Black Friday’s Encroachment

Has Black Friday swallowed the importance of Thanksgiving?

I understand the motivations for Black Friday shopping. It’s almost a cultural pastime that is practically heralded as a holiday in and of itself. Many people are probably more aware of Black Friday than they are of the start of Advent. In recent years, stores all throughout the country close their doors (and reinforce them with metal rebar) the day before Thanksgiving as they prepare for the onslaught of frenzied shoppers camped outside and anxious to pillage the bounty inside.

From a strictly economic perspective, Black Friday is generally a losing proposition for those wanting to score the big ticket items: TVs, computers, and other electronic widgets. If one arrives at a Best Buy in Anywhere, USA at precisely 5AM, I am assured that any of the door buster item has already been purchased at 5:01AM. The alternative – to wait in line – is also generally a losing proposition unless one comes with camping gear, sterno, blankets, hot chocolate, and company (the latter is of vital importance. Misery loves company). Even then, waiting ten hours to save $200 sounds miserable. Sleep is worth at least $20/hour. Yes, I am speaking from first-hand experience. Last year, I camped outside Target with my dad and sister to score a 42″ LCD TV for $298. It’s mounted in the garage now with all the pomp and circumstance that accompanies hanging a trophy buck in the man cave. Was it worth it? Only with the right company.

This year, however, many stores will be opening their doors at 12:01AM, a minute after Thanksgiving Day.

There was a time, I’m told, where most stores were only open six days a week. The purpose, it was said, was to allow people to spend time with their families. It was called: a day of rest. A blue law. Now, a store not opened on a Sunday is the exception than the norm. With all the hustle and bustle of modern life, the only days where one can guess that a store will be closed is on a federal holiday. Even then, exceptions exist. This year, stores are pushing against the limit of when doors will open. Midnight is the new 5AM.

For a store employee, Thanksgiving becomes synonymous with “Thank God I have a job.” For a consumer, this means no waiting through the wee hours of the night. Of course, this also means possibly skipping the Thanksgiving Day dinner to land a spot in line. Or, quite possibly, it could require pushing up Thanksgiving Day dinner to finish early enough to make it in front of the store. At the very least, Americans should consider holding the turkey if they plan on shopping afterward.

As I sit back, I wonder: with everyone lining up earlier and earlier – has the frenzy to scoop up the best deal taken place of the family shared Thanksgiving Day turkey? If so, how is this negative and what, if anything, should be done about it?

Comments appreciated.

A Philosophical Look At Opposite-Sex Roommates

I never really expected to revisit the tragic death of Tyler Clementi, the Rutgers student that committed suicide off the George Washington bridge after his dormmate videotaped Clementi in an amorous tryst with a fellow male student.  Indeed, I hoped that his death would serve as an awakening toward the importance of sex within the confines of the marital institution rather than a rallying point for the LGBQT community to twist this tragedy to advance its social awareness agenda. 

Beginning this August, Rutgers University will offer opposite-sex living arrangements to its freshman students.  Parents wary of this program may certainly be concerned; the parent cannot override the wishes of the student.  With the goal of creating an “inclusive community”, the ability to select opposite sex dormmates is being heralded as a breakthrough in gender-awareness at the university.  Purportedly, the response is overwhelmingly positive. 

Rutgers’ decision to facilitate co-ed living arrangements likely had its inception long before Clementi’s death.  And with the weight of public support and advocacy groups, it seems unlikely the university will reverse course anytime soon.  Like many social issues, homosexuality and its identity in society is still hotly contested.  Were it as simple as providing studies showing the effect of homosexuality within the college environment and its effect on society, an institution would either ratify or reject the proposal allowing close-quarters opposite-sex living arrangements.  Many political, social, and educational think tanks have conducted such studies – but the results are scattered across the social gambit.  Black is white and white is black.  Consider the entire debate in California regarding same-sex marriages and Proposition 8.  One side presented evidence on the virtues (or lack of detriment) of homosexual marriages, while the other attacked the findings of such “evidence.”  All else being equal, the judge merely considered the argument he judged “more right.”

In that respect, Rutgers has chosen the position it considers “more right.”  Its own studies linked with popular opinion legitimize its decision.

Whether we agree or disagree, a fundamental question underlies the entire debate: is there any one, right answer?   Or does humanity live in a world of gray where black and white are but theories in an otherwise pragmatic world? 

The tendency, I feel, is to ignore the fundamental question and instead look to the practical benefits and consequences.   Rutgers University examined a problem – homosexual exclusion – and fashioned a remedy designed to both fix the problem and serve as a beneficial template for others. 

Most of humanity reasons as such: what is right?  As much as we try to consider the consequences of any one action, we are often left with conflicting studies and opinions such that the end result is either throwing up ones hands in exasperation or recognizing that any true answer is elusive and therefore unknowable.  Likely humanity’s failing lies in its perception that we cannot fully know truth and so, with limited information, we make decisions as rational – and sometimes irrational – human beings.

Were it possible for Rutgers to see the full implications of its decision toward homosexual inclusion in housing, it’s quite possible that it would reject what it currently accepts.

When Sex Is More Than Physical

I read a fantastic article today from Jennifer Roback Morse of the Ruth Institute about how sex, even in its rawest, most illicit form, still represents more than a strictly natural, biological function. As anecdotal – but very convincing – evidence, she reminds us of the young man, Tyler Clementi, who jumped off the George Washington Bridge after his roommate posted a video of Clementi in a homosexual tryst.

As Ms. Morse argues:

Now, if sex is really “just a normal bodily function,” why on earth would he be so distraught that he would end his life? Maybe he wasn’t embarrassed about the sexual act itself, only about the violation of his privacy. But what if his roommate had caught him in the act of picking his nose or going to the bathroom? It strains the imagination to believe that he would have killed himself over the display of these “normal bodily functions.” If sex is really “just a recreational activity,” would anyone kill himself over a video showing him playing baseball or checkers or video games?

The heart of Ms. Morse’s argument is that the sexual act is more complex – psychologically and spiritually – than the sum of its physical components. As such, sex ought not be commoditized or denigrated by reducing it to a purely commercialized or hedonistic venture.

I’m not inclined to disagree. Tyler Clementi’s death serves more than a rallying point for the LGBT community to de-stigmatize homosexuality; his death demonstrates that sex represents more than a purely pleasurable activity. What we can learn from Clementi’s tragedy is that the sexual act should be protected, respected, and honored.

Throughout history and across cultures, the marital institution has been treasured. Even throughout American history, the importance of marriage cannot be undermined. The Supreme Court weighed in on the matter calling marriage a “fundamental right.” Loving v. Virginia, 388 U.S. 1 (1967). And within the context of marriage lies the blessing of sexual and procreative autonomy.

Though Morse’s article focuses on the anecdote of Tyler Clementi, her larger commentary considers the sad state of society’s perception of sexuality. Tyler Clementi became a casualty in the same promiscuous society that sought to convince him that physical sex comes with no strings attached.

Prenuptial Agreements: Brief Thoughts On Community Property

In my community property class today, the topic of discussion centered on prenuptial agreements and whether a couple should sign one.

The basic fact pattern was as follows: one spouse has more assets and won’t marry without it, but also strongly desires to be married. The person with fewer assets doesn’t care at all, and is happy to agree to a prenuptial and to marry if it will make the other person happy.

Our group of four diverged sharply on whether a couple should sign a prenuptial. One argument, in favor of the agreement, was that careful negotiation could balance the equities. If we plan for death and other significant events, it only makes sense to prepare the just-in-case scenario. On the other hand, prenuptials do seem selfish and sets the marriage off to a rocky foundation. In essence, one spouse is saying, “I love you BUT, if we can’t work out difficulties, I want to keep everything that I’ve made.” I’m of the opinion that prenuptial agreements are antithetical to the institution of marriage. Essentially, the wedding vows “until death do us part” becomes only aspirational language as opposed to a binding covenant. Going into a marriage with an escape clause precludes a spouse from giving himself/herself completely to the marriage.

The problem I have with the fact patter is that one of the spouses strongly desires to be married, but refuses to marry without out. This is inherently selfish. Rephrased, it sounds like this: “I want the benefits of marriage, and I really like you however sometimes things get tough and if we can’t make it work, then let’s keep our assets separately like we were never married in the first place.” Enforcing these agreements creates a perverse incentive to protect oneself to the maximum extent possible in the event of a divorce.

Like it or not, by enforcing these agreements at least one spouse is taking advantage of the other. Even with attorney representation, these agreements never put parties on equal footing; the marriage partnership remains unbalanced and allows one spouse to hold back from committing completely to the relationship.

Photographed Human, Photoshoped In-Human – Ralph Lauren’s Brand Marketing

With advent of Photoshop, Final Cut Pro and the bevy of computer programs designed to alter, enhance and correct photos and films, it’s no challenging feat to blur the line between reality and irreality.

Indeed, the discrepancies between the two make for an entangling dilemma.

Amazingly, Ralph Lauren took the picture of 21-year-old Filippa Hamilton (left) and gave her a serious digital makeover. First, they condensed her waist from a size eight to a size zero (I’m not familiar enough with womens’ sizes to know if there is a smaller size than that). Then, they virtually zapped all the muscle from her arms (they were at least careful enough to make sure no bone was showing). Finally, they airbrushed any blemish, blurred any wrinkle, and then attached its copyright to the photo (right).

When all was said and done, it was pushed through the marketing department, mass produced and intended to represent Ralph Lauren’s brand image.

When the company was called out on it, a spokesman quickly apologized for the “poor image and retouching.”

This advertising bespeaks a bigger issue though. Dr. Kimberly Dennis, M.D., medical director at Timberline Knolls Residential Treatment Center summarizes it succinctly:

“The standards society as a whole projects to our young women are unfair, unrealistic, dangerous and even deadly. Advertisements like this most recent ad by Ralph Lauren are blatantly irresponsible and send damaging and deadly messages to girls and young women across the nation.”

She continues, “The continued importance and pressure society places on being thin, especially for women, can take a toll on someone already susceptible to life threatening illnesses, like eating disorders or depression, and can also trigger feelings in someone who has never struggled before. While we recognize a small number of magazines and fashion shows have already taken a positive step in addressing the ‘skinny model’ problem, we urge the fashion industry as a whole to re-evaluate the inhuman images they continue to promote.”

I commend the company for pulling the image, but I question how it was even deemed acceptable to begin with.

What Is True Beauty?

If a picture is a thousand words, what sort of story do the faces on Glamor, Vogue, and Redbook tell?

Those faces might be characters from a fantasy-land replete with idealistic images, wishful thinking, and thinly veiled smiles masking the lofty and unattainable goals of external beauty. And these periodicals with pretty pictures – tempting men, challenging women – can be had at any grocery store or magazine rack for the low price of a Starbucks latte – even cheaper with a yearlong subscription.

Tragically, not only has the marketing industry has tapped into some of the very things that makes us “tick,” it has exploited society and encouraged it to yearn toward these unreachable heights of beauty.

I temper this post with the understand that altering pictures is not inherently wrong. Amateurs and professionals alike adjust light, hue, and saturation to obtain the optimum image. Many even use blur tools to refine pictures to make them perfect.

Clearly, advertisers have a vested interest in promoting products with attractive-looking individuals; consumers respond positively to this.

The danger lies at the flash point – the instant where models-images cease promoting the brand and instead raise a Siren’s song to motivate individuals to reach an impossible beauty.

I’m not sure where this flash point is. I’m sure it varies from individual to individual. And I’m curious – where do you, reader, witness this flash point? When do billboard models cease advertising a brand and instead become a catalyst for young teenage women to sink to bulimia or anorexia? Should we even apportion blame to advertisers? Perhaps parents should serve as more stalwart gatekeepers. But does placing the culpability on parents release the social responsibility of advertisers?

Below, I’ve included a YouTube video of one billboard model. I’ll have more to comment Ralph Lauren’s most recent debacle later this week.

Working Mothers – Homemaking Isn’t Enough

Get the kids out of bed. Make breakfast. Send them to school. Wait. Wait. Wait. Make dinner. Help kids with homework. Go to bed. What to do with those afternoon hours…

If I didn’t know any better, I would almost think that being a mom would be a walk in the park, a part time job. Some women might agree.

As Tucson news reporter Jenny Anchondo finds, working moms may actually be happier moms. How can this be? Although hardly a representative sample, one woman explains:

Usually when I was unhappy, it was being driven by guilt. Guilt because I wasn’t giving enough at the office or guilt because I didn’t feel like I was giving enough at home,” said Klewer, a working mom and CPA who runs Ludwig Klewer & Co.

Now, [she has] found [her] own ways to make [herself] and [her family] happy.

Klewer realized she’s a better mom when she’s working outside the home.

The logic behind this conclusion is absurd. It sounds as if Klewer found herself at a cross roads trying to balance her career and her family. While originally driven by guilt by not committing enough time to either endeavor, she rationalized that by working she would be a better mom. I will grant that working women do develop useful skills that carry over in raising families. They may occasionally burn the midnight oil; they understand the importance of social interaction; they realize the importance of competency and know the risk of dismissal.

While these skills are transferable, I disagree that they serve as license to balance full-time career and family.

Ms. Anchondo further reports that mothers in Buenos Aires, Argentina work guilt-free. I sincerely question the validity of that conclusion. Even if it were correct, there is probably a large segment of women in America that agree.

My biggest complaint with this article is that it implicitly legitimizes – under the guise of objective reporting – the notion that career and family are separate entities both of which may be pursued equally and in tandem.

Being a mom is not a part-time job; it is rigorous, time consuming – but fulfilling. Her job descriptors: “housekeeper, day care center teacher, cook, computer operator, facilities manager, van driver, psychologist, laundry machine operator, janitor and chief executive officer.” How much time is left for her other “career”?

A Perfect Anecdote in Support of Limited Government

Apparently, some “stimulus” money has gone to support the production of underground pornography. In the name of “art,” of course.

According to, stimulus grants to San Francisco are funding “nude simulated-sex dances, Saturday night ‘pervert’ revues and the airing of pornographic horror films at art houses in San Francisco.”

Among the National Endowment for the Arts’ $80 million in stimulus disbursements are more than a few (beyond) questionable ones, including $50,000 for the Frameline film house, “which recently screened Thundercrack, ‘the world’s only underground kinky art porno horror film, complete with four men, three women and a gorilla,'” according to Fox.

Undoubtedly, there are more than a few other absurd awards in the NEA’s pot. Why? Well, the people in charge of these programs believe that “pervert revues” are worth your tax dollars, and Congress was too busy in February to read the stimulus bill or to place meaningful controls over its execution.

At the time, President Obama said, “We can’t afford to make perfect the enemy of the absolutely necessary.” Of course, many Americans may wonder why spending $80 million on a kinky art porno horror film is “absolutely necessary” to jump-starting the economy.

An employee of the San Francisco arts council told Fox that these expenditures, such as the thousands that went to the The Symmetry Project, a show featuring “the sharing of a central axis, spine, mouth, genitals, face, and anus reveal their interconnectedness and centrality in embodied experience,” will play a critical role in our economic recovery.

These absurdities might be funny, except that they’re true–and paid for with our tax dollars.

Because the Recovery Act spent most of your money in absurd ways such as this, Obama’s popularity is falling. Perhaps if he were actually committed to transperancy or job-creating stimulus, such as an across-the-board corporate tax cut, he wouldn’t have to look at the polls every night and wonder what he could have done differently.

Feeding the White Elephant: Funding Embryonic Stem Cell Research

With the onset of the new president-elect Barack Obama accelerating toward the driver’s seat of democratically controlled Congress, conservatives cannot help but brace themselves for the sweeping reversal of many of Bush’s policies – particularly in regard to stem cell research. Parties on both sides of the aisle expect Obama to issue an executive order ending the government federal funding ban on embryonic stem cell (ESC) research.

With as much progress stem cell research has achieved, applying the brakes to this Bush policy will detrimentally alter forthcoming advancements. Moral issues aside, ESC research has been spinning in a rut since its inception. Fueling its “development” with federal funding will merely exacerbate the problem.

After nearly a decade, human ESC research is much like the wizard in Dorothy’s Oz: facially powerful, substantively empty. With the promise being a virtual panacea, consider the results: there have been zero treatments and zero clinical trials. Total cost: billions. The continuous mantra chanted by its advocates still sounds, “more time.” California committed $3 billion in tax-payer monies over 10 years with the goal of developing a single treatment. Connecticut and Maryland have invested millions as well. They still have virtually nothing to show.

Consider the alternative: adult stem cells have treated over 80 diseases with over 1,300 clinical trials. Advancements in cord blood banking, and induced pluripotent stem cells are leading the way in medical breakthroughs. Recently, European physicians completed the first successful transplant of a human windpipe using (you guessed it) adult stem cells. Plenty more could be said of treatments for leukemia, diabetes, sickle-cell anemia and heart disease.

The government should support what works; it makes common financial sense: invest in known, proven, un-problematic means to advance medicine for a guaranteed rate of return. But channeling that money into decade-long speculation without proven results serves to limit development in medical pioneering. It is essentially pork barrel spending.

ESC research is by no means limited as a “moral” issue. An executive order subsidizing this research merely feeds the white elephant.