creative force, obviously. He was very inspired by the wolf of the cartoons of Tex Avery from the '40s, where the Wolf is dressed in a zoot suit and a fedora, and it’s like a wolf in sheep’s clothing."

"In costuming, a lot of actors dread the fitting -- a new form of punishment -- but once they're in the room they love it," Atwood said. "It's about presenting a point of view. In a fitting, you can see right away whats not working for an actor."



The Witch. A sketch by Colleen Atwood for "Into the Woods."


For "Into the Woods," Marshall used Atwood's longstanding relationship with Depp to his advantage. "[Atwood and Depp] have worked together on everything from 'Edward Scissorhands' to 'Alice in Wonderland,' they’ve done a million movies together and I’ve done a million movies with Colleen. So, we were able to find our stylized version of the Wolf, and let Johnny play it."

Atwood reiterated Depp's influence in the design process: "Johnny has a certain intuitive sense of style and character that is definitely something he owns," she said. "I've known Johnny for 20 years, so I've seen Johnny become Johnny, in a way. In designing for him, I try to give him little magical things: for instance, when I did 'Alice,' thimbles for his fingers and a pin cushion ring I found on eBay."

These "magical things" foster the talent's eccentricities, Atwood explained, offering something more prominent costume pieces do not. "I don't particularly like films where I have to go shopping and go through 25 people to decide which white blouse is the right white blouse," she said. "That's not for me."

She's managed to avoid being pigeonholed throughout her decades-long career, designing costumes for everything from ballets to commercials. But Atwood admits her most remarkable creations have appeared in Burton's films, and that she's turned him down just once. "The only time I've ever said no to Tim was 'Charlie and the Chocolate Factory,' for personal reasons, but initially I was supposed to do it," Atwood explained. "It was very tough, but its strange, because at the same time, right after I said no, which was heartbreaking because I really wanted to do it, they called me to do 'Memoirs of a Geisha,' which was a blessing in a different way," she said. (Atwood's work on "Memoirs of a Geisha" was recognized with an Oscar for Best Achievement in Costume Design -- her second.) "In my career I've been extremely lucky."

Not every film Atwood has worked on earned an Oscar nod, but that's not what drives her work. "The Martian Girl dress [for Burton's 'Mars Attacks'] went through many evolutions. But it was the most awesome kind of costume, because it was so low tech," she said. Known for fantastic, hand-made designs, Atwood proves that sometimes all it takes a little glitter and glue to pull off a showstopper. "People just didn't get ['Mars Attacks'] at the time and it's such a cool movie. I remember the premiere was very industry. It's a shame that the reaction wasn't more positive -- like one finger clapping -- and I was really bummed for time. We went across the street to the party and Jack [Nicholson] and he looks and me and says, 'Who cares! It's a great movie,' and I think he's right and I'm really glad I did it."

Though often months of planning goes into a single design, a somewhat abbreviated conceptualization has produced exceptional results at least once for the designer.

"I did that mask [worn by Hannibal Lecter in 'Silence of the Lambs'] and it was loosely based on a hockey mask -- and originally it was going have a different surface, but a sample came in to try on Anthony [Hopkins] and it was in raw fiberglass, which looked like skin, and I said, 'Well, I think it's done.' It was so creepy that way that it worked," Atwood explained. "We had no idea it would be so creepy."



Hannibal Lecter (Anthony Hopkins) in "Silence of the Lambs," wearing Colleen Atwood's now-iconic mask.


The impeccable severity to the costumes for "Gattaca," 1997's absorbing sci-fi flick starring Ethan Hawke and Uma Thurman, were a testament to the designer's resourcefulness. "'Gattaca' had a really low budget, but I found a lot of really beautiful '30s men's suits, and I recut some '80s suits with modern fabric to make it work," she said. "I could dress that way myself in that it's urban timelessness, almost like a uniform."

Amused by the notion that she'd ever imagine herself in, say, seductress Velma Kelly's shoes, however, Atwood described her design philosophy as it relates to the dazzling pieces she created for "Chicago," Marshall's 2002 musical adaptation that racked up six Oscars of 12 nominations (including Atwood's for the costumes). "When I design costumes, it's an external thing," she said, "not something that I see myself in. It's a vision that I have of other things. My wardrobe, I tend to keep it rather simple." In her own closet, Atwood reaches for Saint Laurent, and "usually something black."

To emerging costume designers with aspirations to work in Hollywood, Atwood offers sound advice: "It's different now, but it's not different. If you get a job on a film, even if not in the department you want to be in, take it. If you're good at your job and you work hard, people will notice -- It's a foot in the door ... At the end of the day, I'm proud to say that I experience continual joy in what I do," Atwood said, racking up Oscar nominations along the way.

In 2014, Students Around The Country Stood Up For Their Beliefs

Wed, 2014-12-24 15:01
Students around the country have clearly been paying attention in civics class.

This past year saw a number of instances where high school students refused to leave political activism to the adults. Whether or not you agree with their views, teens around the country showed this year that they were able to stand up to authority and protest peacefully and respectfully.

Below, we've compiled a list of five times in 2014 when teens made their voices heard in a meaningful way.

1. Protests for Michael Brown

Demonstrations broke out around the country in November after a grand jury decided not to indict Darren Wilson, the police officer who shot and killed 18-year-old Michael Brown in Ferguson, Missouri, this summer. These protests were not limited to citizens of voting age. Teens walked out of class around the country to peacefully show their objection to the grand jury's decision, and many conducted "die-ins" in honor of Brown.

Below are photos of some of the protests.

Brookline, Massachusetts

Minutes of silence at Brookline High #HandsUpWalkOut pic.twitter.com/DSrDsjmkTv

— Aarón Martel (@aaronmartel) December 1, 2014



Manhattan, New York

The kids are alright. A big group of students from Bard HS just showed up for #HandsUpWalkout in Union Square. pic.twitter.com/JdPME7naEf

— Ted Alexandro (@tedalexandro) December 1, 2014



St. Louis, Missouri

RT @stltoday: #HandsUpWalkout at Clayton high school. RT @jessicabock: https://t.co/q43sdMvax0/s/dgGB

— bluecheddar1 (@bluecheddar1) December 1, 2014



#diein #Ferguson #handsupwalkout #claytonhighschool #clayton pic.twitter.com/W05QVfVRMI

— The Globe (@chsglobe) December 1, 2014


2. Protests for Philadelphia teachers

In early October, the School Reform Commission (SRC) that governs the Philadelphia school district voted to cancel its labor contract with the Philadelphia Federation of Teachers, the local teachers' union. The cancellation of this contract means teachers may have to start paying their own health care premiums, which could cost up to $140 a month.

The SRC canceled the contract in order to save the district money -- the five-member board of state appointees has said that the move will help funnel about $44 million back into the district’s classrooms. This isn't an insignificant point, since the district has long been in a state of financial distress and has had to undergo massive layoffs and close dozens of schools in recent years.

Still, some students disagreed with the SRC’s decision, and walked out of class to show support for their teachers. Below are some images from the students' rally:

The student protest outside of CAPA highschool #StudentsForTeachers #phled #education #stoptomcorbett #amazing #RT pic.twitter.com/y3Zz3QKSZX

— Jacob Morgan Howie (@realjakehowie) October 8, 2014



Morning Storify updated with more photos from #StudentsForTeachers: http://t.co/ydUGNl3yWp (Photo via @ALDIANews) pic.twitter.com/oyff6MjVfZ

— Anna Orso (@anna_orso) October 8, 2014



3. Norman High School students demand sexual assault reform

This past year, multiple students at Norman High School in Norman, Oklahoma, claimed to have been raped by a particular classmate. The alleged victims also said they were subsequently bullied, and that the school’s administration was less than supportive of their plight.

In support of the alleged victims, students organized a protest outside the school in late November that drew up to 1,000 participants. The organizers presented the district with a list of demands, including that the “school must fully accommodate the educational needs of the victims and take all necessary steps to ensure the victims feel welcome and safe at all times on school grounds” and that the “school shall prioritize the immediate implementation of sexual assault, sexual harassment, and bullying prevention education for students and faculty," according to local outlet KOKH-TV.

The school principal commended the protestors and said in a statement that "we continue to be very concerned about victims of sexual assault and are committed to doing what we can to support them and ensuring our schools provide a safe, secure and supportive environment for our students." Below are pictures of the event:

Organizers with #YESALLDAUGHTERS say the lives of these 3 girls have been put on hold. @OKCFOX #LiveOnOKCFOX pic.twitter.com/zuKRH3Godi

— Danielle Dunn (@DanielleDunnOKC) November 24, 2014



Students walking out of class at Norman HS. #YesAllDaughters pic.twitter.com/yLViV5PfDz

— Rachel Calderon (@RachelTRAFFIC) November 24, 2014


4. Colorado students boycott standardized tests

In November, hundreds of seniors from Fairview High School in Boulder, Colorado, refused to take the Colorado Measures of Academic Success (CMAS), a statewide test on social studies and science. Instead, they protested outside their school and collected food to donate to charity.

A vast majority of the school’s seniors refused to take the test, with only nine out of 530 seniors ultimately participating.

Protesting Fairview High seniors said the test included material that not all students had covered in class, and said the exam was an unneeded source of stress in students' lives.

"The amount of testing and time away from teaching and learning is a shared concern among our teaching staff, principals and community," Principal Bruce Messinger told HuffPost at the time.

Below are some photos of the students' rally:

Student Protesters outside Fairview in 18 degree weather #CMASProtest #edcolo @9NEWS @DianeRavitch pic.twitter.com/l6x2J62MJe

— FHS Royal Banner (@FHSRoyalBanner) November 13, 2014


Hundreds of students at a Boulder high school protested the #edcolo standardized test today. http://t.co/Ru9VuExEJi | pic.twitter.com/re72pO7YzE

— Chalkbeat Colorado (@ChalkbeatCO) November 13, 2014


5. Colorado students protest proposal to whitewash history classes

For two weeks in September, hundreds of Denver-area students left class to protest a proposal from their school board.

The students, from schools all around Jefferson County School District, were protesting a proposal put forward by conservative school board member Julie Williams. The proposal called for a review of Advanced Placement U.S. History (APUSH) curriculum material to make sure the courses promoted patriotism and did not "encourage or condone civil disorder, social strife or disregard of the law." An APUSH framework released by the College Board, which oversees the Advanced Placement program, had recently been the subject of much controversy among conservatives who said the framework was overly critical of American history. Williams' proposal might have modified the way this material was presented in classrooms, something many students vehemently opposed.

"APUSH rejects the history that has been taught in the country for generations," Williams said in a statement about her proposal at the time. "It has an emphasis on race, gender, class, ethnicity, grievance and American-bashing while simultaneously omitting the most basic structural and philosophical elements considered essential to the understanding of American history for generations."

In response, students said the school board was effectively trying to censor teachers and promote a bowdlerized version of history. Students' efforts proved somewhat successful: Ultimately, the school board backed away from the proposal to review the APUSH curriculum with the aim of promoting patriotism. But the board voted to expand existing curriculum review committees that could still look at the course material -- a development that led to further student protests in October, according to the Associated Press.

"This isn't over," Ashlyn Maher, a district senior who helped organize the protests, told the Associated Press at the time. "We are going to fight until we see some results."

Below are some photos of the demonstrations:

Chatfield junior Scott Romano leads a protest. #jeffco #edcolo pic.twitter.com/0w6Nm4yIdz

— Nic Garcia (@nicgarcia) September 24, 2014

More than 700 #Jeffco students protested this morning. Most are returning to class now. http://t.co/6wKXLm6HGK pic.twitter.com/qecXuAgxS7

— Larry Ryckman (@larryryckman) September 24, 2014


About 1,000 students from Chatfield have left class this morning. #Jeffco #edcolo pic.twitter.com/PHHbGIZz1H

— Nic Garcia (@nicgarcia) September 24, 2014


Refusing to Wage War

Wed, 2014-12-24 14:16
And so we grieve over another national tragedy.

Two New York City police officers, Wenjian Liu and Rafael Ramos, were shot -- assassinated -- as they sat in their patrol car this past weekend. Let the needlessness of their deaths rip our hearts open. Let the humanity come first.

"Now is a moment for empathy and deep listening."

The words are from a statement issued by #BlackLivesMatter, a grassroots movement emerging this year over the spate of police killings of young men of color. The murder of the officers is part of the same tragedy. Black lives matter. Blue lives matter. All lives matter. Any thinking that embraces less than this is part of the problem, not the solution.

"The family of Michael Brown condemns today's senseless killing of two NYPD officers," a family spokesman said. "We reject any kind of violence directed toward members of law enforcement. It cannot be tolerated. We must work together to bring peace to our communities."

Far too many people, and far too many institutions, have vested interests in not working together. Bridging these artificial divides is the primary task of building peace. It requires setting aside our anger and our righteousness and walking toward one another with reverence, not with loaded weapons. If all lives matter, then we cannot declare war. With war you get nothing but losers.

Ismaaiyl Brinsely, the untethered man who pulled the trigger, then shot himself in a nearby subway station, was another American loner playing war, by which I mean blaming an abstract enemy for his own troubles and the wrongs of the world. Mass murder is the coolly impersonal killing of strangers, but the victims aren't random. They are in some way symbolic of the imagined deep wrong the killer wants to eradicate. It hardly matters whether this deep wrong is personal or global.

Two years ago, in the wake of the Sandy Hook massacre, evolutionary biologist Peter Turchin wrote an essay called "Canaries in a Coal Mine," addressing the phenomenon of mass murder in the United States, which, he noted, has increased tenfold since the 1960s. This would seem to indicate a deep, expanding social brokenness in our world, a growing sense, you might say, of armed alienation.

Mass murderers usually act alone, but they are linked to one another and to the society that created them.

In his essay, Turchin discussed what he called the "principle of social substitutability": seeing a particular organization, institution, race, nationality, community -- or whatever -- as a threat to one's well-being and, therefore, holding anyone associated with that group as part of the malevolent "other," thus requiring extermination. Mass murder equals terrorism equals... war.

"On the battlefield," Turchin wrote, "you are supposed to try to kill a person whom you've never met before. You are not trying to kill this particular person, you are shooting because he is wearing the enemy uniform. It could easily be any other individual, but as long as they wear the same uniform, you would be shooting at them. Enemy soldiers are socially substitutable. As they say in gangster movies, 'nothing personal, just business.'"

New York City Police Commissioner Bill Bratton, speaking of the two slain officers, said: "They were, quite simply, assassinated, targeted for their uniform and the responsibility they embraced."

This is true, but it so quickly transforms into a declaration -- or a re-declaration -- of war. People choose sides and line up. Humanity is to be found only on one side of the divide. Critics of police violence, all those who call for demilitarized law enforcement and an acknowledgement of America's institutional racism, are, yet again, but with even more self-righteous ferocity, declared the enemy. This includes New York's mayor, Bill de Blasio, who said, following the grand jury's decision not to issue an indictment for the killing of Eric Garner, "The way we go about policing has to change."

A statement released by the New York Patrolmen's Benevolent Association, the police union, read: "The mayor's hands are literally dripping with our blood because of his words, actions and policies and we have, for the first time in a number of years, become a 'wartime' police department. We will act accordingly."

The war is already in progress, of course. We're waging it abroad and we're waging it at home. Every wrongful death will fuel the war if we let it. But refusing to wage war is also possible and always appropriate, and in its own way it's just as shocking:

"A wall of militarised police had blocked the centre of Ferguson, Missouri, this week, shooting teargas and rubber bullets at seething protesters who dared to show any defiance," Jon Swaine wrote last summer in The Guardian.

"On Thursday evening it melted away.

"A carnival-like demonstration filled the centre of the city after a new police chief given control of protests over the killing of an unarmed 18-year-old implemented a dramatic shift in tactics.

"Hundreds of people gathered at the same intersection in this northern suburb of St Louis that has been the epicentre of violent clashes with police in the previous days.

"But where the officers with assault rifles once stood, backed by armoured trucks topped with snipers' nests, on Thursday there was almost no police presence."

For an evening, state Highway Patrol Capt. Ron Johnson became temporary "ground commander" of police operations in Ferguson and embraced the legitimacy of the protests rather than trying to bludgeon them out of existence. His command didn't last, but the possibility he showed the world, of people on two sides working together for the public good, remains vividly within reach.

- - -
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.

© 2014 TRIBUNE CONTENT AGENCY, INC.

Prankster Gives Homeless Man $100, Secretly Follows Him And Learns He Buys Food For Others

Wed, 2014-12-24 12:07
This video proves that a person's integrity goes far beyond what meets the eye.

In a video uploaded to YouTube, prankster Josh Paler Lin gives $100 to a homeless man and secretly follows the him to find out how it's spent.

The homeless man is seen on camera buying food and giving it to strangers in the park. The sight turns Lin's perception of homelessness on its head.

Lin says he is "stunned" and admits he thought the man might buy alcohol.

"You just touched my heart," Lin told him.

While the gesture left the prankster so emotional that he decided to donate another $100, he also had something to offer Lin:

"There's a lot of people that are just victims of circumstance," the homeless man told him. "And they didn't go homeless because they're lazy ...It could be a divorce, and one thing leads to another. A man sells his boat, his home, and all of a sudden he finds out he has no money. There's a lot of good people that are homeless."


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Police Officer Who Killed Black Teen In Missouri Had Been Issued Body Camera, Wasn't Using It

Wed, 2014-12-24 11:50
The Berkeley, Missouri, police officer who fatally shot a black teenager on Tuesday was issued a body camera earlier that night, but wasn't wearing it at the time of the shooting. The dashboard camera in his police cruiser also was not activated.

On Wednesday, St. Louis County Chief of Police Jon Belmar said that the officer -- who is still unnamed, but was described as a white 34-year-old and six-year veteran of the police force -- was responding to reports of a theft at a Mobil station when he confronted 18-year-old Antonio Martin and another person. Belmar said Martin "produced a pistol with his arm straight out, pointing at the officer," at which point the officer responded by firing three shots at Martin, striking him once and killing him. The person with Martin then fled.

Surveillance footage from the Mobil station has been released, and appears to show a person in the background -- said to be Martin -- raising his arm in the direction of a police cruiser and officer. The camera seems to be too far away from the incident, however, for anything to be to determined conclusively from the video.

Video captured by a body camera or dashboard camera likely would have been able to reveal more details about the incident. Belmar said the car's dashboard camera wasn't activated because the cruiser's emergency lights hadn't been turned on at the time, which would have automatically triggered the recording.

At a later press conference on Wednesday, Berkeley Mayor Theodore Hoskins said he wasn't concerned that the officer hadn't turned on his body camera. He noted that the equipment is new for the town's police department and that officers haven't received full training yet.

"In the future and when we get well trained, there will be a severe penalty for an officer who does not turn [their body camera] on," Hoskins said.

Body cameras are frequently cited as a key way to bring transparency to interactions between law enforcement and civilians, especially in the wake of the police killings of Michael Brown and other unarmed individuals who died in encounters that weren't recorded. One frequently cited pilot program in Rialto, California, found that between 2012 and 2013, in the first year of the city using police cameras, the number of complaints filed against officers fell by 88 percent and use of force by officers fell by almost 60 percent.

While President Barack Obama has joined the call for the implementation of body cameras with the announcement of a $75 million grant for the equipment, the limitations of the devices have already been exposed. In the case of Eric Garner, for example, there was video of the confrontation that led to his death, and yet a grand jury declined to indict the police officer who put him in an illegal chokehold.

In addition -- as the Police Executive Research Forum presented to the Department of Justice in a 2014 report -- there are still plenty of concerns from both the law enforcement and civil rights communities about how, exactly, a large-scale police camera program would be implemented. Which interactions, for example, would be recorded? How would the review process work? What would the penalties be for failing to record an interaction? Such questions are further complicated by state laws that differ on when and where people may be recorded, as well as how such recordings may be stored and accessed by the public.

And while these questions might be addressed as more police departments adopt such programs, the Berkeley shooting reminds us of a simpler truth: A camera is useless if it's not recording.

9 Restaurants Open On Christmas 2014

Wed, 2014-12-24 10:39
Chinese food is the classic Christmas-Day fallback for anyone who's not cooking. But if you're looking for more options, you've got them.

A slew of U.S. restaurant chains will remain open on Thursday, though their hours will vary by location.

Perhaps lo mein isn’t your idea of a warm Christmas dinner. Or maybe you need a peppermint latte to power through gift-giving with your rowdy nephews.

Here’s a list of chains that confirmed to The Huffington Post that they will remain open, at least in some places. Check your local listings before venturing outside, since hours may vary. All of the following quotes are from company spokespeople.

Applebee’s




“Some Applebee’s and IHOP restaurants will be open, and some won’t. Consumers need to check with their local restaurants.”

Denny’s




“Denny’s will be open. In fact, it is one of America’s Diner’s busiest days of the year.”

Hooters




“Select Hooters locations will be open on Christmas Day. To check for local hours please visit www.hooters.com/locations and call ahead.”

IHOP




“Some Applebee’s and IHOP restaurants will be open, and some won’t. Consumers need to check with their local restaurants.”

KFC




“Some KFC restaurants will be closed on Christmas Day. It is really up to the franchise owner to determine operating hours on the Christmas holiday.”

McDonald’s




McDonald's did not respond to multiple requests for comment for this story, but in 2012 the fast-food giant began pushing franchise stores to stay open on Christmas, and this year many locations will be open, according to the International Business Times.

P.F. Chang's




“Some of P.F. Chang’s casino and mall locations are open, but guests are encouraged to call ahead.”

Starbucks




“Starbucks stores are a gathering place for the entire community and customers use our stores to connect over coffee in different ways every day. We are happy to welcome customers on Christmas Day in select store locations. Store hours vary by location, and stores will occasionally adjust their hours based on business and customer needs.”

TGI Fridays




“Most TGI Fridays restaurants will be open on Christmas. However, guests should call their local restaurant for holiday hours.”

You might notice some chains are missing from the above list. Olive Garden, Red Lobster and Chipotle told HuffPost they will remain closed on the 25th. Sorry, burrito lovers.


4th Grader Asks Santa For Equality, Writes About Transgender Sister

Wed, 2014-12-24 08:04
As much as we love the holidays, with all of the awful headlines we've been confronted with lately, sometimes we can't help but feel a little bit grinchy.

But our foul moods instantly evaporated when the letter below showed up in our inbox.



A proud mother tells us that her son, who is in 4th grade, wrote this note to Santa and read it to his class earlier this month.

"When he brought the letter home, I knew it was a special letter," the mother told us in an email sent to The Huffington Post. "He tells me his teacher was crying. The other kids took it in their stride. It's not a big deal."

The letter reads:
Dear Santa,

I wish for everyone to have equality[--] black, white, brown, gay, transgender, and every other race. I wish for familys [sic] to love each other even if their [sic] trans or gay. I wish for no shootings, no hate, and no racism. My big sister[’s] name is Molly. She used to be called Sam but she came out as trans [when] she was 18. She took hormones that made her look and sound more like a girl. Luckly [sic] my family and I accepted her, but some familys [sic] are not like that[.] [P]eople have killed their children because of them being transgender or gay. I want that to stop, and start the love.

Love, B

The mother, who is part of an "online support group for parents with trans* youth," said she's proud of her son, who has an older sister named Molly, now 20, who identifies as trans.

"He's obviously paying attention to what is going on. He asks lots of questions and has a great amount of empathy. He has a huge heart and has great pride in his sister," she writes. "We have had nothing but support from everyone but I know minds need changing and people need educating. If I'm raising a young man to have a voice and to advocate then I'm immensely proud. I don't think he realizes yet he has the power to move people and touch hearts with his words."

He certainly moved us and touched our hearts and we have a feeling that once this letter starts making the rounds on the Internet, there will quite a few others who will be feeling the love this holiday season.

5 Prehistoric Mammals That Were Way More Monstrous Than You Probably Thought (VIDEO)

Wed, 2014-12-24 07:25
There's no doubt bunnies, piglets, and even squirrels are cute and cuddly -- but it turns out that some of their prehistoric ancestors and relatives were quite the opposite.

In fact, some ancient mammals were extreme in terms of size, ferocity, and even their locomotion. You would not want to run into them...

Don’t just take my word for it. Check out the video above and/or read the transcript below to travel to a time when pig-like creatures were "terminators" and squirrels had fangs. Keep in mind, this is just a small sampling of the now-extinct mammals that once roamed the Earth. Did we miss out on your favorite prehistoric beast? Let me know in the comments. Talk nerdy to me!

CLICK HERE FOR FULL TRANSCRIPT

Hey everyone. Jacqueline Howard here. Today we’re talkin’ mammals -- but not cute bunnies, scurrying squirrels or precious puppies. I’m talking about their ancestors, who looked like they were on steroids, had ferocious fangs and acted like terminators. Sorry little guy, you gotta sit this one out.

Mammals emerged around 200 million years ago. And fossils from around the world -- including South America, Australia, and Asia -- show us that these prehistoric creatures nursed their young, and had fur or hair just like modern-day mammals.

But that’s about where the similarities end. Let’s go back in time to see five ancient mammals that are nothing like what you’d expect. We're going to kick things off around five million years ago.

It turns out that bunnies were a bit bigger in prehistoric times. How much? About six times the size of bunnies today. Scientists say the ancient bunny known as “the Minorcan king of the hares” weighed up to 30 pounds, and couldn’t hop. It was an oddly unbunny-like bunny. But let’s go back even further to around 37 million years ago.

Scientists call them entelodonts but they’re known as terminators, and for good reason. These giant pig-like mammals that used to roam North America, Eurasia, and Africa were about the size of a buffalo, had oversized heads for their bodies and massive teeth. Fossil evidence shows that they spent a lot of time fighting. Some researchers say it was common for one of these guys to fit its opponents entire head in its mouth during a battle. Yikes. I’m ready to move on to around 42 million years ago.

You know that teddy bear you dragged around as a kid? Well this guy is nothing like that. This is a bear-dog -- a monstrous predator that was like a cross between a modern-day bear and a pit bull. Though these creatures were neither bears nor dogs, just their wild relatives. But things got even wilder around 100 million years ago.

You know about the saber-toothed tiger, but did you know that saber-toothed squirrels were a thing? Try to feed this guy nuts, and he’d take your hand off in a second, because what these guys lacked in size they made up for with giant fangs. But for now, let’s rewind to around 130 million years ago.

Today’s badgers are known for being pretty ferocious, I’ll admit. But they've got nothin’ on this guy who was so fearless he ate dinosaurs. Just look at this fossil that shows the remains of a small dinosaur still in the ancient mammal’s belly. These sturdily built mammals were similar in size and shape to modern-day badgers -- but they had more edge. Are you starting to miss our modern-day mammals? Let’s go back to the 21st century.

Whew, we made it back to the present day. But of course, the animals we saw during our journey through time are just a sampling of the now-extinct mammals who once roamed the Earth. Did we miss out on meeting your favorite prehistoric creature? Let me know in the comments, and c’mon talk nerdy to me.






See all Talk Nerdy to Me posts.

Step-by-step Guide for Searching the Illinois State Board of Elections Website

Tue, 2014-12-23 20:46
If you ever want to find out all kinds of exciting Illinois political information, the Illinois State Board of Elections is the place to do it. It's one of the best resources for anyone who wants to be a smart voter or just wants to follow the money in state elections.

The site can be a little intimidating and confusing to newcomers, however.

The step-by-step guide below is intended to help any user with access to a spreadsheet learn to navigate the site for basic campaign contribution information and then sort the data in a spreadsheet. It shows how to search a candidate's campaign committee for all contributions reported to date.

1. Start at Board of Elections website and choose "Contributions search - all contributions" from "Top Pages" menu on left



2. Click the "By Committees" tab and enter the name of the candidate or (if you know it) the committee's ID number. In the example, I'm searching for Bruce Rauner's committee.



3. Hit Search and you'll get this result:



4. Click "Download This List" and then select "Tab-Delimited Text File"



5. The file will then download. It'll be called "Receipts." Open it and you'll see a mish-mash of text (shown below). Select all (Control-A) and copy to your clipboard (Control-C)



6. Open a new spreadsheet (Microsoft Excel, Google documents or any spreadsheet you like) and copy (Control-V) all the text into it. I'm using Excel in the example below.

7. Use Excel's Sort and Filter function to sort the list as you wish (by date, highest to lowest contribution, etc.). The example below is sorted by contribution highest to lowest.



Check out Reboot Illinois to learn how to search for quarterly reports on the Illinois State Board of Election's website so you are fully informed about what's going on with your vote.

Sign up for our daily email to stay up to date on all things Illinois politics.

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Chicago Is Putting Subway Rats On Birth Control

Tue, 2014-12-23 16:50
The nation's "rattiest city" is putting subway rodents on birth control.

Egg loss and testicle problems await Chicago's rat population once the Chicago Transit Authority rolls out a rodent-specific birth control program next year, RedEye Chicago reports.

The CTA's new pilot program will use a semi-liquid bait that eventually makes rats infertile when ingested multiple times. Arizona-based rodent control company SenesTech, which makes the bait, says on its website that the non-lethal product is "specifically formulated for rats and does not affect other animal species or humans."

The bait, which reportedly tastes like egg cream, can decrease a rat's litter size "as early as 2 weeks after ingestion," according to the company.

RedEye reports that rats usually become sterile within eight to 12 weeks of exposure.

Last year, SenesTech's bait was tested in several Manhattan subway stations and Grand Central Terminal as part of a study funded by the National Institutes of Health.

Biologist Loretta Mayer, CEO of SenesTech, told The Wall Street Journal that the results of the study were "extremely compelling" -- roughly half of the rats in the small-scale study took the bait, leading to a 43 percent decline in the rat population of tested facilities.

"It could cut it down to the point where New Yorkers won't see rats," Mayer said.

CTA spokeswoman Catherine Hosinski told The Huffington Post via email that the agency does not actually have a rodent problem, but that the pilot program is a way of staying ahead of the pests.

"[I]f there are ways we can do even better, we want to look at them," Hosinski explained. "This pilot is simply the latest measure we’re looking to test in our ongoing, pro-active efforts to protect health and safety of customers and employees."

Chicago has turned to alternative rat abatement strategies before, including a "Cats At Work" program in which feral cats from a local Humane Society are used to curb the rat population.

Banning Homeless Camps Just Disperses The Issue, Won't Solve It: Experts

Tue, 2014-12-23 16:42

By Mary Wisniewski

CHICAGO, Dec 23 (Reuters) - For Teresa Sigerson, a former waitress who has lived under a Chicago expressway bridge for three years, the camp she shares with eight others provides shelter, companionship and some measure of security.

"There's safety in numbers," said Sigerson, 51, who begs during the day and sleeps between concrete bridge pillars under a highway northwest of downtown. "Everything's convenient here - you're by the stores, the highway."

This year, Sigerson almost lost her space when construction began on tall concrete barriers on the raised slabs where the homeless were make their beds. The project, which was halted this summer, was meant to dislodge the decade-old camp in Chicago's Avondale neighborhood.

Across the United States, local governments are moving to prevent outdoor camping by the homeless, according to advocates for the nation's nearly 600,000 homeless, estimated by the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development.

Government officials say they are trying to limit outdoor camping for the health and safety of the homeless and other residents. But homeless advocates say the bans are not a solution to homelessness and further stigmatize the poor.

Over a third of U.S. cities impose citywide bans on public camping, a 60 percent increase in such ordinances since 2011, according to a 2014 survey of 187 cities by the National Law Center on Homelessness and Poverty.

More than half the cities surveyed, 57 percent, prohibit camping in certain public places. Such bans have climbed by 16 percent over the past three years, the study found.

Rather than being exposed to bad weather and crime in camps, city officials say, the homeless are better served in city shelters, where they can sleep in beds and eat regular meals.

One of the most visible moves against camps occurred earlier this month in San Jose, California, where a site known as the "the Jungle" was cleared out for safety and environmental reasons. Before the city took down the camp, however, a $4 million program was established to help find housing for 200 former residents, said Ray Bramson, the city's homelessness response manager.

"The best long-term solution is to get people the support they need - then they won't be outside," Bramson said.

But Dr. Robert Okin, a psychiatrist and homelessness expert, said the camps are a symptom of the lack of affordable housing and other services. Disbanding them doesn't solve the problem, it just disperses it, he said.

"It may be a solution to an eyesore, but it's not a solution to homelessness," he said.

Others say the bans or barriers are part of an effort to criminalize behaviors associated with the poor, such as panhandling.

"We basically think what's driving this is that visible poverty is bad for business and bad for tourism and detracts from efforts for cities to revitalize their urban cores," said Maria Foscarinis, executive director of the National Law Center on Homelessness and Poverty.

Chicago, which estimates it has about 6,300 homeless, doesn't ban outdoor camping but tries to connect people sleeping outside with services, said Matt Smith, spokesman for the city's Department of Family and Support Services.

In the case of the camp where Sigerson sleeps, local officials were concerned about the health of the homeless, while also aware that the site could make some passersby uncomfortable, said Martha Ramos, chief of staff for Alderman Rey Colon.

Construction of the barriers began in May but was halted in June after police complained that it had created a hazard because the sidewalk could no longer be seen from the street.

Some of the homeless wound up leaving the camp. Others stayed, including Sigerson, who said shelters kicked people out as early as 5 a.m., leaving the poor with nowhere to go at that hour.

Sigerson said her underpass community has rules of behavior, including keeping the area clean and not talking to passersby unless they speak first.

"We don't want to scare people," she said.

(Editing by Douglas Royalty)

Cuddly Comfort Dogs At Airport Help Passengers De-Stress During Ruff Holiday Travels

Tue, 2014-12-23 15:48
Stressed-out holiday travelers at one of the country's busiest airports are getting a dose of comfort and joy, thanks to a crew of lovable, huggable golden retrievers.

Half a dozen goldens from the Lutheran Church Charities' K-9 ministry recently set up in Terminal 1 at Chicago O'Hare International Airport. United Airlines, apparently aware of how awesome golden retrievers are, invited the pups to greet travelers from Dec. 20 - 23.

“At Christmas, for a lot of people it’s a difficult holiday. It’s a stressful time for some travelers," Tim Hetzner, president of Lutheran Church Charities, told The Huffington Post. "If you’ve ever [flown] out of those terminals, you know the need for stress relief.”

(Story continues below photos.)





"Because of the stress of travel and family and all that, [travelers] see the dogs and they stop," Hetzner said. "It’s a stress-relief in the midst of their travels. They look stressed and tense and then they pet the dogs, take a few deep breaths, hug them and move on. ...Unless their flights are cancelled, then they’ll be there for hours."

A blog post on the charity group's website lists a number of reactions from people who stopped to play with the dogs. "We have been traveling 30 hours from India these dogs are helping us on the final leg," said one. "I was late to the airport and missed my flight but I don't care since the dogs are here," said another.

Hetzner also said that this is the first year the K-9 ministry dogs have been deployed to O'Hare, though they make regular trips both near and far from their Addison, Illinois, home base. Most recently, several of the dogs were sent to Pontiac, Illinois, to help comfort a school community that had lost three students in five days to both illness and suicide, Hetzner said.

In 2013, the dogs were sent to help comfort survivors of the Sandy Hook school shooting, the Boston Marathon bombing and the deadly Oklahoma tornadoes.

The charity is also developing a Kare-9 military ministry to help veterans who have returned from service.

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Your Last Minute Christmas Shopping As Told By '90s Game Show 'Supermarket Sweep'

Tue, 2014-12-23 15:43
What day is it?! It can't be... Christmas already?!

If you're celebrating the holiday and haven't bought any presents yet (and you're familiar with 1990's game show "Supermarket Sweep") you're definitely going to relate to this.



Aaaaaand GO!




Oh, hey, Bob! Yes, the family's great, no time to talk!




So many people! No room to maneuve-AHHHHHH!




Don't panic, don't panic, NOBODY FREAKING PANIC! Maureen, you're dead weight, I'm going it alone!




Don't fail me, cart! Not you too!




Normally I would put fallen merchandise back on the shelf, but today? Merchandise, you can go straight to hell!




F--k it, everyone's getting the same thing!




Stay focused!




You're right! I'm not leaving my secret santa high and dry--GET THE F--K OUT OF MY WAY! I own these aisles!




Oh, God, I'm lost! Did I just transport into Narnia?!




Oh, no, delirium is setting in ...




STAY FOCUSED!




Forget carrying bags to the car! Bring the car to the bags! Do your worst, mall security! I'm in a magical bright green car surrounded by a protective neon glow, mwahahahaha!




I can see the finish line! Cart, old friend, take me away from this nightmare!




The end of the check-out lane! So beautiful!




USA! USA! USA!


The Official Biggest Losers Of 2014

Tue, 2014-12-23 15:33
WASHINGTON -- Sometimes one's best effort is just not good enough. It's at those times that one is a loser.

In no particular order, here are the biggest losers of 2014.

DEMOCRATS -- Lost so bad in November President Barack Obama wouldn't even give it a gerund -- no shellacking, no thumpin', no nothing. Republicans just wanted it more.



(Note: Obama never actually did this. On camera at least.)

BOBBY JINDAL -- Guy is trying to gain weight so he can seem presidential, then absolutely panics when Ebola comes nowhere near his state. The nation expected more from Kenneth.

DRUG WARRIORS -- Legal bud in Colorado and Washington didn't break society.



SHISMAREF, Alaska -- Climate change takes a village.



No bueno.

THE CIA -- So much lying and torturing and murdering pixelated peoples with flying robots.

CHRIS CHRISTIE -- Picked a fight with the wrong nurse.

CHRIS DODD -- The former Democratic senator from Connecticut turned movie lobbyist took his sweet time speaking out after the movie industry basically capitulated to threats from a rogue dictator.

JOURNALISM -- Rolling Stone set back the campus sexual assault movement about 30 years, and Mark Zuckerberg’s former roommate accidentally destroyed The New Republic.



LIBERAL ZIONISM -- Not really a thing anymore. With another war against Gaza and pending legislation that would basically end Israel’s democracy, it’s hard for liberal Zionists to cling to much hope. It's not even clear whether their favored 2016 presidential candidate is with them on the issue. And the year ended with the theater director for the Washington, D.C., Jewish Community Center getting canned for performing a play that was critical of Israel. A play written by an Israeli. That was first performed in Tel Aviv. Molotov!




MARK PRYOR -- After his shellacking in Arkansas, he got sanctimonious. "Let's take off the red jersey and take off the blue jersey and let us all put on the red, white and blue jersey. Our nation's challenges -- large and small -- require us to get on the same team. Team USA."

Okay, whatever, Mark. Just send us your Wal-Mart government relations contact info when you've got it. Go team!

CHRIS CHRISTIE -- He's lost what, like 80 pounds? Way to go.



THE WASHINGTON REDSKINS -- They've never faced louder demands for a name change and the team seems more dysfunctional than ever.



SYKES-PICOT -- These ill-fated borders aren’t holding up so well in the post U.S.-occupation era. Iraq, like liberal Zionism, isn’t really a thing anymore, nor is Syria.

GABBY GIFFORDS -- Her gun safety group sunk nearly a third of its fortune into re-electing Giffords' former top aide Ron Barber (D) in her former Arizona district. Yet Barber, who is more or less the nicest guy south of Santa Claus (and might even be him), lost in a nail-biter recount. And Democrat Mark Udall, whom Giffords' group also supported, went down in his Senate race in Colorado.

Meanwhile, the gun safety agenda is stalled at best. In late December, when a mentally ill man shot and killed two police officers in New York City, gun control was barely mentioned; blame was heaped on liberals instead.

CHRIS CHRISTIE -- Oh yeah, Bridgegate. That was bad.

WAR OPPONENTS -- We’re bombing all over Iraq and Syria, yet the streets are not filled with antiwar protesters. All that skeptical lawmakers wanted was a note from the president spelling out whom he can and can’t bomb, and they couldn’t even get that. In the meantime, we've spent more than $1 billion bombing Islamic State militants since August and there's no end in sight.



BLISSFUL IGNORANCE OF TERRIBLE POLICE-COMMUNITY RELATIONS -- For years, the debate over police brutality, militarization and immunity was confined to the comments section of a Radley Balko blog post. But it's no longer possible to believe the Mayberry model prevails.

STEVE STOCKMAN -- You suck, Steve! Goodbye to America's worst congressman.



Click HERE to see last year's losers.

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