Friday, July 29, 2005

If Jesus was choosing "The Apprentice"...

Jesus’ “Apprentice”
By B-W of Transforming Seminarian

(As with all material on Transforming Seminarian that I created myself, this work is covered by a "Creative Commons" license. In this case, permission is expressly granted to make photocopies of this work and to stage a production of this script for their church or parachurch organization, provided that the author is given credit for the script in a bulletin or program accompanying the performance.)

Setting: The Boardroom: looking for DaVinci's "Last Supper" appearance, so that all participants face the audience.

As actors come on stage, it is suggested to play the soundtrack only (no words) of "For the Love of Money" (the theme of The Apprentice)?

Disciples on stage left: Peter and other unnamed disciples. This is the "Fisher" corporation.

Disciples on stage right: Paul, with Barnabas and John Mark, and other disciples. This is the "Xairos" corporation.

Jesus in Center: (dressed like Trump. If he can do the voice, even better)

Two people dressed as angels stand behind Jesus. One on either side. Perhaps dressed in white business suits or some such. At least one of these should be female, to make up for the lack of named/speaking females in the rest of the sketch. (Although there should be women on both corporations as well.)

JESUS: OK, so how did the disciples do this week?

ANGEL 1: The Fisher corporation did extremely well. They made converts of some Roman Centurions, and baptized their entire households. Total converts this week: 653

ANGEL 2: The Xairos corporation also did very well. They sent missionaries out from Antioch and planted a new church in Corinth. Total converts this week: 547. The Fisher corporation is the winner.

JESUS: Congratulations, Peter. You and your team of disciples have won this week's challenge. For your reward, you will enjoy a fine dinner of fish from the Sea of Galilee, prepared by my finest chefs. Go and enjoy! (The Fisher Corporation thanks Jesus and leaves offstage)

JESUS: Now, for the rest of you. What went wrong?

PAUL: It was all Mark's fault, Lord. He abandoned us at the very beginning of our journey in Pamphylia.

MARK: That's not fair! I had worked with the group in both Antioch and Cyprus, and found that I was more effective working from home. I continued to send messages and kept in touch through Barnabas.

JESUS: Barnabas, is this true?

BARNABAS: Well, Mark certainly did keep in touch, and I've always considered him an asset, but I cannot speak for what he thought was most effective.

PAUL (angry): You can't speak for it because you don't know! None of us know why Mark left! All we know is that he abandoned the group just when we were getting started!

JESUS: I think I've heard enough. Paul, as Project Manager, you can choose two people to remain in the boardroom with you. Who do you choose?

PAUL: Barnabas and John Mark.

JESUS: All right, then. For the rest of you. Although you failed the competition, you have served me faithfully. Go join the others in their fish-bake. (The others are surprised, but leave happily offstage, leaving only Barnabas, Paul, and Mark with Jesus and his Angels.)

JESUS: Now, Barnabas. You tried to speak in Mark's defense earlier, despite the fact that you didn't know why he left the group to work on his own. Why?

BARNABAS: Well, Mark's family. We've known each other for years, and I know him to be a man of deep faith. He may not have done things the way Paul or I would have done them, but I can vouch for Mark's integrity.

PAUL: He's unreliable! I can't allow someone who won't follow through with the job to stick around just because he's got well-connected relatives!

JESUS: OK. We know why you've asked John Mark in the boardroom. Why is Barnabas here?

PAUL: Because...

BARNABAS (cutting Paul off): Paul's mad at me because I stood up for Mark. No other reason. He knows I've stood by him faithfully through travels and controversy. Never once have I given him reason to question my devotion to your work. But I could not stand aside and let him cut Mark loose like that. It was simply unfair.

PAUL: Unfair?! I'm accused of being unfair for making a decision to weed out a team member who can't be counted on? If Mark stays on, he'll drag the rest of us down. I can't allow that. And if you can't see that, then I have no use for you either.

JESUS: I see. Barnabas, I don't think you should be here. You have continued to see the good in one of my workers when others couldn't. You continue to encourage him and give him support. Mark, although you may have honestly felt that you were being more effective by working alone, you obviously left at least your Project Manager down by leaving when you did. You should have worked out details on how you were best to serve the team with others rather than acting unilaterally. Paul, as Project Manager, it was your job to find out if there were problems within the team, and find out how to solve them. Mark clearly felt that he wasn't a part of the group, and you should have dealt with that. And you've stubbornly turned against one of your best friends for speaking up for him...

PAUL (tries to interrupt, although Jesus keeps talking): But... but...

JESUS (continuing from before): ... and I keep hearing these reports of you stirring up riots and getting thrown into prison!

PAUL: But, Lord....

JESUS (pointing to Paul, the "Trump cobra"): Paul, you're hired!

PAUL (pause: caught off guard): Wha? Hired?

JESUS: Yes, hired! Barnabas and Mark, you're hired, too. Go and join the others in the banquet.

(Paul, Barnabas, and Mark are dumbstruck, but get up and leave offstage)

ANGEL 1: (after Paul and others have left) You know, you're never going to be successful that way.

JESUS: We'll see.

(Post-boardroom music from The Apprentice plays, Jesus and Angels leave stage. Lights out.)

Thursday, July 28, 2005

Online Presence

For the better part of a decade, I've had a couple of web pages floating around on the web. One was a page dedicated to the UPN program "Legend," which aired for all of 12 episodes in 1995. Although I can say with some pride that it was the foremost site of its kind on the web (there were actually a few others), I took it down a few years ago.

The other was a page that started out as an archive for Transformers Action Masters Power Plans. For the uninitiated, "Action Masters" was the name given to a group of some of the very last Transformers toys created for the original line back in 1990. These were intended to be action-figure-sized representations of classic (and some new) characters, with transforming weapons and/or vehicles. The figures themselves did not transform. That's right, Action Masters were Transformers that did not transform. Although there was an explanation for this in the related fiction, this concept was heavily derided by many Transformers fans at the time (and since). But I've always liked them anyway, and they make up a disproportionally large part of my collection. The Power Plans were little charts that came on the back of the Action Master packages, detailing supposed technical components and their locations. These are not to be confused with "Tech Specs," which also provided bio information. Tech Specs have been extensively archived elsewhere on the web, but to the best of my knowledge, no other resource has existed, before or since, that covers these bits of Transformers documentation.

As the site continued to exist over the years, I had to move it to different servers from time to time and, to keep myself interested, I eventually expanded the site. This covered mostly two areas: 1) Custom Tech Specs for characters or toys not created by Hasbro; 2) Custom Action Master Power Plans, again for characters or toys not created by Hasbro.

In more recent times, I also attempted to start an archive for non-G1 package art. (There is already a nearly-complete G1 package art site, and I saw no need to compete with such a reliable resource.) But that's when I started to realize: I had no viable means of collecting anything like a complete set of any subset of Transformers art on my limited budget. Nor did I feel it was ethically acceptable to copy art from other people's Transformers pages without their knowledge (and it would definitely have been more work than I wanted to get into to ask so many disparate people for permission, assuming I could locate sources).

(Incidentally, one might note that Hasbro, of course, owns the copyright to such images anyway. They've made their position reasonably clear that they are willing to "turn a blind eye" to this kind of archival activity, as it really does them no harm, and in fact aids in publicity for their toy line. While it might be illegal in the most technical sense of the term, I find this ethically acceptable, since the copyright owners have indicated their tacit permission.)

I also am painfully aware that very few people are even aware of my site. And those that have been aware of it in the past have little reason to keep dropping in, because there really hasn't been much change there in a long time. While there are probably even fewer people aware of this site, it at least has the advantage of being updated on a regular basis, which keeps things interesting, for me as much as for the potential reader.

And that's what this has really been about for me: maintaining those other web pages simply hasn't been interesting enough for me to care about maintaining them. I can better use the bandwidth for the occasional picture or file that I might want to link through this site, which I intend to be my main online presence for the forseeable future. If anyone is reading this who still cares enough to want any of the old files, they can post a comment to this thread. I still have all the files, and can probably find what you need pretty quickly.

Wednesday, July 27, 2005

Copyright Craziness

The past 24 hours have been rather intense ones for Transformers fans. One of the producers (not the same one as made the comments about voice actors mentioned earlier) was misquoted in a fan magazine recently, got justifiably upset about it, and proceded to withdraw his presence from fan message boards if the misquotes were not removed. One of those sites, in an effort to inform fans exactly what all the brouhahah was about, quoted both the article from the magazine, and the producer's actual words from another message board, explicitly stating that the magazine misconstrued the producer's words.

By the end of the day, the producer threatened legal action against that message board for using his words without permission. Despite the fact that the site did so in an effort to "tell the facts," it was considered to be keeping the negative information out there (the original magazine had since retracted the statement), and would only serve to increase the misconception in the future.

I work with copyright quite a bit in my job, and while I don't pretend to be an authority (there's LOTS of fine print on what's appropriate and what's not), I do know that, if you write something, be it a book, a poem, a personal e-mail, or a message board entry, you automatically own the rights to how that work is used. You don't have to register your work with some Copyright office for this protection, although creators are encouraged to do so if they know that they are likely to want to exercise their rights to their material, since it bolsters a case on who wrote what when. There are, certainly, "fair use" guidelines. These generally include the right to parody a work (such as some song parodies I've done, and probably the Hitchhiker's Guide entries would fall in this category), or to use quotations for the purposes of commentary. However, these "fair use" guidelines are not absolute, and are subject to a set of general rules which must be taken together, with no single rule creating a "clear cut" guideline in all cases.

I'm not actually sure who was "in the right" in the message board situation. While the producer definitely owns the rights to how his words are used, the message board was engaging in semi-journalistic commentary. Like I said, the "fair use" guidelines are not "clear cut," but merely offer guidelines should the case be brought to court.

I'm happy to say that this situation has since been resolved, and there's not likely to be any further development on it. I have consciously chosen not to link to the board in this case, because I feel it best to let that issue in particular die out. I do, however, think it's appropriate to comment on some of the issues this raises, hence this blog entry.

Ironically, I had just placed a "Creative Commons" link at the bottom of my sidebar yesterday afternoon. At the time, I had not intended to draw attention to it, since I expect that few people are likely to care enough about my postings to want to use them, nor am I likely to care about my rights being abused on what are generally trivial matters. However, since it relates to the above situation, let me explain exactly what "Creative Commons" allows:
  • I am perfectly happy to let you use anything from my blog entries in any way you see fit, with the exception that I do not permit use of my work for commericial purposes.
  • I do request that, if my work is used, I be given credit for writing it. Since this is an "anonymous" blog (although most people who come here do already know who I am), work from this blog should be attributed to "B-W of Transforming Seminarian" or something similar. A link to the blog would also be nice, but is not techically required.
  • I further request that any use made of my work be made available to anyone else who wishes to use the resulting work (usually called a "derivative work" in copyright lingo) free of charge.
  • Needless to say, these guidelines do not apply to anything I have not, myself, created. (For example, the extended quote regarding DHMO is not mine to grant permission for. In fact, although it was quoted for the purposes of commentary, my own comments are so slight that it may not fall under "fair use" guidelines. If I ever get an indication from a rightsholder that this is inappropriate, I will certainly have such a quote removed immediately.)
A quick related point: anyone can cite a link to another site without violating copyright. They just may not be permitted in all cases to quote from the site itself.

Tuesday, July 26, 2005

Returning to the Final Frontier

This morning, I was able to experience something I haven't felt for over fifteen years. While driving to work, I was able to hear, live on the radio, the launch of the space shuttle Discovery.

As is well-known by now, this is the first launch of a US space shuttle since the destruction of the Columbia about 2 and a half years ago. The wait between launches compares to the extended delay following the destruction of Challenger in 1986 which, coincidentally, also ended with a Discovery launch. While the launch of the space shuttle in the early '80s was always a major event, accessible via substantial news coverage, shuttle launches quickly became more "routine" and less of an "event" not long after the recovery from the Challenger disaster.

It may be that shuttle launches fall back into this "routine" pattern again within a few months, provided, of course, that this mission is a success and there are no further catastrophes in the near future. However, given the current administration's push toward a return to the moon, with the intension of eventually traveling to Mars, it may be the era of "routine" orbital flights is tapering off, and future launches from NASA will, again, become major events.

Time will tell.

Monday, July 25, 2005

Other Voices

The Transformers message board I most often visit practically exploded after the interview with one of the producers of the upcoming Transformers movie in which, asked about whether the voice actors from the 20-year-old Transformers cartoon would reprise their roles, had this to say:
"No, I don't believe that is going to happen, I don't know why you would want the original voice over actors."
Many Transformers fans took this remark as an insult, and have begun a bitter debate on the message board (no doubt echoed elsewhere on the web) about how, if Peter Cullen and Frank Welker (Optimus Prime and Megatron, respectively) aren't doing their character voices, these fans won't go see the movie. Moreover, they insist that, as fans who have (in some cases) supported the Transformers franchise over the entirety of its 20+ year history, they are entitled to have the actors they remember from their childhood play these parts again in the upcoming movie. These are, they insist, the definitive voices, and to use anyone else would fail to capture the characters they've grown to love.

To borrow a response from William Shatner's famous SNL sketch: "Get a life!"

To paraphrase a response from another Transformers fan, nearly a year ago (when the first news of a proposed Transformers movie came out): "It's not being made for you."

Seriously. It's not. While long-time fans of the Transformers are, at least in part, responsible for keeping the franchise alive for so many years, the producers of this movie would be idiots to listen to half of what the fan base wants. If they did so, they'd possibly create a movie that Transformers fans would love, but they'd alienate the vast majority of people out there who may remember Transformers from when they were kids, but haven't followed up on the franchise much since then.

And to be fair, the producers of the new movie have been extremely open to listening to fan comments. Transformers fans will not be forgotten when this movie is made. But movie producers generally have a better idea of what will make a good movie than Transformers fans do, and they're generally smart enough to know when to go with what will work, and drop the ideas that simply aren't practical.

That's not to say that I expect the producers to make all the "right" decisions. However, I am reminded of when Tim Burton directed his first Batman movie so many years ago. A lot of fans were furious that Adam West (Batman from the 60's TV series) wasn't even being considered for the role. (West himself declined to do a cameo, he was so upset.) The casting of Michael Keaton, previously known best for such comedies as Beetlejuice and Mr. Mom, did little to assuage fan fears. As it turned out, Keaton was perfectly capable of taking the role into the darker realms that had already started to become (to some fans, admittedly not the same ones rooting for West, I expect) the expected norm for all Batman franchises to follow.

Let's give the producers a chance to explore their vision of what the Transformers should become. If they hold open auditions, who's to say whether Cullen and Welker might even prove able to do exactly what they're looking for? But there's no reason we should expect this. For all the support we've given the Transformers franchise over the past 20 years, we have no right to dictate to movie professionals how they should make movies.

Friday, July 22, 2005

If you cut Optimus Prime off in traffic, would he honk at you?

During a sermon preached in the church in which I grew up, the pastor mused about the nature of time. Among other things, he noted that "the shortest interval is between the time the light changes green and when the car behind you honks at you."

I often feel that I am an oddity in Southern California, in that I don't use my horn very much. Certainly, I'm glad it's there. It is an important safety feature of a car. If someone in front of me appears to not be paying attention to the task of driving, I think it's perfectly appropriate to use the horn to "wake them up," for example.

But most of the time, it seems to me that people use their horn to express anger or impatience, and I don't think this is so appropriate. For example, when driving down a heavily trafficked lane, a car clearly wanted to turn left from the opposing lane into the restaurant immediately to my right. Traffic was backed up enough that, if I had driven to the back of the car in front of me, I would have effectively blocked the turning car from being able to get into the restaurant. So I slowed down and stopped so that the car could complete it's turn. While the car was still in front of me, the car behind me honked. How rude! Does this person expect me to plow straight through the turning vehicle? I find the same thing happens often at turns where pedestrians are trying to cross. Any car who is patient enough not to cut the pedestrian off is rewarded with angry horns from other drivers.

And it's usually not a simple "honk," either, but a long, loud, sitting-on-the-horn kind of sound that, so far as I can tell, serves no practical purpose whatsoever except to serve as a vent for the driver's anger and frustration. This is not the purpose for which the car horn was invented.

I don't claim perfection in my driving, nor in my ability to remain patient when other people are walking/driving/etc too slowly for my convenience. I'd rather be spending my time at whatever destination I'm driving to, rather than doing the task of driving itself. All I really can do is try to be polite myself (and it is an effort sometimes!), and hope that other drivers will pass the favor on to others. I know that people appreciate it when I make the effort to be polite, often because I see a grateful wave "thank you" in response. I have no idea if they remember when a situation might call for them to respond in kind to another driver or pedestrian, but I like to think that, maybe, the culture of anger that seems to permeate Southern California drivers can be turned around.

Thursday, July 21, 2005

Checking One's Facts, part II

I was introduced to the original article refered to in this follow-up several years ago by my sister. This follow-up, written by James K. Glassman in 1997 for The Washington Post, is a better commentary than any I could ever provide on my own:

The chemical compound dihydrogen monoxide (or DHMO) has been implicated in the deaths of thousands of Americans every year, mainly through accidental ingestion. In gaseous form, it can cause severe burns. And, according to a new report, "the dangers of this chemical do not end there."
The chemical is so caustic that it "accelerates the corrosion and rusting of many metals, . . . is a major component of acid rain, [and] . . . has been found in excised tumors of terminal cancer patients." Symptoms of ingestion include "excessive sweating and urination," and "for those who have developed a dependency on DHMO, complete withdrawal means certain death."
Yet the presence of the chemical has been confirmed in every river, stream, lake and reservoir in America.
Judging from these facts, do you think dihydrogen monoxide should be banned?
Seems like an open-and-shut case -- until you realize that this chemical compound is plain old water (two hydrogen molecules bonded to one oxygen, or H 2 O), which can drown you, scald you or make you go to the bathroom.
Last spring, Nathan Zohner, an enterprising 14-year-old student at Eagle Rock Junior High School in Idaho Falls, Idaho, conducted his science fair project on just this theme. Nathan distributed a tongue-in-cheek report that had been kicking around the Internet, "Dihydrogen Monoxide: The Unrecognized Killer" (from which the quotes above are drawn), to 50 of his classmates.
These are smart kids who had studied chemistry; many of them, like Nathan, have parents who work at the nearby Idaho Nuclear Engineering and Environmental Laboratory. Nathan simply asked them to read the report (which is completely factual) and decide what, if anything to do about the chemical. They could even ask the teacher what DHMO was, but none did.
In the end, 43 students, or 86 percent of the sample, "voted to ban dihydrogen monoxide because it has caused too many deaths," wrote Nathan in the conclusion to his project, adding that he "was appalled that my peers were so easily misled. . . . I don't feel comfortable with the current level of understanding."
Me neither, and it's not just kids I worry about. Nathan's project, which won the grand prize at the Greater Idaho Falls Science Fair, was titled, "How Gullible Are We?" But ninth-graders aren't the only gullible parties. I'm sure that, if Nathan tried the same experiment on adults, he'd find at least as many would want to ban DHMO.
Says David Murray, research director of the non-profit Statistical Assessment Service in Washington, "The likelihood is high that I could replicate these results with a survey of members of Congress."
Murray, whose organization "looks out for misleading science that's driving public policy over a cliff," ran across the Zohner story a few months ago on the Internet. But he writes, "we thought it sounded like an urban myth -- too pat, too neat." He discovered from local press reports that it was indeed true. I confirmed it too, after talking earlier this week with Nathan's mom, Marivene, who says that Nathan wants to be "a scientist in the nuclear field," like his dad.
The implications of Nathan's research are so disturbing that I've decided to coin a term: "Zohnerism," defined as the use of a true fact to lead a scientifically and mathematically ignorant public to a false conclusion.
Environmental hysterics -- Vice President Al Gore springs to mind -- and ideologues in such fields as race, women's issues and economics are adept at using Zohnerisms, with help from the media, to advance their agendas. A few examples:
The breast-implant mania. Dow Corning was driven into bankruptcy through lawsuits over its silicone implants -- even though science doesn't support claims that they're dangerous. Marcia Angell, executive editor of the New England Journal of Medicine, cites the problem jurors "have in thinking in terms of probabilities, or in acknowledging the possibility of coincidence."
Research, she says, has consistently failed to find a link between silicone and disease. Yes, women who have implants get sick, but, in a typical study, "the implant group was no more likely to develop connective tissue disease than the group without implants."
White flight. In the headline above an article Sunday about population growth in rural areas, the New York Times claimed, "Hint of Racial Undercurrents Is Behind Broad Exodus of Whites." Steven A. Holmes, the reporter, wrote that studies by demographer William Frey "show that of the 40 fastest-growing rural counties, virtually all are at least 70 percent white."
Shocking? Well, according to the Bureau of the Census, 83 percent of the U.S. population is white.
Finding Zohnerisms in the press, Congressional Record and speeches of administration officials makes a great parlor game. One place to start is the collected speeches of EPA chief Carol Browner, who has used Zohnerisms masterfully to promote expensive, disruptive new standards for particulate matter and global warming -- despite evidence from scientists that is, at best, inconclusive.
That's a shame. In a land where technical ignorance reigns and susceptibility to Zohnerisms is high, it's the duty of politicians, journalists and scientists to present facts responsibly and in context.
After all, think what would happen if the EPA really did ban dihydrogen monoxide.

Wednesday, July 20, 2005

RIP: James Doohan

I just learned that James Doohan, who played "Scotty" on the original Star Trek has passed away. He will be missed.

Checking One's Facts

Now that a Supreme Court nominee has been placed, it seemed appropriate to make some comments on matters that are continuing to divide our nation. Judge Roberts seems to be a staunch conservative, but hopefully will not generate the rancorous opposition that was feared when Justice Sandra Day O'Connor announced her retirement a couple of weeks ago.

It's worth remembering that O'Connor is, herself, a conservative, and Roberts is only likely to vote differently than she would have on a few issues. The most obvious of these is, of course, abortion. Liberal lobbying groups are already gearing up for a big fight on this issue, although I expect that the majority of Democratic Senators will not join them, given the respected status Roberts already has among some of their number.

I, myself, oppose abortion, although I generally adopt the point of view that reversing Roe v. Wade, or otherwise making abortion illegal, is not the best way to handle the problem. Rather, I advocate changes to our social structure such as helping people in poverty, providing adoption services, and crisis counseling for young women, just to name a few. These methods, I believe, will be far more successful at reducing the number of abortions that actually happen than a legal decision would be. In fact, I'm concerned that making abortion illegal could have other negative consequences, although the arguments for this are far from certain.

I was all set to quote a statistic I'd heard during the bitter presidential campaign last year. The statistic cited figures that said that the number of actual abortions, which having gone down during President Clinton's tenure, had gone up during President Bush's first few years in office. But when I checked, a resource that I find highly reliable regardless of whether the topic concerns conservatives or liberals, I found that this statistic had been discredited. In fact, the rate of abortions performed during the first few years of Bush's tenure has continued to go down, albeit less sharply than had previously been the case.

I still advocate aid to women who are poor or in crisis situations, and in fact think that the Bible commands us to do so. But I'm not foolish enough to continue citing bad information. In any event, the ways in which I would seek to reduce the rate of abortions in America are outside of the Supreme Court's purview. They can only either keep abortion legal or not (and it's worth noting that even if Roe v. Wade was struck down, some states would still keep abortion legal). I certainly don't expect such a decision to come immediately. President Bush has been emphatic that the new Justice should not be someone who would "legislate from the bench." Any Justice who immediately set out to overturn Supreme Court precedent would be doing exactly that.

As to the nomination of Judge Roberts, I can only hope that Democrats who may not be happy with the nomination of a conservative judge to the Supreme Court can keep their heads about them, and not turn the approval process into a partisan media circus with half-baked accusations. Naturally, I expect the Republicans to do the same.

Tuesday, July 19, 2005

More Fast Food Fun

Some better pictures of the upcoming Burger King Transformers items showed up today. I've picked up such items when McDonalds did similar "Happy Meal" promotions in the past several years, but these toys look... decidedly sub-par, even for "Kids Meal" items.

And it's not like Burger King can't do good toys. They recently did a Star Wars promotion that's insanely popular, only a month after its completion, as demonstrated by sites like this. (Incidentally, this promotion seems to have created some controversy, as well. Apparently, an advocacy group wanted BK to pull the toys because they amounted to promotion of a PG-13 movie to younger kids.)

Ah, well. I may try to do some custom packages again, like the ones I've done for some of the McDonalds items. But the toys really aren't something I can recommend on their own.

Monday, July 18, 2005

Just Lucky

The following is an excerpt from a parody of The Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy that I am currently working on:
The Webster Illustrated Contemporary Dictionary defines “luck” as “that which happens by chance; fortune or lot.” It says that to “try one’s luck” is to “try to do something without certainty of success.” The Hitchhiker’s Guide also mentions luck. It notes that many Christians define luck as “the notion that the world is random and left to chance at best, and an evil force at worst. Either way being antithetical to the notion of God’s all-controlling providence and blessing.” This requires them to come up with new terms for otherwise everyday phrases. “Good luck” becomes “God bless,” a “Pot-luck” dinner becomes a “pot bless” dinner, and so on. The Hitchhiker’s Guide further notes that other Christians see this an unnecessary infringement upon contemporary language, suggesting that “everybody knows we don’t really mean that the world is left to chance” and further arguing that the first group of Christians shouldn’t be such nosy busybodies. This, naturally, gets the first group of Christians upset at the second set, leading to many heated arguments and fights over how best to use language in a way that consistently describes God’s loving kindness, the end result of which is that nearly all Christians involved more fervently desire that God would simply take them away to heaven all the sooner, so they might leave this crazy, messed-up, chaotic world behind.

Friday, July 15, 2005

That was it?

Last week, I announced that Hasbro was looking to unveil some big mystery at the Comic-Con in San Diego. The forum was apparently delayed from yesterday (as was reported at the time) to today. This is what we hear:
- 4 Alternator redecos scheduled, 5 new molds scheduled/planned
- No World's Smallest Transformers Coming
- No plans for a G.I. Joe/Transformers toyline crossover
- No plans for War Within figures
- Hasbro is looking at the possibility of putting older, harder to find Alternators (Tracks, Meister, Shockblast) online at the Hasbro Toy Shop
- Hasbro is planning an Alternators Mirage
- Soundwave is going to be a helicopter in the movie
- Universe is finished, save for store exclusive releases
- Seacons, "Green" Landfill, Jetfire Decepticon repaints may become Hasbro Toy Shop exclusives
- Mini-Con Battle Packs will be repaints for the first wave, and all new molds from that point on
- Hasbro will begin introducing larger Alternators at a higher price point
Now, some of this is halfway decent news (I really would love to get those Seacons!), but there's nothing really "special" here. A lot of folks were up in arms over "leaked" info that a "Primus" toy would be released, with CGI pictures included. To bring the uninitiated up-to-date, Primus is the name of the entity that created that Transformers, and is said to be the essence of the Transformers home planet of Cybertron itself. This would, presumably be a big toy (that I would likely wait until put on clearance to buy, admittedly, as I won't buy TFs that cost $50, as a rule), and Hasbro would want to push it. But nothing in this news release comes close to that level of hype.

Heck, the fully-tarped truck that's meant to represent the movie Optimus Prime at Comic-Con comes closer, and it was out well before the "appointed time." Ah, well....

Wednesday, July 13, 2005

This Was Interesting

Found this while perusing another person's blog. If you'd like to create such a list for yourself, a link is at the end:

bold the states you've been to, underline the states you've lived in and italicize the state you're in now...

Alabama / Alaska / Arizona / Arkansas / California / Colorado / Connecticut / Delaware / Florida / Georgia / Hawaii / Idaho / Illinois / Indiana / Iowa / Kansas / Kentucky / Louisiana / Maine / Maryland / Massachusetts / Michigan / Minnesota / Mississippi / Missouri / Montana / Nebraska / Nevada / New Hampshire / New Jersey / New Mexico / New York / North Carolina / North Dakota / Ohio / Oklahoma / Oregon / Pennsylvania / Rhode Island / South Carolina / South Dakota / Tennessee / Texas / Utah / Vermont / Virginia / Washington / West Virginia / Wisconsin / Wyoming / Washington D.C. /

Go HERE to have a form generate the HTML for you.

Monday, July 11, 2005

A Stretching Experience

Yesterday, I had the privilege of worshiping in an Episcopal church. As a (nearly) lifelong Presbyterian, this was definitely a bit outside of my comfort zone. I've grown up accustomed to a certain level of liturgy in worship. I'm not comfortable with the "free flow" I've found in other denominations/congregations. But neither have I ever been entirely comfortable with Episcopal/Catholic level (not to say they're the same in form. I'm just commenting on the level) of liturgy and symbolism in their worship. For a quick example (that hopefully won't offend too deeply), I'm not comfortable with the procession of the book of Scripture for the Gospel reading. This is done (so I hear) to pay reverence to the teachings of Jesus. But it seems.... inappropriate to me. More so, the other Scripture readings (and it was nice to have Scripture in several places in the service) are not given similar treatment. It seems to me that all Scripture should be revered.

This is not to say that I have nothing but criticism for the service. In fact, aside from the aforementioned attention to Scripture, I was deeply impressed by the sermon, which took a passage I've often heard misused, and not only handled the Scripture responsibly, but applied it with great compassion to the recent London bombings. Also, the music was impressively played with great talent and deep reverence in a worshipful mood, very much in keeping with the tone of the service. This is perhaps even more amazing because the main instrument was a guitar, which tends to be used in worship for excessively happy-clappy (to use a friend's term) praise music which (while having a place) would have been totally inappropriate in the context of this service.

Other elements impressed me, too. An effort is clearly being made to "bring outsiders in" by the comments in italics within the bulletin, clearly explaining to newcomers what was going on within the service. There were still a couple of places where I began to feel lost, but for the most part could identify the efforts being taken. The church also gave people several options on how (or if) they could choose to take communion.

As the worship service ended, we spent a fair bit of time talking with some friends and with the priest who officiated at the service. All were very warm, and I never got any sense of elitism or indifference to the fact that my wife and I were not Episcopal. In fact, the priest expressed her admiration for my wife's and my shared seminary background. I may never be entirely comfortable with this particular form of worship, but it was wonderful to be able to see God work in a context outside of my own. I have no doubt that, if I give it (and Him) a chance, I could learn much from a congregation such as this.

Friday, July 08, 2005

A Matter of Perspective

In "The Restaurant at the End of the Universe," Douglas Adams' second book in the five-part "Hitchhiker's Trilogy," Zaphod Beeblebrox is intended to be tortured (or worse!) by being thrown into the "Total Perspective Vortex." The intention is that, for one moment, the victim is to be given "just one momentary glimpse of the entire unimaginable infinity of creation, and somewhere in it a tiny little marker, a microscopic dot on a microscopic dot, which says 'You are here.'" Apparently, when the Vortex was created, the very first person to experience it had her brain "completely annihilated," which "proved conclusively that if life is going to exist in a Universe of this size, then the one thing it cannot afford to have is a sense of proportion."

Almost needless to say, Zaphod managed to survive the Vortex unharmed (it turns out that at the time he's put into the Vortex, he's actually in an artificial universe created especially for him. So when he sees his place within that universe, all it does is further inflate his already huge ego), but the rest of us must continue to struggle with what it means to have perspective on the everyday events of life. Life that often trudges on with no apparent concern for whether or not we get trampled underneath it. Do we fight back? Can we fight back? Often, the forces that threaten to make us feel insignificant are nebulous and difficult to identify. Some people are apparently able to "take life by the horns" and have complete control over most every situation in which they find themselves. But even if this is true (and I would suggest that more often than not it is simply an illusion), most of us do not have that kind of control over our own lives, much less the situations in which we find ourselves.

None of which is to say that we should just "let things happen" or "accept" what happens to us blindly. We do have some measure of control, if not over what happens to us, then certainly over how we respond to these situations.

But we certainly aren't expected to go through life's struggles alone. If you're going through a rough time right now, I'd encourage you to confide in a friend or loved one. If you know someone who's going through such a time, then I'd similarly encourage you to be there for that person. Not to give advice (which seldom does what it's intended to), or to "fix" whatever problem is going on (which may not be possible), but just to make sure that life's struggles aren't fought in isolation. I recommend prayer, as well. You just might be able to provide the "perspective" that person needs to make it through the situation.

(But PLEASE don't give them "TOTAL" perspective! I don't think any of us could take it!)

Thursday, July 07, 2005

A day off

Anyone who's turned on the news at all today is aware of the terrorist attacks that struck London this morning. I'm sure that there will be plenty of time for commentary and such on this and related issues in the near future. But for now, it seems best to offer just a word of condolence and a prayer for healing. Things should settle a bit before offering anything more, or before going ahead with posts on such comparatively meaningless material as my usual entries.

Wednesday, July 06, 2005

I Love a Mystery

It's a fairly rare thing in this day of instant information to have a genuine mystery surrounding a Transformers toy. Hasbro is hoping that at least one mystery can be maintained for just one more week. They've announced that they plan to unveil a world-premiere Transformers toy at the San Diego Comic-Con at 3:00 pm on July 14th.

Although that's not too far for me to go, I expect I'll just wait here and see the information soon enough when it gets posted to every message board on the Internet at 3:01 pm.

....Well, maybe not quite that fast, but it won't be long after. And I don't really have any other reason to ask for time off of work and travel to San Diego....

In any event, for the next week at least, let the speculation begin!

Tuesday, July 05, 2005

Suggested Reading

Although most people consider comic books to be a children's pasttime, they've become more and more "adult" over the years. Most of the time, this means that comics are more violent or sexually suggestive. Once in a while, however, a comic comes along that is mature enough to be interesting to adults while still being "safe" for children. When written by Don Rosa, "Uncle Scrooge" is such a comic.

I'll admit to a certain bias when it comes to Rosa's work. His wife was my 8th grade Social Studies teacher, and so I was aware of his work from almost the very beginning. But he's not just some "local interest" creator. He's internationally recognized (definitely more famous in Europe than in the States, though) as one of the foremost Disney comics artists in the industry.

Rosa's definitive work, "The Life and Times of Scrooge McDuck," has just been reissued in the United States for the first time in a single collected edition. Rosa, an Uncle Scrooge fan since childhood himself, has collected all of the stories written by Scrooge's creator (the late Carl Barks), and made notes of all the references to Scrooge's early history contained within those stories. From these references, Rosa created a 12-part epic in the early '90s that told the tales of Scrooge's life.

But before you write this off as just "kid's stuff," you should know that not only does Rosa weave an astonishing amount of actual history into each tale (as the notes provided for each chapter illustrate), but Rosa actually deals with a number of adult themes in these stories, as well. These include greed, betrayal, love, and even sexual tension (obvious to adult readers, but safe for kids). The vocabulary used in these stories is well above your standard elementary school student's ability, but is accessible enough to make for excellent material to read aloud to any young ones you might have access to (I used these stories when they were originally published to read to the students I used to tutor at a local elementary school. The kids loved it!).

So if you have the time and interest, I highly recommend dropping by your local comic store, or just clicking the link above, and giving "The Live and Times of Scrooge McDuck" a try. You'll be glad you did!

Monday, July 04, 2005

An American Story

As we celebrate the Independence of the United States today, one topic that is on many minds is the surprise resignation of Supreme Justice Sandra Day O'Connor on Friday. Whoever President Bush nominates as her replacement is sure to be the subject of intense scrutiny and debate. But rather than get into the politics of who should be nominated and why, it seems appropriate today to reflect a bit on O'Connor's story, and how "little things" can make such a big difference.

O'Connor graduated near the top of her class at Stanford Law School (only two people placed higher, including Chief Justice William Rehnquist, who is also expected to retire soon), and yet was unable to find work at first due the fact that she was a woman. She was told on one occasion "Miss Day, how do you type? We don't hire women and I don't see the day when we will." O'Connor persevered by creating an opportunity for herself, offering to work for free at a law firm that finally did hire her without a paycheck. Eventually she built a reputation for herself, moving up in the system until President Reagan nominated her for the Supreme Court position she has held for nearly a quarter of a decade. It is well known that O'Connor cast the deciding vote on many split decisions, and that many of the rulings that affect everyday life in America today exist because of her influence.

I have often thought about the difficulty of finding work that follows my ministry call, but also pays me enough to make a living and pay the rent. I have not always felt able to take a position that I'd be well suited for, because I felt that I wouldn't be able to make enough money to survive. Although O'Connor did have a husband, family, and other friends that most likely were able to support her in her decision to work for free, I must assume that this decision did not come easily for her. She had to make a substantial sacrifice in order to do the work she had been trained to do (and was well qualified for, if her Stanford ranking is any indication, let alone her subsequent experience). If she had not been willing to make that sacrifice then, she would never have risen in the ranks the way she did, and would never have been nominated to the Supreme Court. American history for the past quarter-century would be considerably different.

"Little things" matter. I'm sure O'Connor had no idea what was in store for her as she swallowed her pride and took that no-pay job. She certainly indicated surprise at the path her career had taken in many of her public appearances. Would I be able to make the same sacrifice to do what God has trained me to do? What impact would we, as Christians, make if we were more collectively able to forgo "making a living" and just do the tasks that God has given us that abilities and desires to do?

I don't have any answers, but on a holiday that is all about the sacrifices of a group of people for the sake of higher ideals, it bears thinking about.

There are lots of articles available on O'Connor's life, especially right now. Here are a few links:

The Toledo Blade
The Denver Post
Road Trip Nation
Barnard College Newsletter

Friday, July 01, 2005

Transformers Universe: Skyfall

From time to time, I intend to post a custom Transformers Universe entry here. These will be done in the style of the 1986 Marvel comics version, as opposed to the more recent "More than Meets the Eye" miniseries done by Dreamwave. The first entry is for Skyfall, the 2005 Official Transformers Collectors' Club member exclusive. (EDIT: The thumbnail remains, but I've removed the larger image, as the Club eventually did their own, official, bio page in the Club magazine.)

Future entries are also likely to center around Collectors' Club exclusives or otherwise obscure characters that nonetheless have official characterizations. Although some of the text in the entry is due to my efforts to make the entry fit the Universe format, I'd like it to be more "official-like" than "fan fiction" if at all possible.

One final note. You'll see that the plane mode is depicted using an actual picture of the toy, rather than a drawing. This is because 1) I can't, myself, draw; and 2) apparently no one else has yet made a drawing of this mode of this character, either.


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