Friday, November 29, 2013

Black Friday "sales"

The Dirty Secret of Black Friday 'Discounts'

How Retailers Concoct 'Bargains' for the Holidays and Beyond

full article here
When shoppers head out in search of Black Friday bargains this week, they won't just be going to the mall, they'll be witnessing retail theater.
Stores will be pulling out the stops on deep discounts aimed at drawing customers into stores. But retail-industry veterans acknowledge that, in many cases, those bargains will be a carefully engineered illusion.
The common assumption is that retailers stock up on goods and then mark down the ones that don't sell, taking a hit to their profits. But that isn't typically how it plays out. Instead, big retailers work backward with their suppliers to set starting prices that, after all the markdowns, will yield the profit margins they want.
The red cardigan sweater with the ruffled neck on sale for more than 40% off at $39.99 was never meant to sell at its $68 starting price. It was designed with the discount built in.
Buyers don't seem to mind. What they are after, especially in such a lackluster economy, is the feeling they got a deal. Retailers like J.C. Penney Co. who try to get out of the game get punished.                                                       
"I don't even get excited unless it's 40% off," said Lourdes Torress, a 44-year-old technical designer, as she browsed the sale racks at Macy's Inc.'s flagship store in New York on a recent afternoon.
The manufactured nature of most discounts raises questions about the wisdom of standing in line for the promotional frenzy that kicks off the holiday shopping season. It also explains how retailers have been able to ramp up the bargains without giving away the store.
The number of deals offered by 31 major department store and apparel retailers increased 63% between 2009 to 2012, and the average discount jumped to 36% from 25%, according to, a website that tracks online coupons.
Over the same period, the gross margins of the same retailers—the difference between what they paid for goods and the price at which they sold them—were flat at 27.9%, according to FactSet. The holidays barely made a dent, with margins dipping to 27.8% in the fourth quarter of 2012 from 28% in the third quarter of that year.
"A lot of the discount is already priced into the product. That's why you see much more stable margins," said Liz Dunn, an analyst with Macquarie Equities Research.
Retailers including Best Buy Co., Wal-Mart Stores Inc. and Macy's are warning this will be an unusually competitive holiday season and that all the deals could hurt margins. That can happen when chains have to fight hard for sales or get stuck with excess inventory and have to take heavier-than-planned markdowns. Stores also field loss leaders, true bargains that pinch profits but are aimed at getting customers into their stores. Most deals, however, are planned to be profitable by setting list prices well above where goods are actually expected to sell.
Retailers could run into legal trouble if they never try to sell goods at their starting price. Otherwise, there's nothing wrong with the practice. Companies can be pretty frank about how things work...
Here's how it works, according to one industry consultant describing an actual sweater sold at a major retailer. A supplier sells the sweater to a retailer for roughly $14.50. The suggested retail price is $50, which gives the retailer a roughly 70% markup. A few sweaters sell at that price, but more sell at the first markdown of $44.99, and the bulk sell at the final discount price of $21.99. That produces an average unit retail price of $28 and gives the store about a 45% gross margin on the product.
Retailers didn't always price this way. It used to be that most items were sold at full price, with a limited number of sales to clear unsold inventory. That began to change in the 1970s and 1980s, when a rash of store openings intensified competition and forced retailers to look for new ways to stand out...
The rise of e-commerce has made it possible to track pricing on the Web and see how much time products spend at their list prices. Inc. is featuring a 60-inch HDTV in its 2013 Holiday Gift Guide.                                                     
The TV is selling at a 45% discount to its list price of $1,799.99. But, according to, a price-tracking firm owned by eBay Inc., the TV hasn't sold for anywhere near the list price in months. The most it has sold for in the past eight months is $1,297.85, according to As recently as October, it was priced at $997.99, about the same as its current sale price.
An Amazon spokeswoman said that "showing the most 'recent' price can be somewhat arbitrary and could be confusing to our customers," since the retailer changes prices so frequently in an effort to provide the best deals...

Tuesday, November 26, 2013

Homeless man returns wallet, gets Thanksgiving reward
Nov 23, 2013

To view the video related to this story, click HERE.

ATLANTA - A homeless man is being rewarded after he found a wallet and then returned it to its rightful owner.

Two weeks ago, the man found the wallet while digging through a Marietta Street trash can. The wallet belonged to a woman from France who was staying at the Omni Hotel in Atlanta.

Security photos showed the man leaving the wallet at the hotel and then walking away.  After seeing the photos, hotel officials began searching for the man.

"Finding a wallet that contained credit cards and ID that he really could have done anything with, doing the right thing -- and that really I think just fills a special place in everyone's heart," said Scott Stuckey, the Omni Hotel general manager.

Officials showed his picture in the park, in homeless shelters and shared it with the media.

Finally, it clicked. Someone who had seen the picture recognized the man as Joel Hartman.

FOX 5 Atlanta  was there when Hartman walked back into the Omni lobby on Friday afternoon.

"I was riding the bus and this girl that usually rides the same bus as me, she's like, 'I think somebody's looking for you,'" Hartman said.

Hartman said that turning the wallet in is something he believes most people would do.

"I look at something like that as the opportunity to do the right thing," Harman said.

It was an easy decision for a man who has lived a hard life. Hartman said he battles depression and has been homeless for about a year ever since he lost his wife.

"I loved her, loved her like -- nothing else in the world mattered to me except for her," Hartman said.

The Omni Hotel has given him a room through Thanksgiving as well as $500.

The first thing he did with that money was the right thing: he tipped the hotel worker who brought him room service.

The Omni Hotel is working on establishing a fund where people can make donations to help Hartman get back on his feet.

Monday, November 25, 2013

Homily - "Christ the King on the Cross: #winning"

Click HERE to listen to Sunday's homily.

The collection at all of the student Masses this weekend will go to the relief efforts in the Phillipines.  100 % of what you give will go to Catholic Relief Services who are on the ground there helping the people in that awful, awful situation.  Please be generous.

I hope that you are full when you are home for Thanksgiving.  I’m not advocating gluttony…but I won’t be able to stop you anyway.  I mean, stuff-ing happens.   What I am talking about is being full of virtue when you go home.  I definitely want you to evangelize your family and friends, but know that it can be hard to do this with words.  So, teach them about Christ in your actions…through your virtue.  If we focus on one – generosity – then be full of generosity.  Be generous in your cheerfulness, your joy, and enthusiasm to see your family and friends.  Be generous in helping out around the house – that will freak them out.  I know that you are going home to get some rest, and you should.  But, for some, home is more stressful than here.  But, be generous in helping out, especially with the meal on Thursday.  My family has relegated me to clean-up after dinner.  They don’t even ask me anymore to bring anything, much less cook anything.  My job is dishes, and I try to be generous in doing that.  Be generous in praying for your family.  Pray for them on your way home.  Pray for peace and reconciliation in your family, if needed.  Pray for safe travel of all of your family members.  Be full of generosity!

Today, the Church celebrates the solemn feast of Christ the King of the Universe.  The majestic language of St. Paul’s letter to the Colossians helps us to enter into this feast so well.  He really nails it! “For in him were created all things in heaven an on earth…all things were created through him and for him.  He is before all things, and in him all things hold together.”  Think of all the kings who have ever lived…all the kings in history.  They can’t touch this!  Or, think of all the “kings” of our world…kings of the culture….celebrities.  They can’t enter into this.  Christ is the King of Kings.  In him all things were created.  All things were created through him and for him.  He is before all things.  He has power over all things.  He is King of the Universe!  This helps us to see the majesty and glory of Christ the King.

But, then, we hear the Gospel passage about Christ on the Cross (Lk 23:35-43).  He certainly doesn’t look like a king at that scene.   He is mocked as being a king…"the king of the Jews”.  They give him a crown…but it is made of thorns.  He is given a throne…but it is a cross.  In fact, all of the things and people at the scene are created through him.  It’s pretty incredible to think that He created the tree on which he would die.  He created the people who would kill him.   So, he is definitely the king of the scene.

Someone asked me last week, ‘what is the deal with the Cross for Christ or for Christians?  Is suffering just something to endure and then you receive your reward for it in Heaven?’  Well, yes, that’s part of it.  But, the Cross is where Christ takes sin head-on.  He enters into his suffering and death in order to reign over sin.  He becomes King of sin…King of suffering…King of death.  Through his death and resurrection, he wins victory for us.  The people there said, “(come down  from the Cross and) save yourself”.  He could have.  He could have saved himself.  But, he chose to save us.  He chose to win victory over sin for us.

St. Paul writes that he made “peace through the blood of his cross”.  Blood is a symbol of life.  So, the Cross is a symbol of life, not death.  It is a symbol of victory, not defeat.  It is a symbol of power, not powerlessness.  It’s like we can put “#winning” next to the Cross!   He is King of the Universe, not just the good parts, but the bad or ugly parts, too.  He is winning and reigning over the bad parts from the Cross and in his death and resurrection.  It’s like at last week’s Healing Mass: you came to him and said, “Lord, reign over the bad parts of my universe.  Take them, Lord, and heal them, win victory over them for me”.  Or, when you go to Confession, you are saying, “Lord, you have power over all things.  Free me of my sins, and help me to reign over them”.

At this and every Mass, we commemorate Christ’s sacrifice on the Cross.  We celebrate and receive His precious, life-giving Blood and Body.  And, we ask Him to reign through us.  When we unite our suffering to His…when we take up our share of the Cross, we become sharers in his victory on the Cross.  We share in His kingdom.  May the Lord reign through us on earth and in Heaven forever.     



Friday, November 22, 2013

Catholic Charities worker saved from bullet by cellphone: "this guy is blessed"

Wallet and cellphone in man’s pocket save him from bullet in Northeast Washington
Nov 18, 2013

The bullet headed toward Brian Harris’s stomach.

It pierced the pocket of his hooded sweatshirt and bored into his wallet, going through his diver’s license, a bank card and a folded $10 bill. It struck five more cards and broke partway through the wallet’s cover, shattering the glass front of his smartphone.

There, the .380-caliber round finally stopped, a few millimeters from his flesh.

Harris, 45, who had stepped out of his apartment in Northeast Washington’s Edgewood neighborhood to enjoy a balmy Sunday night, smoke a cigarette and sip instant coffee from his favorite green mug, emerged shaken but unscathed. His wallet and cellphone had saved his life. “That’s what people tell me,” Harris said, unwilling to admit how close a call he had.

Others weren’t as shy.

A miracle, proclaimed his boss and co-worker at Catholic Charities, where Harris has worked for three years delivering meals in some of the District’s most impoverished and dangerous neighborhoods.

Even cops who had seen everything hadn’t seen this.

“I am generally not a religious man, but this guy is blessed,” said D.C. Police Cmdr. Andrew Solberg, a 26-year veteran who heads the 5th District station, covering the area where Harris lives. “I want to go over and touch this man’s hand or clip off a lock of his hair. I want to rub him and feel some magic. We’re all glad that he’s here. I think somebody was watching out for him.”

The shots rang out about 8:30 p.m. from an alley across from the apartment where Harris has spent the past 18 years with his wife and five children, some now grown. Police said they found spent shell casings from a .380 semiautomatic.

They don’t know who the gunman was aiming at, but they don’t think Harris was the target. At least four bullets sailed across Adams Street. One crashed through an apartment window; another shattered the windshield of a gray Chevrolet Impala; still another punctured the side of a black BMW.

Harris thinks he was struck by the first round. The impact shoved him back in his white plastic lawn chair. At first, the Army veteran, who was assigned to a field artillery unit from 1988 to 1990, didn’t know what had hit him. “Then I heard, ‘Pop, pop, pop,’ ” Harris said.


He dove for cover as more bullets flew.

Then he pulled his wallet out of his pocket. The hole reveals an archeological dig, layers of different-colored cards — a white medical card, a red bank card, his veteran’s card.
Sounding more angry than relieved, Harris said that had the bullet’s path been two feet higher, it would’ve crashed through his window; inside, his wife was finishing up dinner and others were settling in to watch a football game.

“The first thing the cops asked me was, ‘Who is out to get you?’ I told him, ‘No one.’ What I really want to know is who did this, and for what purpose?”

Harris has lived for nearly two decades in Edgewood, just off Rhode Island Avenue between Bloomingdale and Brookland, and describes the neighborhood as “so-so.” It was one of four communities targeted by D.C. police for a summer initiative, stepped-up enforcement to combat violent crime. Adams Street, a strip of neatly kept rowhouses and apartment buildings, is just off a main city thoroughfare.

Harris said he worries about what people now think. “I mean, what’s the first thing you think of when somebody gets shot?” he said. “Drugs and guns. Well, there isn’t any of that over here. ”

The day after the shooting, Harris went into his Catholic Charities office to turn in his plastic key card, which broke apart when the bullet hit it.

Scott Lewis, director of enterprises, education and employment for Catholic Charities, took a picture of the card to share with co-workers. “It’s amazing, and we’re really grateful that he wasn’t harmed,” Lewis said. “To think what could have happened.”

Harris’s immediate supervisor, Eric Curry, the food-service manager, said that his driver “is a true witness that God lives. That was a miracle, definitely a miracle.”

Catholic Charities delivers daily meals around the District to charter schools, elderly housing complexes and adult day-care programs. Lewis said Harris is more than a driver — he’s an ambassador who is the face of the charity to the people who need help the most.

“For many, our meal might be their only meal of the day,” Lewis said. “We want it to be a good meal. Brian makes sure that happens.”

Some on his route may have to wait a bit before seeing Harris again. Lewis said he gave him a couple of days off to recover.

Added Solberg, the police commander: “The only time you hear about something like this happening is in a John Wayne western.”

Tuesday, November 19, 2013

Friday, November 15, 2013

Bold and beautiful: GW Catholic's speech at GW inter-faith dinner

Good evening, my name is Olivia Bee and I am a senior in the Elliott of school of international affairs. I am a Greek outreach coordinator for GW Catholics at the Newman Center.

I would like to begin with a reading from the Gospel according to St. Matthew:  “The King will say to those on his right, ‘Come, you who are blessed by my Father, inherit the kingdom prepared for you from the foundation of the world. For I was hungry and you gave me food, I was thirsty and you gave me drink, I was a stranger and you welcomed me, I was naked and you clothed me, I was sick and you visited me, I was in prison and you came to me.’ Then the righteous will answer him, saying, ‘Lord, when did we see you hungry and feed you, or thirsty and give you drink? And when did we see you a stranger and welcome you, or naked and clothe you? And when did we see you sick or in prison and visit you?’ And the King will answer them, ‘Truly, I say to you, as you did it to one of the least of these my brothers, you did it to me.’”

I chose this passage because it perfectly reflects the fact that social justice is at the absolute core of my Catholic faith and the Catholic Church’s teachings. This is because Jesus taught us, as portrayed in the passage, that those who will be saved are the people who helped others in their times of need. As a result, the Catholic Church keeps social justice at its very core. It does so by engaging in charitable work across the world, from mission trips to the NGO Catholic Charities. In this way the church has made it its mission to improve the lives of millions of people and continue its commitment to social justice.

At the Newman Center here on GW’s campus we have found Pope Francis to be an incredible role model for the pursuit of social justice through the lens of our faith. Pope Francis has worked tirelessly to promote social justice, most notably through the virtue of love. He has done so because love is at the very core of Catholicism, and I know this is not at all unique to my own faith. Pope Francis has shown us that by being truly loving we can successfully and most effectively promote social justice. He has done this most prominently by stressing the importance of the dignity of every human being, no matter his or her ethnicity, socio-economic background, sexual orientation, age, or gender. He has helped us fully understand that we are all children of God, and as a result each one of us deserves love.

At the Newman Center we try to exude these values daily by doing our best to help the least among us. We have monthly volunteer opportunities with the Missionaries of Charity, Mother Theresa's sisters, who serve men and women who are homeless or have AIDS, there are weekly visits to juvenile detention centers as part of the Justice for Juniors program, we volunteer in soup kitchens and make sandwiches for the homeless in DC, during our spring break we lead a service trip to Appalachia and we work towards creating a culture of life on this campus in an effort to preserve the sanctity of life from conception to natural death. Finally, we offer a smile, kind word, food, or a prayer to the homeless around Foggy Bottom and DC.

The church’s focus on social justice through love and aiding the least among us is what makes me most proud to be Catholic. Therefore, I urge each of you to find this pride in your faith and practice social justice through love, because as Pope Francis said, “The measure of the greatness of society is found in the way it treats those most in need, those who have nothing apart from their poverty.”

Wednesday, November 13, 2013

Catholic and pro-life quarterback Philip Rivers

I was asked to celebrate Mass with the San Diego Chargers when they were in town two weeks ago to play the Redskins.  It was a quite a thrill for this life-long football fan.  Six players and coaches attended the Mass at the hotel in which they were staying.  I told them how inspiring it was to be with them. They live in a different world...a very big world.  But, there they were, getting small like the rest of us in humbling kneeling before God in worship and adoration during Mass.

One of them was their quarterback, Philip Rivers.  He appears to be a serious Catholic.  He was very devout and prayerful during the Mass.  I talked to him for a few minutes after Mass. His wife just gave birth to their seventh child, so I congratulated him and told him that we were praying for his daughter and family at Mass.  Below is an interview with ESPN Magazine from August of this year.  The last question is ridiculous and offensive, but Rivers handled it (and all the questions) with tremendous humility and grace.

Rivers, 31, doesn't have time to peruse fan forums, so we fired your comments at the four-time Pro Bowler before July's Gatorade High School Athlete of the Year Awards in LA. Shocker: Rivers fired back.

He's a crybaby on the field and is always yelling after he throws picks.
-- From comments

Rivers: I play with the same energy, passion and fire that I played with as a 10-year-old in north Alabama, and I'll continue to play that way. I think sometimes that's misrepresented. There's nothing I say out there that I can't say to my mom, wife or daughters. It's all clean.

Rivers has shown that if he's given the O-line and receivers, he can put up big numbers. If I was the new coach or front office, I'd rebuild other positions, figuring I had a legitimate QB.
-- From comments

Look, I'm my own worst critic. I've made mistakes in areas that I need to improve -- most notably, turning the ball over. But I have great faith in our receivers and the guys up front, and I'm excited about our new offense. We'll still push the ball downfield, but you'll also see more high-percentage passes and intermediate throws than in the past. We have an opportunity for a bounce-back season. It's a matter of doing it now.

A good coach would make all the difference with him. True fans see that Rivers lost respect for Norv Turner, but Rivers is a quality guy and will not talk bad about his coach.
-- From comments

Yeah, that couldn't be further from the truth. Norv was great all of our years together. We lost games for a lot more reasons than his coaching. We'll have a great relationship forever. I owe him thanks and credit for the player I've become.

Six kids? Regardless of your profession, it's impossible to be a good parent to six kids. Not enough hours in the day.
-- From comments

It's a two-year rotation: Once the diapers come off of one, we usually have a newborn. And we have another one on the way, due in October. I help when I can, but my wife, Tiffany, is the key. My big, growing family keeps everything balanced and grounded. My oldest is 11 now, and the kids are getting into football. They're Daddy's biggest fans, and they don't get on you as bad as most fans. If you throw an interception, they still love you.

Monday, November 11, 2013

Homily - "Sex is holy"

Click HERE to listen to Sunday's homily.

We hear about marriage in tonight’s Gospel (Lk 20:27-38) which is fitting because marriage has been the theme for GW Catholics this weekend.  Our campus minister, Amy, got married yesterday to Dave Kovacs in Williamsburg, Virginia.  It was a glorious wedding!  Several GW students participated or attended.  It was one of the most beautiful weddings I’ve been a part of.  A couple of things from it.  The first is the story of their engagement.  Dave called me up last fall and told me he wanted to propose to Amy at the Newman Center.  I said something romantic like, “Oh, cool”.  (What depth).  His plan was romantic and poetic, and right in the heart of one of our busy Tuesday nights.  After Mass, I took Amy up to her office for an “emergency meeting”….about nothing.  I had to stall her while Dave set everything up downstairs.  He had students at different stations from her office down to the chapel, holding parts of a poem.  The floor was covered in rose petals.  Amy came out of her office and was led through the stations.  She was wondering what we were doing, and thinking we were freaks or something.  She was led to the chapel where Dave was on one knee and holding a ring.  Amy lost it! Tears of joy came streaming down her face, and she said yes to his proposal.  About 50 students came into the chapel at that point, celebrating the incredible moment.  Amy was smiling from cheek to cheek, showing everyone her ring.  Minutes later, while still grinning ear to ear she said quietly to Dave, “you proposed to me…at work!  Get me out of here”.  She would say later it was perfect.  It was one of the best nights ever at Newman!

One of the things I said yesterday at the wedding was that Amy and Dave are such good examples to you all.  They teach better than I do on some key issues…ones that you ask about all of the time: relationships, sex, marriage, virtue, holiness, etc.  I provide the explanation of the Church’s teaching and that gives you some understanding, but they live it.  When you ask me why wait until marriage to have sex or why use Natural Family Planning in marriage or not to live together until marriage, I can point to them and say, “go talk to Amy or Dave”.  Or, just look at them.  You have seen their love, joy, and happiness in living out the Church’s teachings.  They do it freely, too.  They have been freely, obediently, and authentically living the teachings. Every student that I know of who has looked at what they have has said in one way or another, “I want that”.  They are such a normal, holy, and beautiful couple!  That’s why yesterday was so beautiful; they put so much into waiting and preparing for it, that it just exploded with beauty.

To your question of why wait until marriage to have sex – which I get about every other appointment! – let’s look at what happened yesterday and see that that’s at the core of the answer.  Amy and Dave brought their relationship to God yesterday, and He made it holy. He made it sacred. It happened when they gave their consent / promises / vows.  They gave their lives to each other.  “I promise to be true to you…in good times and in bad….in sickness and in health…I will love you and honor you all the days of my life”.  They made a full commitment to each other before God and witnesses.  That’s when they became one.  That’s when they received the Sacrament of Marriage.  Once that bond is in place, then the couple gives themselves fully to each other in the physical act / the sexual act / the marital act.  The physical act consummates the bond that is already in place.  It cements it.  It’s a sacred act.  Outside of the marital bond, the sexual act is not holy.  Think of a seminarian who wants to celebrate Mass.  He is preparing to be a priest, wants to be a priest, and can even say that he’s “engaged” to the Church.  But, he’s not a priest.  First of all, he doesn’t have the power to consecrate the Eucharist.  But, he hasn’t received the Sacrament of Holy Orders.  The celebration of Mass is reserved for priests.  It would be unholy for him to attempt it.  The same is true for couples.  The marital act is reserved for couples who have received the Sacrament of Marriage.

The image of a sanctuary is also helpful in understanding this.  Think of the body as a sanctuary. The body is a “temple of the Holy Spirit”.  It is sacred ground.  Most Catholics know this, and are timid when it comes to entering the sanctuary of a Church.  Have the same respect and reverence for the body of the other as you do for the sanctuary of the Church.  But, the Church goes even deeper with married couples.  She says that the bedroom of a married couple is like the sanctuary of a Church.  It is holy ground.  Sacred acts take place there.  And, of course, the one-flesh union between husband and wife is akin to the one-flesh union between God and us in Holy Communion.

Marriage on earth is a foretaste of marriage with God in Heaven.  One of the points from tonight’s Gospel is that we will no spouse in Heaven other than God.  Some of my couples have been disappointed to hear that they will not be married to the other in Heaven; “til death does us part” indicates that.  God is the ultimate spouse! He is the most attractive and desirable spouse…ever.  He created us to be with Him. He made us to be with Him in the resurrection of the dead in the marriage feast of Heaven forever.


Monday, November 04, 2013

Friday, November 01, 2013

"Lord, make me an instrument of your peace"

In light of today's shooting at LAX and all of the violence in our world, please pray for peace.