Wednesday, November 29, 2006

The Size of Money

Judge Orders Treasury Department to Make Paper Money Recognizable to Blind People

I can't understand why the US hasn't made this type of change to its currency before now. This makes a lot of sense, not only to the blind people who would benefit tremendously from changing the size of bills, but it would also be a nice convenience for everyone else.

European countries have had different sized paper currency for years, even before the adoption of the Euro. In Germany, for example, not only were the various denominations of currency different sizes, they were also different colors.

The Treasury Department just spent tons of money redesigning US currency. It seems to me that would have been a great time to redo the size, too. I completely disagree that having different sized bills would make it more difficult to prevent counterfeiting; I think it would make it easier to prevent because counterfeiters would have to take into account not only the design, paper, and other security features of the bill but also the exact size.

This kind of change is long overdue. Treasury Department: get with the program and get to work.

Sunday, November 19, 2006

Patriot Guard Riders - Taking Care of the Homefront

A while back I posted a piece about riding with the Patriot Guard Riders escorting the funeral procession of a soldier who fell in Iraq. That was a very moving event for me. As a veteran, I feel it's important we welcome home those returning from duty overseas - whether they gave the ultimate sacrifice or not.

One of the PGR's leaders forwarded a video of a TV news item. The item, I believe, captures the spirit of the PGR and those who ride for our military members. The video is from the "Post Cards from Home" segment on an Illinois TV Station.

Watching this reminded me of my own homecoming after Desert Storm.

I had the privilege to serve with a Warrant Officer who served in Vietnam as a young man. On one occasion, while we were sitting around in the middle of Saudi Arabia waiting for the "Storm" part of Desert Storm to kick off, we were discussing the outpouring of generosity and good will from those at home. We got cards, letters and packages from people we hadn't heard from in years as well as those we'd never met. As the discussion carried on, the Chief (as that's what we called senior Warrant Officers) warned us not to count on the public's support and largess to continue once the war kicked off. His fear was that the war could become very unpopular once the real shooting started.

His fear was well-founded according to his experience coming home from Vietnam after one of his tours there. He was a young man who chose the military as his career. Coming home, he proudly wore his uniform as he arrived at Fort Lewis, Washington. Once he got on the ground, he was "strongly advised" to change into civilian attire before leaving the post to get transportation home. He told us of protesters outside the gates of Ft. Lewis throwing stuff at the cars going in and out, carrying signs protesting the war and vilifying the troops. I could see telling us of his experience brought a lot of sadness to him. He wanted us to keep in mind that peoples' opinions change and he wanted us to prepare ourselves in case the same thing happened to us.

We can all remember how quickly everything was over once the "Storm" got underway. Our unit was in and out of Iraq within a few days of the cease-fire being declared and we were on a plane back to the US within a week or so.

We landed at Kennedy Airport in New York to fuel up for our last leg back to Ft. Bliss (which is in El Paso, Texas). There was a buffet line with pizza, coffee, soft drinks, and other goodies waiting for us. There were people behind the barricades holding signs, not of protest, but of support and welcoming. It was quite a treat.

When we finally arrived at Ft. Bliss, we could see a vast crowd waiting to welcome us home through the plane's windows. This was an even larger "welcome home" than what we experienced in New York. I happened to be right in front of the Chief as we started down the stairs off the plane. There was a line of Generals waiting to shake our hands as we disembarked and headed to the building where we were to turn in our weapons. At one point, Chief put his hand on my shoulder. I thought, perhaps he took a misstep and was steadying himself. He was trying to steady himself, but it wasn't from a misstep on the stairs, rather is was because he was overwhelmed with emotion. He looked me in the eye and said, "This makes up for last time. This makes up for last time." I even think I saw a tear in his eye, which was very out of character for him. I was happy he got some closure for his bad experience in the 70s.

I regale this story because I believe the men and women of our Armed Forces deserve the same kind of homecoming. Whether you agree with the war in Iraq or not, the Soldiers, Marines, Airmen, Sailors and Coast Guardsmen are putting it all on the line to help make our lives safer and to continue to enjoy the freedoms guaranteed by our Constitution.

I hope you will take some time out of your life this week and do something to support our troops, both overseas and at home. I know the sacrifices of time and effort it takes to be a member of our Armed Forces, and those people deserve respect and support from everyone living under the blanket of freedom they help protect.

Thursday, November 16, 2006

Roman Catholic Priests and Marriage

Vatican Holds Summit on Celibacy Requirement for Clergy After Flap Over Excommunicated Archbishop

As a former practicing Catholic (I'll be happy to send my resume outlining my qualifications to claim this to anyone who's interested) I have a pretty strong opinion on this matter: I think priests and nuns should be allowed to marry - plain and simple.

I know there are centuries of tradition behind the rule of celibacy and singleness in the priesthood, but I also know of a couple of instances showing it's not a bad idea.

First off, some of the apostles were married. The Bible clearly points out that Peter had a mother-in-law, which means he must have had a wife. She may have passed on before Jesus called him to ministry, but the fact that he was married speaks volumes to me. Paul wrote in his letters to the early church recommending that one in the ministry stay single. But in the very next sentence he tells them it is better to marry than to burn with passion and marrying was not a sin.

Most other Christian denominations allow their pastors to marry. I think it's time to recognize that those who are priests are regular men with regular desires (and I'm not just referring to sex here) who wish to serve the church and have a family, too. I think the Pope is wise to at least take a look at this issue.

NB - I don't think using Archbishop Emmanuel Milingo is the best example of someone who was excommunicated over this issue. I would doubt his ability to lead Catholics if he's willing to participate in ceremonies in the Unification church. His ordination of four married men aside, I think there are more and better examples to study.

Sunday, November 12, 2006

Boycott Christmas!

When I was in high school, the morning DJ of the album-oriented rock station (now called "classic rock") was a guy named Steve Dahl. He had a very funny show with his sidekick and straight-man Garry Meier, who was referred to as "a bargain basement version of George Fenneman." Among his other stunts, one which stands out to me is his "Boycott Christmas Until After Thanksgiving" campaign.

Although he most likely meant it as a gag, I really took this to heart. He complained about how stores and malls would start putting out Christmas stuff a week or so before Thanksgiving and encouraged his listeners to not buy Christmas stuff until the holiday season "officially" kicked off.

This really struck a chord with me. I, too, thought that stores started the Christmas buying season too early. To this day, I feel the same way - especially when the Christmas stuff starts coming out a couple weeks before Halloween.

My wife is embarrassed as we go through the local Wal-Mart and I yell out "Boycott Christmas 'til after Thanksgiving" or "Don't fall for the crass commercialism" or "Don't support the commercialists" or "No Christmas, no Christmas, no Christmas until after Thanksgiving." I'm not against Christmas, I'm against the commercialism that comes with it.

With the merchants promoting, the people buying, the ALCU suing, the real meaning of Christmas is getting lost through all the hubbub and activities of the season. Starting it earlier and earlier every year seems to just dilute the season more and more.

To be sure, the Christmas season is the time of year when people seem to be more generous. Charitable giving goes up and people are more sensitive to the plight of those less fortunate. If we could keep that going on longer and longer then the real spirit of Christmas would grow. I find every succeeding year Christmas is more about greed and avarice than it's about caring, sharing and helping.

I hope that you will find it in your heart to remember the greatest gift of all this year: the gift of generosity and giving which is what the first Christmas was really all about. Without that, we might as well call it "Winter Holiday" and be done with it.

Friday, November 10, 2006

Garden Guy Debate

Houston landscapers refuse gay couple’s job
Stance taken by owners of the Garden Guy ignites fiery debate

There is ignorance and hatred demonstrated in the world which aptly shows the true nature of us human beings. We can really be rotten to the core and it often doesn't take much for us to show it. It is most unfortunate.

Am I talking about the folks who own Garden Guy? Yes, I am; but, I am also talking about those folks on the "politically-correct" left who took this debate to a whole new level. There is a lot of ignorance to go around in this case.

To the owners of Garden Guy and those Christians who claim that homosexuality is the worst sin known to man: I applaud you for sticking to your beliefs. It's important to not compromise your integrity or the message of Christ as you see it. However, the belief that you must somehow isolate yourself away from "sinners" is not the message Christ sent when He was on the Earth. Jesus was constantly criticized by the religious leaders of his day for hanging around with "sinners and tax collectors." His response: "I have not come to call the righteous, but sinners." Paul's words also come to mind, "Love the sinner, but hate the sin." Remember, even those who count themselves as "saved" are still human and are still subject to temptation and sin.

I think this is part of the true message of Christ: People are most important. If you don't love people, even those who are "sinners" in your eyes, then you become the same as those folks from the so-called church who protest with signs reading "God hates Fags" and you harden hearts against the very message you are trying to spread.

To the would-be customers: You were well within your rights to email your friends about your experience and ask them to boycott Garden Guy. Good for you for standing up for what you believe. No matter what, you deserve to be treated with dignity and respect by others regardless of whatever they might find disagreeable with you. It appears the email you received from Garden Guy, as ignorant and bigoted as it might be to you, was respectful. I hate that people judge you as they do. People are important - you are important.

Also, the link to the anti-gay marriage web site on their web site should have been a clue that you might not want to patronize them. Perhaps you missed it, but the Garden Guy folks are up front with their opinion of gays. I don't fault you if you missed it, but perhaps we can all take a lesson to fully check out those with whom we plan to do business.

To the folks who show their ignorance by threatening the Garden Guy folks: Grow up! Yes, it is wrong that people discriminate against you. Yes, it's wrong when they vilify you and make you out to be monsters or whatever. But, is threatening their safety and health and condoning sodomizing their children going to get them to see you differently? I think not. It's much like the so-called "Christians" who treat you poorly and harden your hearts against what they have to say - when you threaten and harangue and pontificate you harden their hearts against what you have to say. The golden rule applies: if you want to be treated with respect then show respect. Can you protest someone's ignorance without getting ugly and hateful about it? You bet you can: Organize a boycott, send respectful messages about why you disagree, get on your soapbox and tell the world why they are wrong. But when you threaten and harass you are merely playing into the hands of those who wish to vilify you and make you out to be monsters.

To the "politically correct" crowd: You claim you are on the side of tolerance. The problem is, when anyone doesn't echo your opinions on what's right and proper, you show yourselves to be very intolerant. There is room for disagreement in our country. There is room for differing opinions and debate. When you shout down those who disagree with you, you are showing that you are the intolerant ones. "Politically Correct" then becomes a synonym for "Politically Reliable" which is a phrase used by communist dictatorships during the cold war to describe someone who toes the party line no matter what. People become afraid to speak their minds and then another freedom we should cherish goes by the wayside.

Monday, November 06, 2006

The Problem With Idolizing

Ousted Evangelist Rev. Ted Haggard Tells Followers He's Guilty of 'Sexual Immorality'

At first glance, this merely appears to be another example of a powerful Christian leader caught in the act of some immoral act. To be sure, that is what it is. But, there is also another side to it.

Pastors of large churches and national organizations are put in the spotlight. We expect them to be perfect and to not make poor decisions because they are somehow more holy than the rest of us. Certainly, church leaders should live their lives in such a way as to bring people closer to God and to each other. However, when someone gets too "high and mighty" we tend to forget they are just like the rest of us. They are just regular people who are tempted to sin and make mistakes just like the rest of us.

I don't excuse Haggard for his actions. But, there is a tendency for people in his position to feel they have to "perform" for the masses in order to maintain their persona of a "true person of faith." Trouble comes when they are put on a pedestal so high they start to appear as "super holy" and we forget they are just regular folks. When they fall, it's usually very fast and very hard.

Church leaders: if you don't have people around you who know you inside and out with whom you can share your deepest, darkest secrets, you are asking for trouble. Just having your spouse with you isn't enough. You need to find people of the same gender to whom you can confess and be accountable to. I also don't just mean your church board, deacon board, elders or whatever else you wish to call such groups. I'm talking about a small, tight circle of friends outside the normal "church life" with whom you can really show your humanity.

Church Leaders: take some time out today and find fellow Christians who can help keep you on the "straight and narrow." It takes time to develop such close friendships, but it's worth every minute. With such a group you can be honest about your failings and temptations. You can nip those little sins in the bud before they become big problems.

Church Leaders: Be transparent to the people you lead (to a lesser extent than your close circle of friends - you don't need to air all of your dirty laundry to the public). Show them you are human and that you make mistakes just as they do. Show them you are not "holier than thou" so they will not be wrapped up in guilt when they stumble. Let them see that no one is perfect, least of all you. Your "human-ness" will be a better example than your "super spirituality."