Tag Archives: red

Bono, Clooney, Kardashian part of all-star campaign for AIDS

Would you like to spend quality time with George Clooney as he showers you with compliments?

How about walk a red carpet with Meryl Streep or visit the set of “Game of Thrones”?

They are all possible: Bono is a launching an all-star campaign featuring “once-in-a-lifetime experiences” that can be won after donating at least $10 to his organization (RED), which raises funds to fight AIDS. The campaign kicked off on World AIDS Day, which is Dec. 1.

And Bono isn’t just the face for the movement: The U2 frontman will go on a bike ride with one donor — a year after he was seriously injured in a bike accident in New York’s Central Park that forced him into surgery.

“I’m not sure that was as funny to my band as it was to me,” Bono said in an interview with The Associated Press. “But I think we’re going to have fun and yeah, we’ll go visit the scene of the crime.”

Jimmy Kimmel is dedicating his Dec. 1 late-night show to the campaign. He and Olivia Wilde will host (SHOPATHON), a tongue-in-check play off of home shopping, and the special episode will feature celebrity guests like Tom Brady, who is offering one donor a chance to learn how to pass a football, and Shaquille O’Neal, who will take a photo with a winner for his or her 2016 holiday card.

And Kimmel is offering himself up, too: He is willing to give someone’s kid “the talk.”

“There’s no age limit — if you have a 45-year-old kid, I’ll explain it to him, too, as long as the parents are OK with it. I’m happy to do the job,” said Kimmel, who appears in a promo video for the campaign with Scarlett Johansson and Barry Manilow.

Other “experiences” that can be earned after donating on Omaze.com/RED include:

• a contour makeover with Kim Kardashian;

• a portrait painting by James Franco;

• or attending a University of Texas at Austin football game with alum Matthew McConaughey.

Entries close on Jan. 21, 2016.

“Even though red is the color of emergency, there’s a sort of optimism about the whole campaign and a kind of defiant humor. We have always had that, but the (SHOPATHON) will really take it to another new level,” Bono said.

The Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation will match every dollar raised up to $20 million. R&B singer The Weeknd is offering fans a chance to hang backstage at a concert; there is a one-day “wellness break” with Snoop Dogg in Colorado; and Ryan Seacrest will let someone announce the No. 1 song on his radio show.

“When you see how much work Bono does personally to fight AIDS, it’s almost embarrassing, it’s the least we can do or anyone can do to help,” Kimmel said.

“Also, it’s Christmas season, you have to figure out what to buy. It’s almost like my Oprah’s favorite things list,” he added.

Bono won’t appear on the special episode of “Jimmy Kimmel Live!,” which airs on ABC and tapes in Hollywood. Instead, he will be in New York celebrating the 10-year anniversary of (RED) at Carnegie Hall with Vice President Joe Biden, the Edge, Stephen Colbert, Miley Cyrus, Trevor Noah and others.

“It’s a big day, World AID Days. It’s crucial this year. This is the most crucial year,” Bono said. “We can feel people going, ‘Oh yeah, that AIDS thing is done now,’ and we’re like, ‘No! It’s not!””

On the Web




Obama visits 49th state, South Dakota awaits

Utah, check. One more state to go for President Barack Obama: South Dakota.

Utah was the 49th state visited by Obama and the latest stop on his recent tour of Republican “red” states.

Since Republicans took control of both houses of Congress in January, Obama has traveled to 10 GOP states:  Arizona, Tennessee, Idaho, Kansas, Indiana, South Carolina, Alabama, Georgia, Kentucky and Utah, all of which voted for Obama rival Mitt Romney in 2012. Obama also has visited nine states that voted for his re-election.

The White House says there is no concerted effort to put the president in Republican states. “There are really important, substantive reasons that explain the places we go,” White House spokesman Eric Schultz said.

After spending the night in Salt Lake City, Obama appeared on Friday at Hill Air Force Base near Ogden to announce new steps to support military veterans by training them for solar industry jobs. “A lot of our men and women in uniform at some point are going to transition into civilian life and we want to make sure that after they’ve fought for our freedom that they’ve got jobs to come home to,” the president said,

The departments of Energy and Defense are starting a program at 10 military bases nationwide, including at Hill Air Force Base, to teach service members who are transitioning out of the military how to install solar panels.

The Energy Department has committed to training 75,000 people, including veterans, for solar industry jobs by 2020.

In terms of travel, Obama had visited 46 states by the start of the year. The White House quickly scheduled presidential appearances in Idaho and South Carolina — two of the four remaining states — followed by Utah.

South Dakota now has the distinction of being the only state awaiting a presidential visit by Obama. With 21 months left on his term, he has plenty of time to get there.

When he gets to South Dakota, Obama will become the fourth president to hit all 50 states, according to the White House Historical Association.

Richard Nixon was first, followed by George H.W. Bush and Bill Clinton.

Ronald Reagan came four states short of the goal.

George W. Bush never made it to Vermont.

Portuguese wines an excellent, overlooked value

It pours light, bright and floral, with clean transparency, tropical fruit notes and a slight effervescence as subtle as it is necessary.

Meet vinho verde. Although it hails from northern Portugal, a country known for its rich, complex ports, vinho verde (literally “green wine,” but usually translated “young wine”) is anything but. Its vibrant, youthful sparkle is the perfect way to stretch the pleasures of the season as summer winds down.

It’s also a good excuse to consider the wide array of exceptional Portuguese table wines. One of Europe’s oldest wine regions,  Portugal is home to dozens of varietals, many unfamiliar to the casual wine drinker. 

Although Portugal is the world’s fifth-largest wine exporting country, its wines are often hard to find. Here are a few vinhos verdes and ports well worth looking for.

Gazela Vinho Verde ($7) is one of the most available wines of its type and an excellent example of the craft. Aromatic and engaging, the wine’s slight fizz helps bubble its tropical fruit flavor and well-balanced acidity to the top. Serve thoroughly chilled on warm afternoons for total refreshment.

Gazela also produces a Vinho Verde Rosé ($10). The rosé shares many of the same characteristics, but with a palate suggestive of strawberries and bananas. It is vinho verde with added depth and its own unique character, a fine complement to its paler, more playful sister.

Anjos de Portugal Vinho Verde ($8) ratchets the style up a notch with a fuller mouthfeel and more luscious fruit palate. Produced from loureiro (30 percent), arinto (30 percent) and trajadura (40 percent) grapes, the wine embodies vinho verde’s characteristic freshness and vibrancy with a more exciting depth.

As much fun as vinho verde can bring, Portugal’s red wines offer equally pleasant surprises in both flavor and value. In the 17th century, wine merchants from England added a brandy to Portugal’s red wines, fearing they would spoil on the long voyage between Lisbon and London. Thus were born ports, the fortified Portuguese wines that have become after-dinner staples.

Modern winemaking and shipping techniques have eliminated the need to fortify the wine, so many of Portugal’s red dinner wines maintain a port-like character without the alcoholic punch. Given their relatively low price and unique flavor profiles, those wines represent the best of both worlds.

The 2009 Grão Vasco Dão Red ($11) is one such find, grown in the Região Demarcada do Dão, a mountainous region in central Portugal with an equally maritime and continental climate. 

The wine is blended from touriga nacional, tinta roriz, Jaen, alfrocheiro and tinta pinheira grapes, and pours a medium ruby red, with hints of plum and black cherry on the nose. Those notes and a hint of balsamic carry-over to the palate, characterized by elegance, smoothness and well-balanced tannins and acidity.

The Douro region is the country’s prime port-producing area, and its dinner wines sport many of the same characteristics. The 2011 Tons de Duorum Red ($13) pours ruby red with violet overtones. Produced from a touriga franca (50 percent), touriga nacional (30 percent) and tinta roriz (20 percent), the wine sports a nose of raspberry, blackberries and prunes. The palate includes spicy overtones gained from French- and American-oak aging.

The 2011 Churchill’s Estates Douro ($18) takes the red wine quotient up a few notches. Produced by John Graham’s Churchill Graham Port Co., known for its fine ports, the Douro taps into the same winemaking skill and award-winning vineyards.

This Douro, produced from nearly the same grape blend as the Tons de Duorum, pours a deep garnet color with hints of fresh cherries and sweet basil on the nose. The palate boasts red fruit tempered by the influence of aging within French oak casks.

The 2011 Vila Santa Riserva ($20) may be one of the few remaining wines made from foot-stomped grapes. The grape blend includes Aragonês, trincadeira, alicante bouchet and cabernet sauvignon, and the resulting juice is aged in French oak.

Expect a big powerful wine that pours a deep garnet. Ripe black fruit flavors on the nose and palate blend with a spiciness contributed by the oak. The elegant, full-bodied wine can stand with the best of the world’s reds — and for a fraction of the price.

Forward Theater’s ‘Red’ probes the psyche behind Rothko’s art

Few plays announce their intention as clearly and quickly as John Logan’s “Red,” which kicks off the New Year for Madison’s Forward Theater Co.

And few plays mount such an ardent pursuit of the meaning of art and — by inference — of life itself.

“What do you see?” asks artist Mark Rothko (Jim DeVita) of his newly hired assistant Ken (Nate Burger), who arrives at Rothko’s studio in New York’s Bowery for his first day of work in 1958. The artist is staring at his latest commission, a set of predominantly red murals for the soon-to-open Four Seasons Restaurant.

The play’s opening line is a challenge to Ken and the audience that has less to do with the paintings and more to do with understanding the purpose of being. It can also be interpreted as the artist’s plea for help in understanding the true value of his work and purpose in life, something about which he spends 90 fiery minutes discussing at length — as much with himself as with Ken.

Such is the stuff of which drama is made, but Logan plumbs the artist’s dark depths with an authenticity that contemporary theater often lacks.

Born to a Jewish pharmacist and his wife in Daugavpils, Latvia, in 1903, Marcus Rothkowitz emigrated to the U.S. with his family at age 10, settling in Portland, Ore. He moved to New York in 1923 and eventually made his name as an Abstract Expressionist, a label he rejected. He also resented being categorized with other artists who bore the label, such as Willem de Koonig and especially Jackson Pollack.

Fortune followed fame, but neither was enough for Rothko, whose unhealthy lifestyle contributed to the development of an aortic aneurysm. He also suffered from emotional instability, demonstrating symptoms that suggest he had a borderline personality disorder.

In 1970, Rothko was found dead in his kitchen, covered in blood. He had ingested an overdose of anti-depressants and, for good measure, sliced his arms with a razor found at his side.

Logan’s work, which won the 2010 Tony Award for best play, twice foreshadows the artist’s suicide, including once in a surprisingly ineffective scene in which Rothko’s hands are covered in red paint, a gesture that’s meaningless unless the audience knows the backstory.

But then, the real strength of “Red” lies in the intellectual discussions that give insight into Rothko’s genius and the angst that drove his unique approach to art.

“I am not your teacher,” Rothko admonishes Ken, before going on to spend the rest of the play in near-Socratic teacher-student dialogues about the meaning of life, the importance of education and the way intellect informs art. As the artist teaches the assistant, he also educates himself.

As Rothko, DeVita gives a powerful performance worthy of his stature as one of American Players Theatre’s leading lights. Occasionally known for dipping into his rather substantial bag of theatrical tricks to amuse and delight his audiences, DeVita practices admirable restraint as Rothko, without sacrificing any of the character’s power or pathos. There is as much going on under Rothko’s skin as there is outside it, which draws us further into DeVita’s masterful characterization.

Directed by the Milwaukee Rep’s Laura Gordon, “Red” moves along at lightening speed to the sounds of various classical LPs playing on the artist’s turntable. One of the most effective scenes is played without words as Rothko and Ken “prep” a large canvas with a solid layer of maroon paint, alternating sides in an artists’ dance to a sprightly chamber piece that brings renewed energy late in the production.

Forward Theatre, like the Madison Rep before it, is known for its substantial technical capabilities, and the set and properties by Charles J. Trieloff II set the bar even higher. The production’s success has as much to do with the production’s creative team as the source material. Rothko’s studio and the dozen or so oversize canvases on stage create an artistic cocoon free from public interference and devoid of the natural light the artist clearly disdains.

“Paintings should be illuminated from within,” Rothko says to Ken. One could say as much about “Red,” which shines with exceptional radiance in what may turn out to be one of the year’s best productions.

On stage

Forward Theater’s production of John Logan’s Red runs through Feb. 2 at The Playhouse in Madison’s Overture Center for the Arts. Call  (608) 258-417 or go to either www.forwardtheater.com or www.overturecenter.com.

Marriage equality supporters urged to post red equal sign while awaiting Supreme Court rulings

The Human Rights Campaign is encouraging supporters of marriage equality go turn the Web red in advance of “decision day” at the U.S. Supreme Court.

Sometime this month – it could be as early as this week but experts think the end of June is more likely – the High Court will issue opinions in two marriage equality cases. One opinion will deal with a case challenging California’s Proposition 8 constitutional amendment prohibiting same-sex marriage. The second case deals with the U.S. Defense of Marriage Act, which prohibits the federal government from recognizing same-sex marriages, which are legal in 12 states and the District of Columbia.

HRC, the nation’s largest LGBT civil rights group, posted today on its Website, “We’re hoping to make lightning strike twice and to do so, we need your help. …

“To demonstrate the incredible support for marriage equality, we’re asking everyone to make the red equal sign their social media profile picture once again – NOW through decision day, whenever that is.”

In March, the red equal sign – and creative variations of the symbol – became the profile image for millions of social media users, especially Facebook users.

HRC said, “Update your profile picture with a red logo so your entire social network knows that you’re standing on the right side of history. And then ask your friends and family to join you! …And if you’re sharing on Instagram, use the hashtag #time4marriage to participate in our marriage equality photo collage, Picturing Equality.”

A hodgepodge of stocking stuffers for all your various kinds of buds

For your best (taste) buds

“Inspired by the original” is the tagline for Candy Sunshine, a confectionery homage to the old Wisconsin favorite Candy Raisins. Milwaukee went into mourning several years ago when candymaker Stark’s ceased producing the golden nuggets. Over 10,000 people signed a petition at Save-theCandyRaisins.com calling on Stark to bring back the goodies. Milwaukee’s Osmanium Candy Company has responded by recreating the recipe as closely as possible and marketing it under the Candy Sunshine name. Available in 2.5 and 8 oz. bags, it’s the perfect stocking stuffer for the sentimental sweet tooth on your list. Visit candysunshine.com.

If you only know Laura Ann Masura from her time in the queer rock band Evil Beaver, then you don’t know Laura Ann. She’s now the proprietor of Laura Ann’s Jams, which the company describes as “artisan small batch jams lovingly made in Los Angeles.” Masura’s line includes unexpected natural flavor combos such as raspberry habañero, maple pumpkin butter, blackberry bay leaf, Hollywood marmalade (Valencia oranges with cinnamon and cardamom) and blueberry basil, just to name a few. Visit lauraannsjams.com.

For your best (ear) buds

There’s no doubt about it, Kelly Hogan, the grand dame of insurgent country music, released the best album of 2012 – “I Like To Keep Myself in Pain.” Backed by an amazing band (Booker T. Jones, James Gadson, Gabriel Roth and Scott Ligon), Hogan wails and whips her way through a set of astonishing compositions by such notables as gay singer/songwriter Stephin Merrit, Andrew Bird, John Wesley Harding, Robyn Hitchcock, M. Ward and Jon Langford. The recording is available in multiple formats, including vinyl (with a free CD inside). Hogan hurts so good.

There are many ways to keep your ears warm during the holiday season. Wearing earmuffs or hats with flaps are just a couple. Another is by listening to the sunny surf tunes of The Beach Boys. “50 Big Ones: Greatest Hits” is a colorfully boxed set commemorating the Beach Boys’ 50 years in music. The two discs contain 25 tracks each, featuring songs about surfing, cars, girls and, of course, fun, fun, fun. The boys also had a serious side (“God Only Knows” and “I Just Wasn’t Made for These Times”), but it’s mostly vibrations of the good kind. You can feel the California sun. 

For your best (f*ck) buds

Victoria’s secret is out! Now everyone knows that sexy underthings are not exclusive to women. Jack Adams’ colorful and revealing line includes the Body Mesh Jockstrap, available in an array of color combos, including black with red piping. It should do the trick when it comes to making sure the goods are presented in the best light. Visit jackadamsusa.com.

Know someone who is a pig between the sheets? How about someone who is drunk with love? J&D’s Baconlube and Epic Meal Time’s Whiskey Dick-Old No. 69 are lubricants flavored like bacon and bourbon, respectively. Baconlube promises to keep it sizzlin’ while Whiskey Dick offers “gold medal taste.” Visit jdfoods.net and epicmealtime.com.

Bedol’s H2O Clock doesn’t need batteries, just water. Fill it up, set the time, set the alarm – and there are no more excuses for oversleeping after a busy night. Available in blue, green or charcoal, the clocks have digital readouts and remember when it’s time to change the water. Visit bedol.com.

For your best (funny) buds

The six-DVD collector’s edition of “The Carol Burnett Show: Carol’s Favorites” highlights 16 episodes from 1972 to 1978. Featured are some of the funniest and most unforgettable moments from one of the last of the great variety shows. Memorable skits include the “Gone With the Wind” parody “Went With the Wind,” and the stunning list of gay guest stars includes Rock Hudson, Roddy McDowall and Jim Nabors, as well as Dinah Shore, Joan Rivers, Shirley MacLaine and Betty White.

Burnett is not the only funny redhead. “Red, White + Raw: The Kathy Griffin Collection” boasts more than five hours of Emmy Award-winner Griffin’s uncensored Bravo TV specials. The double-DVD set includes the shows “Balls of Steel,” “Does the Bible Belt,” “Whores on Crutches,” “50 & Not Pregnant,” “Gurrl Down” and “Tired Hooker,” as well as previously unaired bonus material.

Nowhere near as despairing as any of the “Real Housewives,” Marc Cherry’s “Desperate Housewives” – Lynette (Felicity Huffman), Gaby (Eva Longoria), Susan (Teri Hatcher) and Bree (Marcia Cross) – have provided viewers with their share of laughs, loves and losses over the course of eight seasons. “Desperate Housewives: The Complete Eighth and Final Season” features five DVDs and includes previously unseen bonus footage. 

Before Steve Martin was a big time movie star, the original wild and crazy guy made his name as a comedian on TV. “The Television Stuff,” a triple-DVD package, covers a 36-year period over the course of more than six hours. Stand-up and NBC specials, combined with an assortment of TV guest appearances and more, capture Martin at his peak. 

The popular sitcoms “2 Broke Girls” and “Happy Endings” bring comic relief with a gay twist. Now the two shows have made it to DVD. Michael Patrick King, the gay man behind “Sex and the City,” created “2 Broke Girls,” the suggestive and potty-mouthed CBS prime-time sitcom. The three-DVD set contains the complete first season of the show, starring Kat Dennings and Beth Behrs as the desperate waitresses/roommates. The complete second season of ABC’s “Happy Endings” features openly gay Max (Adam Pally), one of a set of friends living and loving in Chicago. 

Healing the divisions in postelection America

APPOMATTOX, Va. – Baine’s Books sits in the heart of this historic village, a Main Street institution where townspeople gather for coffee and conversation and, every Thursday after sundown, an open mic night that draws performers from near and far with guitars and banjos in hand, bluegrass and blues on their lips.

Talk of church and school, and most certainly music, almost always takes precedence at Baine’s. But we’ve stopped in at election time, and Lib Elder is at a corner table tucking into a chicken pot pie, an Obama-Biden button pinned to her blouse right next to her heart.

She knows without asking why a reporter has come to this corner of southern Virginia to write about an election that divided America among so many lines.

Red or blue. Left or right. Big government or small. Tea party or Occupy. Ninety-nine percent or one. Employed or out-of-work. Black or white or brown.

This is, after all, “where our nation reunited,” said Elder, her voice tinged with slight sarcasm as she quotes the slogan adorning every sign into the town where, on Palm Sunday 1865, Robert E. Lee surrendered to Ulysses S. Grant, marking the beginning of the end of the Civil War.

It’s a nice idea, that a place could symbolize peace and harmony and, even, healing after what was inarguably the most divisive time in our nation’s history.

It’s just not something that Elder finds particularly authentic after another cutthroat election year across these “united” states.

The acrimony is still too fresh and far too raw. There was the family member, related by marriage, who accused Elder of “hating” her country because she had sent him a fundraising email for Barack Obama; Elder mistakenly believed he was a Democrat. And the white teenagers at the Appomattox Railroad Festival who saw her Obama button and jeered: “You know he’s black, don’t you?”

Peace and harmony? Elder, for one, doesn’t see them. Not in Appomattox. Not in America. Not even now that Election 2012 is behind us at last.

“I think we are much more divided,” said Elder, who heard similar concerns when she made get-out-the-vote calls during the campaign. “It’s not that people hate the election. … They just hate everybody screaming all the time. It’s harder to hear anything, the louder you get.”

And these days, she added: “Everybody’s voice is louder.”

It’s a familiar election-year narrative, that Americans – not just the candidates, not just the parties, not just the pundits who shriek at us from partisan programming – but everyday Americans themselves are divided by an ever-widening gulf. We see it in the narrow margin separating winner from loser on Nov. 6.

Exit polling also seems only to reaffirm these chasms. On one side we have women, the poor, people of color, urbanites, young voters and non-churchgoers. On the other we have men, those who are rich and white, rural Americans, senior citizens and those who attend church regularly.

Said Republican strategist and CNN commentator Alex Castellanos as he visibly agonized over this on election night: The country, “right now, it is split into pieces.”

But is all of this an every-four-year phenomenon that goes away when the yard signs come down and the Facebook tirades finally end, or at least subside? Can we do as our leaders do? Debate with fingers thrust in each other’s faces, tearing one another apart, and then shake hands, return to our corners and somehow attempt to live and work together once more?

In this slice of Virginia – a literal battlefield turned electoral battleground – there are those who are no longer sure.

They, like Elder, sense that something has changed. That the much-discussed polarization of this election will live on long past it, in ways depicted by more than a mark on a ballot.

Friendships may wilt, suggested local lawyer Michael Brickhill, as some “fade out of social circles that you no longer feel comfortable with … if there are strong differences of opinion.”

He recalled a business dinner in California not long ago in which the group agreed not to invite a guy who’d been ranting about the election.

“They were really, really afraid that he would not be able to relate on the common ground that we had formed,” which had nothing to do with politics, Brickhill said.

Others may be hesitant to, at least publicly, brand themselves by party identity, said Bryan Baine, a former composition instructor who now owns the bookstore in Appomattox.

“Why wouldn’t you be increasingly reluctant to put that label on yourself if it means this whole bunch over here is going to make assumptions about you or that whole bunch is going to make assumptions about you just because you said you were a Republican or Democrat?” he said.

Young and old, black and white, Republican or Democrat, so many in the area found accord on the notion of discord – even if the lens through which they viewed this division was filtered by their own unique perspectives and experiences.

Madeline Abbitt, a lobbyist who works in Richmond but lives in Appomattox County, sees polarization as a rural vs. urban issue. “I could look at the people in my condo unit (in Richmond) and I bet out of about 300 people, two might know what a deer is,” she said, only half-joking about those who likely oppose hunting and groups such as the National Rifle Association. “And you get out here, and you may know two or three people who know a gay couple.”

Joe Day, the African-American chair of the Appomattox County Democratic Committee, views America’s differences through the prism of race. He recalls the slurs scrawled across Obama signs in 2008 and finds little progress in race relations four years later, even with the president’s re-election.

“It’s still racism,” said Day, bemoaning the percentage of black teens in detention centers and a lack of black faces in city jobs. “Mr. Obama might be the first black president and we might’ve seen history. But there’s no unity in America.”

Jan Greene, visiting the Appomattox Court House National Historic Park on her way to a convention of the United Daughters of the Confederacy, sees parallels between what divided us in the 1800s and today. “I think especially in the South we are still very resentful of big government,” said Greene, who lives in Bradenton, Fla. “Washington has taken over more and more aspects of our lives.” Still, she added, “The South doesn’t have the strength to rise again.”

Brickhill, the lawyer, lives in nearby Lynchburg, Va., home to Jerry Falwell’s Liberty University and Thomas Road Baptist Church. Before the election, The Lynchburg Ledger newspaper published a column called “Can a Christian Vote for a Mormon?” – making the case for why those in the local Christian community could vote for Mitt Romney for president, even if a “Mormon would be unacceptable” in any leadership position in a Christian church.

Brickhill finds his community polarized along religious lines, certainly, but also “politically, socially, socio-economically. We’re polarized by our affinity for local collegiate teams. It’s either Virginia or Virginia Tech, and we are on the dividing line here.”

Perhaps these deep divisions have always been there, stemming from long-ago wounds that never mended or stereotypes formed via our peers or our parents or the place we call home.

Perhaps we just feel more divided because, as Elder suggested, we are more exposed to our dissimilarities in this very loud Facebook, Twitter, anonymous-online-comment-driven world, where everyone seems more emboldened to point out our many differences no matter the consequences.

And yet there are consequences, and so the question begs asking: Where is the line between a polarized America that is productive, and one that is destructive?

Among the many lines dividing us, where and when do we draw this one in the sand?

“Democracy is not about achieving agreement. It’s about figuring out how to live together when we don’t agree,” said social psychologist Jonathan Haidt, who penned a pre-election column in The New York Times dishearteningly titled: “Look How Far We’ve Come Apart.”

Haidt is among those who believe that polarization itself isn’t a bad thing. “The competition between ideas can be healthy,” he noted, “or it can turn toxic.”

Unfortunately all signs before this election were pointing toward toxic. He cited a few studies, including research showing that Congress is more ideologically polarized than at any time since the end of the Civil War, a downward spiral that began with the cultural wars of the 1960s and 1970s during which the Democrats became “the party of civil rights” and the Republicans aligned themselves with the religious right.

Of course it’s tempting to write that off as a Washington problem among the so-called political “elites.” Not so. Everyday Americans feel more hostility and dislike toward those from the opposite party than at any time since the American National Election Studies began polling on the subject in the 1970s.

And these feelings go beyond where one side or the other comes down on any particular issue.

“Politics has become a litmus test now for all kinds of things,” said Shanto Iyengar, a political scientist at Stanford whose research on polarization finds the lines blurring between political differences and how one chooses to relate on a personal level.

Take online dating: “People don’t say anything about politics,” he said, because “you’re risking turning off a whole bunch of people.” Or consider cross-party marriages. Analyzing polling data, Iyengar found that whereas in 1960 about 5 percent of Americans would be upset if their child married someone from the other party, in 2010 that rose to nearly 40 percent.

“Fifty years ago when people were asked that question they just laughed …‘Why would I care about the party politics of my future son-in-law?’

“But today,” he said, “they care.”

This plays out every day in communities big and small across America, in myriad ways that remind us that division doesn’t end when the polls close on Election Day.

In Montana, Helena resident John Driscoll was so taken aback by a truck driver’s reaction to his Obama bumper sticker that he wrote a letter about it to a local newspaper. Driscoll had pulled over with a flat tire, and the truck driver stopped to assist but then admitted: “If I’d known you were Obama people I wouldn’t have stopped.” Later, at a tire repair shop, another man stared at the sticker – and then at Driscoll – and sniffed, “You can’t be serious.”

“It’s those kinds of things that tell you something, I guess,” Driscoll, a former Democratic legislator in Montana, said in an interview. “People are generally very respectful of each other and I think they still are, but not so much that I didn’t want to write that letter.”

In his book, “The Big Sort,” author Bill Bishop reveals how and why Americans have segregated themselves geographically, economically, religiously, socially and, yes, politically into like-minded communities. In one example, he writes about a Texas Republican who was ostracized from an Internet listserv in a liberal Austin neighborhood after he recommended a candidate for the board of the local community college.

“Within the day, the newsgroup reacted in a way that wasn’t as much ideological as biological,” wrote Bishop. This man “wasn’t just someone to be argued against. For the protection of the group, he needed to be isolated, sealed off, and expelled.”

“Politics,” said Bishop, “has become more about belonging to a tribe than it is about policy. And people will do almost anything to remain in their tribe.”

After all, he added: “How do you compromise on your identity?”

Pennsylvania librarian Roz Warren explored that very idea in a column she wrote this election year for a women’s website, revisiting the moment she discovered that her now daughter-in-law was a Republican. The lifelong Democrat found herself not only questioning how she’d raised her son – “loving a Republican was the one thing our son could have done to profoundly shock both his parents,” Warren wrote – but re-examining her own attachment to political identity and the perhaps skewed importance it had in her life.

Of course, Warren said in an interview, what matters far more than her daughter-in-law’s political preference is her heart – and her love for Warren’s son.

Besides, her son has now informed her, both he and his wife consider themselves independents.

“I feel very optimistic about the fact that the next generation perceives itself as independents … the focus being on, ‘Let’s you and I talk about issues that matter to us and not identify ourselves as Democrats and Republicans’ … with all the baggage that that entails,” she said. “Perhaps there is some hope.”

Just outside of the town of Appomattox, past the rolling hills where American once fought American, is the monument that gives this community its place in history. National Park Service Ranger Ernie Price’s office window looks out over the house where Lee and Grant arrived at the terms of surrender.

Price understands clearly the relevance between what divided Americans then and now: The many questions over government’s role in our lives, and ongoing disputes over racial inequality and freedom and individual rights over the greater good of the nation.

He also sees lessons that today’s leaders might take from what happened at Appomattox in 1865, in the cordiality exhibited by the two generals, and the compromises they were able to reach. In the respect bestowed by one-time enemies when each army saluted the other as the rebel troops laid down their arms before their Union adversaries.

“Just days before these guys were shooting at each other,” he noted.

The metaphor can hardly be missed.

Within hours of this election, Romney and Obama and Republican and Democratic leaders in Washington were talking about unity and compromise, about promising to do their part to find bipartisan solutions to the many problems facing the nation. But only time will tell whether our long-standing gridlock ends with some sort of deal and a collective salute.

In the meantime, what of the rest of us? Can we, too, if not erase our many lines in the sand find reason enough to cross over them every now and again?

Some see that as unlikely, fearing the animosity that has been growing across parties and among people these past years will only worsen over the next four.

Bryan Baine isn’t one of those.

There were no Romney or Obama signs gracing the windows and walls this election year at his bookstore on Main Street. Rather, his shelves are filled with books by Rachel Maddow, host on left-leaning MSNBC, and Rick Warren, the evangelical pastor. There’s a memoir by former Republican President George W. Bush, and biographies of Bob Dylan.

Baine knows how most in town might label him politically, but he prefers nowadays to just not say one way or the other – or even talk politics with his neighbor-customers.

“There so much I’d rather talk to you about. What music you listen to. What your family’s like. What literature you read. Those are much more interesting to me than who you vote for or what you think about abortion or gay marriage or whatever the hot button issue is,” he said. “In small towns we have to live with each other, and I think most of us are able to look at the person who has a different position and still move on.”

His Thursday open mic nights are the perfect example. “You’ll be sitting there and there’ll be people that you can peg as pretty conservative or as a hippie, and one might be playing bass and one’s playing mandolin.

“Democrats and Republicans. Together,” he said. “Just not talking politics.”

Wis. Democrats score wins after 2 years of losses

After two years of heart-wrenching defeats, capped by Republican Gov. Scott Walker’s recall victory this summer, Wisconsin Democrats were on an unrelenting losing streak.

And when popular former Gov. Tommy Thompson decided to run for U.S. Senate, Republicans appeared poised for yet another prominent win that would give them control of both Wisconsin’s Senate seats for the first time since the 1950s.

But there would be no GOP sweep.

President Barack Obama fired up his turn-out machine and made winning Wisconsin a priority, pouring money, star power and money into the state. And fellow Democrat Tammy Baldwin put together a well-funded, disciplined and smart campaign in the face of long odds against an opponent so well-known that most people simply call him “Tommy.”

It paid off: Both Obama and Baldwin won their tight races on Nov. 6, keeping alive Wisconsin’s tradition as a state that doesn’t stay all blue or all red for too long.

The victories were the biggest scores for Democrats since Obama’s surprising 14-point win in Wisconsin in 2008 that left Republicans sullen and confused. The GOP found itself in a similar position Tuesday night.

“We’re all quite stunned at the results because we had such an energized base, the independents were falling our way,” Republican state Sen. Alberta Darling, co-chair of Mitt Romney’s Wisconsin campaign. “People were coming out of the woodwork to help. Maybe we were just not dealing with the real reality.”

Republicans did, however, regain control of the state Senate and maintained their majority in the Assembly – once again giving the GOP full control of state government. Still, the Obama and Baldwin victories were significant for Democrats who were downtrodden just five months ago when Walker survived the recall, said Wisconsin Democratic Party Chairman Mike Tate.

“We were never as blue as we looked in ‘08, we were never as red as we looked in ‘10,” Tate said in an interview. “It’s a narrowly divided state.”

With her win, Baldwin will become the first female U.S. senator from Wisconsin and the first openly gay candidate to win election to the Senate. Her victory also handed the 70-year-old Thompson his first loss in a statewide election and likely spells the end of his storied political career.

Republicans were searching for a silver lining in the national losses, and they found it with the GOP winning back the state Senate. That returned state government to where it was before a Republican loss in a recall election in June gave Democrats a narrow one-vote majority in the Senate, though that Democratic majority was largely symbolic since the legislative session doesn’t begin until January.

Republicans also held on to control of the state Assembly.

“We must look at the wonderful job our great governor Scott Walker has done for us, and the people in the state of Wisconsin were wise enough to return to him a majority in our state Senate,” Attorney General J.B. Van Hollen told dejected Thompson backers at what supporters had hoped would be a victory party.

What Republicans do with their reclaimed majority remains to be seen. Legislative leaders and Walker have been vague in describing their agenda for the next two years.

There was no change to the makeup of the state’s U.S. House delegation. Five Republican incumbents, including Romney running mate Paul Ryan, and Democrats won re-election. State Rep. Mark Pocan, a Democrat, won the race to replace Baldwin in her Madison-area congressional district.

Wisconsin’s gay community heralded the wins of both Baldwin and Pocan, who also is openly gay.

“This is truly a historic night for the lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender community,” said Katie Belanger, executive director of Fair Wisconsin, the state’s largest gay rights group.

Republicans were also buoyed by Ryan’s ascendance after being picked as Romney’s running mate, even though it ultimately was a losing effort. The longtime congressman is already being discussed as a possible presidential candidate in 2016.

About half of those surveyed in an Associated Press exit poll said they had a favorable opinion of Ryan, including one in eight who said they voted for Obama. Four in 10 said they had an unfavorable view of Ryan.

The election caps off a wild two years in Wisconsin, first with the fight over Walker’s collective bargaining law, then the multiple recall elections targeting state senators and Walker, followed by Ryan’s rise and the state’s central role in the presidential campaign.

While Republicans scored the most significant victories during the past two years, Democrats savored the reversal of fortunes brought by their wins on Nov. 6.

“It has been a tumultuous two years in Wisconsin as we have engaged in this great conversation over the future and values of our middle class,” Tate, the Democratic Party chairman, said in a statement. “We know and feel deeply that change can be difficult – but as Senator-elect Baldwin’s and the president’s victory tonight proves – it will come.”

San Francisco lit up red for World AIDS Day

To mark World AIDS Day on Dec. 1, San Francisco institutions were be bathed in red light. Red lights colored city hall, the San Francisco Ferry Building, the War Memorial Opera House and the War Memorial Veterans Building.

“This is an important visible reminder to people across our city and around the world that HIV/AIDS still deserves our urgent attention,” said Neil Giuliano of the San Francisco AIDS Foundation. “The knowledge and interventions we now have at our disposal truly puts the end to HIV/AIDS within our grasp. It is time for our country to seize on this tremendous climate of opportunity and invest in the prevention and care services that will end this disease once and for all.”

San Francisco Mayor Edwin M. Lee said, “On this World AIDS Day, we renew our city’s commitment to continue to create innovative systems of care for those living with HIV/AIDS and renew our efforts to prevent the spread of HIV and save lives.”

World AIDS Day observances took place in many communities in the United States, including a number of Wisconsin cities.

In Washington, D.C., President Barack Obama announced an additional $15 million for the Ryan White CARE Act program that supports care provided by HIV medical clinics in the United States.

“Let’s keep their doors open so they can keep saving lives,” the president said.

He also announced an additional $35 million for state AIDS Drug Assistance Programs.

“Now, the federal government can’t do this alone,” Obama said. “So I’m also calling on state governments, pharmaceutical companies, and private foundations, to do their part to help Americans get access to all the life-saving treatments.”

Salvation Army reports lower donations

The Salvation Army’s Chicago area division says donations through its Red Kettle Campaign are down 13 percent over last year.

So far, the bell ringers have received about $4.1 million in those familiar red pots. That’s compared with $4.6 million last year at this time.

Spokeswoman Dee McKinsey told the Associated Press she believes the bad weather and the economy are the culprits.

But the Huffington Post suggests that widespread publicity about the Salvation Army’s anti-gay positions are also cutting into the charity’s take this winter. A number of activists nationwide, including Chicago’s Andy Thayer, have been publicizing those policies in recent months.

HuffPo cites evidence that an active social media campaign opposing the Salvation Army drove donations sharply lower in that city and nation-wide last year.

The Salvation Army’s website says, “Scripture forbids sexual intimacy between members of the same sex.” It goes on to say that while the group “does not consider same-sex orientation blameworthy in itself,” it suggests that gay followers “embrace celibacy as a way of life.”

“You can say you are the nicest Christian organization in the world, but if you are sending a message that some people are more equal than others–that is not acceptable,” Thayer told Chicagoist in November.