Saturday, May 26, 2012

Gay Marriage

There has been much conversation concerning gay marriage in the past few weeks and I felt it presented a good opportunity to discuss the topic.

Let me preface my views by saying I believe this to be a legal issue of personal liberty and not a religious issue of morality. Many have attacked the president’s stance on religious grounds, but I do not expect my elected officials to serve as spiritual guides any more than I want my ministers to author the federal tax code. As such, this is not a treatise on my religious views of homosexual relationships or how correct or incorrect I believe them to be.
A citizen can, without hypocrisy, uphold the individual liberties of other citizens without compromising their personal moral beliefs. I will give two specific examples:

I in no way agree with views espoused by Westboro Baptist Church. I do not believe that God is delighted when an American soldier is killed or someone dies of cancer. I believe their interpretation of the Bible is skewed, twisted, and offensive. However, as a citizen of a nation founded on liberty and democracy I support their right to convey their version of God just as much as I support my own minister’s right to say Jesus died for me. I do so as a freedom-loving American citizen who does not believe that government should have the power to repress the speech or opinions of those it does not agree with.

I in no way agree with the objective, message, or business model of It is an online service that assists adults who wish to have an affair by helping them find people other than their spouses to have sex with. I find the entire enterprise to be morally reprehensible. That being said, I recognize the right of two adults to do what they please with their bodies even if it leads them to misery. Furthermore, I recognize the right of private businesses to create revenue by catering to that freedom.

This is this same principle that would allow me to vote for a Mormon candidate based on his political views, without feeling like doing so is an endorsement of his spiritual beliefs. I personally do not recognize the Book of Mormon as an authoritative religious text nor do I hold it in the same esteem as the Holy Bible, but that should not keep me from voting for someone who does if I believe them to be the best person for the job.

The two most prominent oppositions I hear toward gay marriage are:

The slippery slope – The idea here is that once we abandon our staunch legal adherence to heterosexual unions the next step will be people marrying animals or inanimate objects because such actions are the natural tendency of a society that has separated from it’s ethical moorings.

Setting aside the blatant offensiveness of such an argument, it is completely irrelevant. Why would any sane person assume that granting a right to two consenting adults would inevitably lead to the propagation of those rights to non-humans? Perhaps I am stepping out on a limb here, but I believe humanity to be rather unique among the species that live on Earth. I am not concerned that granting my fellow citizen the right to worship and bear arms will lead to being robbed at gunpoint by a Shetland pony during communion.

The legitimization – The idea here is that official acknowledgement of a lifestyle by the government constitutes legitimization (and even endorsement) of those lifestyle choices. If I allow my taxpayer money to supplement a bill that gives homosexuals the right to openly declare the same status as heterosexuals I am essentially telling them “I agree with your decisions.”

Our government does not exist to legitimize the prevailing worldview of whoever constitutes the majority at a given point in history. That would be easy. Rather, it must insure that personal liberties of even the smallest minorities cannot be marginalized or extinguished by that majority no matter how well-meaning their intentions are. Since those identifying themselves as homosexual constitute a mere 2-3% of our population it would be easy to dismiss their inequality as collateral damage, but keep in mind one could make that same mathematical argument for Jews, Filipinos, or those who are colorblind.

Let me remind you that as a country we often bestow freedoms to other individuals that we do not practice or agree with ourselves. I can legally commit adultery, drink myself into a stupor, and even burn the American flag. Personally I do not believe any of these actions are a good idea, but I have no right to use legislation to force you to accept my conclusions about them.

By that same token those individual freedoms are, and must be, reasonably balanced with the well-being of the public at large. This why there are laws against drinking and driving or sexual assault, because these are instances where one person’s freedom could destroy another’s.

I am unconvinced that allowing, say, two women to enjoy spousal rights and privileges concerning income tax, health insurance, or hospital visitation will endanger or infringe upon those same rights that I currently enjoy with my wife. I am also unconvinced that doing so will lead to the accelerated degradation of the nuclear family since we heterosexuals seem perfectly capable of doing that on our own.

The bottom line is that a person’s sexual orientation doesn’t give us the right to exclude them from pursuing what they believe will bring them happiness or withholding the basic privileges and protections of citizenship. To continue to do so is a far more frightening trajectory, one that I am proud to say our country seems unable to sustain for much longer.

There may never come a day where the majority of people agree with or endorse same-sex relationships, but there should come a day where our commitment to liberty supersedes our fear of what that liberty could bring.   

Saturday, May 19, 2012


A few weeks ago, the Federal Trade Commission announced that Sketchers has agreed to pay $40 million to settle charges that it made “unfounded claims that Shape-ups would help people lose weight, and strengthen and tone their buttocks, legs and abdominal muscles.” Furthermore, the FTC believes that Sketchers falsely represented clinical studies that would seem to have legitimized their claims. As part of the settlement, those who purchased the company’s $100 toning footwear are eligible for a refund.

This comes on the heels of a similar settlement by Reebok over its RunTone and EasyTone shoe line. Both companies benefitted from the estimated $1 Billion dollars’ worth of “fitness shoes” sold in 2010 by urging customers to “Get in shape without setting foot in a gym” and presenting multicolored bar-graphs with titles like “Integrated Electromyography.” Sketchers even paid Joe Montana, Brooke Burke, and Kim Kardashian to appear in commercials. Sketchers continues to stand by their product but can no longer make specific fitness claims in advertisements.
Personally, I was flabbergasted to learn that a $100 sneaker with an integrated see-saw on the bottom was not a legitimate substitute for diet and exercise. Like everyone else, I assumed that my gym membership was nothing more than a stop-gap measure until a team of hipster podiatrists could craft footwear capable of replacing calisthenics and self-control.

I realize that the idea is tempting, but why do we continue to fall for this? Did that many people watch the TV ad of Brooke Burke wearing the shoes and believe that her physical appearance was simply the result of her sneaker choices? This woman films a different exercise infomercial every year and yet we really want to believe that she has finally discovered a way to look like she has a full-time nutritionist & personal trainer while actually sitting on the couch eating lardsicles.

The most impressive idea was the company’s reference to “integrated electromyography,” a system normally used to diagnose neuromuscular disease. Since the test measures the amount of electrical activity occurring in a given muscle, one would assume that a higher reading implies elevated fitness, and by extension, increased hotness. Of course, there is also a possibility that your calf and thigh muscles are in constant spasm because you have chosen to purchase shoes molded into the shape of a banana.       

It just goes to show that we are willing to accept anything as scientific evidence as long as it appears as a bar chart with an impressive heading. For instance, if I were to present a chart titled “Ferberized Electroencephalography” indicating that my company’s body-wash generated twice as many “Spencer units” as my competitor’s would you know what that meant? I would argue the results were a measure of hygienic invigoration but for all you know it causes cuticle cancer. 

At least they did not make the mistake of marketing this to senior citizens. Can you imagine giving your poor arthritic grandmother a pair of shoes designed to exacerbate her declining sense of equilibrium? Sure, it would sound like a great way to keep Nana’s legs muscles from atrophying until she eats it shuffling over to the easy-access shower she just had installed. I can’t wait until the Shape-Up gloves debut.    

Saturday, May 12, 2012


While reading through a magazine the other day I noticed an advertisement that challenged me to “Let human pheromone power enhance your sex-appeal and increase the romance in your life.” The ad was for the Athena Institute, an organization founded in 1986 by Dr. Winnifred Cutler who is credited with the “co-discovery of human pheromones” in the 80’s. By 1993 she was selling a perfume additive known as Pheromone 10:13 to women across the country. Shortly thereafter, she developed a cologne / aftershave additive for men known as Pheromone 10X.
Dr. Cutler
Today, those requiring a chemical boost to their social lives can order directly from the institute’s website. Each vial of pheromones runs about $100 and if used properly should last 4-6 months. The sites instructions specify that the proprietary liquid should be applied to “the upper lip” and “behind the ears” at least every other day.   

In addition to her cosmetic additives, Dr. Cutler has penned everything from scientific articles on “lunar menstrual phase locking” to the literary slow-burn of her classic essay "Menstrual Suppression by Contraception and Non cyclic regimens of Hormonal Replacement Therapy are Potentially Dangerous to a Woman's Health". The site offers numerous books and even a specialized storage bottle for un-deployed pheromone elixir so that it stays fresh.

By far the best part of the site is the customer testimonials. A few highlights:
·          Don from Texas (in one of his 2 testimonials) - “Please send me 3 more vials of Athena 10X. I love your product. It’s really, really amazing what this stuff does. You definitely get more hugs out of this thing. In fact, you get a lot more than hugs."
·         Sammy from Taiwan – “The 10X seems really effective. My wife would do things she never would have done before.”
·         Mike from Florida - " Hi Doc! This is your favorite customer down here in Florida. I would like 2 more vials (his 49th order) of the Athena 10X. How could I ever thank you enough?"
·         Dan from Nebraska – “I am a family physician and have tried several different products advertised on the WEB as human pheromone based. Athena’s product has proven the most effective for me."
·         Betsy from Ohio – "The 10:13 is extremely effective in my romantic personal life. Right now I am fighting them off there are so many men interested in me.”
·         Lisa from Virginia – “"It works! I work for United Airlines and have not been yelled at one time since I started using the 10:13.”
·         Julie from Missouri – "I would like to order another 10:13 and mixing bottle for my daughter. When my daughter got of age I bought one for her to add to her perfume. Now she is 22 but the boys from high school still remember her...”
While I might have been skeptical before, the testimonials are extremely comforting and not at all creepy. Just how excited about pheromone supplements is Texas Don that he is featured twice in the testimonials section? And I fear that Taiwan Sammy is getting Athena 10X confused with rohypnol. Doctor Dan’s confession that he has “tried several different products” to attract women was just depressing. If you are a successful physician and you find yourself unable to find a date without utilizing a strange liquid you got off the Internet perhaps you are just not playing to your strengths.

Of all of the male testimonials, Sunshine Mike is my personal favorite. Assuming my figures are correct, Mike has purchased and utilized 50 individual 6 month supplies. This means that either Mike has been a customer since the product was introduced 25 years ago or the combination of his appearance and personality are so repulsive to the opposite sex that he finds it necessary to triple-dose in order to get close enough to start a conversation. Either way, when I look at a man willing to spend $5,000 on pheromone tonic I am not sure “success story” is the first term that comes to mind. Perhaps that money would be better spent on an e-Harmony account.

The women’s stories are just as intriguing. Here you have Buckeye Betsy who has become so irresistible to men that she lives in constant fear of sexual assault, while Stewardess Lisa’s testimony highlights a key difference in the way males and females view results. While every single male testimonial directly correlates the product’s effectiveness with the amount of romantic attention they receive from women, poor Lisa was moved to pen a testimonial based solely on the absence of hostility from other humans while on an airplane. 

How angry are the United Airlines passengers that Lisa was willing to resort to experimental human pheromone marinade to prevent verbal abuse? She doesn’t even seem to be disappointed that her $100 vial hasn’t scored her a single date as long as she doesn’t have to hear some intoxicated regional sales director conjugate the f-word at 20,000 feet.

Julie is a different ballgame altogether. I often wonder if the people who pen these ever re-read their statements. For instance, what stage of life does Julie consider “of age”? Was she slipping this stuff into her daughter’s Proactive body wash in the 8th grade? While I do not have a daughter, I can assure that if I did there is no way I am paying hundreds of dollars to make my teenage offspring more sexually enticing. One last thought: being able to say that all “the boys from high school still remember her” doesn’t always indicate a successful parenting strategy.

Despite the numerous studies cited by the institute, I find myself somewhat skeptical. More than likely, the positive results from customers can be attributed to the artificial confidence one exhibits after being convinced that their attractiveness is chemically guaranteed. One way or the other, you cannot help but be in awe of the brilliant marketing.

Saturday, May 5, 2012

The Homeowner's Policy

After seeing a TV special about loopholes in homeowner’s policies, I decided that it was time I gave my homeowner’s documentation the once-over to be certain that I was covered in the event of a dwelling mishap. The document, which is around fifty pages, was far more specific than I expected and I immediately became apprehensive after discovering they devoted an entire paragraph to outlining what legally constituted a hovercraft (which is decidedly not covered).

As I expected there were lengthy chapters concerning natural disasters such as tornados, earthquakes, and tidal waves. The paragraph on volcanic eruption was in a category of its own. As a policyholder it is made perfectly clear that any “volcanic eruptions occurring consecutively or concurrently within a 72-period will be considered a single eruption.” I suppose this prevents what is known as the “Mount St. Helens Long Con.”

The next section of interest involved “war.” For insurance purposes, the company clearly differentiates war from a “civil commotion” which I assume could encompass anything from a garden variety race riot to a red tag sale at Dillards. I did feel comforted that they will reimburse me for “shrubbery damage” inflicted in the course or a “riot.” While I have never experienced a riot at my house, I would consider myself fortunate if the only victim was my anemic boxwood hedge.

This splitting of hairs concerning what constituted war was necessary because I am only covered for $10,000 for damages incurred by armed conflict but given more latitude for insurrections. So what constitutes war you might ask? It was somewhat disconcerting that under the “war” rider I found this sentence:

“Discharge of a nuclear weapon will be deemed a warlike act even if accidental.”

 I am fairly certain that if my residence happens to be within the blast radius of a nuclear weapon (accidental or otherwise) a $10,000 check is not going to significantly impact my situation one way or the other. Don’t get me wrong, I appreciate the gesture but even if I do survive endorsing the check will be difficult with my genetically-deformed ground-hog fingers.

Another fascinating section is the “Property Not Eligible.” These are items that, for one reason or another, do not qualify for replacement. One category defined anything “useless to the insured at the time of the loss.” Depending on the particular situation this could include anything from a Bowflex to a son-in-law, and I am not entirely sure who would be qualified to make such a determination. There are a few people I know who would not get reimbursed for their underarm deodorant under this stipulation.

The best line from that section would be that “replacement cost coverage” does not apply to “items that cannot be replaced” due to antiquity. That is one of the most redundant sentences I have ever read in my life. In practical terms, this means that if you left the burial shroud of Jesus on the seat of your hovercraft, you are hosed.

They are also very clear that structural damage incurred from my meth lab will void the policy. This seems to be in direct conflict with the company’s favorable stance toward small business owners but I will let it slide.

Perhaps the most surprising section involved events that were covered. For instance, if my dwelling collapses due to the “weight of contents, equipment, animals, or people” they have no problem cutting me a check for the whole house. This means that while I am going to top out at 10K after a scud missile hits the sunroom; the company is willing to throw me a financial bone at the total loss of my home due to willful obesity.