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I believe in Religious Freedoms, but the Church is getting too many breaks

10 Feb

A while back I was watching The Daily Show and though they obviously broadcast with a liberal agenda, it’s generally a fact based provider of news.  The story they covered was on the freedoms that The Church or religious organizations have.  Churches can terminate employees without the risk or repercussions secular organizations must follow.  That seemed like more than just religious freedom or protection.  This policy gives too much latitude to a Church to treat their people right. Then the Supreme Court backed up the Church and basically told people that they had no legal recourse if terminated by a Church.  Wow!  Of course, this is the same court that said Corporations are people too, so I’m not really surprised.

So, let’s start this discussion with my belief that Churches get too many breaks.

Then the new Contraception rules were released by President Obama and I honestly thought they went too far to restrict freedoms.  Requiring a Church to provide contraception coverage to women when the Church actually has a long-standing position against contraception seems wrong.  It’s actually challenging a Church’s principles and freedoms.  I truly believe that if you decide to work for a church, you should prepare to submit to the church’s beliefs and rules.  At least while you’re at work.  And you shouldn’t expect the church to help or pay for you to break their rules or beliefs.

But that’s not the whole story and I was looking at it in a limited capacity.

I read further, because my wife fervently disagreed with my position and that’s a rarity.  If she stands against me on a topic, then we need to discuss it further.  I prefer us to see eye to eye on everything so we debate things to see other points of view.  She’s an incredibly intelligent woman and I would be foolish not to consider her input.  So, I read more to better understand the topic.  Here’s the thing I didn’t realize.  These religious freedoms are not just being applied to Churches.  They apply to Churches and their affiliated organizations likes schools, universities, and hospitals.  That, is over-reaching.  That is over protection of religious freedoms.

If you work for a Church, you should expect to follow their rules.  If you work for the St. Somebody Hospital, you they should treat you the same as an employee of any other organization.  That SAINT in front of the organization’s name shouldn’t protect the company from their legal obligations to their employees.  Unfortunately, according to our government, they do.

Good news is that Obama found a fair, in my opinion, concession to the Church (& affiliated religious organizations) regarding the New Contraception Law.  Now they have the freedom to not offer contraception coverage in their insurance plans to their employees, but all insurance companies must offer it for free.  Sure, it’s really about semantics, because the Church is offering the coverage despite their objections, but since these religious freedoms are too far-reaching, I think it’s a fair compromise.

Along those lines, the government just plays with words when they say they don’t federally fund abortions.  Planned Parenthood gets money from the government to provide a lot of excellent services (not abortions) for women.  Of course, when money comes in from one area, it isn’t guaranteed to never touch the money from another part of a company.  It just doesn’t work that way.  Of course, in that case, it’s more about accountants playing with numbers rather than words.  I personally don’t have a strong opinion on federal funding of abortions (since there are numerous situations where I can see the need for Planned Parenthood’s most controversial services), but I do find it humorous whenever the topic comes up.

So now I probably upset everyone who read this in one way or another.  I guess my job is done here.

** By the way, I’m a Christian and a life long member of various religious organizations.  I was, at one time, fervently Pro-Life, but my position evolved over time.  The Pro-Life crowd actually turned me against them with their harsh words.  I believe if you’re Pro-Life, you should approach the subject in love.  And not just Love for the unborn, but Love for the woman going through the ordeal of an unplanned pregnancy.  Operate in some grace and maybe more people will listen to your point of view.  Maybe you can actually help someone.

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Surprising Results From Finally Taking The Blu-Ray Plunge

9 Dec

I did it.  After fighting the advertising pressure for five years, I finally gave in and bought a Blu-Ray player over the Thanksgiving weekend.  I still can’t see spending $30 a movie, but there are a few surprising things that come with most Blu-Ray players that really made me happy with the purchase.

First off, there are so many internet streaming functions available through many Blu-Ray players and as a media box, it works worlds better than my Xbox 360.  I’ve used the Xbox over the years for a few different types of media streaming, but the functionality, ease, and number of content providers available through my Blu-Ray player is simply awesome.  I had no idea that I’d really like having YouTube hooked up to my TV, but I do.  And with Hulu Plus, Vudu, and some of the other services, I’m going to take a long hard look at cutting back on my cable bill and getting content elsewhere.  Plus, there’s Pandora.  I use Pandora a lot on my laptop, but some of the channels are ideal for pumping through my entertainment center and really enjoying the music.  Last.FM through Xbox just doesn’t compare.

Secondly, as a media streaming device, I expect it to be substantially easier to use video and audio that I ripped to our home network.  I still need some time to work on this, but after spending some time with the player, it seems like it will handle everything that I want it to without having to buy a separate media streaming box or dealing with the less than user-friendly Xbox.

Lastly, and the biggest surprise is the picture.  Of course, I know Blu-Ray is 1080p.  A true High Definition picture and I expected the video quality to be excellent.  I still may choose to buy or rent some films on DVD where I think the clarity of Blu-Ray hampers the film (i.e. cheap CGI which DVD blurs a bit, but obviously appears as crap on Blu-Ray).  Perhaps the companies are slighting us nowadays with the quality of DVDs, since the color pallete often looks a lot more drab than I thought was necessary on DVD, but there is no doubt that colors and the images really pop on Blu-Ray.

However, that’s not the picture that surprised me.  It was when I first tried out a DVD in the Blu-Ray player.  Amazing!  Simply amazing.  I have an Audio/Video Receiver that does a good job of upconverting standard definition video to high def and a brilliant Plasma television that does a great job upconverting.  So why was I surprised?  The perfect digital connection allows the Blu-Ray processing to really display it’s glory.  If you’re like me, then your DVD player at best has component cables (the red, green, and blue ones).  It really provides a nice picture, but it’s analog and therefore you inherently lose a generation of quality when you’re watching it.  Playing the DVD in a Blu-Ray player with the perfect digital signal passing through HDMI cables from beginning to end lead to the best possible picture.

Apparently I’m not going to have to replace my entire DVD library.  One film in and I”m totally impressed.  Looking forward to checking out some of my Superbit DVDs and the last Star Wars Special Edition package I bought (not Blu-Ray).  My wife doesn’t get it, but I’m so happy with the purchase.  I now understand why everyone always said that if you have a great High Definition Television and you don’t have a Blu-Ray player, you really aren’t seeing what your TV is capable of.

The Life and Brines of a Young Dad at Thanksgiving

21 Nov

This year, I’m entering my first ever “Turkey Off”.  I think that’s where the ‘Young Dad’ comes in.  Don’t all we men at some point need to attempt to prepare a turkey so that one day when Dad is no longer around, we’re prepared?  Nevermind the carving, which actually concerns me more than the cooking of the giant bird.

I’m a young Dad as in my kids are young.  Probably a little closer to forty than most would usually be with a 2-year-old and 9 month old.  It’s a wonderful life, but one with very little sleep on average.  The beautiful topper right now is my precious 9 month old is cutting her first two teeth which means sleep, for her, is random at best.  My lovely wife takes the brunt of it, but the sleep deprivation has worked its way through the whole family.

So the “Turkey Off” was actually Dad’s idea.  I had suggested that perhaps I could tackle the turkey this year, but our lovely hostess, my sister, hinted strongly that it was probably best left for Dad.  Upon further probing, two concerns came two light.  First, there’s no evidence that my first time cooking whole poultry will lead to something edible.  I’m a decent cook, but I used to experiment quite a bit my first time out with recipes and that lead to some questionable (at best) results.  She doesn’t realize this, but I stick to recipes far more than I did in my younger days.  I still experiment with things I just whip up in the kitchen, but I usually have a better understanding what I’m doing now and I tend to use a trusted recipe as a guide.  I still have dishes that end up less than a success, but it’s usually just too little flavor rather than a horrendous taste.  And a little salt, or salty cheese, tends to solve those problems.

The second, and most concerning question my sister raised was my tendency for tardiness.  Yes, I tend to be late.  Now that I have a wife and two kids, I really tend to be late.  Always stuck in my head is Paul Newman‘s line, “Punctuality is the courtesy of Kings” (probably paraphrasing) that he delivered to another star actor encouraging him to be on time since everyone on a movie set is always waiting for the star, but yet, I have not resolved my tardiness issue.  The family will excuse being late with bread or dessert or even a random side dish (my usual entries), but it would be sacrilege to have all the other dishes prepared and presented on the table and that one giant spot in the middle vacant until I showed up.  I get that.

So I backed off and once Mom said Dad picked up a giant free range turkey this year, I figured there was no need to even consider the poultry.  Then Dad entered with his challenge.  He welcomes the young experimental cook’s challenge and thinks it will push him to make an even better turkey this year.  Plus, (he didn’t say this), with there being two turkeys, it’s no big deal if mine is a little late or if it turns into a dry, indigestible mess.

So now, off to prepping.  I did a little googling on Sunday to get an idea of what I was venturing into and realized that I have one day to get all my ingredients together.  Brining seems the way to go and since most turkeys (as far as I’m aware) that I would buy tend to be frozen, I have a three days of prep in front of me.  I needed to start up the extra fridge last night (or clean out the cooler) so that I have a place to thaw and the store the turkey in it’s brine and since thawing a large bird properly can take 2-3 days, I’m already behind.  Glad I didn’t wait until the last minute.

Now, the brine and the recipe.  So many vary and I love the idea of bringing something really different to the table in a smoked or fried turkey, but they both present more problems than I really want to deal with.  Frying a turkey leads to fires and trips to the emergency room every year.  I would trust I could avoid either catastrophe, but with my penchance for clumsiness, I’m not betting on it.  Smoking a turkey is a bit more doable, even though I don’t have a smoker.  It can be done on a regular charcoal grill, but my small grill may not be large enough to really keep the heat “indirect” and place a pan below the sweating bird to catch the drippings.  So, I’m left with the oven roasting option my Dad uses and trying a different recipe.

I’m currently leaning towards Alton Brown‘s recipe on Food Networks.  I figure if the entire Food Network puts one chef’s turkey front and center, year after year, then there has to be something special about it.  He uses ingredients I don’t tend to keep around the house and that increases the financial impact of this experiment, but not to the point that’s prohibitive.  Still, the smoking idea lingers in the back of my mind.  Either way, a decision must be made this morning so I can make the trip to the store (with both little ones in tow) and can start all my prep tonight.  Yeah, the other dishes on my plate include easy mashed potatoes and a pumpkin dessert thing.  Neither of those I expect to take much time and my wife will be assisting on both, but we still need to plan out time for each item to take over our little kitchen.  Don’t tell my Mom, but I’m thinking of using potato flakes instead of real potatoes to simplify Thursday.

The only reason I’m considering the “just add water” variety of potatoes is that with a few experiments under my belt now, I turn out really stellar mashed potatoes.  My wife is a lover of all things potato and really enjoys them.  It seems wrong to go that route, but I do believe that my mix of garlic, parsley, a little butter, and mostly olive oil provides a great tasting pureed bud.  Prepared from scratch or not, I imagine that the potatoes will contain more olive oil than butter.  The fragrant and slightly fruity oil really pairs well with the potatoes and you get all the creaminess without the trans fats.  Of course, Smart Balance Butter gets you that buttery goodness without any trans fats too.  Oh the choices.

The choices for the brine are endless too.  They all contain plenty of salt and water, but that’s where the similarities end.  I could go with a fruity, aromatic brine.  Or perhaps a very sweet bourbon brine?  There’s always the beer brine to consider, but I only have a stout beer in the house and a little too long in a brine bath will make that bird’s simply taste like beer.  Choices, choices, choices.

There is one thing I learned over the years; there is no choice when it comes to Cream Cheese.  Sure, you can use some low-fat or fat-free Cream Cheese in a cheesecake, but only very little and never, ever use it in frosting.  Fat-free and low-fat Cream Cheese has a flavor that just detracts from the sugary goodness of a frosting.  The extra tang can work in a cheesecake, but not in frosting, so don’t skimp on the fat there.

Good luck in your Thanksgiving Dining Endeavors and forget about the fat and calories for a day.  Enjoy and revel in food and family.

Random Acts of Machismo

27 Oct

Last night en route to a little gathering, I witnessed a number of men come to the aid of another for what has the appearance of kindness, but I know is “machismo” in action.  A car stalled half a block from the gas station and was blocking one lane.  If that was all, no one would run to help the stuck man.  It’s not that people aren’t helpful, but we all know that you can call a tow truck or, if necessary, push the car a half block on your own.  Pushing a car on flat land isn’t that difficult once you get it moving.

The problem here is that the car stalled on a hill and yes, the guy was trying to push his car up said hill.  He was making it move a little, but it was a struggle.  From all points, north, south, east, and west men came running.  Six guys got behind that car and through brute strength muscled it the 250 feet up hill to the gas pump.  It was quite a feat to behold and very kind of all the men to help, but it was machismo and not their heart that moved them.

Machismo is defined as an exaggerated sense of strength or toughness and I have to say any time I know for me, if I present myself as physically strong or tough, it’s probably an exaggeration.  You couldn’t ask for a better circumstance for men to flex their muscles and prove they were MEN.  We know that we can’t get that car up the hill on our own, but with one or two other guy’s help we certainly can and in our minds, we’re doing the work.  There is a sense of teamwork that’s appealing, but I  guarantee every one of those guys relived that moment last night with some friends, family, or maybe just in their head, and celebrated their machismo.

Helping someone push a car is great for displaying a little machismo, but I find I do a little of it every day.  I have a family.  Three little women in my life.  My beloved wife and two baby girls.  It is my job to protect them and though I would lay down my life for any of the three at any moment, I don’t usually have to go to those lengths on a day-to-day basis.  Typically, I have to walk on the outside of my group of gals to put myself between any passing vehicles and my precious damsels.  I also happily respond to bumps in the night, or 2am knocks at the door, with dog at my side.  Nevermind that the dog is a girl too, we’re both displaying a little machismo.

So, when you’re wondering what you can do for the man in your life, maybe give him a chance to revel in a little machismo.  That jar just a little too tight to untwist?  We’d be happy to take care of it.  Can’t move a box full of books?  We’re on it.  Looking to vacuum under the sofa and want it lifted?  Hercules is ready to help.  Need the trash taken out?  Well, we’ll get to that later.

Traveling in the Age of the Net

26 Oct

“You don’t have to know anything anymore” exclaimed my brother this past Saturday as he asked his phone a question and quickly had a string of websites to read with correct answers.  Never mind that he knew the correct answer and without a basis of education, you will be quickly led astray on our world-wide web.  That being said, I spend a lot of my time researching on the internet and you learn quickly the language of veracity.  Some websites and authors are trustworthy, others are paid or looking for retribution for a wrong.

I absolutely love using the net for travel research.  No longer do you have to pick a destination, a hotel, a flight, a restuarant, or a particular drive on a little guesswork and that two-line review in the AAA guide.

“Yay, the hotel has a swimming pool and HBO!”

That was about the extent of the reviews available to you twenty years ago.  Now with sites like Tripadvisor I can easily find out that the pool has four slides, but the height requirement on all of them is 40″ and my two-year old couldn’t ride.  There are two pools with one heated and the other one closing annually on November 1st for the winter.  There are three restaurants across the street and I can easily read reviews on all of those places.  Plus, a major grocery store is within walking distance with a RedBox so I can cheaply rent movies while I’m there.  I can also read that the hotel is getting a remodel and when checking in, I need to ask for a renovated room so I’m guaranteed a 42″ HD TV and a DVD player.

Road trips are no longer a mystery either.  I remember taking family trips where we ventured randomly from one city to the next on no particular route, just seeking out each specific destination.  It was fun and rewarding, but all you really had was word of mouth reviews on where to go and what route to take.

I had my first significant road trip a few years ago with a drive to Lake Tahoe.  I tried asking around and seeking friends and strangers’ advice on whether to take the 395 or the 5 up from San Diego.  Generally with mixed reviews, most were in favor of taking the 5 and not getting stuck on the 395 with our newborn.

Thank God for the Road Trip America forum.  With the conversations and information in the forum, I chose the more difficult route up the 395 with suggestions for a great places to stop plus advice from hundreds of parents on tips for traveling with little ones.  Although the ride up the 5 was faster, the ride up the 395 in April, just as the snow on the mountain tops melted, meant that not only was the route unbelievably gorgeous, we had rushing rapids right next to the highway for several hours during our last leg of the drive.  It was beautiful and a great road trip, because I went into it prepared.

I think, in the end, that’s my favorite thing about the internet and travel.  I can go prepared.  There’s still adventure in trying new things and new places and I don’t seek out reviews and research on every place we stop, but gathering info on at least 50% of our activities ensures an enjoyable trip.

Right now I’m planning and preparing for a trip to Las Vegas with two little girls.  Most people would think that a waste of time and money, but with a little research you find out which places to avoid (the Bellagio pretty much hates strollers and may bar you from entering), there’s beautiful places for day trips and hiking (Red Rock West, and oh yeah, The Grand Canyon and Hoover Dam), and where the best playgrounds are in the city.  I’m going to go prepared and it’s all because I have the wealth of knowledge and experience at my fingertips.  I love living and traveling in the age of the net.

The CNN.com Comment Section and My Addiction

25 Oct

Hi, my name is Ryan and I have a problem.  I cannot stop reading the comments at the end of any article I find on CNN.com.  I don’t know why I do it or exactly what my sick obsession is, but I believe it has something to do with keeping myself aware of how disturbed and sad people behave at times.

The two things that stand out the most in the comments are one, their political affiliation so overwhelms their life that a story on any random news event solicits an “It’s all Obama’s fault” reaction or “Bush created this mess!”  The second is the complete disregard for human decency.    That’s the biggest one.

After reading some of the horrific things people post, I’m struggle with wondering if there is such a thing as human decency.  You’ll read an unbelievably sad story about a kid that’s been kept in a cage all his life and died without ceremony because of a lack of personal contact and food, and the first comment says he probably deserved everything he got.  CNN.com will lead with stories of abduction and people show absolutely no regard for any of the family members as they put forth their dark ideas of what probably happen to the child.  It’s sickening.

And yet I still read the comments.

Maybe I’m searching for material to write about.  Perhaps I examine the sick comments in the hopes that I’ll find the deep, thoughtful, and genuinely insightful analysis that the article was lacking.  I have to believe that for all the demented people out there that post sick and disturbed thoughts in the Comments section, there are plenty that are kind and caring individuals who don’t want to post.

The good news, for me, is that I trust that though people explore their darker side on the internet, they are still good at heart.   Even if their words and actions show otherwise, I have to trust that a person, at their core, is good.  There are certainly exceptions to every rule, but even a villain is the hero of their own story and believes they are doing right through whatever flawed logic they are embracing.  So are they demented people in this world posting on the internet?  Yes.  Do I think most of them are as dark and disturbed as their words suggest?  Nope.

They do, however, give me plenty of ideas for my next short story, screenplay, or novel.

Political Poetry and The Trail to Fail

21 Oct

SIGNS OF THE TRAIL TO FAIL

 

Footfalls precede arrival

Jogging around my ‘hood

Bumper flags show such gall

Battling the collective good

 

Tea Parties For Lil’ Girls

One Blasts at Passer Bys

Gays are Ending The World

The next to advertise

 

The ring of dissent grows

Our nation pulled in two

Grand collection of foes

Enemies we must choose.

 

The government stands still

Entrapped in nothingness

Fights for “the people’s will”

And keeps us in this mess.

 

Few await one lone voice

Clear, without partisan

Saying, “this ain’t a choice”

To better our great land.

 

Big government is wrong

But small has its limit

There has to be a bond

No sole claim “I did it.”

 

Both sides work together

And meet in the middle

Now light as a feather

This is not a riddle!

 

Once our informed leaders

View opponents as friends

Part of a theater

Seeking a kindred end.

 

I trust they will inspire

and stop the one way rail

Finish the verbal fire

Divert our trail to fail.

 

– Ryan Schulze 10-21-11