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

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

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

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

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

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

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



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




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

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

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

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

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



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


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

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

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

Will Madigan bring a similar justice to Rocky Branch?

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

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

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





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





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

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

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

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

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

These 8 Female Characters In Literature Deserve Their Own Damn Books

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

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



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

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



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

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





3. Lolita from Vladimir Nabokov's Lolita

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




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

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



5. Penelope from Homer's The Odyssey

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






6. Gertrude from Shakespeare's
Hamlet


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




7. Miss Havisham from Charles Dickens's
Great Expectations


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



8. Merry from Philip Roth's American Pastoral

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


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

Is Sharing A Generational Thing?

Thu, 2014-02-20 06:58
Sharing used to be reserved for recipes, and at that, there was a certain degree of restraint involved. I remember when my aunt didn't really want my mother to have the secret to her amazing chopped liver (a small amount of horseradish) so she conveniently left it off the ingredients list.

That was, of course, long before the Internet. Sharing is now what we do. We tell the world about when we get divorced -- it is euphemistically known as a "relationship status change." We discuss our "pathological fear of childbirth" aloud online. We share how we feel about our "fat naked" bodies, our href="http://www.huffingtonpost.com/2013/11/26/open-marriage-_n_4345000.html" target="_hplink">open marriages /a> and our jobs after we quit them and why our partner's weight gain makes us not want to have sex with him anymore. Some even broadcast on Facebook when their daughters start to menstruate. Frankly, it's gotten a little too much for me.

We share. We all share. Sharing is the new normal. But maybe some are oversharing?

I'll preface this by saying that to each, his own comfort level. I'm not judging what you share or your decision to do it. I just don't really understand the upside -- or need -- to let strangers know your every innermost thought. I'm at the point where I don't click on any story with "SO BRAVE" or "COURAGEOUS" in the headline because those have become buzzwords for a post about someone confessing something; it's my own personal early warning alert system for over-sharing.

Just recently, HuffPost blogger Sharon Greenthal took on Mommy bloggers who share things about their small children. Those ugly cry-face tantrums that seem so adorable to Mommy bloggers are going to one day come back and bite them in the relationship bum, she opined. "Be careful about those posts that make them look bratty, stupid, spoiled, klutzy, ungrateful or out of control," wrote Greenthal. "No one wants to be reminded of their worst days, even from when they were tiny kids." Indeed, imagine being a Middle School girl and have someone unearth the ugly cry-face photos that your trusted mother posted 10 years ago. Not a happy dinner conversation that night, I'm betting.

Hoping for greater understanding about why spilling your guts online is a good thing, I turned to the Masters of Sharing -- the guys behind Whisper, the free mobile networking app that lets you post your secrets anonymously. Certainly the numbers suggest that mine is a minority view in this share-and-let-share world. Since its inception less than two years ago, Whisper has grown to 3.5 billion page views a month. The average user visits Whisper 10 times a day and a large percentage don't come just to read the secrets of others; they are posting their own confidences. While adults of all ages have "whispered," the bulk of the audience is 18 to 25 and female. On average, a user spends about 20 minutes a day on Whisper.

According to Whisper's new editor-in-chief, Neetzan Zimmerman (formerly of Gawker), Whisper gives users "a safe haven to unburden their fears and unexpressed desires." Whereas Facebook demands your identity, Whisper is anonymous. "It's a powerful emotion to know you can say something in a public space and still be guarded from the consequences of your admission," said Zimmerman. "It can't come back to haunt you." You can worry aloud about coming out to your parents, whether you'll ever meet your special someone, you can talk about how much you hate your body, how depressed you are -- all popular topics on Whisper -- and by and large get the support of strangers. Whisper has a pretty impressive track record for comment moderation; you'll never mistake the site for Reddit and its haters. Whisper serves as an online support community for those with cancer or chronic illnesses. Sharing on the site helps people understand that they are not alone in feeling the way they do, Zimmerman said.

While Facebook, noted Zimmerman, was once the principal domain where young people went to share, now older folks -- read: parents -- have joined the site en masse. That has served as sort of a youth-repellent. "Younger users are looking for a judgment-free zone -- something free of a watchful eye of the adults in their life," Zimmerman said. It's why young people are dumping Facebook in favor of other Whisper and other outlets.

Sharing is really nothing new, say the folks behind Whisper. It's the old "tell the guy sitting next to you on the plane your life story." While on the plane, the connection made feels as deep and real as any other. But when the plane lands, you say "thanks for listening," and walk down the plane ramp back into the arms of your real life, never to see your seat mate again. That, in a nutshell, is what has moved online, says Zimmerman.

When Whisper co-founder Michael Heyward speaks to groups, he asks those in the room who are virgins to raise their hand. He's never seen a single hand raised, he said. He then passes out blindfolds, dims the lights and repeats the request. Generally about a third of the room puts their hands up. He uses this exercise to show what anonymity can bring to the experience of sharing, he said.

Me? I may remain a skeptic about the benefits of sharing too much -- for one simple reason. And it's something I'm about to share for the first time: To those who I've sat next to and spoken at length with on airplanes, my name really isn't Greta.

Earlier on Huff/Post50:



Why Professional Hockey Stinks

Thu, 2014-02-20 06:32
OK, I got ya here with that headline, so just hear me out.

I don't know why the NHL makes it such a big deal at every Olympics. Will we be back? We're not sure. We'll discuss after the Games. We'll weigh the pros and the cons.

Blah blah blah.

Regardless of the cons -- insurance, logistics, ownership issues etc -- both the league office and Players' Association should just beg for it... and here's why.

First, how can you possibly go back? All-Star Game. Stanley Cup seventh game. They are like scrimmages when it compares to Olympic hockey. The overall hockey experience is that good.

Second: Players love it.

When asked about the NHL participating in future Olympics, U.S. men's team captain Zach Parise may have been diplomatic, but that doesn't mean he was neutral.

"I know I've liked playing, that's for sure," said U.S. men's team captain Zach Parise said on Thursday.

Sure, there is the emotion of the moment, and perhaps, the inconvenience of the experience will truly compute after the Games. Right now though, let there be no doubt. The NHL guys play for money, but playing for country is priceless.

Henrik Lundqvist would probably say the same about playing for Sweden. Shea Weber for Canada. Alex Ovechkin for Russia (Well, maybe not Ovechkin).

All of those players make millions -- several earn eight figures annually -- but here they are, for nothing, blocking shots and killing penalties.

Latvia vs. Canada put it all in perspective.

It was a quarterfinal game in which Canada won 2-1 and outshot the Latvians 57-16. Big whup.

However, if you watched the game (which you probably didn't) you saw something truly special. The best team in the world, replete with NHL All-Stars, absolutely dominated a team with only one player in the NHL. Yet somehow, the game was tied until only seven minutes remained. It was an amazing site as these massive Canadians pounded Latvian goalie Kristers Gudlevskis, a 21-year old kid playing in the minor leagues in Syracuse, New York. Shot after shot after shot... he made saves. One looked to go in, only to be disallowed. Every time the Latvians had an offensive opportunity, the crowd went crazy.

By the end of the game, everyone not from Canada was chanting, "Latvia ... Latvia." In fact, a few Canadians behind me jumped in as well.

It was incredible.

And it was just a quarterfinal game that very few people paid attention to because the U.S. team was playing the Czech Republic at the same time.

We need to be honest here -- and I've loved and played hockey since I was three. It's a fringe professional sport in America. It can absolutely succeed where it is now, and barring a Wayne Gretzky-like renaissance, it will probably remain in this range for some time. That's not a bad thing. The players are great; fans are loyal and happy; most teams are profitable.

The Olympics won't amplify any of that, but they have the potential to capture the collective consciousness when great things happen. Sure, a Russia-U.S. rematch never materialized, but everyone seems to agree that if it had, the attention would have been greater than any hockey game in years, perhaps ever.

Everyone involved in professional hockey needs to keep those kinds of possibilities... possible.

The real reason that the NHL needs to keep its players in the next Olympics is because of where the they are being held. South Korea. It is the first time the Winter Games have been in Asia since the 1998 Games in Nagano, Japan.

Remember that one?

Stacked with NHL stars, both Canada and the U.S. performed horribly with neither earning a medal. Then, members of the U.S. team trashed their rooms in the Olympic Village.

They need to go back just to restore faith!

Secondly, getting Asia hooked on hockey would be along-term benefit well worth the risk. A lot of the countries in the region love sports, have affluence and are ripe to be new hockey fans. Forget about including the pros to grow the sport in the United States. Put on a classic show in South Korea, and a generation of neophytes could be inspired. That could happen. In fact, it's more likely than the NHL becoming much bigger in America.

There will be -- and have been -- multiple columns on this topic, but all you need to know is this: NHL owners need suck it up and write off their losses every four years. They'll still make money. The players will be happy, and the game will reach an audience of billions in Asia, which hasn't seen the world's best hockey ... ever.

What Do Professors, Walmart and Pig Nutrition Have in Common? The Faculty Strike at University of Illinois at Chicago

Wed, 2014-02-19 18:42
Today is the second day of a strike of unionized faculty at the University of Illinois at Chicago [UIC]. This is the first major strike of faculty at a top-tier research institution since the 1990s, and there is a great deal of excitement about a pushback from professors over what has come to be called "the Walmartization" of the university system.

Even the New York Times just joined in the discussion condemning how adjuncts and non-tenure-track professors are being used as disposable labor in a desperate managerial game that involves raising student tuition, increasing class size, and having more than 50 percent of courses taught by underpaid instructors who have no benefits or job security.

At UIC some of these faculty members are being paid $30,000 a year -- slightly above the poverty level for a family of four. The amazing thing is that the administration is crying poverty while they have accrued a startling surplus of $1.3 billion dollars in unrestricted funds, according to their most recent accounting report.

Provost Lon Kaufman's defense of what amounts to financial mismanagement -- "The University has relatively small amounts of reserves" -- makes one wonder how it was possible that he and others allowed what is obviously terrible exploitation of a class of professors? In allocating funds for a wide variety of activities, including creating 90 new administrative jobs in the past five years while eliminating 14 tenure lines, who made the decision to permit this ongoing abuse of students and teachers? And why is there no accountability?

The "economic explanation" -- we just don't have the money -- proposed by the administration could be used to justify anything from slavery to unsafe factory conditions. But it doesn't wash because money is allocated based on priorities, and let's face it, paying a fair wage to Walmartized faculty has not been uppermost on the minds of administrators.

President Bob Easter, the head of the University of Illinois system and the one calling the shots in these contract negotiations is actually a professor of pig nutrition. I kid you not. What you do with pigs is keep them in cages, feed them the bare minimum to keep up profits, and then you send them to slaughter. Is he thinking that what you do with adjunct professors is keep them in the cage of non-tenure track, pay them the bare minimum, and then dispose of them as you see fit? If so, we aren't talking of only Walmart but perhaps more McDonald's.

We aren't going to get excellent public education by raising student tuitions and downsizing on quality teaching. As experience has shown from other sectors of the economy, cutting back on the main function of your organization, while bloating management, is poor policy. So, to the administration I'd say, "Don't nickel and dime us at the bargaining table. If you want quality education, then pay for it -- not just because it makes economic sense, but because it is the right thing to do."

Illinois Could Soon Become The Next State To Ban Smoking In Cars With Children Inside

Wed, 2014-02-19 16:41
Another state could soon ban smokers from lighting up while in a car carrying passengers under the age of 18.

Illinois State Sen. Ira Silverstein, a Chicago Democrat, has proposed legislation (SB 2659) that would hit those who smoke with anyone under the age of 18 in the car with up to a $100 fine.

A vehicle could not be stopped solely as a result of violating the ban, according to bill's text.

Kathy Drea, vice president of advocacy of the American Lung Association's Illinois chapter, testified in front of the Senate's public health committee Tuesday. She said that drivers who light up put their passengers at risk of a smoking-related illness due to the harmful secondhand smoke being experienced within the confined space of a vehicle.

The bill is a "very simple thing that you can do to protect all of our children from a very serious health risk," Drea added, according to GateHouse Media.

No vote has yet been taken on the measure.

Six other states -- Arkansas, California, Louisiana, Maine, Oregon and Utah -- already have similar bans on the books, though the cutoff age for child passengers varies from state to state. Puerto Rico has also passed a ban.

The most recent state to pass the smoking ban was Oregon, where a ban went into effect on Jan. 1, 2014. Oregon's ban includes heftier fines of $250 for a first violation and $500 for additional instances.

Colleges That Produced The Most Members Of Congress

Wed, 2014-02-19 16:33
More members of Congress attended Harvard University than any other higher education institution, with 47 elected officials on Capitol Hill counted as Crimson alumni, according to data compiled and provided to The Huffington Post by Find The Best.

Georgetown University scores the distant runner up spot, with 20 members of Congress counted as alumni, followed by Yale University with 18. But after Yale in third, the Ivy League schools don't show up again until Princeton, Columbia and Dartmouth appear at No. 20.

The ranking includes only current U.S. Representatives and Senators. So while people like John Kerry and George H. W. Bush were both members of Congress, neither is counted in this ranking.

That allowed for flagship public universities in North Carolina, Georgia, Maryland, Michigan, Florida, Illinois, Pennsylvania and Texas to muscle their way ahead of many of the Ivies. Two University of California schools -- Berkeley and Los Angeles -- made the top 20, along with California State University-Los Angeles.

Brigham Young University, a Mormon institution based in Utah, tied for 10th place with eight current members of Congress as alumni.

For more check out the widget below, provided by Find The Best:

Members of Congress by School | FindTheBest

About the methodology:
For every undergrad and graduate institution the representative or senator attended, the institution received one point. However, if the same representative went to Harvard for both undergrad and graduate school, Harvard would only receive one point for that politician.

Ex: Representative Y went to Harvard for undergrad, Harvard for law school, and Stanford for business school. Harvard and Stanford would each receive one point.

This Is Why It Was So Insanely Cold Last Month

Wed, 2014-02-19 16:24
That incredibly cold, it-hurts-to-be-outside weather that much of the U.S. experienced last month may come back to bite the country again next week.

So what's causing these temperature extremes?

The polar vortex is a mass of winds that form over the Arctic each winter, and tend to move in a circular motion around the region, according to NASA. This year, however, a few factors caused the vortex to dip south, like the jet stream moving further south than usual and a low-pressure system forming over Canada, according to the video.

As this animation progresses from early December 2013 to early January 2014, you can watch the polar vortex -- represented by the purple colors -- bend southward over time. It features data collected by NASA's Atmospheric Infrared Sounder Mission instrument, and shows temperatures at 3,000 feet above the Earth's surface.

As NASA points out on their website, this year's cold wave set many temperature records. And that wasn't all: flights were canceled, Canada experienced frost quakes and a jail escapee returned to prison because it was so cold.

Cooking Class Explosion Hurts 5, One Seriously, At Chicago High School

Wed, 2014-02-19 16:06
CHICAGO (AP) — The Chicago Fire Department says five students were burned — one seriously — after a flash explosion during a high school cooking class.

Fire Department spokesman Larry Langford says four students at Northside College Prep High School were taken to hospitals after gas ignited in a biology lab while students were heating hot chocolate. The gas caused "a flash" explosion. A fifth student declined treatment.

Sprinklers extinguished the fire that was reported around 10:30 a.m. The 1,000-student school was briefly evacuated.

Langford says the most seriously injured student received burns to the face, neck and arms.

Nick Przybyciel (PRAY'-uh-chel) is a spokesman at Swedish Covenant Hospital. He says two patients are in stable condition in the emergency room.

The Associated Press left messages with Chicago Public School officials.

(Pay)Rate my Professor

Wed, 2014-02-19 15:51


In the wake of the faculty members strike at University of Illinois at Chicago (UIC), we took a look at the salaries of tenured and non-tenured college instructors, according to data from the Chronicle of Higher Education.

In case you didn't hear about the two-day strike at UIC, here are the details: Faculty members hope the strike will lead to 4.5 percent salary increases (as opposed to the university's proposed 3.25 percent increase) and a raise in the minimum salary for full-time lecturers without tenure. Additionally, the union is seeking a raise in minimum salaries to $60,000 a year for tenured faculty members, and a raise to $45,000 (from the current $30,000) for nontenured faculty.

We ranked the top 10 schools in terms of average salaries for faculty members, not based on the minimum numbers mentioned above. That's why the UIC numbers will be higher than $60,000.

Is your alma mater, or current school, on the list? Click here to find out!

Then feel free to share with your favorite professor.

22 Vanity Plates That Will Make You Shake Your Head

Wed, 2014-02-19 13:58
Statistically, vanity license plates are unique. And someone paid extra money to put that short message on their vehicle. The rest of us stop what we're doing, point them out to our friends, and we all ask why? Human beings are forever fascinated by vanity plates. We love them. Either for the witty creativity that might be involved (think "Back To The Future" and "OUTATIME") or just the sheer pretension we assume the car's owner is swimming in (like the Abu Dhabi man who paid $14 million for "1.")

And though the jokes, trends and cultural references may change, our fascination with vanity plates and the people who have them will always exist. The plates below confirm that people with vanity plates are ... well, exactly like you think they are. Never change, vanity plate people. Never change.


1. BOOYAH



If you drive a Porsche, it's always best if you can rub it in people's face.


2. NOT POOR



Well, in some ways, you are.


3. U C ME



Do you see you?


4. SKILLZ



On a Kia.


5. FKS247



Everyone knows the people who get laid the most advertise it on their license plates.


6. ZOMG NUB



Getting 1337 on 'em!


7. CHICKS



What about them?


8. WINNING



Sigh. So this is how rich people spend their money.


9. LOL MPG



Lol, irreversible climate change coastal flooding that even your truck can't escape.


10. RU18YET



Hahaha statutory rape jokes!


11. YOLO



You only live once, so why not get a painfully stupid vanity plate?


12. Y U HATIN



I think you know why.


13. BG 800BS



Misogyny or pride? Either way, it's kinda weird.


14. OMG MOV



People only read this when they're behind this car. Not helpful.


15. [A] 55HOLE



Thinking outside the box and within the plate space. Bravo.


16. LOLUMAD



LOLUSAD.


17. VIN DSL 8



"Yeah, I'd like a Vin Diesel license plate, please? ... Oh, really, seven others? Alright let's go with eight."


18. U 2 SLOW L



At least go for something creative and douchey!


19. SWAGEN



Sometimes an idea is really creative and witty. But that doesn't make it right.


20. C YABYE



Sorry, but your Saturn VUE is not capable of leaving anybody in its dust.


21. SWAG R



So much swag arrrr.


22. SEXY G



Why, thank you!

Michael Dunn and the Victim Mentality

Wed, 2014-02-19 13:44
When a Florida jury on Saturday night failed to convict a 55-year-old white man, Michael Dunn, in the shooting death of a 17-year-old black kid, Jordan Davis, whose only crime was playing his music too loud in a car outside a Jacksonville, Florida gas station, a friend asked me, "Why are you so surprised?"

Because he was convicted of attempted murder and will likely serve three consecutive 20-year terms, Dunn will be in jail for the rest of his life. So' its not accurate to say he's facing no consequences for firing 10 shots into a car full of unarmed teenagers playing what he called "thug music."

Juries often screw up slam dunk cases, and with a prosecutor that makes Marcia Clark look like Jack McCoy of Law and Order, it's a minor miracle that Dunn was convicted of anything. But the result was hardly justice. The Davis killing and its aftermath are another reminder of the cloud of racist suspicion that surrounds every young black male in America.

This case wasn't fascinating enough to take over our daily lives the way others have. It didn't have the celebrity buzz of the OJ trial or the bizarre complexity of the Amanda Knox case. Even Dunn's girlfriend was willing to admit on the witness stand, that he killed Davis for little reason other than a deep seated racist paranoia.

The motive was sadly predictable. Ta-Nehisi Coates writes in The Atlantic of the educing bleakness of black life in America. "We cannot protect our children because racism in America is not merely a belief system but a heritage," Coates writes. "The inability of black parents to protect their children is an ancient tradition."

Let's review the current state of the union for young black men, If you're in that demographic in 2014 in many areas of the United States, you run the risk of getting shot if you:


What separates the Michael Dunns and George Zimmermans of the world from your average killer is their insistence that they are not only innocent but wronged. Dunn actually compared himself to a "rape victim," while Zimmerman referred to his "suffering" as being similar to that of a "fallen soldier."

These two aren't Charles Manson types that can brushed off as crazy. The amount of emotional and financial support Zimmerman and, to a lesser extent Dunn, receive from many Americans suggest that they represent more than a constituency of lone wolves and twisted losers.

These two stains on American society represent the current state of our self-regard. No matter the circumstances these days, everyone gets to play the victim card. If you're in the 1 percent, you can say you're like the Jews under Hitler and in danger of being murdered. If you're a straight man living in Kansas, you're being oppressed by the "gay agenda." If you're a NFL player exposed as an abusive bully, it's the league that's really at fault for attempting to punish you.

There will be more Jordan Davis cases. The flammable combination of millions of guns and hair-trigger anger make them unavoidable. A culture of victimization breeds violence. It always has.

14 Beautiful Experiences That Make Your Cross-Cultural Relationship Truly Special

Wed, 2014-02-19 12:55
Cross-cultural relationships bring with them new experiences that may have been foreign to you before. While they are usually beautiful, exciting and eye-opening, they come with their share of hardships and misunderstandings as well. Making families mesh and understand one another when they come from two completely different backgrounds isn't always the easiest thing.

There are many defining moments in inter-cultural relationships that allow you to both appreciate each other's differences... and just how thrilling those differences can turn out to be. For those of you who are already in the cultural thick of it (so to speak), you probably know these moments all too well.

1. Learning how to express love (and other stuff) in different languages.

Your partner asks you how to say "hello," "I love you" and those other four letter words in your specific language. You gladly walk them through every one, syllable for syllable.



2. Coming to terms with the fact that sometimes you won't understand everything that's happening.

Language barriers can be a very real problem when trying to communicating efficiently with your future in-laws. (In the meantime, smiles and thumbs-ups all around.)

3. Having conversations about the topic of culture and how it plays into your relationship.

This usually consists of questions such as: are your parents cool with you dating someone outside of your own culture? Are you? Have you ever actually dated anyone from a different culture? Am I your first?

4. Tasting your way through new cuisine.

You try some traditional dishes from your partner's native cuisine that you've never even heard of. And it's like, "Okay, I trust you and I love you, so I'll eat this. But first, what is this exactly?"



5. Having serious conversations about religion ... or lack there of.

You may realize you have conflicting ideologies, and that a "who's going to convert to what" conversation may be plausible in the very near future.

6. Celebrating completely new good times.

You get to discover new holidays! Turns out you love a party even if you have no idea who and/or what is being celebrated.

7. Tapping into cultural idiosyncrasies.

Every country and culture has its own superstitions, sayings and proverbs. (For example: Your may not be sure why we have to sit down on the floor for thirty seconds before we get on a plane, but you love that we do.)

8. Receiving compliments and predictions on how cute your kids will be.

Because someone will eventually (definitely) tell you (however preemptively and awkwardly) how adorable your "mixed babies" will be.



9. Learning an entirely new language. Well, kind of.

You may just start telling people that you are, because you can now understand the small talk in your partner's phone conversations.

10. Stereotyping. From outsiders, from insiders and sometimes from yourselves.

You face the stereotypes about each other head on, so you can defy them together, joke about them together and even playfully toss them at each other (but only with each other -- outsiders are not welcome to poke fun, sorry).

11. Traveling to and discovering new places = the best.

You visit each other's respective home countries/towns and are pleasantly introduced to things you never thought you'd see, do, smell, taste and feel.



12. Planning future nuptials can be tricky.

Choosing a future wedding destination may actually be the most stressful decision you've ever had to make. (What place is special enough to both of us but also equidistant for both of our families to travel to?)

13. Rooting for two different teams during the Olympics.

This applies to basically every world sporting event that exists. During the Olympics and World Cup, your significant other is the enemy. Just playin'... kind of, sort of... not really. Hey, it keeps the excitement alive!

14. And lastly, proudly telling the haters they can leave. Bye.

Someone will eventually give you the disapproving stink-eye as they walk by the two of you. But you don't give two hoots about their thoughts on your relationship because you're a team now, a progressive cultural force to be reckoned with, and they (*cough* the haters *cough*) can take their old-school close-mindedness elsewhere, right?

Meanwhile, you're over here just being in love and learning something new almost every single day. So boop, haters be gone!



All images Getty unless otherwise specified.

13 Things You Didn't Know About American Apparel

Wed, 2014-02-19 12:51
Is your dog trendy enough to wear American Apparel?

Despite repeated backlash over its envelope-pushing advertising and numerous lawsuits, American Apparel has undeniably established itself as the dresser of America's "hip" youth, (even if those kids aren't always willing to pay for the clothes). American Apparel's rise from trendy to ubiquitous has happened relatively quickly. It wasn't even that long ago that the true urban outfitter was just opening in the neighborhood that now arguably most defines the brand, home to the "hipster Olympics," New York City's Williamsburg, Brooklyn.

Whether you like to think of yourself as a trendsetter or you just can't get enough of their V-necks, here are a few things you never knew about American Apparel.


1. The American Apparel factory is the largest garment-making facility in the U.S., despite the founder not believing in "Made in USA."



American Apparel operates the "largest garment factory in the United States." The seven-story facility in Los Angeles employs thousands of workers with above-industry average wages.

That said, the founder of American Apparel, Dov Charney, doesn't exactly believe in the company's slogan, "Made in USA." This is what he told BuzzFeed:

"I don't believe in 'made in U.S.A.,' really, but that's a secret...My vision is a kind of America for everyone, like where people could come and go and it really doesn't matter where you make the product, it's about paying a fair wage -- but right now, we have a kind of society with borders, and on one side of the border, people have money and on the other side of the border they don't," he says. "So Europe does, Africa doesn't. Right? Vietnam doesn’t, Japan does. This is, like, all these lines. What we're trying to do is build a business that's very futuristic in the sense that we don't want to rely on these labor inequalities that are not going to be sustainable forever anyway."

Image: WikiCommons


2. You can buy an American Apparel hoodie for your dog.



American Apparel introduced a line of clothing for dogs in 2012 and has since expanded the collection, which includes canine wardrobe items such as the classic hoodie and this neon pink "dragon dogzilla" costume.

The now-defunct culture website Hipster Runoff once made a point of covering American Apparel's every move and gave context to the company's decision, explaining, "The hoodie is often worn by swaggy tweens, emos, pokemones, and cool dads who aren't wearing a cardigan. But now the hoodie is officially a dog-wave fashion statement."

Image: American Apparel


3. The company was originally founded out of Charney's dorm room at Tufts University.



The company was started in 1988 out of Charney's dorm room at Tufts University, where he used a Mobira Cityman 900 mobile phone to take orders and conduct business. The company's name came from a business partner, as Charney describes:

It was during my freshman year at Tufts, that my T-shirt company took on the trade name "American Apparel," but I didn't actually come up with the name. I briefly entered into a partnership with Bob Smith, owner of Kellsport Industries one of the authorized Hanes wholesale dealers, and the name "American Apparel" was actually his idea. He thought I was a little difficult to deal with and months later, he told me he loved me, but things were not going to work out. I returned the $16,000 he invested to the enterprise several months later, and continued using the trade name.

Despite the company's edgy image and Charney's wild-child persona, he claims that he "never went to any parties while at" Tufts.


4. When the company was started in 1989, it was actually called "American Heavy Apparel."



Although the name and business came from Charney's time at Tufts, American Apparel didn't begin to manufacture its own clothing until 1989, when Charney moved to South Carolina and started commissioning factories in the state. In these early days, the logo was for "American Heavy Apparel," as can be seen in the picture above of Charney and his early colleagues.

Image: American Apparel Facebook


5. Woody Allen filed a $10 million lawsuit against American Apparel. Allen later settled when the company threatened to call Mia Farrow to the stand.



Woody Allen filed a $10 million lawsuit against American Apparel in 2009, after the company ran a series of billboard and Internet ads featuring the director without his permission. American Apparel's lawyers initially argued that the $10 million figure Allen wanted to compensate for the damage of his image was a ridiculous request due to Allen's image already being tarnished. Citing his affair with current wife Soon-Yi Previn while married to Mia Farrow, along with other "sex scandals," which may have included the alleged abuse of Dylan Farrow in 1992, American Apparel threatened to bring Mia Farrow and Previn to the stand to talk about the incidents under oath .

The two eventually settled for $5 million and Charney wrote a letter on his website explaining that he related to the allegations of sexual abuse brought against Allen, who he described as, "a man who has long been one of my inspirations."

Image: Associated Press


6. Charney allegedly masturbated in front of reporter and has been the subject of multiple sexual harassment lawsuits.



Charney has been no stranger to sexual harassment lawsuits, including accusations of forced oral sex and throwing dirt at an employee, among other things. In 2004, he allegedly masturbated in front of reporter Claudine Ko while she was writing a profile for Jane Magazine. "Saturday Night Live" even lampooned Charney with an impression by Fred Armisen during a Weekend Update segment in 2008.

All of this said, the majority of the sexual harassment lawsuits brought against Charney have not been taken to court or are still outstanding.


7. The company embraces unconventional models in its ads.



In addition to their trademark sexual explicitness, American Apparel ads often feature nontraditional models, including a 62-year-old woman, transgender individuals, a Hasidic Jew and actual farmers.

Whether this is progressive or accessorizing for publicity is up for debate. But for what it's worth, these models are getting hired for work that they normally wouldn't get in most American ad settings.


8. There's an alleged "no ugly" policy for retail floor employees.



Although forward-thinking in its model choices, American Apparel is infamous for employee accusations that it has followed what's essentially a no ugly policy for its sales floor staff. Because sales associates are considered models and ambassadors of the company, an extremely strict fashion code exists for employees while they're on the floor. If you're not "cool" enough, that's a problem, employees have claimed.

Gawker had an open call for American Apparel employees to submit stories and received this gem:

I'm remembering one of the many times some 19 year old girl, who knew Dov "personally", showed up without warning acting like she owned place, saying she had been sent there to do a hiring event (we had just had one the week prior, in which I hired for all the staffing we needed..based off of resumes and experience as well as personality and style). We hosted the hiring event a day or two later and interviewed potential workers for about 10 minutes each all day long. There were some really good applicants. After each one that I thought was promising, the girl would hmm and haw and start in about "natural natural natural", "Oh, I don't think so...she had a tattoo on her arm. We're really trying for a natural look" "Nooo she had that tiny little nose ring..we really want natural looking girls" "She was wearing make-up..we want girls who are comfortable looking natural". At the very end of the day, after hearing the word "natural" at least a thousand times, there I was sitting next to this girl in our store's office. I reached up to grab something off a shelf, and that's when she realized that I didn't believe in shaving my armpits (I actually did trim them regularly..it was just a tiny little bush strip haha). She squealed and started yelling about my armpit hair and then she started to say something about the company's image and did I really not shave them ever...to which I replied "naturally".

Dov Charney replied to allegations of the "no ugly" policy in 2009 saying, "At American Apparel, we strive to hire salespeople who have an enthusiasm for fashion and retail and who themselves have good fashion sense. But this does not necessarily mean they have to be physically attractive." When more allegations popped up when allegations emerged that the company was now just calling employees they found unattractive "off-brand", the company used the same response. More allegations have continued since, with less media coverage.

Image: American Apparel Tumblr


9. Watercolor porn was used as advertising.



In 2011, the company's advertising team decided to class things up while maintaining that porny aesthetic with pencil illustrations and watercolors of naked women. Not wanting to half-bare-ass it, American Apparel even hired an authentic porn artist named Boris Lopez to do the, er, dirty work.


10. American Apparel has a bit of a history with crime.



Shoplifting from American Apparel is such a popular activity that even the employees have reportedly participated en masse. According to a story in Dig Boston:

The company’s worst-kept secret is a combination of lax security and corrupt management that virtually encourages them to steal, a combination that’s led to employees at multiple retail locations in the United States, individually and in teams, stealing countless thousands of dollars in merchandise from the company.

It wasn't until 2012 that the company finally installed radio-frequency ID tags to help prevent all the shoplifting.

Employee drug use has also become a sort of legend for the company, thanks to a number of allegations from workers. As one self-described employee recounted for Jezebel, "I thought cocaine was kind of scandalous when I started working at American Apparel. And so I naturally found it kind of scandalous that a major coke dealer actually served as a kind of informal HR chief for many of the American Apparel stores in New York."


11. Although now a company staple, American Apparel originally dissed the deep V-neck.



Despite its current status as one of the defining looks for the company, the deep V was actually the butt of jokes in 1996 American Apparel ads, back when they were promoting their high V-neck shirts.

As seen in the picture above, the company would come to embrace "The Deep V".

Images: American Apparel. Top-Left. Bottom-Left. Right.


12. The company sells a NSFW "Period Power" shirt.



In 2013, American Apparel began selling a "Period Power" shirt, which can still be purchased for $32. After many publications (including The Huffington Post) were surprised by the shirt, Vice reached out to the designer and asked for her take:

VICE: What do you think of the media storm you've started?

Petra Collins: It's really awesome. I’m not surprised. It's exactly what I wanted because it totally proves my point…

VICE: And what is your point?

Petra Collins: That we're so shocked and appalled at something that's such a natural state -- and it's funny that out of all the images everywhere, all of the sexually violent images, or disgustingly derogatory images, this is something that’s so, so shocking apparently. The graphic on my shirt is a line drawing, too. It's not even a full-on image.

The debut of this shirt came months before the company added visible pubic hair to store mannequins.


13. The American Apparel aesthetic is influenced by the 1976 Montreal Summer Olympics.



The 1976 Olympics have been described by American Apparel as "a recurring motif in the company's history." Charney was born in Montreal and was seven years old at the time. Looking at old pictures of the athletes, it's certainly possible to see where the inspiration came from.

When there was controversy over the 2012 U.S. Olympic uniforms being made in China, American Apparel offered to remake uniforms in its U.S. plant and expressed interest in designing future uniforms. Ralph Lauren promised to make future Olympic uniforms domestically, however, and American Apparel has not received an Olympic contract just yet.

Image: Flickr user distar97


BONUS: Here's one more picture of a dog wearing an Am Appy hoodie.



All images Getty unless otherwise noted.

Most Dangerous Cities In America 2013 (PHOTOS)

Wed, 2014-02-19 12:23
With crime rates dropping on average nationwide, residents in some of the country's most violent cities didn't have much to celebrate.

Violent crime dropped in only half of the cities ranked by Law Street as the nation's top ten most violent.

The site looked at murder, rape, robbery and aggravated assault numbers in the first six months of 2013 and compared them to those same numbers in 2012. The data was based on the FBI's Uniform Crime Report. Law Street only considered cities with at least 200,000 residents, which means towns like Flint, Mich., were spared a spot on the list. Take a look at the results in the slideshow below.

Chicago Police Officer Accidentally Fires Gun Inside Police Station, Causing A Big Ole Mess

Wed, 2014-02-19 12:08
A Chicago police officer who accidentally fired his gun inside a station caused quite a commotion Monday night.

According to DNAinfo Chicago, the officer's gun was fired about 9:40 p.m. Monday and struck a water pipe at the station in the city's South Loop, causing water to flow into the station's office.

Photos emerged on Reddit on Tuesday documenting the bizarre incident, including photos of an officer attempting to prevent the water leak from damaging office equipment.



The incident forced the transfer of 15 prisoners being held inside the station's holding area to another police station, the Chicago Tribune reports.

No injuries were reported and police said the officer who discharged his weapon will likely face disciplinary action, the Chicago Sun-Times reports.

Trio Allegedly Causes $700,000 In Damage To Trump Hotel Because They Couldn't Get Drinks At The Bar

Wed, 2014-02-19 11:55
CHICAGO -- After they were cut off at the bar for appearing too drunk, a trio of suburban men turned on a stairway water valve in the posh Trump International Hotel & Tower, flooding two elevators and causing $700,000 in damage, prosecutors say.

Two 25-year-old suburban men, Carl Koenemann and Benjamin Nitch, were arrested Sunday night and charged Tuesday with felony criminal damage to property. CBS Chicago reports a third man, 24-year-old Daniel Maradei, was arrested Tuesday and also charged with felony criminal damage to property.


(L-R) Benjamin Nitch, Carl Koenemann and Daniel Maradei are charged with felony property damage.

The men went to the 401 N. Wabash Ave. hotel's bar just after 5 p.m. Saturday where they were served one round before the bartender refused them more drinks "because they appeared intoxicated," Assistant State’s Attorney Erin Antonietti said according to the Chicago Sun-Times.

Nitch and Koenemann were later caught on video heading down a fire exit staircase to the sixth floor, where they turned on a water valve that shoots 250 gallons of water out a minute. The Tribune reports the valve was reportedly open for 10 full minutes before it could be shut off, spewing out water that was "black, with a strong musty odor."

The men were caught thanks to surveillance cameras and their paper trail: police were able to find the men by a credit card they had used at the 16th floor bar.

Koenemann and Nitch were arrested first and immediately turned on each other. The Sun-Times reports each man said the other had pulled the water valve until Nitch told police in his tipsy state that he may have slipped and grabbed onto the valve to steady himself.

Nitch later admitted he yanked open the valve in anger over not being served more booze.

The water caused damage to the marble flooring and flooded two elevators (though thankfully not the Trump's gingerbread one).

Koenemann and Nitch bonded out and were released on electronic ankle monitoring; Maradei is due in court Wednesday.

'L. Condoms' Commercial Awesomely Defines 'A Good Man'

Wed, 2014-02-19 11:26
"Good men give a f**k."

That's the premise behind a new commercial for This Is L., a condom company with a focus on HIV/AIDS prevention in developing countries. (For every condom you purchase from L., a person in an at-risk area in a developing country receives one free.)

Their hilarious new ad, released on Valentine's Day, features a man engaged in manly pursuits in the woods as he prepares for a lady's late-night visit to his tent. As the voiceover explains, good guys are thoughtful when it comes to the protection they use, undistracted by macho ideals. A "good man," after bandaging an injured puppy's paw, picking flowers while drinking a scotch and preparing an exceedingly sexual snack plate, enthusiastically whips out a string of condoms (which are made with natural latex and are glycerin- and paraben-free).

"Good men know sex isn't about conquering women. It's about always making it worth her while."

While it probably takes more than philanthropic, additive-free condoms to make sex "worth her while," are least you'll know your lover is a do-gooder.

From Russia: Putin Loses

Wed, 2014-02-19 10:16
We all know the phrase -- or some variation of it: Lose the battle, win the war.

Russian President Vladimir Putin is apparently winning the war: Safe Olympics (so far), leading the medal count and even journalists have stopped complaining about unfinished rooms and brown water.

But he's lost the battle. Big time.

And no, I am not talking about the fact that in the few hours before Kiev dominated the global news flow, Pussy Riot was giving him a major media headache.



I am talking about the Russian Men's hockey team.

They are out of the Olympics. Done. No medal. Nyet. Nada. Nothing.

The vaunted Russian offense was stopped short by a Finn named Tuukka (That's right, a double "u" and "k" back to back. Russian hockey, once the most feared team on the planet, hasn't won a gold medal in 22 years at the Olympics.

The fall of communism was good for a lot of things -- except Russian hockey it looks like.

Kidding aside, this is serious because Putin placed so much importance on this hockey team. Just this past Monday, he proclaimed they were the best team in the tournament, and it is widely believed he wanted hockey to win gold more than any other potential athletic success at the Sochi Games. The running joke is that just about anything could happen at the Games, and if the Russians won gold in hockey, Putin would be OK with it. And we're talking anything.

For fun, I Googled "Putin hockey pressure" and more than 730,000 items appeared.

On the ground here at Olympic Park, the disappointment was palpable. Just when security officers were starting to greet me with smiles, too! No smiles tonight in Sochi -- just a collective daze, and people here feel it.

So, I will tread lightly tonight, won't expect any more pleasant greetings and will deal with my own disappointment... we all wanted to see USA-Russia for the gold medal. Love or hate hockey, you wanted it, too.

Just this once, you can share frustration with Mr. Putin.

The Harsh Dilemma Of Trying To Prepare Kids For The Worst At School

Wed, 2014-02-19 09:52
LOS ANGELES -- You're a parent, volunteering to supervise recess at your child's campus when suddenly you spot him. A masked shooter, armed to the teeth, heading straight into the building.

Do you consider yourself responsible for the students around you, and herd them to a safe place? Or do you try to locate your own child first?

Los Angeles Police Department Officer Charles Dinse posed this startling scenario recently to a group of 60 or so parents gathered in Woodland Hills, Calif., to hear his presentation on active-shooter drills. There is no right or wrong way to react to the scenario, said Dinse, but hypothetical situations like these are what schools need to grapple with in a post-Sandy Hook world.

And the more schools have active-shooter drills, the easier it'll be for staffers to make split-second decisions that could end up saving lives, he said.

During his presentation, Dinse compared the need for such drills to the need for fire drills, which became the national norm after a fire in 1958 at Our Lady of the Angels school in Chicago. Because of the reforms instituted after the tragedy, which killed 92 children and three nuns, deadly school fires have largely been eradicated in the United States. No other school fire has killed more than 10 people since then, according to the National Fire Protection Association, and an average of only 1.5 people per year died on an "education property" from 1980 to 2005, most of whom were adults or "juvenile firesetters" on school grounds after hours.

"Everyone, from yard workers to principals, needs to know what they’re going to do" during a shooter scenario, said Dinse during the presentation, which is part of an ongoing LAPD outreach effort started a few months after Sandy Hook. "Even the kids have a responsibility."

For example, Dinse said administrators should consider installing lockdown alert systems that are distinct from fire alarms, as well as panic buttons with a direct line to police stations. Teachers need to learn how to lock and barricade their own doors, as well as quickly cover up windows to block shooters from looking inside. Finally, children need to be taught about gunman scenarios, and how to listen when an adult tells them to run or hide.

"If you don't know how to lock your door under low stress, you're not going to be able to lock your door during go time," Dinse told HuffPost. "The quicker the school can respond to protect themselves, the less likely they are to have casualties. Without that training, you just have chaos."


In this Aug. 13, 2013 photo, police officers participating in an active-shooter drill move down a hallway in a college classroom building in Salisbury, Md. (AP Photo/Patrick Semansky)

There have been 44 school shootings on K-12 and college campuses since the December 2012 massacre at Sandy Hook Elementary School, according to an analysis released recently by the anti-gun advocacy group Moms Demand Action. This figure includes assaults, homicides, suicides and unintentional shootings.

Such statistics make Dinse and others wonder why active shooter drills aren’t treated like fire drills -- at least in California, the most populous state in the nation. Dinse, who has two young children, knows he can’t enact change through the legislative process as an LAPD officer, so he’s hoping his community meetings will increase awareness.

The federal government does not explicitly recommend that schools conduct active-shooter drills, but a 2013 guide to school emergency plans published by the FBI and the U.S. Departments of Education and Homeland Security provides a few guidelines on incorporating them into emergency plans. Given the leeway, most school districts are left to decide on their own if and how to integrate active shooter drills.

Currently, 25 states, including Illinois, Florida, Texas, Minnesota and Virginia, have laws that explicitly mandate schools practice some form of drill for human-caused threats, such as shootings or bombs, according to the Education Commission of the States, a bipartisan research nonprofit. Thirty-two states have laws that mandate some kind of emergency drill beyond fire, earthquake or tornado, but leave the definition up to local entities, a rep from the National Conference of State Legislatures said to HuffPost. A recent bill that would have required law enforcement lockdown drills in California schools failed to move forward in the Legislature because it was flagged for its potential to add costs to California's already multimillion dollar mandate for annual school safety plans.


New Washington, Ohio, Chief of Police Scott Robertson talks with fourth-grade students as they huddle in closet a during a lockdown drill at the St. Bernard School, Jan. 14, 2013. A month after the shootings at Sandy Hook Elementary School, St. Bernard Principal Susan Maloy decided to hold lockdown drills each month to increase school security. (AP Photo/Craig Ruttle)

It's that cost, both in time and financial resources, that makes criminologist Jessamyn Tracy skeptical about comparing active-shooter drills to fire drills. Tracy, who recently helped develop a report for the Department of Justice on crime trends, believes active-shooter drills may do more harm than good. They could take resources from crime-prevention issues that affect children the most, such as physical assault and sexual victimization, she said.

"The chance that someone could face a fire is reasonable," said Tracy to HuffPost, "But the chance that any one person is going to be involved in a mass shooting -- whether in school or out of school -- is incredibly low." For instance, the DOJ crime report states that 71 percent of U.S. teens aged 14-17 have been assaulted, 32 percent had been maltreated and 28 percent were sexually victimized at some point in their lifetime. By contrast, mass shooting incidents (in which four or more people are killed) were responsible for less than 90 deaths out of about 12,000 homicides in the U.S. during 2012, according to PolicyMic.com.

And since research on how active-shooter drills impact children is still in its infancy, districts could be making decisions with unforeseen consequences for children and schools.

Examples of children traumatized during such drills are surfacing around the country. Last December, administrators at a middle school in Austin, Texas, surprised their staff and students with an unannounced active-shooter drill that involved emergency teams rattling doorknobs and beating on doors, as if they were trying to break into classrooms. Both children and teachers screamed and cried during the drill because they thought it was real, reported Texas Monthly, and one teacher "had a complete meltdown," the article detailed. In Manhattan, Kan., an active-shooter drill that involved law enforcement inspections reportedly gave at least one young student nightmares about being killed by a "bad guy," reported The New York Times.

But a study published in 2007 in School Psychology Review suggests that there are certain best practices that shield children from harmful psychological effects while still teaching them how to protect themselves.

"We clearly found that if the drill was done like a lesson, and they practiced it, it appeared to increase their knowledge of what to do without increasing their anxiety," said researcher Amanda Nickerson, Ph.D. to HuffPost. "There were no scare tactics, no dramatization, no fake guns and fake blood -- that's a really important distinction."

Nickerson, who is now an associate professor at the University at Buffalo, SUNY, helped develop a guide for the National Association of School Psychologists on conducting crisis drills based on her research (one big no-no: Staff and students must never be tricked into believing the drill is real). But she said more studies are needed to examine active-shooter drills' effects on school children's emotional functioning.

"There really is very little, if any, empirical research on this issue," said Nickerson. "It's sorely needed."


Kindergarten students lie on the floor during a classroom lockdown drill in Oahu, Hawaii. Lockdown procedure is used to protect school children from possible threats on campus such as intruders, terrorism or military attacks. (Photo by Phil Mislinski/Getty Images)

There's also no empirical evidence about whether active-shooter drills actually save lives. To conduct such a study would require "thousands of schools studied for many years," because mass school shootings are so rare, said Dewey Cornell, Ph.D., a threat assessment expert and a professor at the Curry School of Education at the University of Virginia.

Anecdotal evidence from Sandy Hook suggests that the effects of these drills are mixed. The 2012 shooting in Newtown, Conn., is one of the worst mass school shootings in U.S. history, and it happened at a school many considered to have one of the best campus security systems. For instance, just weeks before Adam Lanza carried out the attack, Sandy Hook underwent an active-shooter drill in which teachers covered their classroom door windows with black construction paper to prevent anyone from seeing inside.

It’s that piece of black construction paper, Dinse argued, that saved lives; Lanza reportedly bypassed the classroom that still had the paper taped to the door. However, neither the drill nor the security system prevented Lanza from shooting his way into the school.

But during the Arapahoe High School shooting in Colorado last December, authorities attributed the quick neutralization in part to the school’s “well-rehearsed lockdown practice,” instituted after the 1999 Columbine school shooting, reported CNN. Karl Pierson critically wounded one schoolmate before killing himself, but he had packed enough firepower to do a lot more damage.

Researcher Nils Böckler, editor of the book School Shootings: International Research, Case Studies, and Concepts for Prevention, doesn't deny the need for school emergency plans, but he noted that active-shooter drills could have an unintended and tragic side effect.

"We know that perpetrators often fantasize about their deeds long time before committing them," wrote Böckler in an email to HuffPost. "If they are part of lockdown drills and the like, they will anticipate this in their plans."

In 1998, for example, two students in Jonesboro, Ark., pulled the school fire alarm to trigger an evacuation. As children and teachers streamed out of the building, the boys started shooting, killing five people and injuring nine others before they were caught.

Dinse believes stories about botched shooter drills and the varying effects they've had on staff and students only underscore the need for more comprehensive training. He argues that it doesn't take many resources to teach staff how to lock their doors or cover their class windows.

"There will be more shootings. It's inevitable because we don't pick up on signs of mental illness or bullying," he said. "Help us protect the flock. We’re coming, but you need to step up in schools and classrooms to spread the word.”

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