TOPIC: society
Issue 15
February 17, 2019
Senior Syphilis

If the title of this article is meant to shock or be misconstrued, it is neither. This week’s topic of discussion is not about American youth and sexually transmitted diseases (STDs), rather we will delve into an unheeded demographic where STDs are becoming evermore prevalent: the elderly. Unfortunately, senior citizens in our society are too often overlooked and sometimes outright ignored. Nowhere might this be more apparent than in the lack of focus, education and care for the aged who are becoming infected with STDs at an alarming rate. This must change.

While older people tend to be mindful of their blood sugar, blood pressure, cardiac care and more; many are startlingly ignorant of the epidemic that’s taken hold of their communities. STDs? Why would those even apply to them if they are not of child rearing or producing age? One reason is the lack of basic education and effective communication by health care providers. Another impetus is societal neglect. Simply put, older people are marginalized when it comes to many relevant public service health campaigns. As a result, they do not consider themselves a high-risk group for STDs. This false sense of immunity coupled with the fact that older people tend to have more compromised immune systems, increases the probability that the elderly will acquire a sexually communicated disease.

Needn't we forget that many senior citizens are products of the Baby Boomer Generation. They came of age during the sexual revolution. Their attitudes towards sex combined with the use of drugs like Viagra & Cialis have made an the active sex life well into retirement all but commonplace.

In late 2018, the US News & World Report published an article that encompassed some sobering statistics: "A recent analysis of patients on Athenahealth's network found that patients over age 60 account for the biggest increase of in-office treatments for sexually transmitted infections. The report found that in adults over age 60, diagnosis rates for herpes simplex, gonorrhea, syphilis, hepatitis B, trichomoniasis and chlamydia rose 23 percent between 2014 and 2017.” In 2014, Psychology Today published a piece with the following lead in sentence: “According to the Center for Disease Control, among our senior citizen population sexually transmitted diseases (STDs) are spreading like wildfire. Since 2007, incidence of syphilis among seniors is up by 52 percent, with chlamydia up 32 percent." The examples above were published in the mainstream press. And while there has been much written on this particular phenomenon, the stories tend to be buried in the back pages of a newspaper or relegated to the preserve of medical journals.

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Issue 20
March 24, 2019
The Student Debt Crisis & What Can Be Done About It

“Getting a college degree has long been integral to the mythic promise of American opportunity. Yet for millions, it’s become exactly that, a myth---and a very expensive myth at that. The average student leaves school carrying $30,000 in debt. More than 40% of students who enter college fail to earn a degree within 6 years, and many of them wind up in the workforce lacking the credentials and practical skills required to get ahead.” - Bloomberg

A few weeks ago, following an exhaustive investigation by the FBI, dozens of privileged individuals including some public figures were charged by the United States Department of Justice with crimes that included racketeering, fraud, money laundering, obstruction of justice and conspiracy to defraud the United States. The offenses encompassed parents creating fictitious profiles of their children in order to bolster their chances of gaining admissions to selective universities, including highlighting athletic achievements for sports they did not participate in. Some high schools didn’t even field a team for the sport the prospective student was being profiled for! Other despicable actions included paying college entrance exam proctors to supply answers to tests, and outright bribery. Subsequently, both liberal and conservative factions of the mainstream press have had a bonanza highlighting the legitimate inequities regarding the college admissions process.

The Quintessential Centrist agrees that the college admissions cheating scandal is newsworthy. A few in the media have even written about how ultimately, it’s the children who will bear the brunt of their parents’ maleficence. That’s true; however much more widespread problems warranting investigation, thoughtful debate, and corrective action are the overbearing cost of a college education which has consistently outpaced inflation, the increasing amount of debt students incur to secure a college degree, and the fact that a growing number of employers (and students) maintain that the education our colleges provide is not commensurate with the skillsets they are seeking in new hires.

In an effort to frame this slow-moving crisis – and make no mistake, it is a crisis – consider these jarring statistics:

• In 2018, ~70% of college students took out loans to pay for their education.

• “According to figures from the Federal Reserve Bank of St. Louis, between January 1989 and January 2016…the cost to attend a university increased nearly eight times faster than wages did…”.

• Since the late 1990’s, colleges and universities have raised the price of education faster than any sector except healthcare.

• There is $1.56 trillion dollars of student loan debt outstanding. Aside from home mortgages, student loan debt represents largest consumer debt segment in the United States. To put $1.56 trillion dollars of student loan debt in context, consider that total credit card debt in America totals ~1 trillion dollars; and keep in mind, there are many more credit card holders in The United States than student loan borrowers. Hence, not only is the notional value of student debt roughly 50% larger than credit card debt, the dollar amount of student debt per borrower (~$30,000 per person) is exponentially higher than for credit card borrowers (~$5,700 per person).

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Issue 24
April 28, 2019
Rich Lives Matter More

Wealth and its associated privileges afford much insulation and protection. However, it cannot safeguard against unexpected tragedy or death. Yet in the aftermath of the devastating Easter Sunday terrorist attacks in Sri Lanka that have, to date, claimed 359 lives, the mainstream media has allocated a disproportionate amount of news coverage to the wealthiest victims. This subtly implies that rich lives matter more, or at least sell more newspapers and online advertising. At TQC, we find this troubling to say the least.

The day after the bombings, multiple news organizations highlighted the death of three of the four children of Danish billionaire Anders Hoch Polvson, who operates retail giant ASOS. Overnight, his story became - albeit indirectly – in part that a billionaire was not insulated from this act of terror. Of course, having to attend the funeral of ones’ own children under any circumstance is unfathomable. Our heavy hearts go out to, and we sympathize with, the Polvson family and all those affected by this senseless act. Unfortunately, the subtext of some media coverage implied that his loss was somehow greater because of his wealth. Mr. Povson’s story was not the only example of the mainstream press allocating an abundance of reporting resources on privileged persons affected by this terrorist attack.

There was considerable media focus on student Kieran Shafritz de Zoya, a fifth grader at the prestigious Sidwell Friends School in Washington, DC. The school’s alumni include the children of several Presidents. In his grief, the boy’s father spoke of how Kieran aspired to be a neuroscientist but those dreams ended when terrorism claimed his life. Other prominent victims included Sri Lankan celebrity chef Shantha Mayadunne and a young relative of Bangladesh’s Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina. These were among the figures given notable mention in the press coverage. Indeed, the media seemed astonished that the affluent were among the victims.

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Issue 25
May 5, 2019
Notre Dame

On April 15th, flames engulfed and almost destroyed the iconic Cathedral of Notre Dame, in Paris, France. In the immediate aftermath of the blaze, people all over the world pledged vast sums of money to help pay for Notre Dame’s rehabilitation. This triggered a “fire storm” – excuse the pun - of controversy across social media. There was outrage that so much money could be raised at such breakneck speed to rebuild this venerated physical structure despite the many blights facing humanity. Wealthy French businessmen and philanthropists bore the brunt of the criticism.

Actress and activist Pamela Anderson expressed concern that a children's charity benefit she had recently attended also raised money to help rebuild Notre Dame de Paris.

Belgian golfer Thomas Peiters echoed Ms. Anderson’s concerns. He contended that “Kids are starving to death in this world and EU wants us to donate to rebuild a building ...I don’t understand.”

American writer Kristan Higgins chimed in, “Donate to help Puerto Rico recover. Donate to get the people of Flint clean water. Donate to get kids out of cages. Jesus didn’t care about stained glass. He cared about humans.”

Simon Allison, a well-respected reporter in South Africa noted, “In just a few hours…650 million euros was donated to rebuild Notre Dame…In six months, just 15 million euros has been pledged to restore Brazil’s National Museum (that was damaged in a fire last September). I think this is what they call white privilege.”

Anderson continued via Twitter:

"Last night we attended @OM_Officiel annual Gala to help raise money for youth suffering in Marseille - full of good intentions. While raising a meaningful amount of € for a great cause. Then ‘big surprise auction item’ came to raise money for rebuilding Notre Dame???" "Surely the children suffering in Marseille could have used the 100,000 € more than the church that has already received over a billion in donations by billionaires....I hope they will reconsider and give to where it is needed. to the community here in Marseille where it was intended. And would go much further in making lives better."

She makes a valid point.

Anderson and her boyfriend Adil Rami, a defender for the French soccer team, Olympique de Marseille, are avid supporters of his football club's children's charity. They were dismayed that a portion, albeit small in comparison, of the proceeds would be allocated to another cause. To this specific point, Ms. Anderson and Mr. Rami are correct; a charity created for and that subsequently earmarked funds to be deployed towards a specific cause should not re-allocate resources to another cause, however worthy that cause may be. Anderson is well known for her activism and philanthropy, supporting a range of causes from animal welfare to climate change and beyond. While we may not agree with all of Anderson's politics – she has publicly advocated for Julian Assange, the founder of WikiLeaks, an accused rapist and leaker of top secret information - or the causes she supports, we can all agree that helping children in need is a most noble and worthwhile pursuit.

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Issue 26
May 12, 2019
Horseracing

On Saturday May 4th Maximum Security, the clear (unofficial) winner of the 145th running of the Kentucky Derby, was disqualified. After the race was over, two jockeys filed objections. They argued that Maximum Security committed a foul under the rules that govern horseracing in the state of Kentucky. After ~20 minutes of suspense, three judges or “Stewards” as they are known in the sport, upheld the competing jockey’s objections and made a unanimous decision to disqualify Maximum Security for violating Section 12 of rule 810. That rule stipulates that disqualification is warranted if "a leading horse or any other horse in a race swerves or is ridden to either side to interfere with, intimidate, or impede any other horse or jockey." Maximum Security thus became the 1st horse in Derby history to be disqualified on race day (though in 1968, Derby winner Dancer’s image was eventually stripped of his title for receiving performance enhancing drugs).

Through their attorney Barry Stilz, Maximum Security’s owners, Gary & May West, immediately appealed the Steward’s decision. It was denied. The West’s could theoretically pursue legal options but the odds of any substantive changes are shall we say, a “long shot.” Thus, Country House, a 65 to 1 long shot in his own right was declared the winner while Maximum Security dropped to 17th place.

For the record, at The Quintessential Centrist, prior to this year’s Kentucky Derby, we did not know much about horseracing. For this piece, we thoroughly researched the sport and its rules. We also conducted interviews with several knowledgeable racing fans. And as always, we welcome our reader’s feedback. Your thoughtful comments, ideas and opinions are a material part of what helps us improve our process. We thank you in advance for your participation.

Taken what we have gathered over the past week via our own due diligence coupled with probing interviews, our view is as follows: from the untrained eye, it appeared that Maximum Security clearly veered out of his lane and impeded other participants. Under the state of Kentucky Horse Racing Commission (KHRC) rules, this is a violation that warrants disqualification. That said, we wonder if there was room for the Stewards at the Kentucky Derby to be more holistic and qualitative in their approach.

At TQC, we are avid (American) football enthusiasts and as such, have the benefit of a deeper understanding of the nuances surrounding the sport. In the National Football League (NFL), one of the most common penalties in the game is “holding.” If officials wanted to, they could throw a flag for “holding” on essentially every single play. That said, referees typically only penalize a team for “holding” if the foul was either blatantly obvious no matter where on the field it took place, or it had a material impact on the play. We enjoy watching basketball too. In the National Basketball Association (NBA), players often take an extra half-step or “travel” when penetrating towards the basket. While “traveling” is not permitted under NBA rules – and when called results in a change of ball possession – officials rarely blow their whistle for this offense. “Traveling” occurs frequently. Unless the “travel” was egregious and or allowed for an easier pathway to produce a basket, it is often ignored.

Of course, “holding,” violations in the NFL, “traveling” violations in the NBA, and disqualifications in horseracing are subjective judgment calls. It is extremely difficult to get it right all the time. Mistakes do happen. That said, we would think in a race with 19 live animals weighing upwards of 1,000 pounds each, it would be abnormal for bumping and crowding not to happen. In our view, technically the correct call was made, but the Stewards probably should not have made the call. Maximum Security clearly impeded other horses, but would it have made difference in the outcome of the race? At least pertaining to which horse ultimately won? We would say unequivocally no, it did not. Maximum Security won by over a length (a legitimate argument could be made that Maximum Security’s foul affected the 2nd and 3rd place finishers in the race).

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Issue 27
May 19, 2019
The DC MTA Debacle: Four Wrongs Don't Make A Right

One of the supposed virtues, ostensibly, of social media, is to forge dialogue and bridge divides between people. It is, however, increasingly doing the opposite. Online discussions are morphing into something more sinister where civic-minded individuals are lambasted for even constructive criticism of those flaunting rules. To boot, the First Amendment is rapidly becoming a victim of the political correctness movement.

Generally, despite highly publicized cases of hate crimes and anti-Semitism, America is more racially equal and harmonious now than it was generations ago. That said, there is no doubt that African Americans and certain other minorities still receive the short shrift in many areas of life. Those of us historically literate and socially aware, irrespective of our political leanings, are rational enough to acknowledge this. Furthermore, before the advent of body cameras, smart phones and other recording devices, the level of abuse that disproportionately affected people of color was materially higher. Technological advancements have prodded most members of our society to hold themselves to a higher standard. However, in this case of Natasha Tynes and The Washington, DC Mass Transit Authority (MTA), technology was a contributing factor in degrading all parties involved.

This recent “scandal” was precipitated by Jordanian American World Bank employee Natasha Tynes, who reported a black female employee of the Washington, DC MTA for eating while on the job, a violation of MTA rules. When Tynes singled out the MTA employee, she was effectively told to mind her own business, at which point she took a picture of the employee eating and posted it along with a complaint to the DC MTA, on Twitter. The ensuing backlash – against Ms Tynes, a minority in her own right – was as absurd and misguided as Tynes’ own overreaching action against a fellow citizen for a trivial violation. Ms. Tynes was accused of being a snitch, a racist, and compromising the employee’s livelihood.

More importantly and as equally unbelievable, Tynes’ spineless book publisher, California Coldblood, and its distributor Rare Bird, suspended working with the author on her new novel, They Called Me Wyatt. California Coldblood tweeted: "Natasha Tynes ...did something truly horrible today in tweeting a picture of a metro worker eating her breakfast on the train this morning and drawing attention to her employer…Black women face a constant barrage of this kind of inappropriate behavior directed toward them and a constant policing of their bodies…we do not condone (Tynes') actions and hope Natasha learns from this experience that black women feel the effects of systematic racism the most and that we have to be allies, not oppressors." We disagree with their decision. Tynes did not deserve to lose her book deal. Even if her actions were motivated by racism – and we have no reason to believe they were - her publisher and distributor have no proof that race was a motivating factor in her action.

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Issue 35
July 21, 2019
Sacking the Sacklers

In November 2018, The Quintessential Centrist’s inaugural issue covered the opioid crisis and the efficacy of fast acting antidotes such as Narcan and Evzio to counter overdoses. At the time of publication, there had been plenty of ongoing media coverage as to the role of Purdue Pharma in perpetuating the opioid epidemic. Purdue’s legal troubles began in 2001 when the company was sued by the state of West Virginia, which was effectively ground zero for the opioid crisis. The state claimed that Purdue inappropriately marketed their drug, OxyContin, and hid “from doctors the extent to which OxyContin's morphinelike qualities could lead to addiction.”

At the Quintessential Centrist, we have sometimes been a vocal critic of the government for regulatory and judicial overreach, which, we believe can stifle economic growth, innovation and job creation. But with respect to Purdue Pharma and its role in propagating the opioid epedemic, both state and federal governments are right to prosecute the company to the full extent of the law.

According to the CDC, 400,000 people perished from opioid overdoses between 1999 and 2017. Beyond just the death toll, the economic and social costs have been stunning. An article penned in 2016 in The Science Daily approximated the economic cost of the opioid crisis at over $78 billion dollars. The numbers are certainly much higher today. The social costs have been equally if not more enormous as the nuclei of tens of thousands of families have been hallowed out, the fabric of entire communities shredded.

Purdue Pharma is certainly not the only company to produce opioids; publicly listed firms such as Johnson & Johnson (JNJ), Teva Pharmaceuticals and Allergan are involved in the space. Indeed, every pharmaceutical company found to be complicit in monetizing the opioid crisis should be held accountable. Recently, Teva quietly settled a related lawsuit while JNJ continues to fight in court; next month a ruling is expected. The outcome should be carefully watched as it will set precedent. But Purdue, a private company controlled by the prominent Sackler family, is disproportionately to blame for this societal disaster. From their unscrupulous marketing tactics, refusal to accept responsibility and then to plan to profit from the very crisis they spawned, their actions are reprehensible.

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Issue 37
August 4, 2019
Cash Bail Should Be Abolished

“Whether you’re in jail for three days, three weeks, three months or three years, it’s an accelerator of human misery,” said Jonathan Lippman, the former chief judge of New York State’s highest court and currently the chairman of an independent commission on criminal justice reform. “You come out a changed human being.” - NYT

At The Quintessential Centrist, our view is that under most circumstances, cash bail should be abolished. Reason being, it is one of, if not, the most explicit example of legal discrimination currently being practiced in America. The use of cash bail is categorically unfair and a blatant violation of the equal protection clause of the 14th amendment, because it directly discriminates against poor people. A compelling argument can also be made that cash bail indirectly discriminates against blacks and other minorities that represent a disproportionate number of subjects in the criminal justice system. Before further delving into why cash bail is unfair, it is helpful to first have a basic understanding of how the “system” functions.

The Process of Entering the “System”

To navigate each individual states’ particular laws pertaining to jail and bail is a granular, fiendishly complex undertaking. For the sake of simplicity, we will focus our attention on New York City.

Let us consider a common misdemeanor, criminal possession of a controlled substance in the 7th degree (NYS penal code 220.03(a)), which until late 2018 included marijuana. Police stop you and allegedly find you in the process of a criminal act. They have 3 choices:

a. Let you go.

b. Give you a Desk Appearance Ticket (“DAT”), which means you are free to go home but must return to court in approximately 6 weeks to be arraigned before a judge. Generally, DAT’s are given to first-time offenders for petty larcenies, traffic and vehicular crimes or violations like disorderly conduct; and occasionally, for a nonviolent felony like grand larceny.

c. Cuff you and bring you back to the police precinct to write up the arrest report, check for any previous arrests etc., electronically scan your fingerprint and retina, take your “mug shot,” and place you in a cell until you’re ready to “get booked” at Central Bookings. At a minimum, you will spend at least one night in jail – detained and monitored by the Department of Corrections.

Central Bookings: This is a basement-level area with multiple jail cells (covered in wall scratching’s of graffiti with gang symbols and cries for help alike). This is where Dept. of Corrections first steps in, but you are still technically under the custody of the NYPD.

Arraignment

If you cannot afford a lawyer, a court-appointed public defender (either Legal Aid Society or one of the borough specific agencies) will be assigned to you.

In Manhattan, the prosecutors in arraignments are typically first-year attorneys, fresh out of law school. They read the allegations against you aloud. The “offer” they recommend to the judge is generally predetermined by a superior who read the police complaint – one of a couple hundred – overnight in a dark cubicle and decided this offer based on the highest level “charge” written by the arresting officer.

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Issue 39
August 18, 2019
"Yes Hello, I'd Like To Cancel My Equinox Membership"

Last week, there was a social media tweet storm followed by a sprinkle of “protestors” who made a conscious decision to cancel their Equinox membership and / or stop paying for SoulCycle classes because Steve Ross – a passive investor in the aforementioned entities – hosted a fund raiser for Donald Trump at his home in Long Island.

At TQC, we respect the right of Equinox members to cancel their membership in order to keep their discretionary dollars from somebody they (apparently) disagree with politically, or for any reason for that matter. Unfortunately, for some of the protestors whose objective it was to financially impair Mr. Ross, quitting the gym won’t make a dent in his wallet. However, it could materially impact the bank balances of the employees – often young men and women of modest means - who work at Equinox.

Many Equinox employees are hardworking students working to subsidize their education or are young trainers trying to make contacts with the goal of building of a client roster to grow their book of business. It is a shame that if anybody is to bear the brunt of a cancelled gym membership, it’s going to be them.

Additionally, in our view, many of the protestors’ angst are misplaced. We have never met Steve Ross; everything we know about him we learned from indirect sources. That said, 99% of the people who canceled their gym membership have never met Steve Ross either, and know next to nothing about the man, other than that he supports Donald Trump. In this case, a better allocation of their discretionary dollars would probably go to supporting a politician that stood for what was important to them or perhaps donating the money or their time to a charitable cause of their choice.

If You Support Donald Trump, That Makes You a Morally Corrupt Person?

In our February 24th issue, we posted an article titled Where We Think Trump is Right. In it, we reminded our readers that:

“Our platform promotes civil discourse irrespective of political leanings. This, more often than not, involves highlighting and examining some uncomfortable hypocrisies. And it almost always involves rejecting overly-simplistic black-and-white binaries.”

In 2016, Donald Trump lost the popular vote to Hillary Clinton by ~3 million votes. That said, ~63 million people or ~47% of people who casted a ballot, voted for Mr. Trump. There are certainly a minority of Trump supporters who are unabashedly racist, and another sub-sector of Trumpists who might harbor racist views but don’t actively promote or act on them (we would be remiss not to point out that racist views do not just apply to Trump supporters and the far right. Some Clinton supporters and current radical Democrats are racist, too). That said, to lump 63 million adult Americans who support Donald Trump, toss them (and Steve Ross) into one bucket and label them uncaring, stupid or racist etc., is ignorant and simply wrong in its own right.

At TQC, we do not support Donald Trump, but we do stand behind a few of his policies when they make sound sense. We also believe that somebody can support Trump and be a perfectly law abiding, tax paying, charitable-giving, community-building, socially-accepting, job-creating, generally decent human being, as Steve Ross appears to be. Indeed, just because somebody is a Donald Trump supporter, doesn’t necessarily make that person evil or morally corrupt. However, an argument could be made that anybody who thinks it does, is closed minded and divisive themselves.

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Issue 40
August 25, 2019
XXX Pornography XXX

The Internet has connected people on many fronts. It has also rendered access to adult content so ubiquitous that it is almost a truism that everyone with web access has seen pornography online.

According to Similairweb, Pornhub is the 6th most popular website in the United States, trailing only Google, YouTube, Facebook, Amazon and Yahoo, and ranking ahead of Twitter and eBay. In fact, three of the top ten most popular websites in America feature adult content.

When comparing websites, giving heavier weight to duration on a page vs number of page visits might yield somewhat different results; but even factoring in the potential for variance, it is indisputable that pornography is indeed one of the most commonly sought after “goods and services” available online.

Astonishingly, Pornhub compiles and aggregates an exhaustive amount of user data via its Pornhub Insights tool. The wealth of available information is staggering. Here is a snippet of what we found for the year 2018, the last full year for which data has been compiled:

• Visits to Pornhub totaled 33.5 billion over the course of 2018, an increase of 5 billion visits over 2017.
• Pornhub’s servers served up 30.3 billion searches, or 962 searches per second.
• Pornhub’s amateurs, models and content partners uploaded an incredible 4.79 million new videos, creating over 1 million hours of new content to enjoy on the site.
• The average visit duration in the United States was 10 minutes and 37 seconds. On a more granular level, users in Mississippi, South Carolina & Arkansas spent ~10% > average on the site, while users in Kansas, Nebraska & Utah logged ~10% < the mean.
• The most popular times to view porn was between 4pm – 5pm & 10PM – 1AM.
• ~28% of Pornhub’s users were women, a 3% increase from 2017.
• 25-34 year olds made up the highest percentage of users, at 35%. The average age of Pornhub viewers is 36.
• During the NFL Super Bowl, Pornhub traffic plunged 26%. During Thanksgiving people apparently ate their feelings instead; traffic dropped 13%. Nobody wanted to be “that guy” on New Year's Eve, when visits to the site dropped by 38%.
• Kim Kardashian’s sex tape is still Pornhub’s most watched video of all time with 195 million views.

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Issue 41
September 1, 2019
LGBTQC

In the past week, we reviewed the Annual Student Medical Form provided by a New York City private school to parents on behalf of their children prior to the commencement of the academic school year. We neither have access nor would we disclose student’s personal information; and have decided not to disclose the name of the school because the majority of students are minors. Along with the standard space for name, address, phone numbers, etc., part of the form contained the following options:

• Sex Assigned At Birth: Male / Female / Intersex
• Gender Identity: Girl / Boy / Trans Boy / Trans Girl / Non-Binary / Genderfluid / Other
• Students Affirming Pronouns: SheHer / HeHim / TheirThem / Other

Meanwhile at Columbia University, incoming students are encouraged to input their personal information into Columbia Health’s portal. In addition to ensuring that students have been inoculated (no sure thing given the misinformation spread by misinformed antivaxxers), reported their appropriate personal/family medical history and so forth, Columbia provides students space where they can “identify and edit their gender identity.” The options are as follows:

• Agender
• Bigender
• Female (cisgender)
• Female (transgender/female identified/MTF)
• Gender fluid
• Gender nonconforming
• Genderqueer
• Male (cisgender)
• Male (transgender/male identified/FTM)
• Nonbinary
• Pangender
• Transgender
• I identify as follows

Columbia prefaces this section of the form with the following statement: “Should these terms be unfamiliar, please note that the ‘female cisgender’ means female is the gender you were assigned at birth and you are female identified; ‘male cisgender’ means male is the gender you were assigned at birth and you are male identified.”

We appreciate the clarity, but it came woefully short for this author, who graduated university barely twenty years ago. Before reading this form, the author had never even heard of Agender, Bigender, Nonbinary, or Pangender. Apparently, neither had Microsoft Word, the most commonly used word processing program in the world. When first typed out, many of these terms were underlined in red, and had to be manually added to Word’s dictionary.

Does the fact that an elite private school offers parents a choice of the affirming pronoun in addition to “she/her” and “he/him,” a “their/them” option and that Columbia University, an Ivy League institution that attracts some of the brightest minds from all over the world, had to put a disclaimer in its own health form regarding how to explain the gender choices they provided, indicate that the inclusivity pendulum has swung a bit too far left?

Regarding Sex Assigned at Birth, we found the choices Male, Female & Intersex to be unremarkable. While the overwhelming majority of people are born male or female, various studies have borne out that depending on the criteria used, between .005% and 1.7% of people are indeed borne intersex. In the United States, ~3.75 million babies are born each year. Even using the conservative .005% data point would still translate into approximately 18,750 intersex babies born each year. The aforementioned private school was correct to include Intersex as a choice.

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Issue 43
September 22, 2019
Are Wedding Parties A Waste of Money?

Last year, approximately 2.5 million weddings took place in the United States. According to the Knot, the average cost of a wedding in America in 2018 (excluding the Honeymoon) was $33,931. That would equate to ~85 billion dollars per year spent on that special (or not so special) day. Irrespective that ~50% of all weddings end in divorce (and 50% of those that don’t probably should) the question remains: Are wedding parties a waste of resources that should be allocated to more appropriate causes?

In March, The Quintessential Centrist discussed the student loan crisis and potential remedies. To forgo lavish spending on nuptials was not a solution we offered. It should have been. While a select few fortunate young couples in America are lucky enough not to be in an “either/or” situation, the overwhelming majority of newlyweds (and their families) should make a conscious choice between spending on a sumptuous wedding, putting the money into a college fund, or making a down payment on a home.

Wedding Ca$hers

While the average wedding costs just south of $34,000, there are considerable variations when broken down by region. At the state level, the least expensive places to get hitched are in Mississippi ($15,581), Alabama ($17,766) & Arkansas ($17,935). The most expensive states to ruin your life in (just kidding) are Hawaii ($39,078), New Jersey ($38,049) & Connecticut ($36,971). The most expensive place to get married is in Manhattan, in New York State, where the average wedding runs close to $100,000 ($96,910).

Real Life

Wisconsin ranks #25, smack in the middle of the pack, with the average cost of a wedding running $24,681. Wisconsin also ranks 23rd in median household income at $54,610. The median home price is $187,100. In the Badger state, the average cost of instate college tuition, room and board workout to ~$18,000 per year.

Let us assume that an imminently married couple in Wisconsin is considering whether or not to divert $24,681 intended to pay for their “average” wedding into a tax-sheltered education IRA for their impending offspring. From 1957 to 2018, the average annual return for a broad basket of stocks has been ~8% (Prior to the mid 1950’s, stocks returned ~10% per year). To be conservative, let’s assume this couple picked a subpar stock fund that returned just 6.5% per annum until their child was ready to attend college. When their child turns 18, that initial $24,681 investment, even returning just 6.5% per year, would be worth $76,675! To be fair, we must factor in annual education costs increases. “The average rate of education inflation at public universities is 2.9%.” Using this methodology, by the time this child is ready to depart for university, the average cost of tuition, room and board at a state school in Wisconsin will be $30,112. $76,675 dollars would cover over 2 years of tuition, room and board. Keep in mind that ~70% of college students are forced to take out loans to pay for their education and leave school with ~$30,000 in debt. Put simply, it would behoove this couple to forgo spending $24,681 on one night (perhaps not) to remember, and put the money towards their unborn child’s education.

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Issue 44
September 29, 2019
Fast Fashion Fails To Look In The Mirror

“The primary objective of fast fashion is to quickly produce a product in a cost-efficient manner to respond to fast-changing consumer tastes in as near real time as possible.”

Fast fashion emerged in the 1980s as a way to deliver high-end designer styles quickly and inexpensively to the mass consumer who could not necessarily afford couture. With fast fashion trumping even the traditional "ready to wear" or, prêt-à-porter, aspiration no longer equated to sheer hopefulness, it could become reality without breaking the bank. Fast fashion plus the emergence of social media influencers, combined with immediate online access to apparel have proven to be a potent combination; since the 1980s consumption of clothing and accessories has grown exponentially.

The downside to the plethora of fashionable but cheap garments made possible by fast fashion leaders Zara (owned by the innovative Spanish firm Inditex), H&M, C&A, and others are abysmal working conditions for the textile workers who stitch the garments and massive degradation to the environment. The irony of fast fashion is that many of the trend setting consumers who represent a large component of the demand for stylish cheap clothing, are the same people who fight for “social justice” and claim to be stewards of the environment.

Think About This The Next Time You Buy A Cheap T-Shirt In 5 Different Colors

The global fashion industry accounts for ~2% of global Gross Domestic Product (GDP). Zara alone can “manufacture over 30,000 units of product every year to nearly 1,600 stores in 58 countries." In a 2015 documentary titled "The True Cost", Director Andrew Morgan travels globally to delve deeper into the provenance of our clothing, the impact on the environment and human rights. According to the documentary’s website, 97% of our clothing is manufactured overseas while global consumption of clothing runs at 80 billion pieces.

After the oil and gas (O&G) industry, the fashion industry is the greatest contributor to environmental degradation. It takes “up to 200 tons of fresh water per ton of dyed fabric and 20,000 liters of water to produce just 1 kg of cotton.” The World Resource Institute notes that it requires 2,700 liters of water to manufacture one shirt, which equals enough drinking water for the average person for ~2.5 years. This statistic is even more jarring when coupled with the fact that close to 800 million people – over 10% of the world’s population - do not have access to safe drinking water.”

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Issue 46
October 13, 2019
Planes, Trains & Emotional Support Animals

This week, The Wall Street Journal reported that restaurateur Besim Kukaj, proprietor of several eateries in Manhattan, was fined $64,000 after employees of his restaurant, Limon Jungle, refused to seat a patron who was accompanied by a service dog. Mr. Kukaj was forced to pay the customer, Harvey Goldstein, $14,000 and $50,000 to the city of New York. Judge John Spooner presided over the trial. He acquiesced to the NYC Human Rights Commission by raising the initial fine from $25,000 to $50,000. His rationale: “in the absence of adequate civil penalties, there is a risk that businesses will continue to do as respondents have done here—ignore the commission and write off their discriminatory conduct as a mere cost of doing business.”

As we have already noted, Mr. Kukaj is an established businessman who owns many restaurants in New York City. He has the resources which should have been properly deployed towards appropriate staff training in accommodation of disabled patrons. Barring a few specific exceptions, services dogs should be permitted entry into any venue with their owner so long as they are on a leash and obedient.

The terms “service dog” and “emotional support animal” (ESA) are incorrectly used interchangeably. A service dog is a highly trained canine that provides a range of specific functions to people with legitimate medical disabilities. (Worth noting is that service animals are almost always dogs. On occasion, they can be miniature horses).

Service dogs typically cost tens of thousands of dollars and undergo rigorous training to efficiently and effectively accomplish one or a few super specific tasks to aid a disabled owner, often under pressure and/or in difficult situations. They can potentially save their owner’s life.

A service dog is “offered legal protections through the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) that emotional support animals do not get. You can take a service dog almost anywhere that you go and they legally cannot be denied access. Legal protection of an emotional support animal is (typically) limited to housing and air travel.” Some of the specific tasks service dogs perform are as follows:

• Lead a visually impaired owner
• Anticipate and alert its owner to an oncoming seizure
• Answer the door (by pulling a lever)
• Bring its owner medicine & mail
• Bring a phone to its owner (and even bark into a speaker phone)
• Bark to get the attention of others if its owner is in trouble or unable to communicate
• Bark in the case of an intruder
• Alert its owner in case of a fire
• Help its owner stand up, sit down, negotiate stairs, etc.
• Provide psychological support

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Issue 47
October 20, 2019
25 Facts About America

Food

• Americans discarded $165 billion worth of food last year. That equates to roughly 150,000 tons of food per day, or ~40% of the total. "Fruits and vegetables are the most likely to be thrown out, followed by dairy and then meat."

• ~12% of Americans do not have enough to eat on a daily basis.

• "The United States Department of Agriculture (USDA) defines 'food insecurity' as the lack of access, at times, to enough food for all household members. In 2017, an estimated 15 million households were food insecure. The following 8 states have the highest rates of food insecurity in America: Mississippi (18.7%), Louisiana (18.3%), Alabama (18.1%), New Mexico (17.6%), Arkansas (17.5%), Kentucky (17.3%), Maine (16.4%), Oklahoma (15.2%)."

• In the early 1970's, Americans consumed ~2,200 calories per day. Today, the average American eats ~2,700 calories per day.

• "Three of the most caloric fast casual meals in America are: Chili's Crispy Honey Chipotle and Waffles containing 2,480 calories, 125 g fat (40 g saturated fat, 0.5 g trans-fat), 5,240 mg sodium, 276 g carbs (11 g fiber, 105 g sugar), and 63 g of protein. Applebee's New England Fish and Chips consists of 1,990 calories, 137 g fat (24 g saturated fat, 1.5 g trans fat), 4,540 mg sodium, 134 g carbs (10 g fiber, 14 g sugar) and 55 g of protein. Finally, Olive Garden's Chicken and Shrimp Carbonara weighs in at 1,590 calories, 114 g fat (61 g saturated fat, 2 g trans fat), 2,410 mg sodium, 78 g carbs (4 g fiber, 12 g sugar) and 66 g of protein."

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Issue 5
December 2, 2018
Gentleman’s Clubs and Nail Salons

At The Quintessential Centrist, we believe its important to be balanced and prudent. Sometimes, that involves highlighting and examining some uncomfortable hypocrisies.

In New York City, the competition amongst nail salons is fierce. There are often two competing salons on the same square block. The welcoming signs and smiling faces mask a painful reality; this a business model partially underpinned by human trafficking and other blatant civil rights violations. While human rights abuses in the sex-trade and related industries are well documented, similar violations in the nail salon industry are rarely mentioned in the press. Here is one exception.

A disproportionate number of nail salon employees are undocumented immigrants. Hence, this is a particularly vulnerable demographic for a myriad of reasons. Their remuneration is often below minimum wage, including tips. And those are the more fortunate ones. Others are not compensated at all while many are subjected to mistreatment at the hands of their employers. The working conditions can be abysmal. Young women are often exposed to toxic chemicals without proper protective gear. As their wages are so low, these vulnerable employees have little choice but to "live" in overcrowded one-room dwellings, many of which lack basic safety features. These homes are often as unhygienic as the salon's where they work 12-14 hours a day in, tending to the hands and feet of "exhausted" patrons.

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Issue 52
November 24, 2019
Touchy Subjects

According to the United Nations, between 1 and 2 million Chinese citizens comprised of mostly Uyghurs and other Muslim minorities are currently interned in "re-education camps” Xinjiang, China. Supposedly, these de-facto concentration camps were created in or around 2015 under the regime of current Chinese President Xi Jinping. His government’s alleged primary objective: to change “the political thinking of detainees, their identities and their religious beliefs via indoctrination and torture.” Purportedly, these facilities are staffed by armed guards, surrounded by walls and fences and are under 24-hour surveillance. Allegedly, almost none of the internees were granted a trial. This makes sense; because according to sources, the vast majority of the prisoners housed in these facilities have never actually been accused of or convicted of any offense.

Remarkably, despite lawmakers from both sides of the political divide imploring President Trump to stand firm in his negotiations with China, and 24-hour news coverage about China, tariffs and trade, there has been minimal coordinated global action to mitigate these purported human rights violations. Is the reason because it’s not worth an American politician’s time to allocate resources to the Uyghurs' cause? Because reporting on alleged events in Northwestern China attract scant interest (and eyeballs) that drive advertising revenue? Or is it because there is a lack of hard evidence about these “re-education” facilities and what allegedly transpires in them, or combination thereof?

Due Process

You might have noticed that we’ve taken special care to preface potentially inflammatory statements with “According to,” “Supposedly,” “Purportedly” and “Allegedly. Reason being, we do not have any conclusive proof to corroborate them. That said, there is a reasonable amount of credible evidence, albeit from a small sample size, that they could be accurate.

In an article originally written by David Stavrou published in Haaretz Magazine with a moving excerpt reprinted in TheWeek, former detainee Sayragul Sauytbay detailed her experience and what she says she witnessed on a routine basis inside China’s re-education camps.

According to Ms. Sauytbay, prisoners are routinely:

· Shackled

· Shaved

· Starved

· Raped

· Electrocuted

· Beaten

· Brainwashed

· Housed in cramped quarters

· Fed soup and bread

· Forced to defecate in a bucket

· Forced to recite Communist Party songs

· Forced to say “I am Chinese,” and “I love Xi Jinping”

· Forced to serve as guinea pigs for medical experiments

Precedence

Earlier this month, Republican Senators Jim Inhofe and Roger Wicker implored President Trump to take an even more defiant stance on Chinese intellectual property theft. In a joint statement, they said “if Chinese companies are allowed to remove the profit incentive for standards-based wireless research with repercussions, we will soon face the globally undesirable reality that the only companies conducting this research will be those in non-market economies that do not share our values or have our best interest in mind.”

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Issue 53
December 8, 2019
It's Your Birthday, Thank Mom

My birthday was on December 2nd. Before sunrise, my phone blew up with “Happy Birthday” texts, many of which were likely prompted by Facebook reminders. These continued at a steady pace throughout the day. Some people chose to wish me a “Happy Birthday” via Facebook itself. A few “Birthday emails” made their way into my inbox. Traditionalists picked up the phone and rang, one (ready for this) from a land line. I even received a letter in my (gasp) physical mailbox.

Texts were the easiest to respond to. The majority of my well-wishers did not say “Happy Birthday Chris.” They simply texted what seemed to be a canned “Happy Birthday.” Thus, “Thank you, I appreciate it” was generic enough a response that cutting, pasting and using it to acknowledge those acknowledgments more than sufficed. Most of the balance of the texts read “Happy Birthday Chris.” Alas, these required individualized responses. I had to say, “Thank You (insert name here), I appreciate it.” Facebook posts were easy to “like” - err - respond to. Emails required a more in-depth retort. “Happy Birthday Chris, I hope you are well” obliged me to ensure my well-wishers via this medium that, indeed, all was ok in my world.

Mom’s Should Receive Our Happy Birthday Wishes

Most of us, myself included, feel obliged to wish friends and family members a “Happy Birthday.” Rarely, if ever, does anybody say “thank you” on our birthdays to the women that were primarily responsible for bringing us into this world: our respective mothers. We should make a point to do so. Moms endure stress, physical trauma, often get sick during pregnancy, put careers on hold and generally sacrifice so much to usher us into this ecosphere. They should be the recipients of our “Happy Birthday” wishes.

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Issue 55
December 22, 2019
Circumcision & Jewish Tradition

In accordance with Jewish custom, when a newborn boy is 8 days old, he is circumcised. Traditionally, a mohel, a Jewish person trained in the practice of "brit milah,” or circumcision, performs this religious and cultural rite of passage. The procedure is typically done in the home, followed by a celebration over Jewish-style cuisine, drinks, and conversation. When asked why, many Jewish parents say they circumcise their sons simply because it is “tradition.” Specifically, the ritual of circumcision is a rite of passage, a symbol of “total obedience to God’s will.” At the ritual's onset, it was also believed that circumcision provided a way of distinguishing a Jewish boy or man from others, particularly those who might seek to inflict harm on, or "pose as Jews." Today, circumcision is widely practiced outside Judaism - for religious, cultural and health reasons.

Tradition or Barbarism, or Both?

Religious traditions can be wonderful in drawing communities and families closer; they create an innate bond and sense of identity. But when do we reach an inflection point where a cultural or religious ritual that’s historically been socially acceptable, is considered barbaric and generally looked upon by society with disdain? For an example, look no further than the brit milah itself. In accordance with Jewish law, a mohel “must draw blood from the circumcision wound.” Up until the 1800's, the “m’tzitzah” or removal of the blood, was effected by the mohel who would suck the blood off the newborns penis. Centuries ago most Jews were unmoved by the thought, let alone the act, of a grown man putting his lips on an 8-day old’s penis to “clean” the wound. Of course, today all but the most regressive people cringe when they learn about this part of a bris that was formally commonplace.

In the ultra-religious Haredi sect, a mohel still removes the blood using his mouth. Regrettably, this abhorrent “custom” which most people would (now) argue is analogous to sexual assault, has resulted in multiple cases of an incurable sexually transmitted disease (genital HSV-1 or herpes) being communicated from mohel to baby. A newborn’s immune system is not fully developed. The herpes virus is usually an unpleasant annoyance for an adult; it can kill an infant. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) has documented cases of death resulting from herpes acquired via transmission from mohel to newborn.

Fortunately, today almost all mohels remove the blood with a suction device. But 100 years from now, might our descendants reflect back upon the present-day customs of the brit milah and cringe in a similar way to us when we learned about the related practices of the past?

Personal Experience

I am Jewish. I have attended a few brit miloht (plural for brit milah) in years past. While I remain malleable and welcome a respectful debate, my current position is that I will not attend any more of these "celebrations." I cannot in good faith – excuse the pun – take part in any social, cultural or religious gathering consuming Jewish fare, drinking wine and conversing, to celebrate a newborn boy’s religious rite of passage that involves his penis being handled by a grown stranger. In my view, doing so would be perverted and tantamount to child abuse.

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Issue 58
January 19, 2020
Movie Review

At The Quintessential Centrist, we always think of new and relevant ways to engage our readers and provoke meaningful dialogue. Music, film, theater and TV productions as well as other forms of media are some of the most powerful conduits that shape our culture. Artistic expressions are often a reflection of the society in which they’ve evolved, yet conversely serve as catalysts for influencing future cultural trends.

In 2020, TQC will occasionally offer thoughtful reviews of important films, music, television, art installations or theatrical releases that we believe harbor important themes or messages relevant to our cultural dialogue. The first two films we reviewed in 2020 were in fact released at the very end of 2019: The Two Popes, and Uncut Gems.

The Two Popes

The Two Popes is a semi-fictionalized account of conversations between former Pope Benedict XVI (Sir Anthony Hopkins) and the current pontiff, Pope Francis (Jonathan Pryce). The two men, though ideologically opposed, discuss their concerns and hopes about the current state of the world, the church’s future and their own.

Irrespective of one’s views on the church, the papacy, or organized religion in general, this is undoubtedly a beautiful movie worth every accolade. The scoring, the cinematography, directing, dialogue, and above all, acting, are magnificent. Jonathan Pryce embodies the humble strength of then-archbishop of Buenos Aires, Jorge Mario Bergoglio, and his delivery in Spanish, in Italian and Latin, with perfect dialect, is sublime. Sir Anthony Hopkins lives up to his past accolades with a performance that accurately conveys the sobriety of the former pope while surprising us with a touch of irony.

The film requires no suspension of disbelief as these two craftsmen embody their characters so effortlessly. For this alone, the movie is well worth viewing to absorb the fine performance of two brilliant actors. In an era where gratuitous violence, sexual content and vulgar language permeate most films, it is refreshing to see a movie that thoroughly entertains and delights without resorting to Hollywood trappings and other lowbrow optics.

The Catholic Church is currently the subject of much controversy. As such, there are challenges to separating art from the subject matter at hand. Some people argue that the current pope is too liberal, too political; others contend that the former pope was too conservative. In recent years we have become painfully aware of the various scandals, hypocrisies, and shortcomings that have cast serious aspersions on the sanctity of the Catholic Church. The Two Popes addresses these topics using an approach that satisfies movie buffs but likely will not satisfy church-detractors.

The exchange between the two Popes of different eras in a rapidly changing world where the Church is no longer as sanctified needs to be appreciated without vilification. The Two Popes serves as a reminder that there are many fine people who have dedicated their lives to serving God. Indeed, to only focus on the shortcomings of the church would miss the entire point of the movie itself, which, at its core, is a story of how even those who are ideologically opposed can open their hearts and minds to one another and form, even if at first grudgingly, respect and appreciation for the other’s point of view.

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Issue 59
January 26, 2020
Trump's Impeachment

On January 7, 1999, William Jefferson Clinton, the 42nd president of the United States, became only the second sitting president in US history to be officially impeached. Prior to Clinton’s impeachment, the last (and only) president to be bequeathed with that distinction was Andrew Johnson, in 1868. (On August 4, 1974, President Richard Nixon resigned before he was officially impeached). The charges of perjury and obstruction of justice levied against Clinton stemmed from an extramarital affair with then-White House intern, Monica Lewinski. On February 12, 1999, the Senate deliberated President Bill Clinton’s fate. He was acquitted of both charges, apologized to the American people, and went on to complete a successful second term. (Andrew Johnson was also acquitted. Thus far in this country’s history, a sitting president has never been removed from office following impeachment.)

Captivated

I vividly remember my whereabouts when the senate voted to exonerate Clinton. It was a few days before the annual Mardi Gras celebration; a collection of friends and I decided to travel from our respective colleges and meet in New Orleans to partake in the festivities. We watched the news unfold at an off-campus house near Tulane University.

Time seemingly stood still. Imagine, college students in the midst of America’s biggest party in The Big Easy suddenly ceased exchanging beads, beers, and DNA and watched the television intently, with a tinge of nervous energy. That day many Americans remember where they were and what they were doing. The entire nation was captivated by this important event, a seminal moment in American history as the president’s fate would soon be decided.

Fast Forward ~20 Years

On December 18, 2019, Donald Trump became the third president to be impeached. His trial is currently ongoing. As expected, political bigwigs from both parties have dug in their heels. News correspondents dutifully report on the day’s relevant events. And political junkies are glued to their device of choice to absorb as much up to the minute news that can permeate their brains. But for many, the default reaction to Trump’s impeachment has been a collective shrug of the shoulders. Indeed, the most remarkable aspect of President Trump’s impeachment proceedings, is how unremarkable the news is to most Americans.

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Issue 61
February 9, 2020
Dear Congresswoman Plaskett

The United States Virgin Islands (USVI) consist of four major islands: Saint Thomas, Saint Croix, Saint John and Water Island, and ~50 minor islands, rock formations and coral reefs. The vast majority of USVI inhabitants reside in Saint Thomas (pop. 52,000) & Saint Croix (pop. 51,000). Approximately 5,000 people live on Saint John and ~200 on Water Island.

The USVI is an “at-large congressional district.” This means it is not entitled to designate a voting member of Congress, but can elect a delegate to participate in debates, sit on committees and advocate for the Virgin Islands. The current Congresswoman representing the USVI is Stacey Plaskett (D).

Dear Congresswoman Plaskett,

I was born in Saint Thomas and lived on the island for a few years. This past weekend, I came back to visit and spend time with one of the most wonderful women I know, a second mother to me. Her name is Marion. She 77 years old; age is beginning to catch up with her.

While chatting in her living area, I asked why she did not have her air conditioner running. She replied that she could not turn it on. I inquired if it was broken; it was not. Congresswoman Plaskett, Marion can no longer use her air conditioner because her utility bill has tripled since Virgin Islands Water & Power Authority (WAPA) restored "service" (or lack thereof) following the hurricanes that ravaged the USVI.

Ms. Plaskett, Marion is fortunate. While far from rich, despite a ~3-fold increase in her utility bill, she can still afford basic necessities, but many of your constituents can not. They are allocating such a high proportion of their income to rapidly increasing energy bills that some are being forced to go without basic goods.

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Issue 65
March 15, 2020
Coronavirus Update

As of this writing, COVID-19 (the coronavirus) has spread to 118 countries. Approximately 165,000 people have been infected, ~6,300 have died and another ~5,600 are in serious condition (~76,000 have recovered).

In the United States, there are ~3,100 confirmed cases of coronavirus, 62 patients have died and eight have recovered. Unfortunately, the number of cases in the US (and possibly other nations) may be grossly understated as we are in the early stages of this pandemic. In part, this is a result of early inaction and complacence. Earlier this week an expert with the Harvard Global Health Institute, Ashish Jha, asserted that the United States government’s response to the coronavirus outbreak has been "much, much worse than almost any other country that's been affected…I still don't understand why we don't have extensive testing. Vietnam! Vietnam has tested more people than America has…Without testing, you have no idea how extensive the infection is…we have to shut schools, events, and everything down, because that's the only tool available to us until we get testing back up. It's been stunning to me how bad the federal response has been..."

Renowned virologist, HIV/AIDS expert and Director of the National Institute for Allergy and Infectious Diseases, Anthony Fauci made the following statement to lawmakers this past week: “The system is not really geared to what we need right now - what you’re asking for - that is a failing…It is a failing. Let’s admit it.”

He makes a valid point. As the human tragedy unfolded at the epicenter of the coronavirus outbreak in Wuhan, China in late 2019, government officials around the world were given a head start to prepare for and implement practical measures to help contain the spread of the virus. South Korea was exemplary. Given its proximately to China, COVID-19 quickly permeated its borders. However, South Korean authorities learned from China’s experience and took quick, decisive action. They moved swiftly and tested tens of thousands of people, isolated infected patients and aggressively disinfected public places around the country. They curtailed travel, shut public gathering places, closed schools and limited the number of people who could loiter together. The result: Data suggests the epidemic has already peaked there with ~8,200 cases, 75 confirmed deaths (a mortality rate of ~.01%) and 834 recovered.

In contrast, our government’s initial “response” was unconscionable. One of the basic functions of a government is to take all reasonable measures to keep its citizens safe. The US government fell well short of that responsibility. We had a 6-week head start to prepare (longer than South Korea) but instead took a lackadaisical approach. The fact that there aren’t even enough testing kits to go around after witnessing the outbreaks overseas is a gross abdication of responsibility to American citizens. Now Americans find themselves in a defensive, reactive stance.

No Slacking

Using back of the envelope math, if ~165,000 people are officially infected and 6,300 have died, that equates to an average mortality rate of ~4%. In nations whose demographics lean older and developing countries, many of which have underfunded and or rudimentary healthcare systems, the death rate might be higher. In many westernized nations, the mortality rate will probably be lower; but only if their respective healthcare systems are not overrun.

The United States has an excellent healthcare system, but very little spare capacity. And because we are playing catchup, the math tells a particularly disheartening story. Consider the following: there are ~950,000 hospital beds throughout the nation, 2/3rds of which are typically occupied at any one time. This leaves just ~300,000 beds available to be utilized. Measures can be enacted to help free up space including canceling all non-essential and elective surgeries. But the stark reality is that we have very little buffer to absorb an acute influx of patients. Furthermore, because of the infectious and highly contagious nature of this disease, coronavirus patients require a tremendous amount of medical resources. They must be isolated, many will require round the clock monitoring, ventilation machines and other medical gear, many of which are in short supply. Doctors, nurses and other healthcare professionals must take extra precaution to ensure they themselves are not infected (The hero doctor who rang the alarm bell in China was infected and subsequently succumbed to the virus).

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Issue 66
April 12, 2020
Coronavirus Update #2

A week after our last post on March 15th, this author became symptomatic and subsequently tested positive COVID-19. It was a relatively mild case. However, the adverse effects of the virus disrupted our schedule. We thank you for your patience during these unprecedented times.

In the weeks following the maelstrom caused by the coronavirus, we have been intently focused on the corresponding data. Many areas of America are only now beginning to see an exponential uptick in infections. But at the epicenter of the U.S. outbreak in New York City, and in other “hot spots” like Detroit and the state of New Jersey, evidence suggests that we have reached the peak in terms of infection rates, hospitalizations, intubations and casualties. Worth noting is that while death rates remain elevated, bear in mind that mortality is a lagging indicator. Indeed, in these parts of the country, we are cautiously optimistic that we have inflected towards recovery, albeit in nonlinear fashion.

In New York City, hospitals are operating at or near capacity and health care workers are short of protective gear. But unlike Italy where care has had to be rationed – when doctors pick who lives and who dies – it appears that NYC will get through the apex of its crisis with enough ventilators, ICU beds and other necessary equipment to avoid the unthinkable.

Below we highlight nine key themes that have emerged from the coronavirus pandemic:

The Victims

The coronavirus pandemic is a human tragedy. The speed and ferocity with which COVID-19 has claimed, and disrupted lives is unprecedented in recent history. As of April 12th, in New York City alone, over twice as many people have perished from the coronavirus than on 9/11. On a national level ~22,000 people have died in just ~2 months. To help put these numbers in perspective: over nine years (1965-1974) ~58,000 U.S. troops were killed in Vietnam. Regrettably, despite evidence of the “curve flattening,” we might eclipse that number in a matter of weeks.

Globally, the coronavirus has infected close to ~2,000,000 people (the true number is probably exponentially higher as many people are never tested and/or are asymptomatic) and killed ~114,000 in a few short months. Italy (~20,000 deaths) and Spain (~17,000 deaths) have suffered tremendously, especially in proportion to their overall populations. France (~14,000 deaths) has been hard hit, as has the U.K. (~11,000 deaths), who’s Prime Minister Boris Johnson was recently hospitalized with the virus.

At TQC, we empathize with those people who have been directly or indirectly affected by COVID-19, and with those who might be in the future.

The Healthcare Providers

Every evening at 7pm EST, New Yorkers have taken to clapping, cheering, banging on pots, pipes and pans, and playing music in recognition and appreciation of the healthcare workers who are risking their lives to care for COVID-19 patients. This exercise has been repeated in similar formats around the world.

Let us all join in and take a moment to express our gratitude to all the health care professionals - doctors, physicians’ assistants, nurses, nurses’ aides, EMTs, support staff, and all others who have and continue to put themselves at the greatest level of risk – sometimes without adequate protective equipment - caring for coronavirus patients. Hats off to you all.

Doctor Anthony Fauci, Director of the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases, has proven himself to be a true leader and a face of reason, transparency and prudence, keeping Americans well informed about the coronavirus epidemic. Let us not forget, Dr. Fauci is nearing 80 years old and still on the front lines fighting tirelessly to keep the American public safe.

Recently, while discussing hygiene and disease, Dr. Fauci said, “I don’t think we should ever shake hands again.” If we ever get an opportunity to do so, we sincerely hope Doctor Fauci makes an exception for us. A handshake is the very least we could do to recognize his courageousness.

The Government’s Response

Our government’s initial “response” was lackluster to say the least. One of the basic functions of a government is to take all reasonable measures to keep its citizens safe. The US government fell well short of that responsibility. We had a 6-week head start to prepare but instead took a lackadaisical approach. President Donald Trump did not act swiftly enough. At first, he minimized the threat of COVID-19 likening the virus to the flu, contradicted the advice of Dr. Fauci, made no effort to secure more N95 masks, protective gowns and ventilators, and failed to invoke the Defense Production Act (DPA) in a timely manner. (The DPA was passed in 1950. It enables the Federal government to force private companies to manufacture specific products in the event of a war or national emergency). The fact that there were not even enough testing kits to go around – and they are still in short supply - after witnessing the outbreaks overseas was a gross abdication of responsibility to American citizens.

To be fair, in addition to Trump & Co, many people, including scientists, also did not take the threat of coronavirus seriously. Some experts believed the outcome would be analogous to the respective SARS & MERS epidemics, and remain mostly contained to China and the Middle East. (There were 27 reported SARS cases in the United States; nobody perished. There have been two reported cases of MERS in the US, both patients survived).

Furthermore, during Barrack Obama’s tenure in office, our nations’ stockpile of N95 masks and other protective gear was depleted and his administration did not take adequate steps to replenish it. According to USA Today: “There is no indication that the Obama administration took significant steps to replenish the supply of N95 masks in the Strategic National Stockpile after it was depleted from repeated crises. Calls for action came from experts at the time concerned for the country’s ability to respond to future serious pandemics. Such recommendations were, for whatever reason, not heeded."

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Issue 68
April 26, 2020
TQC Trivia

Take a well deserved reprieve from the chaos that has engulfed us and play, TQC Trivia! Answers are provided below along with interesting and fun supplemental information.

1) Q: What is the most popular female baby name this decade?

A) Isabella
B) Sophia
C) Emma
D) Ava

2) Q: What film is widely credited as the first "talkie" (non-silent) movie?

A) The Jazz Singer (1927)
B) The Idle Class (1921)
C) Speedy (1928)
D) L’Argent (1928)

3) Q: What company is the only original member of the Dow Jones Industrial Average (DJIA) still in existence today?

A) IBM
B) General Electric
C) National Lead
D) ExxonMobil

4) Q: Which quarterback has the highest National Football League (NFL) Passer Rating?

A) Tom Brady
B) Aaron Rodgers
C) Joe Montana
D) Drew Brees

5) Q: What is the bestselling music album of all-time?

A) The Beatles - The White Album
B) The Eagles - Their Greatest Hits (1971-1975)
C) Michael Jackson – Thriller
D) Led Zeppelin – Led Zeppelin IV

6) Q: What is the longest nonstop commercial flight?

A) Los Angeles - Singapore
B) Dallas - Sydney
C) Atlanta - Johannesburg
D) New York - Singapore

7) Q: Which is the least populated state in America?

A) Idaho
B) Vermont
C) Wyoming
D) Alaska

8) Q: What percentage of American’s own smartphones?

A) 96%
B) 81%
C) 66%
D) 48%

9) Q: What was the first public company to command a trillion-dollar valuation?

A) Amazon
B) PetroChina
C) Microsoft
D) Apple

10) Q: Who is the National Collegiate Athletic Association (NCAA) men’s basketball Division 1 all-time leading scorer?

A) Pete Maravich, Louisiana State (LSU)
B) Reggie Lewis, Northeastern
C) Kurt Thomas, Texas Christian (TCU)
D) Larry Bird, Indiana State

11) Q: What is the smallest country in the European Union (EU)?

A) Vatican City
B) Monaco
C) Malta
D) Cyprus

ANSWERS

1) (C) Emma. Note: Over the last 100 years, the most popular female baby’s name is Mary. For boys, the most popular baby's name this decade is Noah. Over the last century, it is James.

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Issue 69
May 3, 2020
Food For Anxious Thought

There is no shortage of data that underpins what is painfully obvious, even to the untrained eye: as a result of COVID-19, this quarter will probably mark the worst contraction of America’s economy since the Great Depression in 1929.

Another corollary courtesy of the coronavirus is opaquer yet damaging nonetheless: its effect on Americans suffering from mental illness and the impact of those who are newly battling this silent epidemic.Quarantine, as prescribed by lawmakers for the sake of the greater good plays a prominent role. Uncertainty about the future, adjusting to the “new normal” and worries about economic security are also factors that contribute to the newly afflicted.

We know what some of you are already thinking -- Americans are over-diagnosed with mental ailments and over-prescribed medication. These are not empty arguments. But using conservative estimates to control for over-diagnoses, ~17% of Americans experience a mental illness at least once and ~4% of Americans live with a serious disease of the mind. Since COVID-19 reared its ugly head, rates of anxiety, depression, suicide (and domestic violence) have markedly increased.

Be “Mindful”

Anxiety disorders are the most common mental illness in the United States. They develop from a "complex set of risk factors, including genetics, brain chemistry, personality, and life events" and often co-exist with depression, a separate illness that carries its own (sometimes overlapping) set of symptoms and risk factors.

Prior to the coronavirus permeating America’s borders and forcing governors across the nation to institute shelter in place orders, according to the Anxiety and Depression Association of America (ADAA), the numbers of Americans suffering from the following mental illnesses were as follows:

• Generalized Anxiety Disorder (GAD) (~7 million)

• Panic Disorder (PD) PD (~6 million)

• Social Anxiety Disorder affected (~15 million)

• Obsessive-Compulsive Disorder (OCD) (~2.2 million)

• Post-traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD) (~8.5-9 million)

• Major Depressive Disorder (MDD), the leading cause of disability for ages people aged 15 to 44, impacted more than 16 million people.

• Persistent depressive disorder (PDD), a form of depression lasting least two years or longer (~3 million)

• Bipolar disorder, which is not on the same spectrum as traditional depression or anxiety disorders, affected just over 2 million American adults.

*In depth explanations of each genre of anxiety and depression are nuanced and extremely complicated subjects to tackle. Their granularity goes well beyond the depth of this post. They can, and should be, topics of a separate TQC article, penned by an expert in the field.

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Issue 71
May 17, 2020
Office Space

Office Space, starring Jennifer Aniston and Ron Livingston released in 1999, is a comedy that portrays a group of disenchanted employees toiling at a software company at the dawn of the Internet age. The movie scored decent marks with critics but fared poorly on the big screen; it barely recouped its production cost. However, with the help of Comedy Central airing the film over 30 times, Office Space garnered a cult following, particularly with tech workers, and subsequently performed well on video and DVD, sold millions of copies and established itself as a classic film favorite among movie aficionados.

Office Space was a comedy. In contrast, the current state of the commercial office space market in America could be mistaken for a horror movie. Economic shutdowns enacted to stem the spread of Covid-19 have rendered office buildings across swaths of America eerily vacant. Many tenants are unwilling and / or unable to pay rent. In turn, landlords with existing mortgages are having difficulties servicing their debts and covering operating costs.

Pundits have chimed in, claiming the behavioral changes forced upon us by the coronavirus will permanently impair the market for office space. As companies quickly conclude that their employees can be equally as productive working remotely as they can “at work,” they will look to cut costs by reducing their office footprint.

Stocks of publicly traded real estate investment trusts (REITS) have been decimated. The shares of Vornado (VNO), which owns office towers in major metropolitan areas, have been halved. New York City stalwart SL Green’s (SLG) stock is down by almost two-thirds. Conversely, shares of Microsoft (MSFT), Zoom Video (ZM), Teladoc (TDOC), and other companies that benefit from the physical-to-digital shift have soared despite the recent stock market malaise.

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Issue 72
May 31, 2020
Protecting Our Seniors

As of this writing, the coronavirus has officially infected ~1.8 million Americans and claimed the lives of over 104,000. Though COVID-19 has touched every demographic in all 50 states, the virus has not preyed upon its victims uniformly. Americans over 65 years old have borne a disproportionate brunt of the coronavirus’ wrath.

Senior citizens represent ~15% of the nation’s population, but account for ~80% of all COVID-19 related deaths. Broken down by sub-sector, the mortality rate for patients in their 60’s is ~4%, doubles to ~8% for those between 70 and 79 and is most pronounced for octogenarians, where ~13% of those (officially) infected succumb to the disease.

During these treacherous times, we owe it to our seniors to take reasonable precautions to protect them. Below are 8 common sense ideas to help keep our most vulnerable citizens safer until the coronavirus pandemic abates. These proposals are certainly not a panacea, but they could make a difference at the margins, particularly as communities across America re-open for business and leisure.

1) Low(er) risk Americans should respect social distancing rules, wash hands frequently, and always wear a mask in public. At times, these temporary requirements can be frustrating and a bit of a nuisance. However, these sensible directives are not in place to infringe upon anyone's individual rights; they curb the spread of COVID-19 and help keep older Americans and other high(er) risk people healthy. (Unfortunately, some individuals are not adhering to the advice of medical experts. Their careless actions: partying on the beach, congregating in large groups, not wearing masks in public etc., is dangerous, selfish and leaves everybody – especially older Americans and those with pre-existing conditions - at heightened risk).

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Issue 74
June 14, 2020
Censorship

On Sunday June 7th, the editor of The New York Times (NYT) editorial page, James Bennet, resigned following the publication of an op-ed called “Send In The Troops,” penned by Republican Senator Tom Cotton of Arkansas. In the “controversial” letter, Senator Cotton argued that President Trump should invoke the Insurrection Act of 1807 and send in federal troops to restore law and order in cities where rioters had overwhelmed local law enforcement. The moment it was published, executives at the Times faced a backlash from many journalists and support staff. NYT columnist Michelle Goldberg called Cotton’s piece “fascist.”

Regrettably, in a spineless act of capitulation, “leaders” at the Times all but forced Mr. Bennet out the door. Then, in a pathetic attempt to mollify their outraged employees (and some readers), the newspaper released a statement explaining where they came up short. NYT publisher Arthur Gregg Sulzberger released a generic statement that could have been cut and pasted from any corporate boardroom: "While this has been a painful week across the company, it has sparked urgent and important conversations.”

The Insurrection Act of 1807

The Act empowers the U.S. president to call into service the U.S. Armed Forces and the National Guard: when requested by a state's legislature, or governor if the legislature cannot be convened, to address an insurrection against that state ,to address an insurrection, in any state, which makes it impracticable to enforce the law, or to address an insurrection, domestic violence, unlawful combination or conspiracy, in any state, which results in the deprivation of Constitutionally-secured rights, and where the state is unable, fails, or refuses to protect said rights.

The Insurrection Act has been invoked 20 times in America’s history. On 13 occasions, federal troops were sent following formal requests by state authorities. On the other occasions (7) the sitting president did so of his own volition. The last time the Insurrection Act was invoked was in 1992, by Republican George Bush. The state of California requested federal help following the riots that occurred after the infamous Rodney King verdict. Unbeknownst to most, Bush also invoked the act in 1989. He dispatched troops to Saint Croix following civil unrest that ensued after Hurricane Hugo leveled the U.S. territory. Prior to that, the Insurrection Act was invoked four times by Democrat Lyndon Johnson to quell riots in the late 1960’s and three times by Democrat John F. Kennedy to enforce federal desegregation laws and stop rioting that stemmed from the Supreme Court’s Brown v. Board decision. In the late 1950’s, Republican Dwight Eisenhower invoked the act to protect the Little Rock Nine. Presidents Bush and Johnson acted after local authorities requested federal assistance. Presidents Eisenhower and Kennedy did so without an “invitation”

Upon Further Examination

Let us breakdown, paragraph by paragraph, Senator Cotton’s op-ed piece that caused a mutiny among many Times staffers and resulted in James Bennet “resignation”.

“This week, rioters have plunged many American cities into anarchy, recalling the widespread violence of the 1960s.” TQC Take: There were indeed incidents of violence that included unprovoked attacks on law enforcement officers, law abiding citizens, businesses, and people defending their businesses. That said, because this was the opening paragraph, Senator Cotton should have made a point to draw a distinction between the majority of protesters that were peaceful, and a small minority, that were not.

“New York City suffered the worst of the riots Monday night, as Mayor Bill de Blasio stood by while Midtown Manhattan descended into lawlessness. Bands of looters roved the streets, smashing and emptying hundreds of businesses. Some even drove exotic cars; the riots were carnivals for the thrill-seeking rich as well as other criminal elements.” TQC Take: We cannot say for certain what Mayor Bill de Blasio was doing that Monday. That evening, Midtown Manhattan did descend into lawlessness. Senator Cotton's description was accurate.

“Outnumbered police officers, encumbered by feckless politicians, bore the brunt of the violence. In New York State, rioters ran over officers with cars on at least three occasions. In Las Vegas, an officer is in 'grave' condition after being shot in the head by a rioter. In St. Louis, four police officers were shot as they attempted to disperse a mob throwing bricks and dumping gasoline; in a separate incident, a 77-year-old retired police captain was shot to death as he tried to stop looters from ransacking a pawnshop. This is 'somebody’s granddaddy,' a bystander screamed at the scene.” TQC Take: The incidents Mr. Cotton described happened. Whether or not law enforcement bore the brunt of the violence is debatable. On a few occasions, police officers in New York City and elsewhere used excessive force against protestors. Despite what we saw on television – peace is bad for ratings - most protesters and police showed restraint. Some politicians cowered in their defining moments; others exhibited leadership.

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Issue 75
June 28, 2020
Q&A With TQC

We will kick off our TQC Q&A Series with a question and answer session regarding the current environment of the art world, market, and related subject matter, with Suzanne Geiss. Ms. Geiss brings over 25 years’ experience in the industry advising ambitious private and corporate collections and curating gallery & museum exhibitions.

In 2010, Geiss founded the Suzanne Geiss Company, specializing in post-1960s artworks and private collection building paired with a dynamic public exhibition and performance program. In addition to her activities as a curator and consultant, Geiss currently serves as President of the Board of Performance Space New York and is pursuing a graduate degree in art, performance, and social justice.

tQc: Before delving into our subject matter, please share with us how you established yourself in the art business?

It was never my objective to be on the transactional/advisory side of the business and own a gallery. My intention was to be an artist. However, following my college graduation in order to convince my parents that I was doing something “productive”, I got a job at the Andre Emmerich Gallery on Manhattan's Upper East Side, as the receptionist.

It was the mid 1990's, the art market was experiencing a downturn; sales were few and far between. One afternoon a gentleman came in inquiring about works by Hans Hofmann. The gallery director thought it was just a "tire kicker" so they sent me - the receptionist - to deal with the visitor. I thought to myself, why are they sending in a 22-year-old to try and sell a painting, but I figured, what the hell, let me give it a go. So I picked out a Hans Hofmann painting, with a title that particularly resonated with me and I just riffed on it. To my own disbelief, and the disbelief of most of the other people that I worked with, I sold the painting for a record price (for a Hofmann) at the time. Magically, my title changed from secretary to "assistant director." It was a unique opportunity and one that would be unlikely to happen in today’s art world.

tQc: Generally, what are some of the biggest changes you have witnessed in the art business since beginning your career almost 30 years ago?

The art market has become more professionalized, more corporate. When I first entered the business, it was a much smaller ecosystem centered around a core group of collectors making Saturday afternoon gallery visits. Presently, collectors are increasingly using art as a financial instrument and thus require analysis based on criteria that is often mutually exclusive from the art itself.

Of course, the other big change has been on the technology side. The internet shifted the balance of power away from all but the very largest galleries. For the first time collectors could easily research and compare prices between galleries, access previous auction results, and observe what other market participants (collectors, speculators, dealers, etc) were collecting. Offering work through email was revolutionary. (Previously if you wanted to connect with a client outside your city you mailed them a slide or transparency)!

Lastly, social media has given artists a medium to connect directly with their audience, squeezing out more and more intermediaries.

tQc: “Conservatism” and art seem to be at loggerheads. Can an individual be both "conservative" and "accepted" in the art world today? If so, how? If not, do you consider that hypocritical of what the art world espouses to be?

Good question and not one I’ve been asked before. Thinking about “conservatism," well yes, it seems to be diametrically opposed to art. I am generalizing here but I think it’s fair to say that most artists are interested in more progressive issues, while some collectors land on the more conservative end of the spectrum. That said, the art world is unique because you have a place where these communities come together. Artists are often at the forefront of social and political engagement putting them in a position to be effective change agents. Sometimes (again I want to be clear that this is an oversimplification, I’ve met and dealt with many progressive collectors) collectors are at the other end of the social or political spectrum. Art provides an opportunity for people that might not otherwise mingle to do so. That is wonderful.

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Issue 8
December 23, 2018
Santa's Identity Crisis

While many families are hunkering down for a festive Christmas, the mood in the Claus household is more somber. And perhaps with good reason. Santa’s identity faces challenges with some clamoring that he should be neither a man nor a woman while others say he should be a man. But fear not Mrs. Claus, for based on a survey conducted by Graphic Springs, 19% believe Santa shouldn’t lay claim to any gender, while 10% say he should be woman and an overwhelming 70% say he should retain his male gender status. While we can be reassured that Santa in his current rendition is not about to be usurped any time soon, that this dialogue is even taking place defies comprehension.

Christmas is one of the few holidays that have transcended religion. It is a unifying time of the year for many. Indeed, the lore of Santa, the North Pole, toy making elves, and reindeer is cheery and warming but also rooted in compassion. The original Saint Nicholas, upon whom Santa is predicated, was actually a Greek Bishop born in the 4th century. He was known for his charitable acts of providing gifts to the poor. The ongoing tradition of gift giving to children post St. Nicholas was, in fact, in honor of his name day on December 6th. At the behest of Martin Luther during the Reformation, the date of gift giving was redirected to Christmas Eve as homage to Christ. While the Reformation gave rise to other traditions such as Christmas Trees, carols and Christmas markets, St. Nicholas endured and became Santa Claus. This evolution over 1600 years has put the Claus family firmly on the map.

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