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The One Question I Am Asked In Every Country I Visit

Fri, 2014-04-11 13:17
I have been asked about Miley Cyrus a handful of times during my travels abroad. I am often asked if I know someone named "John" who also lives in New York City.

But the only question I have been asked on every coast of every country I've visited is: "Why do Americans love guns so much?"

One of my Tasmanian friends wants to travel to the U.S. but told me she is "scared I'll be shot." A New Zealander informed me last night that, were she to summarize the U.S. in one word, it would be: "violent." My Saudi Arabian friend gently suggested, "Every country has its problems. Yours is guns."

As the U.S. repeatedly fails to prevent gun violence, I find myself often slipping into a disillusioned resignation that perhaps this is just how the world is now. But what is happening in America is not normal.

I was studying in an American middle school classroom the day two high-schoolers entered Columbine High School and shot to death 12 students and one teacher.

I was traveling alone for the first time in Belgium when a student killed 32 people on Virginia Tech's campus, and a street vendor asked me if I was scared to return to a U.S. university.

I was in India when a boy shot a 14-year-old student in the neck outside an Atlanta middle school, and a driver asked me why America's children keep shooting other children.

I was in Japan when a 10-year-old boy was accidentally shot to death while playing with other children in Ohio and the Senate rejected efforts to expand gun control.

I was in Tasmania, Australia when a soldier shot and killed fellow soldiers at Fort Hood. The second time.

Tasmania knows gun violence. The country's southernmost state -- which boasts one of the tallest tree species on Earth, the world's best single malt whisky, and pre-Looney Tunes Tasmanian devils -- is also where, one Sunday in 1996, a young man shot 35 people to death.

Tasmania knows what it's like to have a community brought to its knees as media swarm for quotes, scoops and then disappear as the more fixed pain sets in. But when Australia witnessed dozens of its citizens murdered one weekend afternoon, it did something rather foreign to America: it enacted change. Australians turned in nearly 700,000 guns and laws were tightened. There were 11 mass shootings in Australia the decade before 1996. There have been no mass shootings ever since.

Our nation may see itself as a gun-toting "Dirty Harry" hero, but some regard us more as an immature brute unwilling to pry his fingers off deadly toys, drunk on a wildly wealthy gun lobby's stale elixir mislabeled as American pride.

I do not believe that everyone looks at our country's gun obsession with bewilderment and ridicule. But the small percentage of the world's population that I've met sure do.

When I try to explain to my baffled new friends that, well, some Americans feel safer with guns, I get blank stares. Maybe because a study last year found that guns do not make a country safer, and "There was a significant correlation between guns per head per country and the rate of firearm-related deaths." A separate report last year found that many of the states with weak gun laws also saw the greatest levels of gun violence.

When I suggest that some people believe unrestricted gun ownership is their Second Amendment right, I get cocked heads. Even Supreme Court Justice Antonin Scalia found that "the Second Amendment right is not unlimited. It is not a right to keep and carry any weapon whatsoever in any manner whatsoever and for whatever purpose."

When I ask my international friends why they don't own guns, I get blinks of confusion. "I'm not a hunter," an Australian co-worker suggested. "It's just not our culture," my friend in Japan shrugged.

Australia's former Prime Minister John Howard explained in a New York Times op-ed last year that in his country, "The fundamental problem was the ready availability of high-powered weapons, which enabled people to convert their murderous impulses into mass killing. Certainly, shortcomings in treating mental illness and the harmful influence of violent video games and movies may have played a role. But nothing trumps easy access to a gun."

Gun Owners of America's Larry Pratt responded to Australia's initiative: "We're not interested in being like Australia. We're Americans."

Perhaps that's the trouble: A hijacking of the word "American." My passport reads "United States of America," I've voted in every election since turning 18 (and before that I voted in the first three seasons of American Idol.) I grew up on North Carolina hushpuppies, New York bagels, California avocados and Florida orange juice. But I choose life over guns, and it's time that became "American."

Where Did the Good Jobs Go?

Fri, 2014-04-11 13:15
Several days ago, the Labor Department released its most recent figures -- 192,000 new jobs were created in March. That's good news, right? Not necessarily. It's not just the quantity of jobs but the quality that matters, and the quality isn't there.

The Bureau of Labor Statistics recently released its own set of data, identifying the fastest growing and largest employment sectors this week. Its findings were sobering but unfortunately not unexpected. As of May 2013, the most recent date for which data is available, the lion's share of jobs are increasingly in low-wage industries such as food service (including fast food, food preparation and waiting tables), office administration, retail, and customer service. With the exception of nursing, average wages for the 10 most common occupations ranged from $18,800 to $34,000. In light of this new data, it's clear that we're overlooking an important angle. If our economy is in recovery, with new jobs being created and profits on the rise, why are wages declining? And how are these low-wage workers making ends meet?

If we look at the numbers, we can see that the answer is simple: They aren't. Heartland Alliance, the Midwest's leading anti-poverty organization, where I work, is based in Illinois, where the average yearly wage for a cashier is $21,250, or $10.22 an hour. This simply isn't a wage you can live off of and as these jobs have multiplied, so has the number of families relying on government programs such as food stamps to make ends meet. Today, one in seven Americans utilize this program -- in 2007 there were less than half as many.

With monthly benefits averaging $130 per person, these low-income workers must spend their food stamp dollars in the most economical possible manner or go hungry. Often, they end up shopping at local discount stores -- which rely largely on low-wage labor -- perpetuating the cycle. These families work hard but can't get by, they rely on benefits to close the gap but have no choice but to patronize the businesses that keep wages low in the first place. That's a cycle that's bad for families, bad for communities and bad for the economy.

We don't have to accept this as a give -- or pick between profitable businesses and well-paid workers. Costco is a great example of this -- it pays its employees an average of just over $20 per hour with pensions and health insurance available and its profits have grown 15 percent annually since 2009. By paying workers well, we also create a cycle -- one we want to encourage. Well-paid workers spend their increased income in their communities, helping to lift their families out of poverty and create thriving local businesses. As communities grow, they become more attractive to businesses looking to invest, bringing new job opportunities and furthering the cycle of growth, which can minimize ties to government programs and help balance our nation's budget. It's a cycle that leads to stability, rather than stagnation and poverty.

In America, short-sighted policy decisions are an issue we're faced with on a consistent basis. Poverty doesn't exist in a bubble; those who receive government benefits increasingly live in a household in which someone works full-time year-round. The problem isn't that there are too few jobs -- it's that there are too few jobs that pay a living wage. Let's take the long view on this. A higher minimum wage would reward work and decrease the need for government benefits and it needn't strip businesses of a healthy profit margin. It's time to decide where our priorities are and make the investment our workers deserve.

An Overwhelming Number Of Fast Food Workers Report Getting Ripped Off By Their Bosses: Poll

Fri, 2014-04-11 12:31
Before she got fed up and quit last month, it wasn't uncommon for Darenisha Mills to keep working after her shift ended at the McDonald's in Pontiac, Mich., where she was a cashier.

"They're asking you to clean the bathrooms, sweep the lobby, run the register," the 26-year-old told The Huffington Post, "but they don't pay you anything for the time you work over."

The formal name for that is wage theft, which occurs when an employer withholds pay rightfully earned by an hourly worker. It happens in a variety of ways, from not paying for overtime, to denying mandated breaks, to subtracting hours from employees' weekly total.

A recent poll commissioned by labor group Fast Food Forward estimates that a stunning 89 percent of fast-food workers have experienced at least one form of wage theft. A previous study, conducted in the first half of 2008 before the recession, found 68 percent of low-wage workers had been victims of wage theft in their previous work week, and estimated that wage theft cost workers an average of $2,634 annually.

"The survey [from Fast Food Forward] lays bare the fact that wage theft is rampant," said Tsedeye Gebreselassie, an attorney with the National Employment Law Project, which advocates for low-wage workers and performed the 2008 survey. "It's pervasive throughout our economy."

"They want to keep labor costs very low," said Kwanza Brooks, 37, who was a McDonald's manager for over a decade in Maryland and North Carolina before quitting a couple years ago. "Taking the wages was the only way they could control it," says Brooks, who now volunteers for Fast Food Forward in Charlotte.

The Fast Food Forward poll found that 84 percent of McDonald's workers who responded had experienced wage theft. Hart Research conducted the online survey between Feb. 15 and March 19 on behalf of "Low Pay Is Not OK," a campaign affiliated with Fast Food Forward. The poll surveyed 1,088 fast food employees, including workers at Wendy's and Burger King, in the top 10 metro areas nationally.

McDonald's cautioned against drawing broad conclusions from the survey. In a statement the company called it a "small, random informal sampling." The company said it believed workers should be paid correctly.

McDonald's and its franchisees are now facing six lawsuits in three states, involving tens of thousands of employees, claiming various wage theft violations.

Wage theft can become increasingly common in times of high unemployment, experts say. "When people are desperate for jobs, they're afraid to risk them by taking on their boss," said Ross Eisenbrey, of the Economic Policy Institute, a left-leaning think tank.

And because the amounts of wages being withheld are often small, it can be hard for a low-wage worker to find an attorney willing to take their case.

For their part, fast-food managers are under "tremendous pressure" to keep labor costs low, especially when sales are sluggish, said Nelson Lichtenstein, the director of the Center for the Study of Work, Labor, and Democracy at the University of California Santa Barbara.

Companies may also engage in the practice when the risk of getting caught is low. There aren't nearly enough U.S. Department of Labor investigators to enforce the laws, said Gebreselassie. He added, "The chance any worksite will be investigated is miniscule."

Nevertheless, the issue of wage theft has been getting increased attention in recent months. In March, the owner of seven McDonald's restaurants in New York was ordered to pay almost $500,000 to more than 1,000 employees who performed work off the clock and had other pay illegally withheld.

The restaurant chain's sales have been slumping of late, and executives acknowledged recently that the company's menu had grown complicated and less appealing to customers.

Drink Like The Truthiest American This Weekend By Channeling Stephen Colbert

Fri, 2014-04-11 12:00
Happy Friday! Welcome to Drink Like A Famous Person, where we let you bring out your fabulous side in the name of some well-earned R&R. Eschew your regular habits this weekend by drinking like...

Stephen Colbert!

Our very favorite Lord of the Rings superfan and faux-conservative news host will be leaving his right-wing alter ego behind for new adventures in late night as he replaces David Letterman next year. Let's show off our own patriotic sides by mixing up...

The "Colbert Bump"!

Back in 2009, Colbert hosted Esquire magazine's resident mixologist, David Wondrich, whom he implored to create a namesake cocktail on his own behalf. Named after the bump in popularity candidates are scientifically proven to enjoy after appearing on "The Colbert Report," you'll need your very best "good ol' Republican gin" for this one -- by the look of things, that'd be Seagrams or Beefeater.

Fill a highball glass three-quarters full of ice as cold as a bald eagle's glare, and stir in the following in order:

1 ounce cherry liquor
1.5 ounces gin
1/4 ounce lemon juice
Splash of soda

Watch Colbert totally own a game of Tolkien trivia with James Franco below.


Teen Asks Netflix To Prom Via Twitter, Netflix Says Yes

Fri, 2014-04-11 11:34
How to become the coolest, most popular guy in high school? Ask Netflix to prom.

Muthana Sweis, a 17-year-old from Chicago, asked Netflix via Twitter if the streaming company would go with him to junior prom if his tweet got 1,000 retweets.

Hey @netflix if this gets 1,000 retweets will you go to my junior prom with me?

— Muthana Sweis (@muthanasweis) January 30, 2014

We said yes! We’re third wheeling to #Prom2014 with @muthanasweis and his date:

— Netflix US (@netflix) March 28, 2014

Of course, Netflix obliged, and also decided to hook up Sweis with a bunch of cool swag from iconic movies and TV shows -- a tux, a car and a driver.

Sweis picked James Bond's "Skyfall" tux (kid's got class) and the 1950's Buick from "Grease," with a Danny Zuko look-alike behind the wheel. The teen was given the the choice to ride in one of Don Draper's gorgeous cars or Walt and Jesse's meth mobile from "Breaking Bad," but maybe the latter was a little too edgy.

Netflix sent a camera crew to Sweis' hometown and followed him all the way to prom where nearly every student hopped into an Instagram photo with him -- further proof that Netflix isn't just a great date for when you're home alone binge-watching in bed.

[h/t Adweek, Uproxx]

Are These Really the '10 Best Cities' in Illinois?

Fri, 2014-04-11 11:06

It's not scientific in any way, and rankings were determined by a real estate blog, but it still presents an interesting discussion point.

What are the 10 best cities in Illinois?

Movoto thinks they know the answer to that question. According to Movoto, north suburban Northbrook is the top city in Illinois. In fact, you can stay in the north suburbs for the top four cities.

Then stay in the north and west suburbs for the rest of the list. No downstate cities are on the list. No southern suburbs. No Chicago.

Do you agree with Movoto?


One of the criteria Movoto used in their rankings was median income. Obviously, if a city has millionaires, that would raise the median income. And speaking of millionaires, they have reason to be happy today (besides, you know, being millionaires). House Speaker Michael Madigan pulled the plug on a proposed millionaire tax amendment.


WATCH: The Amazing Story of How This Astronaut Went to Space, Went Blind and Returned to Earth Will Leave You in Awe

Fri, 2014-04-11 10:59
He tweeted from the International Space Station. Now astronaut Chris Hadfield tells the amazing story of going blind in space. Then he covers David Bowie, just because.

Ideas are not set in stone. When exposed to thoughtful people, they morph and adapt into their most potent form. TEDWeekends will highlight some of today's most intriguing ideas and allow them to develop in real time through your voice! Tweet #TEDWeekends to share your perspective or email to learn about future weekend's ideas to contribute as a writer.
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23 Real Struggles Of Going To A Music Festival

Fri, 2014-04-11 10:05
Hundreds of thousands have experienced it.

Days without food and water. Scorching temperatures. Difficulty finding shelter. Sound like a life or death situation? Well it sort of is, because you're attending a music festival. While festivals can be an insane party with 60,000 of your best friends, they can also become a living hell of sweat, grime and body odor. Just in time for Coachella 2014, here are the 23 reasons why America's much-hyped music festivals can actually be the worst.

1. Solving the lineup puzzle before you attend the festival is impossible.

Releasing clues like this doesn't make it easy to guess what the lineup will be. "Hey, Instagram followers! We're just gonna post an obscure picture of a band's artwork, so you can go crazy for the next 15 hours trying to figure out who will be playing!" No thanks, just give us the lineups please.

2. Getting friends to commit means 6,000 text messages.


Once you've gotten over the fact that you're investing most of your life savings into one purchase, rounding up friends becomes the next challenge. Enjoy those wasted work days of group messaging, Facebook messages and threads that reach 200+ emails... and then deal with collecting money.

3. Just getting to the festival is a struggle.

You just dropped $400 on a festival ticket, but now you have to buy a plane ticket, rent an RV and figure out which friend is going to "volunteer" to drive everyone to the obscure festival location. Oh, and good luck fitting everyone's luggage in the trunk.

4. You will immediately lose all of your worldly possessions.

Including but not limited to: friends, phone, car, car keys, cooler, sunscreen, sunglasses, venue wristband, wallet, everything inside said wallet, turquoise rings, clothing, dignity, sanity, happiness, consciousness...

5. Your quest for food is reduced to scavenging.

How do you pack fresh food for a three-day festival? You don't. Those Doritos and granola bars you packed will disappear by the time you arrive at the venue, and you'll most likely spend your life savings on festival food.

6. Water costs roughly $45.

The price fluctuates based on the gold standard (we assume), but you can easily secure a bottle by trading your first born or one of your vital organs once you make it to the water station. Seems reasonable.

7. Your phone battery will die at the worst possible time.

Your phone will never be charged enough for the all the Snapchats, Instagram pics, real pics, videos and "muploads" you want to take. Is your favorite band about to take the stage? Congratulations, your battery just died.

8. You will never look as Instagram-worthy as you think you do.

Celebrities always seem to make music fests their boho-chic runways. But your plans on gracing Instagram in that adorable skirt, crop top and floppy hat are foiled when you discover your hair has turned into one giant dreadlock, your body is as red as the surface of Mars and your face is oilier than a BP spill. And that fringe skirt? Destroyed by mud.

9. Committing to your favorite band means sitting through five acts you don't know.

You and your friends are only at the concert to see one band -- the same band that you've followed since 7th grade. The only problem? You have to sit through six other acts without letting go of your friend's hand or you'll lose her forever, and most of the time the other acts aren't even that good.

10. You're sweating like crazy... except when you're shivering.

After the sun is done destroying your body in every way possible, get ready for the cool desert nights to set in. Your day sweat will turn to icicles just in time for you to shiver yourself to sleep in the front seat of your car or whatever patch of grass you end up passing out in after a 4am set.

11. You will beg for rain to relieve you, then immediately curse its presence.

Just beware that when the apocalypse sets in and your tent starts to leak, Noah's ark won't be coming to save you and it's every festival goer for themselves.

12. Bathrooms will become your own version of the Hunger Games.

May the odds be ever in your favor, because nothing will stress you out more than trying not to pee your jorts in a three-mile long line to the port-a-potty. Just wait until paranoia sets in. "Will there be toilet paper? Did that man just throw up in the stall I'm walking into? Oh my God, is that... a dead person?!" Oh, and ladies, if you're on your period, you might as well just wait for toxic shock syndrome to set in.

13. Your shoes will be destroyed.

Gladiator sandals? Bloody mess. Sneakers? Blisters for days. If you wear flip flops, you'll lose them in a mud pit. And that nonchalant Kate-Moss-in-wellies-at-Glastonbury look? Save it for the pros (also remember she probably packed a dozen alternative pairs of shoes to change into).

14. You will smell terrible, and so will everyone around you.

Forget showering and even the faintest notion that putting on deodorant will help your BO. Making your way through the music festival will soon become smelling your way through the music festival.

15. Occasionally the performances don't live up to expectations.

It's inevitable: Performers won't take the stage on time, and once they do, those performers might be stumbling around and vomiting on stage. Oh, and there's a good chance that they don't sound as good in person as they did on your favorite album, recorded in a studio. That's fine... except you just paid $400 to see them live. Awesome.

16. The celebrities will totally show you and your friends up... because they're now being paid to attend.

The real reason those celebrities that float by you to the VIP section look amazing? It's because of the $20,000 they're pulling in to attend the festival in their sponsored clothing and smiles. And, as sorry as we are to say it, you'll never be ever to pull off that Vanessa Hudgens look unless you bring your own team of people with you, too.

17. The festival lineups are all starting to look eerily identical...

Kings of Leon, Outkast, Arctic Monkeys, Arcade Fire -- they're all headlining multiple festivals across the globe this year, on top of the festivals they've already played in the recent past. We hope you like the Avett Brothers -- you'll be seeing them on multiple stages. Same goes for Vampire Weekend. Wouldn't it be nice to see some new faces headlining these fests once in a while?

18. Crowdsurfers and hula-hoopers will make you kind of loathe humankind.

People you will likely encounter at a festival: "fairies" hula-hooping, people violently dancing -- sorry, "feeling" the music, sweaty people with their shirts off, people who are still really into mosh pits, crowdsurfers attempting to break your neck and countless pushy concertgoers who you'll have to box out for three hours during your front row adventure at Mumford & Sons. Also, special shout-out to the people watching the concert through the lens of their iPhones (or worse, iPads).

19. But the truly special people are the ones who bring their children to festivals.

"A baby? Someone seriously brought a child to this?" Yes, they did. Perhaps the parents can find some daytime babysitters from among the tweens in their barely-there neon rave gear. Did their parents drive them there?

20. It seems like everyone is drunk, hallucinating, high or passed out.

Everyone has their own idea of fun, but watching the guy on ten tabs of acid wig out is never a great moment, and neither is carrying your friend who's passed out from heat exhaustion to the medical tent. And getting thrown up on by that random drunk girl before your favorite show? Never fun.

21. It's impossible to get sleep, and you will go crazy. Seriously. Crazy.

Get ready to sleep in places that you no one could pay you to lie down in any other time of the year. Your other option? "Selling out" and getting a hotel room or an RV so you can actually be well-rested and enjoy the music. Either way, try to avoid loud crowds. Guy with the stereo blasting all night? Dead to us.

22. But giving up is not an option.

Are you tired? Feeling exhausted? Want to give up? Sick of sleeping in a van? Well, good luck, because there is no escaping. Especially after you paid all that money...

23. But you'll be sad when the festival is over... and want to do it all again

By the end of the festival, you'll feel like you've gone through a pop cultural war zone and somehow made it out alive. You'll have pics to prove that you went, survived and conquered, plus more than enough selective memories to last a lifetime... or at least long enough to ensure that you're going again next year.

This Web Series Proves Internet Cat Videos Aren't A Waste Of Time

Fri, 2014-04-11 09:18
When "Ken" signed up for a language tutor through, the last thing he was expecting was a beret-wearing cat to show up at his door in search of a feline lady love.

Curious? That's the point of the improbable -- and entirely fictional -- story told by the Chicago-based web series, "CATastrophes."

Promising that "funny things happen when cats appear," the series casts cats from local no-kill shelters in the starring roles. The hope, says "CATastrophes" co-creator Alana Grelyak, is that viewers will see playful cats in funny situations and want to adopt an animal for adventures of their own.

"[The films] get people into a different mindframe," Grelyak told The Huffington Post. "We're hoping that while we're making people laugh and putting adorable kittens in their face, we can get the message across and have a whole new audience reached."

In 2013, Grelyak and her husband, Michael Gabriele, were looking for a way to build their respective film reels -- hers for writing and acting and his for directing. The pair entered 2013's feline-themed film competition, Catdance, where their first video, “Catalogue,” racked up nearly half a million YouTube views and was later picked up for The Walker Art Center's Internet Cat Video Festival.

Following the competition, Grelyak started a blog about special needs cat adoption, "Cat In The Fridge." When their second one-off video, “The Inheritance,” found Internet success, the pair wanted to see if they could push adoption and related issues by launching the "CATastrophes" series.

"There's a whole set of people who aren't getting reached by the animal welfare agencies," Grelyak said, referring to ad spots like the well-known tearjerker singer Sarah McLachlan created in 2007 for the American Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals. "I'm a huge animal welfare proponent and I can't even watch those!"

A revelation came to Grelyak when she attended the pet-oriented social media and marketing conference, BlogPaws, last year.

"I was talking to people and a lot of them were feeling the same way: They were tired of having their heartstrings tugged and feeling guilted into giving money [to shelters]," Grelyak said. "We wanted to do it in a fun way. We didn't want to show animals sad or miserable. We wanted to show people, 'Here's how much fun you can have adopting a cat.'"

So far, "CATastrophes" shorts have featured cats from the Tree House Humane Society and Chicago Cat Rescue. "We write around what we think the cats can do," Grelyak explained. "We try to find out what the cats like to do and then write the [human] actors around them."

"The extra exposure of what they're doing is so creative and it's reaching new audiences," Jenny Schlueter, development director of Tree House Humane Society, told HuffPost. "Having a fresh perspective from someone who works outside the shelter is really valuable."

While the "CATastrophes" series spotlights local shelters and their cats, Grelyak is using her blog to get support for the shelters themselves. Already, she's helped Tree House secure professional social media work, 5,000 donated meals and a $2,500 grant.

In the future, Grelyak says she and Gabriele want to spotlight shelters in other states -- the two fund "CATastrophes" out of their own pockets -- and maybe extend roles to shelter dogs or even internet cat superstars like Lil' Bub, who recently endorsed "CATastrophes" on her YouTube channel.

"You may see some guest stars in the future," Grelyak said.

Calling All Pagans

Fri, 2014-04-11 08:25
Somewhere between these two quotes lies the future:

"And I would like to emphasize that nobody on this planet is going to be untouched by the impacts of climate change."

"The Judeo-Christian worldview is that man is at the center of the universe; nature was therefore created for man. Nature has no intrinsic worth other than man's appreciation and moral use of it."

The first quote is from Rajendra Pachauri, chairman of the United Nations Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change, summing up the dire and much-discussed findings of its recent report: Human civilization -- its technology, its war games, its helpless short-sightedness and addiction to fossil fuels -- is wrecking the environment that sustains all life. Time is running out on our ability to make changes; and the world's, uh, "leadership" -- political, corporate -- has shown little will to step beyond more of the same, to figure out how we can reduce carbon emissions and live in eco-harmony, with a sense of responsibility for the future.

The second quote is from radio talk-show host Dennis Prager, writing recently in the National Review Online. He goes on, in his remarkable rant against environmentalism, to point out that "worship of nature was the pagan worldview" and "for the Left, the earth has supplanted patriotism." Eventually he compares environmentalism to loving wild dogs more than mauled children.

Prager's diatribe isn't my normal reading matter and I only bring it up here because I think it has relevance to the leadership void I've been pondering. The contemptuous dismissal of nature as lacking intrinsic worth -- an unworthy competitor with God for human allegiance -- may no longer have mainstream credibility, but, like racism, it's part of the mindset that has shaped Western civilization.

"And God said, Let us make man in our image, after our likeness: and let them have dominion over the fish of the sea, and over the fowl of the air, and over the cattle, and over all the earth, and over every creeping thing that creepeth upon the earth."

We're still caught up in the momentum of dominion. Thus: ". . . for all the alarming warnings generated by the scientific community and confirmed by the IPCC's comprehensive analysis of that science," according to a recent Common Dreams article, "world governments and the powerful private sector have done next to nothing to meet the challenge now before humanity."

Indeed, as Elizabeth Kolbert points out in The New Yorker: "Currently, instead of discouraging fossil-fuel use, the U.S. government underwrites it, with tax incentives for producers worth about four billion dollars a year."

We've got, as the IPCC report states, "a 15-year window" to start making serious changes in how we structure our world. Human society will need, the Common Dreams piece says, to "revolutionize the structures of its economies, food systems, and energy grids."

This is not going to happen -- not at current levels of awareness, concern and empowerment. This is the dawning realization I find myself less and less able to live with. Climate change and global weather chaos -- droughts and fires, tsunamis and tidal waves, crop failure, undrinkable water, devastating cold, rising oceans, new levels of social turmoil -- are the future we are unable to hold off. But maybe we can start learning, at long last, that we are not the masters of the universe and that "dominion" and exploitation are immature expressions of power.

My only hope is that, in so learning -- as humanity finds itself increasingly entangled with environmental chaos and recognizes its utter vulnerability to nature -- we will begin to transcend our isolated sense of entitlement to do with Planet Earth what we will and revolutionize the way we organize every aspect of our social structure, rethinking ten millennia of dominance-motivated social organization. Nobody, after all, no matter how wealthy and fortified, is immune to the impact of a changing climate.

We're all in it together. We're part of nature, not its master. This concept is the missing foundation stone of contemporary civilization.

It was in this state of mind that I read Prager's essay, wondering if such an awareness change were possible, or whether, as the consequences of unsustainable living intensified, we'd become, instead, increasingly isolated and survivalist in our thinking.

"Worship of nature was the pagan worldview," he wrote, sounding the note of ultimate contempt for any suggestion that environmental sustainability matters and our way of life needs to change profoundly.

Perhaps the word "pagan" embodies the most deeply embedded prejudice in the Western, civilized mindset -- the first and last justification for global dominance. Pagans are the ultimate "other." We've built a moral structure on this prejudice, and as a consequence the U.S. government continues to subsidize rather than tax fossil fuel production. As a consequence, we're far more prepared to go to war than we are to make peace with the planet.

We have to undo this prejudice before it undoes us.

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


How to Remember All the Passwords You're Resetting

Fri, 2014-04-11 05:51
If you're like most people, the news of the Heartbleed bug and how broadly its security flaw spread is worrisome enough. But the list of sites where you absolutely have to change your passwords looks daunting for anyone.

You probably have to change passwords on your email, your Facebook, and maybe even your online dating profile, not to mention potentially countless online shopping sites (depending upon the depth and breadth of your need to shop until you drop).

If you're like a lot of people, you probably think that you can come up with one indecipherable password, maybe one that isn't even a word, and then reuse it because no one will ever guess. But the Heartbleed bug, like the hacks of Kickstarter and some Yahoo emails earlier this year, should have you questioning that assumption.

In these attacks, hackers don't have to guess one password, or even try out a few easy ones (like the word "password," which you should always avoid), to get into one account. Instead, they go after a site's database of all users' logins and passwords and, no matter how strong you think yours is, they've got it.

It could be bad enough when you lose one password on one site or for one account - but, for instance, in the Kickstarter case, they reset all users' passwords right away and only two accounts were accessed. However, if you, full of hubris about your ingenious, unguessable password, used it on another site with another login name, then the people who snagged it the first time can get into your other accounts without even having to "guess" your unguessable password.

Create a System

So if you're in the midst of changing passwords, now's a good time to start a password system, rather than picking one new, universal password. Using this method, you can not only prevent most identity thieves from accessing more than one account if they do get your password, you can also make sure you remember what they all are.

1. Pick a meaningless combination of letters and numbers that you can remember. However, don't use a maiden name (and especially not your mother's), a child's name or a favored pet. Pick the name of a beloved (or un-beloved) cousin twice removed, the name of a song you loved as a kid, or even the nursery school your best friend attended. Make up an acronym for the first line of your favorite novel or movie quote.

2. Replace a letter or two with a number or symbol (like a 5 - or a $ -- instead of an "s," or a 3 instead of an "e").

3. Add a punctuation mark or two to the password at random.

4. Surround your random meaningful word with the name of the site for which it is the password, in a way that makes sense for you. If your word is "TGIF" (which it shouldn't be!), and your punctuation mark an exclamation point (not the best one to use), then your Facebook password might be "face!TG1Fbook" and your Amazon password might be "ama!TG1Fzon." For added security, you could also abbreviate the site names in some way that works for you.

5. Change your passwords regularly. If you shop online at various sites, or if you know that an account was compromised or you were victim of another form of offline identity theft, consider changing your passwords once a month. If your risk is more moderate, do it once a quarter. If you can't stomach either, do it once a year - but know that, for instance, the Heartbleed bug was operational for two years before it was brought to the developers' attention and fixed, which means a password you used in 2011 could still be operational in a hacker's hands today.

There are a lot of naysayers out there right now who claim you don't need to be so careful, that there's no evidence the bug was exploited by hackers and that, even if it was, the consequences are likely to be pretty minimal for most people. Don't listen to them, and don't give in to your own weariness with this sort of vigilance. At this point, the businesses who have your security in their hands aren't failsafe, the government is still debating how much they should have to tell you when their security fails, and hackers are bombarding businesses and individuals in an effort to make a quick buck. The only person who can even begin to protect you is you.

Health Officials Take Tuberculosis Patient To Court Over Alleged Failed Self-Quarantine

Thu, 2014-04-10 16:34
A health official in central Illinois has taken the unusual step of seeking a court order against a patient with tuberculosis, citing concerns the man, who has been warned against going out in public, has allegedly failed to seclude himself throughout the course of his treatment.

If successful, reports the News Gazette, the patient, Christian Mbemba Ibanda, could be ordered to wear an electronic monitoring bracelet. The bracelet would alert authorities if he attempts to leave his home in Champaign, Ill.

Tuberculosis is spread through the air, and while most forms are curable, it can be fatal if left untreated, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Symptoms include chest pains and coughing fits which may result in coughing up blood or sputum.

During the hearing on Friday, all visitors to the courthouse will be required to wear masks, reports note.

"We had been telling this gentleman, 'Listen. We're not messing around,'" Champaign-Urbana Public Health District administrator Julie Pryde told the Associated Press. "This is a serious illness. You cannot be exposing other people."

Pryde said she hopes a court order will keep Ibanda in quarantine until multiple sputum samples test negative. Per the Guardian, the home quarantine could last up to six weeks.

In 2012, authorities in California were forced to jail Armando Rodriguez, a TB patient, after he reportedly refused to take medication to keep the illness from becoming contagious. Rodriguez told a nurse he'd been drinking alcohol and using methamphetamine and was afraid the anti-tuberculosis drugs would hurt his liver, reports noted at the time.

U.S. Map of Failed State Partition Proposals -- Welcome to Forgottonia

Thu, 2014-04-10 16:15
It's no secret that Illinois has a rivalry that goes deeper than even the Chicago Cubs vs. Chicago White Sox war, and it is between the Chicagoland area and downstate Illinois. We regularly see comments (mostly on Facebook) of people suggesting that the only way to save Illinois is for Chicago to secede.

While that may not happen in our lifetimes, it doesn't mean that people haven't tried. In fact, according to a map put together by Mansfield University geography professor and blogger Dr. Andrew Shears, if these state partition proposals were fulfilled, Illinois would have been split into five separate states: Forgottonia, Chicagoland, Little Egypt, St. Louis, and whatever was left would remain Illinois.

I don't know about you, but I'm glad that these state proposals failed, because let's be honest: Who would want to live in a state called, "Forgottonia"? (Our office consensus is that "Forgottonia" historically has been spelled with a single "T" by those who live there and coined the term, but this is Dr. Shears' map.)

Check out the map of failed state partition proposals below and see how different the U.S. could have been. Click the map to enlarge.

Want more? Then be sure to check out our other related articles by clicking the links below!

How do you know you're from Illinois? These 12 ways will tell you.

Just wait, there's 12 MORE ways to know you're an Illinoisan.

It's not all fun and games in Illinois, especially when you look at our financial situation.

How will the candidates for governor work to improve the state of our state? Find out with our easy-to-read candidate scorecards!

Want to help make Illinois great again? Then click here to contact your state representatives instantly about issues that are important to you and your family. 

Don't forget to like Reboot on Facebook!

Shedd Aquarium Around the World: Conserving Species and Critical Habitats

Thu, 2014-04-10 15:46

After the third worst winter on record and few rounds with the polar vortex, spring has finally sprung in Chicago. With the extreme winter weather behind us, Shedd Aquarium's conservation and research experts are ready to get back in the field -- and in the water -- from the Bahamas to Southeast Asia and from the Amazon River basin to the Great Lakes watershed.

This month, I'll spend time on Exuma Islands, Bahamas with an iguana research team comprised of dedicated Shedd staff and passionate citizen scientists. Our team also will be joined by partners from the Bahamas National Trust, conservation staff from Island Conservation and a student from the College of the Bahamas.

During this annual research expedition, we'll traverse the region in search of the Exuma Island rock iguana, Cyclura cychlura figginsi, a critically endangered lizard found in this island chain. Our research team will spend a week surveying iguana populations, collecting blood samples for genetic studies and investigating the general health of each population.

With the help of citizen scientists, Shedd has been studying and implementing conservation strategies for this endangered species for more than two decades, and the data collected on this trip will contribute to long-term assessments of population growth and stability and will be used to inform local conservation measures.

Dr. Kristine Stump, Shedd's newest postdoctoral research associate, is no stranger to the Bahamas, either. Prior to joining the aquarium, she served as the principle investigator at the Bimini Biological Field Station, where she studied the effects of habitat loss on lemon sharks. Although her research will now focus on spawning aggregations of Nassau grouper, the methods she used to track lemon sharks will translate seamlessly to her work tracking this endangered species through the Bahamian archipelago.

Earlier this year, Dr. Stump returned to the Bahamas to scout reported sites of Nassau grouper aggregations, thereby laying the groundwork for her research expedition next month. On this trip, she'll be deploying bottom monitors to track their seasonal movement to and from spawning aggregations. Although the project is in the early stages, Dr. Stump's findings will ultimately assist the Bahamas Department of Marine Resources establish a science-based management plan for the Nassau grouper.

Further south, Shedd's Postdoctoral Research Associate Dr. Lesley de Souza has returned to Guyana -- a small country on the northeast coast of South America--to begin the second phase of her research project studying the region's rich aquatic wildlife. Dr. de Souza's work focuses mainly on the arapaima, one of the largest freshwater fishes in the world, and a species threated by over-fishing and commercial harvesting. Despite these vulnerabilities, Arapaima are important to local Amerindian communities and have a larger ecological function, making it all the more important to design management plans for this endangered species.

During this three-month long research expedition, Dr. de Souza will work with a team to relocate the nineteen fish tagged during the first phase of the project, as well as tag and monitor an additional fifteen. By using radio telemetry to monitor the tagged arapaima, she can track their movement and migration patterns, ultimately using this information to help designate protected areas for this critical aquatic animal.

Dr. de Souza works side-by-side with local Amerindians, many of whom share her passion for protecting the country's aquatic wildlife. To help ensure conservation efforts continue long after her project is completed, she's training the villagers in scientific data collection, as well as engaging the burgeoning sport angler community in arapaima preservation.

Whether it's in our own backyard or halfway around the world, connecting local communities to the living world is one of the many ways that Shedd's research and conservation experts help establish long-term management plans for endangered species and their habitats. For instance, Dr. Tse-Lynn Loh, another postdoctoral research associate, works with long-term partner Project Seahorse to build local and global capacity for monitoring and managing seahorse populations in Southeast Asia.

Although it's a hotspot for seahorse diversity, Southeast Asia is also where most seahorses are under pressure from the global commercial trade, curios and traditional medicines. Dr. Loh has spent the past month working in Vietnam, and she hopes that by building a long-term citizen science monitoring program that includes standard protocols for identifying and tagging seahorses, she can ensure the sustainability of regional seahorse conservation work for generations to come.

Closer to home, our Great Lakes researchers are busy preparing to return to the field to continue their work studying non-native species and migratory fishes. Senior Research Biologist Dr. Phil Willink plans to return to the field this month to study how the non-native weatherfish might affect local wildlife and habitats. Our colleague Dr. Solomon David, a postdoctoral research associate, also is getting ready to travel throughout the Great Lakes region to study native fish migrations and look at how dam removal affects migratory aquatic species.

Shedd may be located in Chicago, but our work -- and our reach -- is worldwide. As conservation researchers, we're stewards of the natural world, and that's not a responsibility we take lightly. Our team is passionate about conserving both our collection and wild populations, but an important part of our work is sharing our passion with others and hopefully inspiring them to make a difference.

We'll be sharing updates on all of Shedd's research programs throughout the world, so follow us on Twitter to stay connected to our experts in the field.

This $100 Gilded Grilled Cheese Might Actually Be Worth It

Thu, 2014-04-10 15:32
This is not the grilled cheese of your youth. Unless, perhaps, you were born into royalty.

In honor of April being National Grilled Cheese Month -- as well as April 12 marking National Grilled Cheese Day, according to the authorities who decide such matters -- one Chicago restaurant is serving up the decadent grilled cheese sandwich to end all decadent grilled cheese sandwiches.

Meet the "zillion dollar grilled cheese" available only this month at Deca Restaurant and Bar at the Ritz-Carlton hotel in downtown Chicago. Its price tag? $100.

The sandwich features thin slices of black Iberico ham sourced from acorn-fed free-range pigs living primary in southern Spain, Ellis Family Farms heirloom tomatoes, 100-year-old aged balsamic vinaigrette and Oregon Perigord white truffle aioli, according to a press release. Even the bread -- artisan country sourdough cooked in Laudemio Marchesi de’ Frescobaldi extra virgin olive oil -- is fancier than most.

And the kicker, of course, is the cheese: 40-year aged Wisconsin cheddar infused with 24k gold flakes. Yes, 24k gold flakes.

Finally, this grilled cheese is topped with Hudson Valley foie gras and a sunny-side-up duck egg, plus lobster macaroni and cheese on the side. Because of course.

Here's another look at this ridiculous sammie beast:

Despite the sandwich's lofty price, Eric Ciechna, a host at Deca, told DNAinfo Chicago the cost could actually be "a steal" considering the high value of all of its components combined.

Want to read more from HuffPost Taste? Follow us on Twitter, Facebook, Pinterest and Tumblr.

Top-Ranked High School Player And Duke Recruit Jahlil Okafor: 'I Don't Hate North Carolina'

Thu, 2014-04-10 13:54
Now that the 2014 NCAA Tournament is in our rearview mirror and Storrs, Conn., has been established (for now) as the center of the college basketball universe, we can turn our attention to Jahlil Okafor. The 6-foot-10 Chicago native, McDonald's All-American and soon-to-be Duke Blue Devil is the winner of the Morgan Wootten Player of the Year award. The award recognizes the nation’s top male and female high school senior student-athletes for their outstanding accomplishments. Past winners include Dwight Howard, LeBron James and Kevin Love. And, since it's never too early to look ahead, The Huffington Post spoke with Okafor about Duke's Coach K, why he doesn't hate North Carolina (yet) and his potential to be "one-and-done."

Dealing with recruiters and coaches calling every day can be tough. What has been the biggest challenge for you throughout the recruiting process?

The biggest challenge was those relationships that I had built with all the coaches, from Baylor, Ohio State and all these other universities. It was so hard just to choose one school, but when it came down to it, I felt most comfortable with Duke and Coach K.

Who were you closest with?

It was so tough. Coach [Bill] Self and all the assistants at Kansas were great. My family was really close with his family. All of the Baylor staff I kept in contact with pretty much every day. Ohio State, even the hometown schools, Illinois. That made the decision process that much harder.

Aside from basketball, what are you looking forward to the most in college?

I'm excited to meet some of the Duke students. They're all special in their own ways. My talent is basketball, but they have future CEOs and great people.

Jabari Parker -- Duke's star freshman -- was also a top-ranked recruit from Chicago. Did he set the table for you?

I wouldn't say he set the table for me, but I used him as a tool for me to get the inside scoop on what's going on at Duke. Jabari, being my close friend since the 8th grade, he was able to give me an insight. Everything they told him: Was it true? He didn't try to sway me, he was 100 percent honest.

What was it about Coach K [Mike Krzyzewski] that you gravitated toward the most? The winning?

Like you said: winning speaks for itself. I want to win on the next level. That's my biggest thing, and he's the winningest coach in college basketball. Some of the conversations Coach K had with me prior to me going there [were] just phenomenal. He spoke with me using basketball as more than making money for my family. Using it as a tool to change people's lives, and putting me in different environment to better other people around me. He's coached LeBron James, Kevin Durant and Michael Jordan.

Nowadays, elite freshmen always face the "one-and-done" question [of whether they'll stay one year and leave for the NBA]. How are you going to go about your business as a normal college student?

Like you said, I'm just going to college next fall expecting to be a college student, trying not to think too much about the NBA. Sometimes I do get caught into it because it's been my dream for as long as I can remember.

Speaking of the NBA, what is the next step for you to take on the court?

The next step for me is a lot of steps, but I think the one thing that I talked to the Duke staff about is getting down there, changing my diet. I have changed my diet greatly from three years ago, but to be able to have that structure with nutritionists and trainers is going to be really helpful for me.

Is there an NBA center that you try and model your game after?

It's tough to think about centers now. I love Tim Duncan; that's the one guy that's playing right now that I really enjoy to watch. Often times I find myself watching Shaquille O'Neal and Hakeem Olajuwon. I'm striving one day to hopefully be as dominant as those guys were.

You haven't even gotten to campus yet, but can you discuss what you want your legacy at Duke to become?

The most important thing is for me to be winning. I just want to get Duke back to where it was, and change the look of Duke -- how people think big men really can't play there even though [Mason] Plumlee had an amazing year there. I want to also change the landscape of Duke; the myth that big men at Duke can't happen.

Everyone knows the vitriol between Duke and Carolina. But do you hate the Tar Heels just yet?

No, I don't hate North Carolina yet. They have an amazing class coming in. I'm really close with all those guys. I was teammates with them playing for Team USA, so I don't hate North Carolina. I don't know if that's going to change when I step on Duke's campus, but it's not there yet, no.

This interview has been edited for length and clarity.

Email me at or ask me questions about anything sports-related at @Schultz_Report and follow me on Instagram @Schultz_Report. Also, be sure and catch my NBC Sports Radio show, Kup and Schultz, which airs Sunday mornings from 9-12 ET, right here.

Higher One, Top Campus Debit Card Provider, Faces Investigation

Thu, 2014-04-10 13:10
NEW YORK -- The nation's leading provider of campus debit cards, Higher One Holdings, faces an investigation by the Federal Reserve Bank of Chicago in connection with the practices of a former bank partner involving college students' accounts.

The new probe follows an investigation of Higher One by the Federal Deposit Insurance Corporation, which accused the company of violating college students' consumer rights. That inquiry ended in 2012 with an $11 million settlement.

Higher One, once a Wall Street darling, is dealing with a growing list of regulatory headaches as it battles accusations that its practices siphon away hefty portions of students' federal loans.

The Chicago Fed investigation was disclosed last month by Higher One in its annual report filed with the Securities and Exchange Commission. The filing referred to a former bank partner that falls under the regulatory purview of the Chicago Fed, but the bank was not identified. According to Higher One, the former partner may be accused of "unfair or deceptive practices," a violation of the Federal Trade Commission Act, over marketing and disclosure efforts related to Higher One's campus debit card accounts.

Of all the bank partners Higher One has disclosed in its securities filings, Cole Taylor Bank is the only one that is also regulated by the Chicago Fed. Moreover, in its own annual report, also filed with the SEC in March, Cole Taylor's parent company, Taylor Capital Group, similarly referred to an investigation by bank regulators in relation to a former partner, described as "an organization that provides electronic financial disbursements and payment services to the higher education industry."

Cole Taylor served as a depository financial institution for a portion of Higher One’s customer accounts. A spokesman for the Kineo Group, which represents the bank, declined to comment.

The Chicago Fed's investigation could lead to civil monetary penalties and restitution, as well as changes to certain business practices of Higher One. Such an inquiry "could have a material adverse effect on our business, financial condition and results of operations," Higher One wrote. Taylor Capital Group told investors that it could be forced to give refunds to allegedly harmed customers, though it added that Higher One would pick up the tab.

The disclosure of this latest investigation comes just as Higher One is negotiating with the U.S. Department of Education over new regulations on campus debit cards that threaten to curb the company's revenues. Other negotiators convened by the Education Department have already been critical of Higher One. A new probe of allegations the company cheated college students could undermine Higher One's arguments with Education Department rule writers.

Campus debit cards have drawn increasing scrutiny from members of Congress, the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau (CFPB), the Government Accountability Office (GAO), the Education Department's Office of Inspector General (OIG) and college students themselves. The criticism is largely directed toward marketing that consumer advocates, like the U.S. Public Interest Research Group, argue appears to show endorsement of such cards by universities, effectively steering students to expensive bank accounts.

These debit cards typically carry fees that students could easily avoid. Existing Education Department regulations prohibit charging fees to access federal financial aid, but not to access accounts where government student loan money is placed, like a Higher One debit account. In short, servicers like Higher One make money off charging fees to students for accounts that hold their federal student aid money.

"It's too early to assess the outcome as the review is ongoing," said Higher One spokeswoman Shoba Lemoine in an email Wednesday about the Chicago Fed investigation. "But keep in mind Higher One has made dramatic consumer-friendly changes to our account offerings including improved consumer safeguards and fee structures (dropped more than half a dozen fees, for example). These changes have been recognized by the GAO and OIG reports on campus debit cards."

Nonetheless, Higher One's share price has fallen more than 35 percent since the start of the year. It opened Thursday at $6.36, down more than 70 percent since its all-time high of $21.97, reached in December 2010.

Officials at colleges distributing financial aid money to students through Higher One debit cards told the Education Department's inspector general that outsourcing the process saves them money. According to disclosures to both the media and other federal offices, schools also stand to make hundreds of thousands of dollars in the arrangements.

The OIG report found that schools did not "prevent their servicers from using marketing and other strategies to persuade students to select their debit card over other available options." According to the CFPB, campus debit cards often are not the best deal for students as consumers, compared to other options. The CFPB has pushed financial institutions offering campus cards, like Higher One, for greater disclosure on how much money they pay colleges to provide their services.

Advocates for students argue that companies that have violated related federal laws, or settled cases over such violations, should be restricted from handling accounts of financial aid money for a period of time. Higher One, for example, settled the FDIC investigation in 2012 and agreed in 2013 to pay $15 million to settle a class action lawsuit alleging unfair and deceptive practices in collecting fees from students.

"If the department seeks to reduce fraud and harm to students, then it is completely inappropriate to permit Title IV funds to be handled by companies that have violated money laundering, consumer protection, or privacy laws," wrote Maxwell John Love, vice president of the United States Student Association, in a letter to the Education Department's rulemaking negotiators that was obtained by The Huffington Post. "Any company that has been found by a court of law to be negligent, or entered into a settlement related to violation of these laws in the last six years, should be banned from handling Title IV funds."

Lemoine, the Higher One spokeswoman, declined to respond to Love's proposal, noting that negotiators "have been encouraged not to provide editorial or commentary to the media regarding views expressed by other members on the committee."

Shahien Nasiripour contributed reporting.

Chief Keef Hits the North Shore: Two Chicago Perspectives

Thu, 2014-04-10 12:43
South Side POV (Evan F. Moore):

You can take someone out of the hood but you can't take the hood out of them. Or so I've been told.

Last year, Englewood's very own, Interscope Records recording artist Chief Keef, moved to the north suburban enclave of Northfield.

Apparently, he's been nothing but trouble ever since. Arrest after arrest along with smoking weed in plain view, loud arguments and wild parties can put someone on the radar of local law enforcement.

One of the teenage rapper's neighbors gave the Chicago Tribune a typical, delusional suburbanite response to Keef's presence in their neighborhood.

"We all knew that something bad was going to happen at that house, but I still can't believe it is happening in my neighborhood," said the neighbor who wanted to remain anonymous out of fear of retaliation.

Maybe the people in Northfield just don't understand their blunt-smoking, ATV-driving neighbor. I bet they haven't invited him to join their block club. Maybe he represents the innate fear white America has of black males.

Seattle Seahawks cornerback Richard Sherman, the guy who scared the s--t out of Middle America with his post-game NFC Championship game rant, has a must-read column with Sports Illustrated's MMQB. His latest column is called "Stardom Doesn't Change Where You're From." In case you didn't know, Sherman grew up with Washington Redskins wide receiver DeSean Jackson in southern California. Last week, Jackson was released by the Philadelphia Eagles for his alleged gang ties. Like Keef, Jackson continued to have a relationship with the friends he grew up with.

Sherman said this about the complex relationship people like Jackson and Keef have with the guys from their old neighborhood: "Was DeSean supposed to then say, 'Thanks guys, but now that I'm a millionaire, please leave me alone?' Even if he wanted to, he wouldn't have. In desperate times for people who come from desperate communities, your friends become your family."

Sherman's words are something that our friends in northern Cook County fail to understand. I guess having an "entourage" is much more fun when Vince Chase and Turtle are around.

The thing that might piss these folks off the most is that their kids love Chief Keef's music. White suburban kids' infatuation with rap music isn't exactly breaking news. Keef's music is a part of a sub-genre local artists call "Drill music." This type of music often paints a picture of Chicago that most shy away from. The violence that stems from the sub-genre has claimed the lives of several local artists in the past two years. Just yesterday, Chief Keef's own cousin, rapper Big Glo, was shot to death. You might have gotten the gist if you've watched the CNN docudrama "Chicagoland."

I'm going to let you in on a little secret. The violence here in Chicago isn't as bad as it used to be. It's better reported. That's the difference. I know it is easy to fall for the swindle when we've been fed skewed images by the media.

Honestly, what did everyone think was going to happen when you give a 16 year-old kid a $6 million record deal? He may not have seen that much money before in his relatively short life.

Lucky for Chief Keef's neighbors, he may not be around much longer after his latest arrest.

The sad part about all of this is that Keef got the most lucrative record deal any Chicago artist, in any genre, has ever gotten. Up until this point, one of Chicago's up and coming musicians has spent more time involved with the prison-industrial complex than he has in the studio. He's going to have to honor the contract his signed with the record label at some point. Interscope is going to want a return on their investment.

Regardless of how you feel about his music, Chief Keef might've turned himself into an all too familiar image of an African-American male behind bars.

That's the s--t I don't like.

North Side POV (Sheila Quirke):

I can't claim a North Shore address, but my kid goes to school in Wilmette and I float in and out of the area regularly. My inside joke is that I could "pass" for North Shore, which is really saying something given my humble South Side steel mill roots.

That said, I've wanted to write about Chief Keef for a couple of years now, but never thought a Lake Shore liberal like myself had the street cred to pull it off. I mean, honestly, who am I to have any sort of place to talk about the socio-political-economic obstacles that Chief Keef copes with on the daily? I'm a stay-at-home white mom who carts her kids around in a late model SUV. It's okay to say that I don't have a clue. Opinions, yes, but clues, no. That's fair.

But then Chief Keef's manager went and rented a McMansion in Northfield last year. And as was expected, Chief Keef brought that trouble that dogs him so completely right up there where the tony folks live. I finally found my "in" and you best believe I'm gonna take it.

After revealing that Chief Keef scared him, fellow Chicago musician Lupe Fiasco got a personal smack down from the Chief via Twitter. I'm Team Lupe on this one. Chief Keef scares me, too, when you consider that so many Chicago kids look up to him as a measure of success. It terrifies me to see photos of him, shirt off, brandishing automatics with such bravado. It terrifies me that his music catapulted when embraced by the school kids of CPS -- those same school kids getting gunned down by those very same automatics. It terrifies me that pop starlets engaged in the same romanticization of guns and drugs (Rihanna and Miley, I'm talking to you, ladies) see their record sales skyrocket with tweens across America belting out their choruses in the back seats of minivans. Gun and drug culture scares me, but never more so when it is so successfully packaged for our children.

The fine folks up in Northfield most likely had no idea who Chief Keef was before he started getting pinched for driving 100 MPH on the Edens and making the news. Those same socio-political-economic challenges that a black kid (even with a six million dollar record contract) deals with coming out of Englewood are like a parallel universe for the good folks of the North Shore.

If you live in the North Shore, Chief Keef and what he represents--urban gangs, drugs, and gun violence -- have always been someone else's problem. Not anymore. When the guns and the drugs and the gang bangers live three doors down from you, it's suddenly not so parallel. That shit is suddenly very much your business.

In some ways, I feel badly for those folks up in Northfield. Not only do they have the old money folks from the true North Shore (is there a Glencoe, Winnetka, or Lake Forest in the house?) tsk tsking their newest neighbor -- that is what happens when you start zoning McMansions, right? -- but you have these misperceived "urban" based problems literally on your door step.

I keep waiting for a dialogue to open up here, the opportunity to talk about the great divide that is Chicago. I keep waiting for an honest discussion about South and North, gangs and privilege, violence and drugs and guns to start. But it hasn't. Right now, Chief Keef is an easy target up there in Northfield. He is a public nuisance -- little more than an embarrassment and a punch line -- that threatens Northfield property values and that's about it.

What a wasted opportunity.

The 13 Worst Synonyms For 'Vagina,' Ranked

Thu, 2014-04-10 12:22
Is there such thing as a non-gross, or even kind of sexy term for a woman’s vagina? When it comes to vagina vernacular, it’s an endless struggle.

There’s a whole wide world of vaginal euphemisms out there, ranging from the mildly confusing (“box” -- why?) to the truly horrifying (“meat flaps,” anyone?).

(Before we go any further, let’s stave off the “You mean labia, not vagina!” argument right now. In this article, “vagina” refers to the whole thing. Inside and outside parts. The end.)

Over the past few years, vaginas have had their day -- in artwork, on television and in the news. But the language we use to name said vaginas is still pretty terrible. We think it's time to come up with some new words.

We’ve rounded up some of the most common euphemisms -- most of which we’ve heard women actually use to refer to their own genitals -- and ranked them from least terrible to most.

13. Lady bits. Prissy, but not that bad.

12. Flower. Georgia O'Keeffe's artwork aside, vagina-rose comparisons sound like something out of a 1950s sex ed class. Your vagina isn't a flower -- it's a body part.

11. Vajeen. With a soft “j.” Only acceptable if you’re French.

10. Bajingo. Pleasantly peppy, but also sounds like a board game. Yahtzee!

9. Va-jay-jay. In-between a nonsense word and an anatomically correct term. So close... and yet so far. (Only Bailey from "Grey's" can pull off using this term.)

8. Woo-hoo/ Ya-hoo/ Hoo-ha. While we hope every lady associates her vagina with fun, these are rodeo shouts.

7. Coochie/ cooch. Preferred euphemism of "The Real Housewives Of Atlanta." Sounds like you're talking to a baby.

6. Beaver. This is an animal. A goofy-looking animal with teeth. Not part of a woman's anatomy.

5. Muffin. As in, "Is your muffin buttered?" Come on, people. There's no need to confuse the cupcakes of breakfast with anything else.

4. Axe wound. Way too violent and "Game Of Thrones"-esque. Who wants to associate their sexual organs with a deadly injury?

3. Pussy. Overused in porn, and how anyone was ever comfortable with this word’s sibilance is a lifelong mystery.

2. Snatch. We just... why? Who came up with this? What are you snatching? Why are you snatching?

1. Cooter. #NO.

Until we can come up with something new, let's just stick to the classic:

I Contracted a Flesh-Eating Bacteria and Lived to Tell

Thu, 2014-04-10 12:21
This story was written and performed by Karen Soltero for the live, personal storytelling series Oral Fixation (An Obsession With True Life Tales) at the AT&T Performing Arts Center in Dallas, Texas on Jan. 27, 2014. The theme of the show was "Silver Lining."

Oral Fixation creator Nicole Stewart says, "Karen boldly takes us deep into the unfathomable experience of life changing in an instant."

I thought it was the flu. I had all of the classic symptoms that Thursday afternoon last spring. A fever, chills and those body aches that squirm up and down your spine, telling you you're in for it. I took some Tylenol. When that didn't work, some ibuprofen. I didn't have time for the flu. An emergency appendectomy in December had knocked me down, and I was just now back in the game. My new fitness studio needed me. I was teaching seven classes a week and working at the front desk. My new relationship, teetering on the "are we or aren't we" precipice of real commitment, needed me. And I had a half-marathon to run on Sunday. I didn't have time for this. I needed to kick the speed up a notch faster.

It was around 10 p.m. when the pain in my leg first snaked its way around my left knee, stretched up my IT band and settled into my hip with defiant certainty, forcing me to question mine. This wasn't on the flu menu. Hour by hour, the pain in my leg increased, and then there was vomiting and diarrhea. I didn't sleep. I was crying. I repeated over and over, "Something's not right."

By morning, I couldn't walk, so I crawled into the car and my parents drove me to Baylor Hospital. I was tachycardic; my heart rate never fell below 150 beats per minute. I was in kidney failure and septic shock. My white blood count was sky high.

"It's an infection," the first doctor said, looking down at me with all kinds of doctor-y authority. Duh, I thought. I was hopped up on enough IV pain meds to keep a heroin addict happy for a week, and I could have told myself that.

"Probably bacterial gastroenteritis," he said. "But the pain in my leg..." I said. "Pulled muscle, I suspect. You said you're a runner, right? We'll get you on antibiotics right away. Your CT Scan came back okay, so you'll probably be home in a couple of days," he said. He was pompous, and, something told me, wrong, but I let out my held breath. I called Greg, my "is he or isn't he," and told him it wasn't too serious and that I'd be out in a day or two. I had wanted to call him all day, but we were so new. I didn't want to burden him. "I'm coming up to see you," he said. "I'll be there soon."

That afternoon, another doctor came to see me. He was mad scientist-like, running in and out of my room, asking questions. He zoned in on my leg. Had I been out of the country? In any strange bodies of water? Did I, no judgment here, use any recreational drugs involving needles? I answered no, over and over, while the gears turned in his head. "I'll be back," he said. It was then that I started asking my mom, my dad, the med student who came by to study me, and really, anyone in the vicinity, if I would still be able to run the half-marathon on Sunday.

There are moments in life when everything goes in slow motion, even as it's happening. I can still see it unfold in my head, over and over. Doctors and nurses flooding into the ICU room. Greg coming to the doorway and getting stopped by whoever was acting as the gatekeeper. "I'm her boyfriend," I heard him say. Someone looked at me for confirmation and I nodded, vaguely registering that in the midst of the chaos, I'd just gotten an answer to a very big question.

He came in, sat down and held my hand. Someone asked me if I had a living will, and if I wanted extraordinary measures. I signed over power of attorney to my father, who was standing across the room. When he looked at me, the normal smile crinkles at the corners of his eyes were gone, replaced by a loose, haunted look. It scared me more than all the needles, the relentless pain and the paperwork put together. It told me what no one had said to me in so many words: "You could die."

Someone hugged me. The chief resident and another doctor tried to stab a central line in my neck. I bit my lip and clenched my hands. While my head was turned sideways and they held pressure on their failed attempt, an orthopedic trauma surgeon sat down in my field of vision and told me what was really wrong.

Necrotizing Fasciitis. I rolled the words around in my head. Bacteria, strep A, I would later learn, had found it's way into my healthy body. Through a bug bite, maybe a scratch, I'll never really know. Once in my blood stream, it found a happy place to settle in my left hip and leg, and went to work -- eating connective tissue, sucking up fluid from muscles, leeching nutrients from tissues, in effect, killing the host it was trying to feed off of. If it isn't caught and treated in time, necrotizing fasciitis is always fatal.

Amputations are common. They would cut me open from hip to knee. When I went under for the first time, I didn't know if I would wake up with a leg or not. I didn't know if I would wake up at all.

I spent three weeks in the hospital. They ran four different kinds of antibiotics into my bloodstream, one tasted metallic, like I was sucking on a penny. It was nine days before I could stand at the side of my bed and transfer to a bedside toilet and relieve myself in private. Six weeks before I took a real shower instead of a sponge bath. I had two wound vacs to suck fluid from my open wound, first a big one at the foot of my hospital bed and then a portable one I carried around at home like a purse. Seventeen days before I walked across my hospital room on crutches.

I had 11 surgeries. It's been almost 10 months now. I still don't know how to run, and things still hurt. I still have a ways to go. My physical therapist told me to stop thinking about my rehab in days and weeks and start thinking about it in seasons. In summer, I began to find my way back, pedaling in slow circles on an old fashioned upright bike. In fall, I built up tiny new muscles along my left leg where they all had been severed and sewn back together.

It is now winter. I teach a few classes a week. I can empathize in new ways when class is a challenge for my clients, because of illness, injury or lack of physical fitness. They tell me I inspire them to try harder, which is enough to get me there on my toughest days. I am working my way back to cycling and yoga, to being an athlete. I'll get there, but it might be another season or two before I do. This, like so many things, takes time. I remind myself often that you don't have to be the best or get it all done on day one. There's time. There's plenty of time.

It's another story, but 13 years ago, my younger sister was killed in a robbery. Since then, I started to believe you have to hurry and fit it all in, because who knows how much time you really have. When mine almost ran out too, I learned that sometimes you've got to slow down.

During those first days in the hospital, when I was lying in a bed in ICU with a wide open leg and swollen toes squished together like fat Vienna sausages, Greg handed me a card. The front of it read, "One day at a time, one step at a time, you can make it." Inside he wrote, "We'll get through this... one step at a time," and then he told me that he loved me. A lesser man with his triathlete skills might have been pedaling hard and fast in the opposite direction. But he sat by my hospital bed and held my hand and waited for me to get better.

Greg, my family, my friends, they all stayed with me for hours at the hospital when I couldn't come home and I was way to sick to be interesting. When I learned to walk again, and I was slower than my 96-year-old grandmother on a bad day, they matched me step for step. I'm faster now, and Greg marks my distance on his triathlete watch, cheering on each extra mile as I get stronger.

And for each mile, our relationship grows stronger. My illness taught us to take the time to celebrate each step of the journey. A journey I almost didn't get the chance to have. I'm tired, but I'm happy too. The challenges are good, the victories are sweet, and there is, in fact, time to get it all done. And if I ever get impatient, get in too much of a hurry, and need a reminder, I've always got one with me. The scar threaded into my skin. The straight line running like a seam from my knee to my hip, curving just at the top, is still red in places, but ever so slowly turns pale, shining against my skin, like silver.