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Cowbird: Making the Web Better for Humans

Tue, 2014-06-03 07:48
Three years ago, on the eve of unveiling his storytelling and photo-sharing platform, Cowbird, Jonathan Harris called his investors and gave back their $500K investment. Rather than caving into pressure to maximize profitability at the expense of the user experience, Harris stuck to his vision. He launched Cowbird his way: ad-free and passionately committed to genuine interplay among users. Today, it's a thriving community of nearly 70,000 stories and storytellers from 180+ countries who prefer to post stories in formats longer than a Facebook status updates, but briefer than short stories.

This week, Harris rolls out a new and improved Cowbird, with social features that heighten creativity and serendipity among users. User "citizens" can pay a modest membership fee to help fund the site. With this latest version of Cowbird, Harris has refined some of the interface and usability features to make it more like a small town where it's easy to bump into people and get to know them. The search function helps people find authors by roles they play: gardener, business owner, encourager and so on. Finding and sharing stories around life events, troubles, triumphs and concerns is effortless. At most social media platforms it's difficult, if not impossible, to connect with or share with people you haven't already invited into your circle -- it's an echo chamber. But Cowbird encourages chance encounters by referring similar material the same way Amazon does. Popular story lines are extended by daily "seed" story prompts.

While Cowbird is packed with ad-free story telling tools, its hidden asset lies in delivering what many online users secretly crave: a cohesive sense of identity. Most of us have a plethora of identities that we use for various social apps. Not a big deal, right? Until you consider that as we trade more time online for less time out in the world, increasingly the digital realm is where we become who we are. In previous generations, identity was formed through socializing in Cub Scouts and Girl Scouts, or the Moose Lodge or the PTA -- today we cultivate our sense of identity over on Pinterest and Twitter. But these social media sites are insufficient for anyone seeking deeper meaning.

So far, Harris has been able to achieve something remarkable. With very little capital he's tackling the hard, humbling work of engaging people and connecting them to each other based on shared experiences. No matter how overblown the web might seem today, there's still white space. There's still opportunity to capture the attention of millions of people burned out and uninspired by the emptiness of hours spent online using popular social media. It's a triumph of imagination over cynicism about what people want online. And the good vibes radiating out of Cowbird's community are proof that when it comes to knowing ourselves, nothing replaces meaningful human relationships.

Patricia Martin is founder of Chicago-based LitLamp Communications, and author of the forthcoming book on identity in the digital culture.

Chicago Laundromat Shooting Leaves Multiple People Injured

Mon, 2014-06-02 21:30
At least seven people, including a 14-year-old boy, were shot Monday night at a laundromat in Chicago, according to multiple reports.

The Chicago Tribune says the 14-year-old has been taken to a hospital and is in serious-to-critical condition.

This is a developing story. We will post updates as we receive them.

Julia Collins Loses On 'Jeopardy!', Holds No. 2 Spot For Most Consecutive Wins

Mon, 2014-06-02 18:52
LOS ANGELES (AP) — The reign of the winningest female contestant in "Jeopardy!" history has come to an end.

Julia Collins, 31, lost during her 21st appearance on the pre-taped episode that aired Monday. The Chicago-area resident accumulated a total of $428,100 during her 20 victories on the syndicated series. Collins was vanquished by Brian Loughnane, an investment operations manager from Scituate, Massachusetts. Collins went into the final-question showdown in second place, bet everything and lost it.

Loughnane, who is from Ireland, won $22,600.

The clue that stumped her: The New England writer who in 1999 became the last person to win an Oscar for adapting his own novel as a screenplay. She failed to answer with the correct question: Who is John Irving? His novel and film are titled "The Cider House Rules."

Monday's game overall "just didn't go my way," Collins said in a phone interview, adding, "I couldn't have loved being on the show more."

Host Alex Trebek's salute to Collins after her streak ended: "Well done, young lady."

Collins said she was glad her record might serve as an example of female achievement.

"If it helps dispel the idea that women aren't as good 'Jeopardy!' players as men, that would be great," she said. "It's good to see women being applauded for being smart."

Her winnings helped finance a dream trip to Paris, where she rented an apartment for a month. Some may fund future travel adventures, Collins said.

The management consultant, who's been enjoying a hiatus thanks to "Jeopardy!", said she plans to get back into the work world.

The previous top female player for consecutive wins was Stephanie Jass, who took seven games in a row in season 29. Collins displaced her and Larissa Kelly, who was No. 1 in total winnings with $222,597.

Collins holds the No. 2 spot for most consecutive wins behind all-time "Jeopardy!" champ Ken Jennings. He won 74 straight games in season 21 for a total prize of $2.5 million.

She is the third-highest money winner for non-tournament play on "Jeopardy!" behind Jennings and Dave Madden, who won $430,400.

Future "Jeopardy!" contestants might want to consider her advice: Practice your buzzer technique so you can beat out your usually-knowledgeable competitors, and restrain yourself from guessing at answers.

And stay calm.

"I was more relaxed than I thought I would be" when she first played, Collins said. "I thought I was going to have a little 'deer in the headlights' experience. ... I tried not to put too much pressure on myself, not worrying about things I don't know. "

Collins will be back for the "Jeopardy!" tournament of champions next season.


Lynn Elber is a national television columnist for The Associated Press. She can be reached at and on Twitter at

The 2015 Illinois Budget Is Ridiculous, and Here's 15 Reasons Why

Mon, 2014-06-02 17:10
The 2015 Illinois budget absurdity and hypocrisy knows few bounds.

Yes, there was no vote to raise taxes, making the 5 percent rate permanent. That will make for easier re-election campaigns for supermajority Democrats. Yes, the $100 million in taxpayer funds House Speaker Michael Madigan had proposed to sweeten the bid for an Obama Presidential Library never was approved.

But, back to absurdity and hypocrisy. Here are the facts to remember:

  1. The state is more than $5 billion behind in paying its bills.

  2. It has the worst credit rating of any state.

  3. It has the worst unfunded pension liability of any state.

  4. There was not enough support for raising taxes, nor was their enough support for a doomsday budget. Still, lawmakers approved a $35.7 billion budget.

  5. Madigan and Senate President John Cullerton acknowledge that this budget borrows $650 million from special funds that will drive up the bills taxpayers ultimately must fund.

  6. This budget postpones paying $380 million state worker health insurance bills that taxpayers ultimately must fund.

  7. This budget diverts $650 million in funds that had been going to pay down unpaid bills that taxpayers ultimately must fund.

  8. Yet, lawmakers voted to start paying themselves again for 12 furlough days they had been taking. In other words, they boosted their own pay by $3,100 to $67,836 per lawmaker. Most actually are paid closer to $78,000 for their part-time jobs because most of them get another $10,000 for committee chairmanships.

  9. In the spending plans approved before politicians adjourned was $10 million to renovate the Uptown Theatre in Chicago.

  10. There was $35 million to build a grade school in Madigan's district.

  11. There was $500,000 for a car racetrack near St. Louis.

  12. There is a bill that could allow Chicago Mayor Rahm Emanuel to raise cell phone taxes by $1.40 per month.

  13. The budget includes $50 million in funds for Chicago Public Schools and another $50 million in back pay owed state workers.

  14. There's money authorized, according to the Chicago Tribune, for more Capitol renovations, for the Glen Ellyn Park District, a Puerto Rican Cultural Center, a Little League in Blue Island, windows for a Chicago church and more.

  15. Both Democratic Gov. Pat Quinn and Republican nominee Bruce Rauner already are using the budget crisis to try to raise campaign funds and support. Quinn wanted a permanent tax increase. Rauner has refused to provide details for how he would solve the crisis.

And how are we, the taxpayers, going to pay for all of this spending and borrowing and postponing of bill paying? "While a vote on our tax rates has been deferred, rising costs and pressures will force the issue at a later date," Cullerton said.

Yes, absurdity and hypocrisy in the 2015 Illinois budget knows few bounds. And we, the taxpayers, will get the bills.

NEXT ARTICLE: $12.3 million in Illinois Medicaid payments for dead people, audit finds

  1. Only in Illinois: Meet the new chairman of the Illinois Republican Party

  2. An Illinois budget, no tax increase and a creaking political limb

  3. Charting each state's unfunded public pension liabilities

  4. No salary streamlining for superintendents at Cook County school districts

  5. Stop increased spending and permanent tax increase

Turn it Off: Cell Phones and Concert Culture

Mon, 2014-06-02 16:44
By Zach Silva

My friends and I had never been to Wicker Park before. We were told that as fans of “hipster” culture, we would be right at home among the old record and book stores and trendy eateries.

We were in town for a concert at the Double Door -- Canadian rockers Reignwolf were returning to Chicago after an explosive performance at last summer’s Lollapalooza festival in Grant Park. After standing outside for close to an hour before doors opened, we finally were released into the dark innards of the venue, the only light coming from an ironic disco ball hanging in front of the tiny stage.

We were front row -- our eardrums would punish us for days afterwards. Nothing could compare to what we were going to experience. We knew we would become part of lead singer and guitarist Jordan Cook’s stage antics, from holding his bass drum in place to absorbing the sweat he unleashed all over the first few rows of the crowd. (There should seriously be a “Splash Zone” warning at all of their gigs.)

The roadies put the final touches on Reignwolf’s equipment as a lady was pushing through to our left.

“Can I come forward for a second, I’d just like to take a picture with his bass drum.”

No big deal, people always take photos at shows, I figured. Everybody else was also snapping a pre-show picture. She had a fellow fan snap a photo, but instead of returning to her previous place in the crowd, she remained up front. Some people weren’t too happy with that, but we just laughed at their gullibility and returned our gaze to the smoking amp stacks.

The lights dimmed and Reignwolf’s guitar reverberated through the bar, merch table, lounge, Wicker Park. At that very moment, my friends and I knew we would be in for a ride. Nothing we would experience in our lives from that moment on would top this. Yet at that very moment, this lady, who had so desperately pushed to be up front, pulled out her cell phone and began recording the show. The phone would not return to her pocket until Cook’s final chords rang out.

Taking pictures and recording songs are common practices among concertgoers. According to T-Mobile, 47 percent of any given audience text others during a show, while 32 percent engage in social media during a show. In an age where over half of the adult population in the United States owns a smartphone, these numbers are pretty astounding, especially when considering small concert venues like Chicago’s own Metro or Lincoln Hall. Cool moments on stage (Jeff Beck wailing away to “A Day in the Life” in a glowing spotlight) or even photos of my favorite musicians (Annie Clark of St. Vincent) have moved me to snap the moment for posterity. I’m not surprised that my classmates whipped out their devices to capture 2 Chainz and Chance the Rapper's sets this past weekend at Dillo Day.

More recently, I’ve ditched my camera or phone for what I think is the best lens to experience a concert: my eyes and ears. I get it, you want to be like James Murphy, to be able to say “I was there.” But you also want a show that you can tell your grandkids about years down the line. Can you get that through a tiny digitalized reenactment of the show? Probably not.

“It’s part of a wider temptation to really go around an aquarium and instead of looking at the fish you take photos of the fish so that you can then show your friends and pretend you understand what a barramundi is,” Yannis Philippakis of rock band Foals said in an interview.

Concertgoers are now just as content watching live concerts through their phones or camera screens as they would be enjoying the concert without the technological temptation. In the old days, these same people (or, most likely, their parents) were covertly plugging their cheap audio devices into the venue’s soundboard, which they distributed online as bootlegs. Of course, this would evolve into sacred bootleg recordings that caught incredible musical moments and as concerts become more visually impressive, one could argue that phones and cameras are serving a similar purpose. The only difference is that phones and cameras are more obtrusive to the artist’s and to fellow fans. Moreover, professional photo equipment is already banned from most, if not all, venues, and the impressive lights at these shows don’t look so great through smartphone quality camera-phones.

Further, those concertgoers are blocking those around them for what? A couple out-of-focus pictures or a jumbled mosaic of unintelligible pixels and a song that is basically unrecognizable. YouTube is becoming littered with low-quality footage of shows that probably spoils the element of surprise for other fans who plan on attending a show in the future. Everybody experiences the show differently, and no single photo or video makes you any more special than the kid in the Pink Floyd t-shirt standing next to you.

It’s to the point where iTunes and Spotify could give you a similar thrill and the concertgoer becomes oblivious to the true power of the moment. Would these same people think of taking their cameras out during an opera or Broadway performance? Why would that be considered bad taste but concert phone usage is acceptable? Just because concerts are not as formal doesn’t mean the same respect for the artists doesn’t apply.

For those of you who may not be completely in tune with concert culture, who might be rolling your eyes every time I mention the “experience” or “power of the moment,” studies have shown just how powerful concerts can be for the human psyche. Yes, it's the "You had to be there to understand" cliche, but studies show that concerts do have a powerful effect on us. Aside from a therapeutic purpose, music can be psychologically profound.

“We see the coercive power of music... at rock concerts where thousands of people, as one, may be taken over, engulfed or entrained by the music, just as the beat of war drums can incite extreme martial excitement and solidarity,” wrote famous author and neurologist Oliver Sacks in an article for Oxford Journal.

At the same time, psychologist Linda Henkel discovered a “photo-taking impairment effect,” where reliance on photo-taking devices leads to less memory of the items or moments you take photos of. Depending on this “external memory aid” allows you to transfer all your efforts to remember the show to a memory card.

A Firebird mandolin?!?! I had never expected to see someone play an electric mandolin the way Jordan Cook was.

The woman to our left was being stubborn. She was recording every song and sending them to a friend, but none of the messages were making it through. I had noted right before the set started that my phone was struggling to get service, so I just decided to shut it off for the night. But her phone was just so obviously obstructive to my view and other’s views, and she didn’t give a damn.

To our right, another woman, this one a little bit younger, had her phone out too. It was almost an unspoken competition between the two, to see who could record the most songs from the show. She was also obviously inebriated to the point where negotiating with her was not an option. Jordan Cook was on to the solo part of his show, where he

drums and shreds at the same time in an act of incredible musical ability. But we were getting a little bit angry because of how the ignorance of our crowd-mates was affecting how we were taking in the show.

It’s disrespectful to everyone around you. I’m not saying that every single recording device should be powered off for the entirety of the show, because I personally think a few photos isn’t that big of a deal. I’m mainly referring to those who have their phones or cameras out for most of the concert. Taking photos of every single cool moment or recording every single one of your favorite songs is disruptive to those around you and it ultimately ruins your own experience. I’ve even seen groups of friends texting each other or texting other friends about the show, during the show. The glow from these pointless messages can really be distracting and when the people behind you, you demonic device-wielder, ask for the phones to be put away, you should grant them visual peace.

It’s disrespectful to your favorite artists. Some bands actually do encourage the use of these devices during their shows. Official band contests for the best concert photos or even tweeting at the band for encore requests are actually somewhat common. Most importantly, smaller bands like seeing this amateur footage on YouTube and Facebook gaining views and likes in a pseudo-grassroots promotion. Social media can really be useful and lucrative for many artists.

As Beyoncé herself said at a recent concert, “You’ve gotta seize the moment! Put that damn camera down!" From what I’ve seen and read, artists generally prefer their fans put away any recording devices during their performances. Two of the recent concerts I’ve seen (Neutral Milk Hotel and St. Vincent) had moments at the beginning of the show where the artist specifically asked their fans to ditch their devices to “keep everyone in the moment,” as Jeff Mangum so kindly put it. As Annie Clark ran out on stage to take her place, cameras and phones popped up instantly, eliciting an instant and loud berating from my friend and others who wanted to respect St. Vincent’s request. A notable recent case was the Yeah Yeah Yeahs’ plea on the door of the concert venue for the audience to put away their smart devices. I think it's pretty ironic when these artists write songs about digital brainwash and the overuse of such devices, but the meaning seems to breeze over their fans' outstretched camera phones.

What are some solutions? It wouldn’t be fair to have enormous bouncers chase around every single person that whips out their iPhone, much like a manic Lucille Ball trying to wrap every piece of chocolate that makes its way down the conveyor belt. Aside from any technological experiments (devices on-stage to block photo or video), a lot of different options have been tested. Many venues already prohibit professional recording devices and the use of flash. Several big bands offer their official concert audio for reasonable prices. Music festivals even stream their concerts for days or weeks after the show as a way to allow festival audiences to re-watch their experience in a high-quality, easy-to-access manner. Bands even release concert DVDs -- ; Led Zeppelin’s Celebration Day, LCD Soundsystem’s Shut Up And Play The Hits -- ; or concert footage on their YouTube channels. (In which, you can see glowing smartphones littered throughout the crowd, ironically enough.)

Perhaps our consumer culture is too self-obsessed beyond repair. We only care about our own experience, without necessarily taking others into consideration. We take photos and video of concerts to show off to our friends, to tell them that we had the ability to attend a concert. According to a Ticketmaster and Live Nation study, men and women between 18-34 (that's us!) make up nearly half of all concert crowds, while half of fans attended a concert at a club or theatre, which constitutes the majority of Chicago area music venues. I get it. In an age of Snapchat and YikYak, it’s hard for us to stay focused.

I’ve been there -- I’ve taken photos at every concert I’ve been to, video at a few, but I’ve only recently realized the harm to my own experience and the experience of those around me. When I was a lot younger, I would record my favorite songs live in concert, only to revisit them months later and realize how horrible the quality was.

Jordan Cook dropped his soaked towel at the front of the stage. We reacted too slowly and another fan grabbed it first. She looked it over and turned to us.

“Here. I can tell you guys are real fans,” she said.

She glanced over to those taking photos of the aftermath, obviously implying that because we weren't on our "smart" devices the entire time, we actually enjoyed the music.

Our eyes lit up as we grasped the sweaty towel in probably the only time in my life I was excited to touch someone else’s dirty laundry. We started our drive home.

“I can die happy now,” my friend Grant said. It was his first real rock concert. “But, you know, those people with their phones out were annoying. I don’t think they experienced the show the way we did.”

Jon Hamm's <em>Million Dollar Arm</em>: Fun, Family-Friendly Flick (Finally)

Mon, 2014-06-02 15:47
How can you get five inches of rain in just an hour in May in the Midwest? On May 28, 2014, to be exact. Dined at a restaurant for a few hours, only to return to our farmhouse set back from the street on some acreage, looking like it was about to float away.

Creeks had overflowed. Dirty, muddy water everywhere, way too high to drive through. Actually, impossible to drive through because you wouldn't get through it. You'd lose your car in it. And yourself. Interstate 75 shut down in both directions. Stranded at a Speedway gas station. Couldn't get in the house, couldn't get out of town.

By the way, this flood had not been forecast.

When Interstate 75 was re-opened after several hours, but only in one direction, I was told by law enforcement officers directing traffic that I could return to my house in another few hours. That the water would recede by then. Fat chance, I thought. They hadn't seen my house and the new moat around it.

So I went to the movies to pass the time. To the 10:15 P.M. showing of Million Dollar Arm, a show I had vowed not to see. It had gotten so-so reviews, and I had seen other Hamm films, only because they were Hamm films, and had not been impressed. Maybe Hamm is a comedian in real life, but he is not funny on film or on TV. Friends with Kids, Bridesmaids, Saturday Night Live hosting, not funny.

Long story short, I only saw Million Dollar Arm because a muddy moat around my house, left me with no place to go except the movies. It is said that God works in mysterious ways. This is a fun film. Not only is it a great family film. It is a great film to see with anyone.

Hamm plays a version of Mad Men's Don Draper which is why he is so good in Million Dollar Arm. That's the Jon Hamm, America fell in love with. That's the Jon Hamm America wants to see on film. He's our generation's Cary Grant, Gregory Peck, John Gavin --all rolled into one. Heck, he could play Mitt Romney even. Just saying. Instead, of trying to prove how versatile he is, he should go with what works for him and for us, his audience. A redeemable cad with a heart of gold who is easy on the eyes.

Alan Arkin plays the rusty, crusty baseball scout and is superb as always. Has Arkin ever turned in a less than perfect performance? Because if he has, I don't want to know about it.

Lake Bell and Hamm have great chemistry. She is so underrated. She gave a great performance in Its Complicated married to Alec Baldwin, and still waiting for her 2013 film, In a World to come to a movie theater in my neck of the woods.

Let's face it. Million Dollar Arm is as good as Brad Pitt's Moneyball. For those of you not into baseball, not to worry. The kids being recruited from India in the film to pitch for professional teams in America, aren't into baseball either. However, after many twists and turns, they end up fulfilling their dreams. Come on, it's a Disney movie so I'm not spoiling anything. Everyone knows that every Disney movie has a happy ending. And if you find some that don't, again, I don't want to know.

Let's just say not everyone can play for the Cubs or Sox or even the Cards, but the two prospects come close. The beauty of it all, is it's based on a true story. So, don't run out when the credits start rolling because that's when the photos of the real prospects and their lives are displayed on-screen. Sometimes, they do save the best for last!

See this movie. Take your family. Take your grandparents. Heck, take the in-laws. Take colleagues you want to succeed in business without even trying. Take Mad Men actor Robert Morse who just left the show. Just kidding. Maybe not. And maybe you'll learn a thing or two about baseball that you didn't know already. Plus you get to see Jon Hamm, doing what he does best (with Lake Bell, no less), keeping it PG.

Republican Candidate Still Refuses To Admit His Stance On State's Gay Marriage Law

Mon, 2014-06-02 15:04
One day after a new Illinois law allowing same-sex marriage went into effect, LGBT advocates lashed out against Republican gubernatorial candidate Bruce Rauner over his apparent opposition to marriage equality and his unwillingness to clarify his position on the issue in detail.

At a Monday press conference at Daley Plaza in Chicago, advocates criticized Rauner for stating last December that he would have vetoed the marriage equality bill had it come to his desk as governor in an audio clip shared by the Capitol Fax political blog.

Marriage equality advocates associated with Equality Illinois, Lambda Legal, The Civil Rights Agenda and other groups, as well as several elected officials and community leaders, signed onto an open letter criticizing Rauner distributed Sunday. (Read the full letter embedded below.)

"Rauner, the Republican candidate for governor, claims to be a social moderate," the letter read. "We know the real Bruce Rauner. His administration would very likely be working behind-the-scenes to block new legislation and erode the existing laws protecting our families."

Marriage equality advocates are also pointing out that Rauner's running mate, Wheaton City Council member Evelyn Sanguinetti, has also expressed her belief in "the traditional definition" of marriage -- suggesting she is opposed to same-sex marriage.

In response to the criticism, Rauner spokesman Mike Schrimpf told the Chicago Tribune that "Bruce doesn't have a social issues agenda, and doesn't have an agenda to change the law on gay marriage."

Rauner told the Chicago Sun-Times last June he feels his personal view on same-sex marriage is "irrelevant" and that the issue is best decided by voters, rather than lawmakers, a position his spokesman reemphasized Monday.

Rauner's opponent in the general election, Democratic Gov. Pat Quinn, has been a vocal supporter of marriage equality and on Monday attended a ceremony and reception at Chicago's Museum of Contemporary Art where more than a dozen same-sex couples wed.

Bruce Rauner Gay Marriage Letter

Americans Can't Even Stomach An Apology For Slavery, Much Less Reparations

Mon, 2014-06-02 14:40
In a cover story in The Atlantic last week, Ta-Nehisi Coates built a powerful argument for the U.S. government making reparations to black Americans, not just for the impact of slavery but also for the generations of legalized (and in some cases legally mandated) discrimination that made it impossible for most black families to amass wealth.

But a new set of HuffPost/YouGov polls suggests that most Americans aren't prepared to take the step of making reparations, either for slavery alone or for the century-plus of institutionalized racism that followed.

In one survey, Americans said by a 68 percent to 15 percent margin that the government should not make payments to black Americans who are the descendants of slaves. Americans were somewhat more likely to say they would support reparations for slavery if they came in the form of education or job training programs, but still rejected the idea by a 57 percent to 27 percent margin. Public opinion on the issue appears unchanged in the past decade: In a CNN/USA Today/Gallup poll conducted in 2002, just 14 percent of Americans said they would support making cash payments to slaves' descendants.

Factoring in the systemic discrimination that followed for more than a century after slavery's end does little or nothing to budge Americans' opinions. In a second HuffPost/YouGov poll, Americans said by a 69 percent to 15 percent margin that the government should not make cash payments to black Americans "to make up for the impact of slavery and discriminatory policies that continued into the 20th century." By a 51 percent to 33 percent margin, most said they don't support job training or education programs for African-Americans to make up for that combined impact.

The polls were conducted among a group of Americans chosen to reflect racial and other demographics on a national scale.

Nearly half of Americans said the present-day wealth gap between blacks and whites is something that can be attributed to slavery, although an almost equal amount disagreed with that idea. A higher number of Americans said they believed the wealth gap is a result of the years of systemic discrimination that followed slavery's abolition.

In the initial poll, a combined 46 percent said that slavery was a major factor (20 percent) or a minor factor (26 percent) in explaining the current wealth disparity between blacks and whites, but 44 percent said it wasn't a factor at all. Meanwhile, a combined 64 percent said that past discrimination against blacks is a major factor in that gap (34 percent) or a minor factor (30 percent), while only 28 percent said it wasn't a factor at all.

Looking at just African-American respondents, on the other hand, 75 percent said slavery was a factor in explaining the racial wealth gap, including 48 percent who said it was a major factor. Similarly, 87 percent of African-Americans said past discrimination was a cause of the wealth gap, including 62 percent who said it was a major factor.

Overall, the surveys found a significant gulf between black and white Americans on reparations. In the second survey, 58 percent of black Americans, but only 9 percent of white Americans, said they would support cash reparations to make up for the combined effects of slavery and and post-Civil War discriminatory public policy. Seventy-six percent of black Americans and only 27 percent of white Americans said they would support education and job training programs.

As a whole, Americans were also divided over another instance of reparations in our own history -- the legislation passed in the 1980s to compensate Japanese-Americans who were forced into internment camps during World War II. In the first poll, 37 percent of Americans said the government should have made these payments, while 41 percent said it should not have.

The poll did find that Americans support reparations in certain cases -- for example, more than half of respondents said the German government was right to pay reparations to Jews who survived the Holocaust. But it may be the case that Americans view both slavery and post-slavery discrimination as being too far in the past to warrant a reparations program. The initial HuffPost/YouGov poll shows that when it comes to the difficulties black people face in buying houses, taking out loans and getting a quality education, more Americans view these as problems of the past than as current problems. (A somewhat higher number of respondents said that discrimination by police and the criminal justice system are indeed current problems.)

On the other hand, Americans are divided and uncertain over whether they would have supported reparations for slavery even immediately after it was abolished. In a third HuffPost/YouGov poll, 37 percent of Americans said the government should have made cash payments to freed slaves after the end of slavery, 31 percent said it should not have, and 32 percent said they weren't sure.

And in the initial poll, even a more general reckoning with the shadow of slavery on America's past received little support. Only 28 percent of respondents to that poll said they thought the U.S. government should apologize for slavery, while 54 percent said it should not. (The House of Representatives passed a resolution apologizing for slavery in 2008 and the Senate followed suit in 2009, but differences over language rejecting reparations in the Senate bill mean that the U.S. Congress has never issued a joint apology.)

Of course, it is possible Americans could experience a change of heart on the issue -- in his article, Coates himself notes that he is a recent convert to the cause of reparations. But supporters of reparations have a long way to go.

The HuffPost/YouGov polls were conducted May 23-27, May 27-28, and May 28-29, each among 1,000 U.S. adults using a sample selected from YouGov's opt-in online panel to match the demographics and other characteristics of the adult U.S. population. Factors considered include age, race, gender, education, employment, income, marital status, number of children, voter registration, time and location of Internet access, interest in politics, religion and church attendance.

The Huffington Post has teamed up with YouGov to conduct daily opinion polls. You can learn more about this project and take part in YouGov's nationally representative opinion polling. Data from all HuffPost/YouGov polls can be found here.

Vote on What Lawmakers Should Do With the State Income Tax Now That They've Passed an 'Absurd' Budget

Mon, 2014-06-02 14:21

Lawmakers were able to pass a budget before the spring session ended. What's missing from that budget, however, is any indication of what will happen after the income tax hike expires Jan. 1. It appears lawmakers are kicking that can down the road, at least until the November election has come and gone.

So what happens now with the income tax vote? Well, key lawmakers claim it will come up for a vote after the November election. Why wait until then to make your voice heard? Take our poll now asking if the temporary income tax hike in Illinois should be made permanent.

Meanwhile, looking back at that state budget, what is up with that? The state budget, currently awaiting the signature of Gov. Pat Quinn, is filled with absurdities. We found 15 of them, in fact.

The bottom line: It'll cost you and make our already bleak financial situation in Illinois worse. One example: this budget diverts $650 million away from funds set up to pay down unpaid bills. Unpaid bills that eventually need to be paid, by you. Wait until you read No. 8 on our list.

It's another example of Springfield politicians kicking the can farther down the road. Legislative leaders insist lawmakers eventually will have to vote on the income tax in Illinois, but thanks to budget gimmicks, that vote will come after the November election. In other words, late enough so politicians avoid angering voters before their election fate is sealed.

Unreal? Sad, but true. Check out the 15 different ways this budget is absurd.

Grain-Free Pet Food Trend a Hoax?

Mon, 2014-06-02 13:55
Today I started thinking about the grain-free pet food trend that is currently in vogue. First, I wondered how this craze evolved. I know it definitely did not originate in the professional veterinary community. I speculate that this movement was triggered in part by a pet food company's advertising campaign to generate a buzz around their unique pet food. I also suspect this pet food fad may be tied to the 2007 pet food contamination of wheat gluten with melamine, an industrial chemical used to make plastic. This tragic situation caused thousands of pets to become ill and many died of kidney failure. I believe pet food buyers felt betrayed by the big food companies and were actively looking for alternative diets.

What are grains? Grains are seeds of grasses cultivated for food, called cereals. The most common grains are wheat, rice, oats, corn, barley, millet, oatmeal, and quinoa. All grains are a good source of carbohydrates, which provide the body with energy. A grain seed is composed of a hard outer layer, called the bran, which is a good source of fiber. The inner portion, called the endosperm, provides a rich source of starch. The reproductive part of the seed is called the germ which has the potential to germinate into a new plant. The germ is a good source of micronutrients, like vitamin E, folic acid, magnesium and phosphorous. If the entire grain seed is used in food it is called whole grain. If it is processed, some of the nutritious elements may be lost and it will be labeled refined grain food.

Are all grains nutritionally created equal? No, grains vary in their nutritional composition and their health benefit is dependent on whether they have been processed or not. Some grains are higher in protein, like quinoa. Some grains are higher in fiber, like bulgur. Some grains have a higher content of anti-oxidizing agents, like yellow corn.

Should the average, healthy pet be on a grain-free diet? Not necessarily. Most dogs do great on dry pet foods that contain grains. In fact, some pets do better on diets with grains because of their high fiber content. When choosing a diet, I look for the Association of American Feed Control Official (AAFCO) seal of approval that tells me that the diet is nutritionally complete and balanced. In addition, I carefully read the ingredient list. I tend to gravitate to diets that have a single meat source with a few easily identifiable ingredients - it makes it easier later to identify and avoid ingredients should a pet experience diarrhea or have an adverse reaction. Whether a diet contains grains or not, is not a top criterion for me when it comes to selecting a diet for the average, healthy pet.

Can a pet be allergic to all grains? Absolutely not. Grains are antigentically distinct. It would be foolish to eliminate all grains from one's diet on the basis of an allergic reaction to one. Although it is unusual to be allergic to rice, it would not mean that the patient is also allergic to corn, or vice versa. The top three allergic provoking ingredients in cats are beef, dairy and fish. The top five allergic provoking ingredients in dogs, in descending order, are beef, dairy, wheat, chicken and egg.

Is it true that dogs are not designed to eat grains? No, dogs can digest grains. Your pet dog is not genetically equivalent to the ancient wolf that he arose from. The precise timing and location of this transformation is unknown but it is speculated to have occurred over tens of thousands of years ago. What is known, however, is that there are numerous genetic variations, or mutations, between the ancient wolf and our pet dog. In fact, to date, 10 key genes have been identified that demonstrate our domesticated dogs' increased ability to digest starch and fat relative to his ancient predecessor, the wolf. It is speculated that these mutations allowed the early ancestors of the modern dog to thrive on the discarded wheat and other crop products of early farmers and led to their domestication.

Will grains in my pet's dog food trigger mite allergies? A 2008 study, led by Spanish researcher and veterinarian Pilar Brazis, found two out of the 10 commercial dry dog foods studied by her group had storage mites. When the opened bags of food were stored for five weeks at 23 degrees Celsius and roughly 70 percent humidity (optimum environmental conditions for storage mite development), they discovered nine out of the 10 bags of dry dog food contained storage mites. Storage mites are a potential allergen for dogs. However, exposure to mites does not necessarily precipitate allergies. Very few pets suffer from mite allergies and therefore your healthy pet should not be harmed by the unintentional ingestion of a storage mite. To avoid this mite concern, however, I would recommend keeping pet food in a dry, cool environment and disposing of unused opened dry food every month.

Are genetically modified grains dangerous to my pet? Genetically modified grains are antigentically different from naturally occurring grains. One could speculate that by introducing a new ingredient into a pet's diet that it could potentially provoke an allergic response. However, have you ever tried a new ingredient and enjoyed the taste without any ill consequence?

Some argue that feeding genetically modified grains to our pets will create small fissures in the lining of the gastrointestinal resulting in the "leaky gut syndrome." Although not substantiated yet in the scientific community, it is feared by some that these fissures allow bacteria, toxins, incompletely digested proteins and fats to abnormally leak out of the intestine into the bloodstream. It is speculated that these elements, not normally found in the blood stream, trigger an autoimmune reaction resulting in bloating, gas, food sensitivities, fatigue, and skin rashes. This theory has not been proven and is truly speculative at this time.

If your pet is experiencing diarrhea, abdominal discomfort or having a skin problem, please consult your veterinarian for advice. Your veterinarian may suggest a unique protein food trial for eight to 12 weeks to see if food allergies or dietary intolerance is the reason your pet is not feeling well.

Do some pets benefit from a grain-free diet? Absolutely. Some dogs do benefit from grain-free diets but definitely not to the magnitude the pet food industry would lead you to believe. Some pets have allergies to specific grains and some pets have dietary intolerance to specific grains. There is no breed, sex, or age predilection. Pets with food allergies will usually display their symptoms by rubbing their face and ears, or by licking their paws or anus. Surprisingly, some pets with food allergies may have normal appearing stools. In contrast, pets with intestinal dietary intolerance do not normally process or absorb the ingredients in their pet food and frequently present with diarrhea. Most pets with food allergies or dietary intolerance have more than three bowel movements per day.

In conclusion, today I do not believe or support the grain-free pet food notion for all dogs. It is possible, however, in the future that a new piece of information may arise that may adjust my opinion. What I do know currently is that the regulation of the pet food industry and its advertising claims must improve. What we desperately need is more scientific research and non-biased analysis to make the best nutrition decisions for not only our pets but also ourselves.

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

9 Famous Geniuses Who Were Also Huge Coffee Addicts

Mon, 2014-06-02 12:38
You can't even make it out of the house without a double cappuccino, and you can't survive that two o'clock meeting without your trusty espresso shot. Oh, and sure, you've read the conflicting evidence about the health benefits of your coffee consumption, and the possible health risks of overindulging... but you can't afford to waste time yawning your way through life, right?

But if you suspect that you're going overboard with your coffee addiction, you're certainly not alone. In fact, some of the most successful and acclaimed human beings to ever walk the planet were totally, sometimes painfully, nuts for coffee. Just ask these guys:

1. Johann Sebastian Bach wrote a short opera about coffee obsession.

The famed Baroque composer and pianist was also a notable coffee fiend. Though he's not well regarded for his humor, he turned an amusing poem by his frequent collaborator, Picander, into The Coffee Cantata in 1732. The cantata mocked public outcry about the rise of the Vienna coffeehouse scene. At the time, coffee was regarded as a dangerous societal "vice."

2. Ludwig Van Beethoven took his coffee with exactly 60 beans per cup.

The notoriously temperamental Beethoven once asked the above question wryly after frightening away an unwelcome companion. The famed composer was obsessive about his coffee, and would count by hand 60 beans per cup, according to his biographer.

3. Benjamin Franklin hung out at coffee shops before it was cliche.

While living in London, Franklin lived the sweet life of the coffee shop freelancer, where he would hold political meetings, play chess and just hang out listening to good conversations. He even instructed his sister to send his mail to his favorite London coffee shop. Ever the industrious businessman, Franklin sold his own coffee beans, and he advised never embarking on a boat travel without one's own coffee provisions, as the captain might run out.

4. Voltaire is said to have drank 40-50 cups of coffee a day.

Voltaire, the famous satirist who wrote "Candide," is perhaps one of the most avid coffee addicts in history. He reportedly consumed somewhere between 40 and 50 cups of joe a day, apparently of a chocolate-coffee mixture. He lived into his eighties, though his doctor warned him that his beloved coffee would kill him.

5. Søren Kierkegaard took his coffee with approximately 30 sugar cubes, give or take a giant scoop.

Danish philosopher Søren Kierkegaard was quite particular about his coffee preparations, piling a mountain of sugar into his cup, then pouring black coffee in to dissolve it. He also had 50 different coffee cups, and he would ask his secretary to select one, and give a valid philosophical reason for his choice. The above quote is from his personal writings.

6. Teddy Roosevelt drank a gallon of coffee a day.

The 26th U.S. president would typically add five to seven lumps of sugar to the drink, though he eventually switched to saccharine.

7. L. Frank Baum had four or five cups of coffee with cream and sugar each morning.

The beloved writer and creator of the Wizard of Oz series relied on his morning joe to get his creativity flowing. He'd drink with breakfast upon rising at 8 a.m.

8. Margaret Atwood has her own coffee line.

The Canadian poet lent her name to a Balzac’s Coffee Roasters’ "Bird Friendly" blend to raise money for Canada’s Pelee Island Bird Observatory. Atwood's breakfast consists solely of coffee, with cream or steamed milk, and she enjoys the occasional espresso shot.

9. David Lynch has anywhere from four to seven cups of coffee a day -- with plenty of sugar.

Noted coffee aficionado David Lynch has famously featured the beverage in his films and on his TV show, Twin Peaks. He even launched his own David Lynch Signature Organic line of organic coffee. Lynch chronicled his coffee obsession in a Huffington Post blog.

The NRA Game Plan: Blame Violence on Anything But Guns

Mon, 2014-06-02 12:03

The NRA will let one week go by and then they'll issue a statement about the Elliot Rodger shootings in Santa Barbara. Actually, they'll issue two statements which they always have ready to go. First they'll say that the slaughter shows that the mental health system is 'broken' and needs to be 'fixed.' Then they'll say that a 'good guy' with a gun would have stopped the 'bad guy,' and they'll remind everyone that Concealed Carry Weapons (CCW) legislation is impossible to get in California so there are no 'good guys' walking around in Isla Vista anyway.

The truth is that neither statement is true and or ever been true. But they sound like they're true, which gets the NRA off the hook. They can promote gun sales all they want but also come down on the side of safety and responsibility because it's the mental health system that needs to be fixed, right?

Last week Dr. Richard Friedman, a professor of psychiatry, explained that the link between mental illness and violence is tenuous at best and accounts for less than 5% of overall violence at worst. Which means that if every nut lost his guns, the 10,000+ gun homicides we endure each year would drop by a whole, big 500 or so. Wow -- talk about ending gun violence by 'fixing' the mental health system. Some fix.

As for all those 'good guys' walking around with guns, the FBI says there are roughly 300 justifiable homicides each year, a number that hasn't changed even with the CCW upsurge in the past year. Yeah, yeah, every year armed citizens 'prevent' millions of crimes just by waving their guns around in the air. I also know that Martians actually did land in Parrump.

The self-satisfied folks who really believe that 'guns don't kill people, people kill people,' simply refuse to accept the fact that if you pick up a gun, point it at someone else and pull the trigger, that the result is going to be very serious injuries or loss of life. There Is no other way, including running over someone with a car, that has such a devastating effect. The NRA gets around that problem by promoting, with an almost mystical reverence, the notion of using guns for self defense. John Lott's nonsense to the contrary, there is absolutely no evidence which proves that guns save more lives than they destroy.

Now don't get me wrong. If you're already sending a comment about how Mike The Gun Guy is really Mike The Anti-Gun Guy, why don't you save the HP comment screeners a little time and at least wait until you read this entire blog? Because believe it or not, I'm not anti-gun. I have said again and again that 99.9% of all gun owners are safe and responsible with their guns. I have also said, but it bears repeating, that we should be able to figure out how to end gun violence without making lawful and careful gun owners jump through more legal hoops, including expanded background checks.

This morning I received an email from one of the largest internet gun-sellers who is dumping new, name-brand AR-15s for under 600 bucks. These are guns that were selling for twice that much a year ago and, as the email warned, "any sudden media attention to political situations, restrictive laws and regulations can drive prices through the roof again overnight."

The gun industry sits on the horns of a dilemma. They can moan and groan all they want about gun control but it is high-profile shootings that ignite the debate which then leads to stronger sales. The NRA claims that it's all about safe gun ownership but let's not make it too safe. Because if we do, it will be more than just a couple of Tea Party politicians giving away free AR-15s.

Mike Weisser is the author, most recently, of Because They're Assholes: Violence and Gun Violence (Guns in America)

'The New American Dream' Is Winning The World Cup

Mon, 2014-06-02 10:23
Forget the white picket fence and the two-car garage. There is a new dream grabbing hold of the American consciousness. It is not simply a pursuit of material goods in the workaday rat race of modern life. It is the pursuit of respect and history in the world's beautiful game. It is the dream of winning the World Cup.

The New American Dream @AmericanOutlaws tifo for #USAvTUR

— U.S. Soccer (@ussoccer) June 1, 2014

When the U.S. men's national team took the field at Red Bull Arena in New Jersey on Sunday to face Turkey in the second match of its Send-Off series, the fans in attendance provided a raucous welcome, complete with several World Cup-focused banners. Prominent among the signs on display was one depicting the Statue of Liberty holding aloft the World Cup trophy. Along with the depiction of Lady Liberty, the aspirational and inspirational tifo included the slogan, "The New American Dream."

The 2014 World Cup begins in Brazil on June 12 and the first match for the U.S. team is scheduled for June 16 against Ghana. The United States is making its seventh straight appearance in the World Cup but has advanced to the quarterfinals just once during that span.

Brandon Marshall Gives $1 Million to Mental Health Care

Mon, 2014-06-02 10:21
This was co-authored with Foster Skills Special Projects Manager Justine Fischer.

On ESPN's First Take, Brandon Marshall - an NFL star athlete - announced that he is pledging 1 million dollars of his new contract to mental health initiatives. He has suffered from mental health problems and understands the toll it takes on a person's life and those around them. Similarly, foster youth must try to cope, like Brandon Marshall, with mental health issues that often manifest themselves via behavioral problems.

Foster children are taken from their parents and typically the events that ensue are traumatic. As a result, foster children are subjected to stress early on due to their life situations, which affects their brain development. The Center on the Developing Child at Harvard University detailed the effects in an InBrief: The Impact of Early Adversity on Children's Development.

Toxic stress experienced early in life and common precipitants of toxic stress -- such as poverty, abuse or neglect, parental substance abuse or mental illness, and exposure to violence -- can have a cumulative toll on an individual's physical and mental health.

Recurrent and intense adversity - like extreme poverty or repeated abuse - is extremely detrimental to children.

In the Oprah Magazine, Dr. Perry said:

From a functional perspective for the developing child, neglect is the absence of necessary stimulation required to build a certain part of the brain so it can function normally. When a child doesn't get enough stimulation early in life the brain may develop differently.

Without the proper support systems, children develop chronic stress and excessive cortisol disrupts their developing brain circuits, which changes all kinds of functions, including the ability to form and maintain relationships.

According to Overstressed Kids:

The lasting, neurobiological effects on young children (who, along with infants, have particularly malleable neural circuits) that experience toxic stress are a far greater likelihood of anti-social behavior, lower achievement in school and at work, and poor physical and mental health - all of which society addresses at great cost.

The National Institute of Mental Health funded and conducted a national survey of children in the child welfare system. They found that "nearly half (47.9 percent) of youth in foster care were determined to have clinically significant emotional or behavioral problems." Another study by the Casey Family Programs and Harvard Medical School showed that a "high number of former foster children have psychiatric disabilities as adults." Also, foster care alumni have a rate (25.2 percent) of PTSD, which is double the rate of U.S. War Veterans. These statistics are shocking and stem from the early adversity and stress foster children are subjected to. It is important for the foster care and mental health systems to be interconnected and share resources to improve the well being of foster children.

One such program that integrates child welfare and mental health is Anu Family Services. They help disconnected youth to obtain permanence in greater numbers by taking a youth-driven approach to healing relational trauma and connecting youth with those they've loved and lost through out-of-home care. "We use this approach because after nearly a decade of partnership with the University of Minnesota's Center for Advanced Studies in Child Welfare, we know it works!" says President Amelia Franck Meyer. "After 10 years and 35 placements in out-of-home care, Tarita has been reconnected with 45 family members, including 14 siblings, and is no longer suicidal. Hearing messages from your family that say 'You are our baby. We have always wanted and looked for you, always celebrated your birthday, and you belong' is far more healing than what can be done in 'treatment'."

At the 2014 Conference on Child Abuse and Neglect, Joo-Yeun Chang said:

There's a new five-year collaborative demonstration to encourage states to promote the use of evidenced based psychosocial intervention to children and youth in the foster care system and at the same time to reduce overuse of prescription medications and, ultimately, to improve outcomes for these children.

According to the Government Accountability Office up to 40 percent of foster youth were taking one or more psychotropic medication. Foster youth are prescribed these meds at higher rates than other children served by Medicaid. This is why Senators Tom Carper and Ron Wyden recently held a press conference on Capitol Hill to bring attention to intersection between foster care and mental health.

When children are in foster care, we must treat them like kids, but realize they have faced a tremendous amount of trauma. Their behaviors are not okay, but they're indicative of the hurt they are feeling and emotional damage they have had to try and cope with. This is why a clinical approach that includes a neurobiological approach, like the Neurosequential Model of Therapeutics, to treating maltreated children can help them regulate their stress response systems.

The Administration for Children and Families and Anu Family Services are attempting to tackle the issues of mental health by using innovative approaches to bridging the foster care system and mental health services. In addition, The National Disability Council on Disability Programs offered up a list of recommendations that empowers policymakers and service providers to better help children and teens with psychiatric disabilities in the foster care system. Programs, initiatives, and recommendations like these will ultimately help to improve mental health outcomes for foster youth.

The month of May was both National Foster Care Month and Mental Health Awareness Month. It is vital to look at these two issues not as separate entities but as entwined systems, which we must urge collaboration between all stakeholders, including philanthropic partners. Securing more champions, like Brandon Marshall and his wife, can help many foster kids become functioning, productive members of society.

Hockey Player Or Hipster: Guess That Beard!

Mon, 2014-06-02 09:48
It's gotta be the beards.

Whether you're a broad-shouldered hockey player from Winnipeg aiming to lift the Stanley Cup or a skinny jean-wearing hipster recently arrived in Williamsburg looking to raise awareness about an artisanal pickling company, you're almost certainly going to be rocking some serious facial hair these days. These two hirsute constituencies -- hockey players and hipsters -- may not seem to have much in common but they may not be as easy to tell apart as you'd expect.

Among hockey players, the "playoff beard" has been an almost mandatory party of the postseason uniform since the New York Islanders began growing increasingly fuzzier as they skated their way through the 1980 Stanley Cup playoffs. Of course, there may be certain hipsters who insist that they were growing beards before the Islanders made it cool.

Below are the fuzzy faces of 12 men. Some of them are hockey players. Some of them are hipsters. Can you guess which beards are cool because of their proximity too NHL-approved ice and which are cool because that's the point?

(Scroll all the way to the bottom for full answers)

Beard No. 1: Hockey Player or Hipster?

Beard No. 2: Hockey Player or Hipster?

Beard No. 3: Hockey Player or Hipster?

Beard No. 4: Hockey Player or Hipster?

Beard No. 5: Hockey Player or Hipster?

Beard No. 6: Hockey Player or Hipster?

Beard No. 7: Hockey Player or Hipster?

Beard No. 8: Hockey Player or Hipster?

Beard No. 9: Hockey Player or Hipster?

Beard No. 10: Hockey Player or Hipster?

Beard No. 11: Hockey Player or Hipster?

Beard No. 12: Hockey Player or Hipster?

Feeling confident in your choices? Ready to celebrate your success with some small batch bourbon served in a mason jar and some handcrafted chocolate wrapped in paper?

Before you get too far into any locally-sourced hipster treats or any delicacies from the hockey heartland of Canada -- anyone for a Labatt Blue and some poutine? -- take a moment to SCROLL DOWN to find out the identities lurking behind all of that (mostly) luxurious hair.


No 1: Hockey player Jonathan Quick before the 2012 Stanley Cup finals.

No. 2: Stock Photo Hipster!

No. 3: Hockey player Mike Commodore after the 2006 Stanley Cup finals.

No. 4: Hockey player Jaromir Jagr before the 2013 Stanley Cup finals.

No. 5: Hockey player PK Subban during the 2014 Stanley Cup playoffs.

No. 6: Hipster singer Samuel Beam of Iron & Wine.

No. 7: Hockey player Adam Henrique ahead of 2012 Stanley Cup finals.

Beard No. 8: Hipster actor Johnny Depp

No. 9: Hockey player Scott Hartnell during the 2012 Stanley Cup playoffs.

No. 10: Hipster actor James Franco.

No. 11: Hipster singer Tunde Adabimpe of TV on the Radio

No. 12: Hockey player Scott Niedermayer during the 2006 Stanley Cup playoffs.

And Now, A Bunch Of Adorable Animals With The Hiccups

Mon, 2014-06-02 09:29
Hiccups are the worst — except when adorable animals get them.

Although we feel for the cats, dogs, horses and even penguins who suffer from the occasional spasm of the diaphragm, it's not like they can hold their breath or drink water from the other side of the glass to make them go away (you would need opposable thumbs for that).

So, since there's nothing these animals can do but just wait it out, we might as well enjoy how cute it is when they "Hic!" over and over again on camera. Watch our one-minute compilation to see the cutest hiccuping animals YouTube had to offer above.

Video edited by Eva Hill.

6 Multilingual Benefits That You Only Get If You Speak Another Language

Mon, 2014-06-02 08:53
"If we spoke a different language, we would perceive a somewhat different world."

Austrian philosopher Ludwig Wittgenstein had plenty to say on the topic of being bilingual back in the 18th century. Today, hundreds of years later, it's safe to say the 'ole wordsmith would be proud.

It's estimated that more than half of the world's population is bilingual, according to Psychology Today. That means about 3.5 billion people use more than one language to communicate every day.

There are commonly held benefits attributed to these casual script swappers, most of them suggesting an increase in cognitive processing, focus and the ability to multi-task. But to people who identify as bilingual or multilingual, the benefits are usually more concrete and personal. Here are a few firsthand accounts we gathered from multilinguals that help explain the daily benefits of being able to speak multiple languages.

You can understand and appreciate cultural references and nuances.

Most works of art and popular culture are more honestly represented in their native language. Listening to a song, reading a classic novel, watching a movie -- these are expressions that bilinguals typically have the advantage of appreciating in their original form.

Because sometimes, even little things like movie titles or song lyrics can get misinterpreted:

"Being able to talk to my grandmother, realizing where words in English come from, being able to sing Beny Moré songs." -- Roque, New York, English, Spanish & Portuguese

"I always feel I put my French double major to use when I can understand the French part in "Partition" by Beyoncé." -- Lauren, New York, English & French

Cuban singer Beny Moré, one of the classical greats -- Image via

Bilingualism can create job opportunities and help you navigate the world.

Many of the people we asked held one common belief: Being bilingual, and especially multilingual, can help facilitate your travels. When languages share similar words and patterns, it's easier to apply your knowledge of one language to another and thus make your way around certain regions of the world.

In addition, it's no secret that employers see language skills as a benefit for a prospective employee. There's one qualification that employers can't seem to get enough of, and that's fluency in a foreign language:

"I did translation work for the government. I happened to be the only person in a 400 mile radius that spoke the language they wanted." -- Thera, New York, English & Portuguese

"I think for me it's being able to travel around Europe and being able to communicate in a few countries, as I speak French, English, Italian and Spanish." -- Cosima, New York, English, French, Spanish & Italian

Photo by photographerglen via Flickr

You notice and appreciate the things that are sometimes lost in translation.

We live in an increasingly globalized world where many cultural subtleties can slip through the cracks as we're trying to understand past each other's different dialects. Allowing yourself to be immersed in another language means opening the door to an entirely new culture and way of viewing the world.

Not everything that's translated can be easily understood. Sometimes cultural context is needed:

"The way languages are formed and slang is created can often say a lot about the people speaking it. Knowing Spanish is also helpful in learning new languages, especially Romance languages." -- Carolina, New York, English, Spanish & French

"Living in globalized and multicultural society, it has become critical more than ever that we have the ability and willingness to interact with many different kinds people, all bringing their diverse languages and subtle nuances." -- Gabriel, Los Angeles, English & Spanish

Image via Giphy

You feel a sense of connection with your heritage, history and family.

For many, speaking another language keeps them connected to their families. Imagine not being able to communicate with your parents, grandparents, aunts and uncles simply because you don't share a common language.

As the popular saying goes, "you can't know where you're going until you know where you've been" -- and for some, language provides that journey:

"I think the most beneficial thing is being able to communicate with my family. And as a little side bonus, some people don't know that I'm Iranian, so they'll speak Farsi around me not knowing that I understand but little do they know, I do." -- Azad, Los Angeles, English & Farsi

"It gives me a sense of pride and connection to my heritage. I honestly believe the fact that I can speak another language with my family brings us closer together. It reminds us where we've come from and how far we've come." -- Bryant, Chicago, English & Korean

"The biggest benefit is being able to communicate with my parents. As simple as that sounds, I’ve seen many first generation immigrant families struggle with this -– the parents never fully assimilate and the children grow up 'Americanized,' resulting in almost an internal culture clash within families." -- Cindy, New York, English & Korean

Photo by Cindy Bark

Your interactions with people of different cultures go deeper.

When you speak someone's native language, you can talk about a lot more than the weather and other daily fillers. Building deep and meaningful relationships with foreign communities usually involves speaking and understanding, partially at least, the same language.

Either that or you must be one hell of a charades player:

"It's comforting when traveling to foreign countries and being able to speak their language -- the locals appreciate it and make you feel more at home.

"Also, you are always the person who your friends call when they have a visitor from abroad and you speak their language. So you'll always have occasions of meeting and going out with new people." -- Elias, Lebanon, English, Arabic & French

"Being able to speak multiple languages means having the capacity to engage with people in more organic and sincere ways.

"When thinking about bilingualism or the ability to speak multiple languages (in addition to being multi-racial), I think about the benefits with regards to professional career trajectories and the ability to connect with a broader range of people." -- Walter, Stanford, California, English & Spanish

"Now the fun part comes from, personally, not having to speak every word in each language. I love that I can speak Spanglish or Portuñol and the people I am speaking with understand what I am saying. I have created a completely different language hybrid that is easily accepted by friends, however not recognized academically." --Érica, Los Angeles, English, Spanish & Portuguese

Photo by Franckreporter via Getty

And lastly, your self-expression excitingly takes on a multitude of forms.

Some even suggest that multilinguals have multiple personalities, acting differently when speaking in various languages. As a trilingual myself, I'd have to agree with that theory -- because some words just plain don't exist in other languages, which at the very least means different ways of expression depending on the language I'm speaking:

"You can talk in a different way than you do in English. Just the way we tell stories, or jokes, it's just a completely different way of story telling, which is nice because you can understand people in a different way. Things can be hilarious in Arabic, but not so hilarious in English-- you just see it in a different light.

"It reminds me that just because I'm an American, doesn't mean I can't be in touch with my culture and grasp a completely different way of life, and that's very special. Not just grasp, engage.

"Engaging is a very, very fragile gift I think, and when you can speak another language, you have that ability to immerse yourself in that culture even more." -- Stephanie, Los Angeles, English, Arabic & French

Image via Giphy

Our Destination Full of Hope: Marriage Equality in Illinois

Mon, 2014-06-02 08:50
The much-loved poet Dr. Maya Angelou once wrote, "Love recognizes no barriers. It jumps hurdles, leaps fences, penetrates walls to arrive at its destination full of hope." It is that unrelenting power of love that unfolded during our fight for marriage equality in Illinois.

In the end, we succeeded in ensuring this civil right for all couples and put Illinois on the right side of history. Starting now, everyone in Illinois may receive the long-overdue rights of marriage. Advocates had to jump hurdles, leap fences and penetrate walls to make it happen, but we arrived at our destination. Last November 20th, I signed the Illinois Religious Freedom and Marriage Fairness Act into law.

In 2011, when I signed Illinois' civil union legislation, few could predict that in a few short years, marriage equality would be the law of the land. Sometimes a struggle can take decades, but change can happen overnight. Now, through the tireless efforts of advocates who have stood up and spoken out for equality across Illinois and the nation, we made history and enacted a reform that will last forever.

Since taking office, I've worked to make Illinois a more welcoming state. After declaring marriage equality a priority in my 2013 State of the State Address, I worked with legislators and dedicated activists. It was a difficult battle, but eventually lawmakers passed Senate Bill 10, making Illinois the 16th state to embrace full marriage equality. The bill signing last November - before thousands of joyous people at the University of Illinois at Chicago - was among the proudest moments of my governorship.

The new law is simple and fair. It requires that Illinois laws pertaining to civil marriage must apply equally to all, and guarantees equal access to benefits, protections, rights and responsibilities for all couples entering into marriage and their families. These protections include provisions under the Affordable Care Act that require insurance companies to offer the same coverage for all spouses, regardless of gender. Families will be able to enroll in a plan together through a special 60-day enrollment period.

One person who made this day possible was Vernita Gray. A tenacious activist, Vernita was loved in the community and respected by politicians. She and her partner made history when a judge ruled that, due to Vernita's declining health, they could marry late last year - ahead of today's effective date. Vernita passed away in March with her new wife Pat by her side.

So today, I'll think of Vernita Gray and others unable to witness this day. I'll think of happy couples embarking on the adventure of marriage. And I will be proud to live in a state where the will of the people can become the law of the land.

Who Pays The Bill For Michelle Obama's Fabulous Clothes?

Mon, 2014-06-02 08:40
WASHINGTON (AP) — Michelle Obama's fashionable clothing has become something of a given in her five-plus years as first lady. Yet her wardrobe still is the subject of endless public fascination and one long-simmering question: Who pays for those incredible outfits?

It's no small matter. Her high-low fashion choices mix everyday, off-the-rack fare with custom creations from top designers whose gowns can run into five figures. In recent weeks, Mrs. Obama has turned heads with a forest-green Naeem Khan dress at the opening of a new costume gallery at New York's Metropolitan Museum of Art. She shimmered in a silver Marchesa gown at the White House Correspondents' Association Dinner. And her flowered shirtdress for a Mother's Day tea at the White House (recycled from an earlier event) hit the just right note for an audience of military moms.

It takes money to pull that off, month after month. Those three dresses by themselves could add up to more than $15,000 retail, not to mention accessories such as shoes and jewelry.

Is it the taxpayers who foot the bill? No. (Despite what critics say.)

Is it Mrs. Obama? Usually, but not always.

Does she pay full price? Not likely.

Does she ever borrow gowns from designers? No.

The financing of the first lady's wardrobe is something the Obama White House is loath to discuss. It's a subject that has bedeviled presidents and their wives for centuries. First ladies are expected to dress well, but the job doesn't come with a clothing allowance or a salary.

Mary Todd Lincoln racked up tens of thousands of dollars in clothing bills and considered selling manure from the White House grounds to pay them off, according to the National First Ladies' Library. Jacqueline Kennedy's father-in-law stepped in to finance her Oleg Cassini wardrobe to keep clothes from becoming a political liability for President John Kennedy. Nancy Reagan got grief for borrowing designer gowns and not always returning them or reporting them as gifts.

Laura Bush, in her memoir, said she was "amazed by the sheer number of designer clothes that I was expected to buy" as first lady.

How does Mrs. Obama, a fashion icon with far more expensive tastes than Mrs. Bush, swing it?

For starters, the Obamas reported adjusted income of $481,000 last year, and assets worth $1.8 million to $7 million.

And like most people, Mrs. Obama (mostly her personal aide, really) looks for discounts.

And, for really big events, the first lady has an option not available to every fashionista.

Here's how Joanna Rosholm, press secretary to the first lady, explains it:

"Mrs. Obama pays for her clothing. For official events of public or historic significance, such as a state visit, the first lady's clothes may be given as a gift by a designer and accepted on behalf of the U.S. government. They are then stored by the National Archives."

That saves Mrs. Obama considerable money, although the White House refused to say how often the first lady wears donated clothes and the National Archives declined to say how many such items it has in storage. The White House did say that the first lady doesn't borrow any clothing and, for the most part, buys her own clothes.

The clothing donated by designers includes Mrs. Obama's two inaugural gowns made by Jason Wu, a lesser-known designer before Mrs. Obama turned him into a star in the fashion firmament. Wu declined to discuss how he works with the first lady.

Mrs. Obama and Wu both were there when the first inaugural gown was presented to the Smithsonian in March 2010. The first lady said in her remarks: "The dress I donated today, made by Jason Wu, is a masterpiece." But the Smithsonian lists the gown as a "gift of Jason Wu in honor of first lady" Michelle Obama, making clear it came from him. The first lady's office had no comment on that.

Two other examples of gowns worn by the first lady that were donated by designers: the blue Carolina Herrera gown that Mrs. Obama wore to February 's state dinner for French President Francois Hollande and the gold beaded Naeem Khan gown that Mrs. Obama wore to the 2012 governors ball, now on display at the American Museum of Natural History. Herrera and Khan declined comment.

The first lady's office had no comment on whether the couture gowns worn by Mrs. Obama for her six other White House state dinners also were donated. Nor would it say how many gowns have been donated for the array of other big events for which the first lady is expected to appear in couture finery, such as the annual Kennedy Center Honors ceremonies, governors' dinners and White House correspondents' dinners.

Wearing donated gowns represents a change in practice from the Bush administration.

Anita McBride, chief of staff to Laura Bush during her time as first lady, said Mrs. Bush paid for all her clothes, including her two inaugural gowns: a red crystal-embroidered gown by Texan Michael Faircloth and a silver and blue V-neck creation of Oscar de la Renta.

McBride credits the Obama White House with finding a cost-saving way to "keep Mrs. Obama in all those incredible clothes and to have the use of them not once but multiple times."

The costs of a custom couture gown can be phenomenal, particularly if it is highly embellished with something like beading.

New Yorker Sarah Phillips, who designed Hillary Rodham Clinton's 1993 inaugural gown, puts the full cost of that violet beaded lace sheath in the range of $50,000, with the Presidential Inaugural Committee paying $10,000 and Phillips and the workshop covering the bulk of the costs. Phillips isn't sure whether Clinton herself paid anything toward the dress, but the Smithsonian's website describes the gown as a "gift of Hillary Rodham Clinton and the Presidential Inaugural Committee."

Lawyers who served in the Obama and Bush White Houses describe taking care in working with the first lady's office to ensure that arrangements with designers didn't run afoul of ethics rules designed to guard against conflicts of interest and questionable quid pro quos.

Beyond the unknowns about how often Mrs. Obama's clothes are donated, there are questions about how much she pays for those she purchases.

In a 2011 Washington Post story about Mrs. Obama's personal assistant, Meredith Koop, the first lady's office said Koop acted on Mrs. Obama's behalf "in arranging for purchases, including considering the best offered price and buying on discount if discounts are available."

That's still true today, the first lady's office says, without elaborating.

Several designers who have provided clothes for the first lady declined to discuss their arrangements. But given the prestige that comes with dressing Mrs. Obama, it's widely thought that designers are eager to cut the first lady a break. Former White House lawyers said any discounts provided to the first lady would have to be in line with what designers offer other top customers to avoid being considered gifts.

Paco Underhill, author of "What Women Want: The Science of Female Shopping," said the markups on designer clothes are "astronomical" — and the discounts can be steep as well.

"Some of the routine discounts that people ask for are 40 percent off," he said. "Whether they get it is subject to somebody's discretion."

First ladies have tried all sorts of tactics to hold down their clothing costs, including keeping some dresses in rotation.

Mrs. Obama wore the same dress to this year's Mother's Day tea that she'd worn to lunch with Katy Perry in October 2012. She often switches around separates, belts and other accessories to give clothes in her wardrobe a fresh look.

Recycling carries its own risks.

Mrs. Bush, in her memoir, tells of arriving at a TV studio and noticing a picture on the wall that showed she'd worn the same suit to her last interview there.

"Quickly, I exchanged tops with my press secretary, so that it would seem as if I had more wardrobe variety," she recalled.





Associated Press writers Brett Zongker in Washington and Beth Harpaz in New York and news researcher Rhonda Shafner in New York contributed to this report.


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EPA's New Limits on Carbon Pollution Will Protect Health and Tackle Climate Change

Mon, 2014-06-02 08:30
The Obama administration announced a major breakthrough today that will safeguard our health and protect future generations from unchecked climate change. For the first time, the United States will set a national limit on how much carbon pollution can be released from existing power plants.

This is the single most important thing our nation can do right now to fight climate change.

Power plants kick out 40 percent of all carbon pollution in this country. The U.S. limits mercury, arsenic, and soot from power plants. Yet, astonishingly, there are no national limits on how much carbon pollution these plants can dump into our atmosphere.

That's not right, and the Environmental Protection Agency is doing something about it. Honoring its obligation under the Clean Air Act to safeguard Americans from dangerous pollution, the agency proposed draft carbon limits today.

The EPA's initial proposal calls for reducing carbon pollution by 30 percent from 2005 levels by 2030. The agency has laid out a solid blueprint for how to achieve these reductions. Most important, the blueprint invites greater reductions, and NRDC will be encouraging the EPA to set the strongest limits possible when the agency issues the final carbon standards in 2015.

Most Americans are ready for strong climate action. The public supports government steps to limit carbon pollution by a 2-1 margin, according to an April survey by the Yale Project on Climate Change Communication. Support holds steady in purple states. A recent Harstad poll found that 67 percent overall and 53 percent of Republicans in the nine closest Senate races favor the EPA's efforts to reduce carbon pollution from power plants.

Americans welcome carbon limits because they want to protect their families from harm. I just returned from California, where every single county in the state is the grip of drought, farmers talk of high food prices, and residents brace for a destructive fire season. Climate change is already exacting a heavy toll on our communities--whether it is drought in California and Texas or more smog and respiratory illnesses in New England or devastating floods in the Midwest. People want to turn this trend around, not watch it get worse.

They also have faith in America's ability to solve tough problems. The U.S. has a proud history of cleaning up our air through technological innovation. We did it with leaded gas, acid rain and countless other pollutants, and we can do it with carbon pollution too.

Indeed, we already are. Wind power has cut carbon pollution by 10 percent or more in 13 states, from Colorado to Nebraska to Vermont. More solar generating capacity was built last year than any other form of electricity except for natural gas. And a recent set of updated efficiency standards for refrigerators, dishwashers and other products will save consumers nearly $80 billion on energy bills and reduce carbon pollution equivalent to emissions from 25 coal-fired power plants by 2035. Thanks to this dramatic growth, hundreds of thousands of Americans now work in the clean energy sector.

And yet big polluters and their allies in Congress are already attacking carbon limits and claiming America can't generate energy without fouling our air and destabilizing our climate.

I know that's not true. Our nation has the ingenuity to confront the climate crisis, and we are already on our way. But we must not let oil, gas, and coal companies stand in the way of progress. Click here to tell the EPA you support strong carbon limits that will move us closer toward the clean energy future. We owe it to our children -- and our children's children -- to tackle climate change now.