Thursday, June 30, 2005
Yesterday, I was arriving home later than usual from what seemed to be an unusually long day at work (for no good reason, as it wasn't that difficult of a day, and I actually left the office at my usual time). After stopping by Target and Wal-Mart and seeing nothing new, I arrived at the Toys R Us just a few blocks away from my home. And there they were! A large assortment of the new Transformers: Cybertron toys! While I could not find any of the cheapest toys (which usually retail at about $7), I think the entirety of what was intended for the first wave was otherwise totally intact on the shelf, including the impressive Supreme (read: $50 or so) Starscream toy, which I must admit looks a lot better in person than I expected it to, although $50 is more than I'm generally willing to spend on a Transformer. (To give some perspective, I waited to get Unicron, arguably the most long-awaited Transformer of all time at that point, until the price had dropped from $50 to about $20. And I didn't buy the $75 "20th Anniversary Prime" at all, but finally got it as a free gift for joining some music clubs. I'm a bit of a cheapskate, I admit.) My favorite toy in this first wave of new Transformers is Vector Prime (who looks to retail at about $20), although I can start to see why so many of the message board folks were complaining about the lack of paint applications when compared to the Japanese version (if you see one in stores, just look at the picture on the back of the package and compare it to the actual toy inside). I expect that I will still pick this one up, but I may wait to see if the rumored Vector Prime/Starscream 2-pack (including Starscream in a smaller, more manageable size) actually comes out. There are hopes that such a pack might restore the missing paint applications, but I wouldn't hold my breath. However, the price per Transformer in such a 2-pack would definitely be better.
In parting, a word about paint applications. This kind of thing tends to spark heated debate about how Hasbro doesn't care about its fans, and that Takara does everything much better (or occasionally vice-versa, but not usually). I expect Hasbro has very good reasons for their actions, but I really would like to hear what they are. The amount of money saved by not using paint applications would most likely be negligible, so I'm not convinced that economics were the reason in this case. But if not money, what?
Wednesday, June 29, 2005
Here's a link with such information as I myself have.
Update - 6/30/05: Found an actual advertising picture. Unfortunately, they don't look too good. Time will tell.
Tuesday, June 28, 2005
But am I really any better? I've already commented about a month ago that I was concerned that my posts of late had been getting too negative, and I definitely aspire to better. But when I look at the news, and the politics that usually fascinate me so much, I find myself wanting to complain about most of it. And now I'm complaining about complaining! How negative is that?
So, today, I'm going to comment on my wife's birthday party last weekend. About a half dozen friends showed up for pizza on Saturday night, and we had a wonderful time. About two or three different areas of our lives converged in that one moment: the main connecting thread being that these people considered my wife enough of a friend that they would give up a portion of their weekend to celebrate a birthday that wasn't even a nice, round number ending in "0" or "5." Other than the pizza and cake, we didn't really do anything all that special or different. We just sat around a table talking for a few hours, catching up on each other's lives, and generally enjoying each other's company.
And I wouldn't trade it for anything....
Monday, June 27, 2005
The thing that struck me most about this picture was how unnatural a position this was for a handshake. I'm sure this happens all the time, and isn't a reflection on our current president more than any other political leader, but the pose here just screams out "I'm shaking this man's hand for a photo opportunity."
What's more, because of the timing of the shot, we're left without knowing whether or not Schroeder returns the handshake. I assume he did so, since such a snub would likely have been talked about. But all we have here is Bush reaching out, potentially to be left hanging. If (as I assume) Schroeder returned the handshake, he no doubt did so within seconds (or even fractions of a second) after the shot was taken. But from the standpoint of this picture alone, we might never know.
It's been said that a picture is worth a thousand words. But it seems to me that context is everything. We must ask what the context of a picture is to truly understand it. Perhaps a picture is worth a thousand questions?
Thursday, June 23, 2005
Should I start calling the later four (or five) years of the original line "Generation One-and-a-half"? And what should I call the "new" "Generation One" toys that Takara puts out? "Neo Generation One"?
And what should I call Ricochet, recently available in Toys R Us stores with "Generation One" explicitly on the box, despite the fact that it was never available domestically in the United States during the original run, and was called something entirely different when it was originally available in Japan?
Enquiring minds want to know....
Wednesday, June 22, 2005
But I really do get the concept that NPR, like any media outlet, requires money in order to continue to operate. And that the model by which NPR has chosen to operate requires that they ask for money regularly from those who listen to them. It's a good model. It is part of why they have been able to continue to provide balanced coverage on a multitude of issues without being beholden to either corporate interests or mass-market demographics. As such, I am perfectly willing to sit through the couple of times a year (usually spring and fall) that they must interrupt their usual programming in order to ask people to call in and pledge their support to the local station. And I do hope that other people, assumedly those with more resources, will step up to fill in the gap that I have created by not giving myself.
But it really does irk me when, at the end of the fiscal year, a station finds itself with lower revenues than it needs to end the year "in the black," and they schedule another pledge drive with the specific promise to stop the drive "as soon as x dollars are pledged." I've spoken to friends in the past calling this a "blackmail drive" because they threaten us with continued guilt signals until the money they desire is recieved. But it occurs to me that this is perhaps not the best description of what's going on here. This is more of a "ransom drive."
Here's my reasoning: my local NPR station (and not the whole network in this instance) has "kidnapped" segments from the shows which are provided to them by NPR. They are giving us less programming than was intended for this period. They will hold this programming hostage until such time as they meet their financial goal, at which point they will return programming to the originally intended level.
It should come as no surprise at this point that I do not think this is appropriate. If the station's regularly scheduled drives did not yield the necessary funds, then the station needs to cut back. Whether this simply means scaling back their ambitions (this is a continually growing station, both in listenership and in the amount of money they spend to provide local coverage. I am not speaking here, however, of the increased costs NPR asks of them because of the increased listenership, but rather the new reporters they hire, the better equipment they buy, etc.) or making hard choices to cut back on some of the services and staff they currently pay for, it seems apparent that not enough listeners called in to pledge their support during the regularly scheduled times of "pledge drive" programming for this station to continue operating as it currently plans to.
I have not yet even mentioned the vote that Congress is expected to take today to drastically cut back funding for the Corporation for Public Broadcasting. If (as seems likely) this vote goes through, it is certainly true that NPR in general, and local stations in particular, will suffer greatly, putting even more emphasis on the need for funding from individual givers. This would be a tragedy. Not only would it mean that we'll likely see even more (and longer) pledge drives, but this would excise most of the most truly public money that the station receives. As NPR is forced more and more to rely on big donors, they will inevitably be put in the same position as many commercial stations, and end up having to make programming decisions designed to keep those big donors giving. As long there is some substantial pool of truly "public" money (even though it is, even now, not the bulk of their funding, most of which does come from individuals), NPR is able to continue to make desisions based more purely on the quality of the programming, rather than its appeal to those with deep pockets. This is, after all, what makes NPR such an attractive media outlet at present.
Perhaps I paint too bleak a picture. Maybe, if federal funding is scaled back, more people will contribute to stations such as NPR, and NPR won't have to depend on the few who can pay more themselves. This would enable them to continue providing the kind of balanced programming that has been so hard to find elsewhere.
Who knows? Maybe I'll eventually find a way to contribute myself....
Tuesday, June 21, 2005
This problem with delays was especially notable during our trip north. We had made it as far as Sacramento without incident, but arrived to learn that the train that would take us further north was already four hours late at the time we arrived in the station to await our transfer. Having arrived at 11:00 pm, we had to sleep on hard wooden benches until our train finally arrived at 3:00 am, at which point we were finally able to board.
The delays didn't stop there. It finally became so bad that I decided to write down a list of all the different ways the train ended up being delayed. I should emphasize that each entry on this list represents a distinct incident of delay for a new reason. Some reasons caused the train to be delayed multiple times in themselves, but I did not make a point of that in my list. Nor do I count any scheduled stops. Here's the list:
Ways the Northbound train was delayed:The train was originally intended to arrive at 8:30 pm on Tuesday. We finally pulled into the Seattle station at 3:23 am on Wednesday. Thankfully, I had my cell phone with me, and had already arranged with the rental car agency and our hotel reservation to account for our later-than-expected arrival.
- Engine Maintenence - check
- Congestion: More than two trains attempting to use same track - check
- Track Maintenence - check
- Transfer of staff to meet federal labor laws - check
- Medical emergency - check (we also ejected a passenger for foul language during this incident, which would have caused a seperate delay, but since it happened at the same time as the medical emergency, does not warrant a seperate list item)
- Track sabotage - check (apparently someone tampered with the track switching mechanism)
- Making way for oncoming sister train to pass - check
- Bigfoot - ... Well, this didn't actually happen to the best of our knowledge, but that's probably only because the train staff figured that passengers interested in the photo opportunity would only have delayed us even further, and so they didn't tell us....
And just to be complete: our return trip back south, while not nearly as heavily delayed, did give occasion to add one more possible cause of delay to the list: fixing non-functional plumbing and toiletry on the passenger cars. Thankfully, this one was indeed fixed before we got too far....
Monday, June 13, 2005
Friday, June 10, 2005
About a week ago, I was pleased to finally receive my Transformers Club exclusive, a little plane called Skyfall. You can follow this link for pictures, although I should be clear that these pictures are not of "my" toy, but a gallery put up by another Transformers fan (and that Skyfall's the clear blue one). Skyfall was a free toy that came with the cost of a year's membership in the official club. So far, the only other benefits have been a monthly magazine, which only has actual Transformers content every other month; access to the club store, which has members prices which are lower than anywhere else online, but still higher than going to the local toy store (not even including shipping); and about a $50 discount (which is, admittedly, more than the cost of the membership itself) to attend BotCon, the Transformers convention, in September. And this is where the discontent begins....
Since BotCon is to be in Texas, and at a time of the year when my job is starting pick up full steam after the summer lull, I'd already decided that I could not go this year. After seeing the prices for attendance ($120 just to go to the convention for members, assuming you don't want any exclusive toys), I am even more convinced that it is best for me to stay home this year.
But I did hope to be able to get some of the exclusive toys through a non-attendee package. The club does indeed offer such a package, although it is the same price as an attendee would pay if they want to get the toys: $265 for the seven exclusive figures. Now, when you do the math, this comes out to less than $40 per figure, which isn't that much higher than most convention exclusive figures in the past (and some were even higher, though this is very uncommon). And to be fair, the exclusives really are intended to get people to come to the convention, so we can safely say that the club intends the "street value" of these exclusives to be about $140, which translates to about $20 per exclusive, roughly the same as for previous exclusives any larger than the "basic" (read: smallest) size.
But the problem is, you have to get all 7. You can't just get one or two! This puts the exclusive set well out of the price range of most Transformers fans, who've been used to getting only a few exclusives at a convention (I think 4 is the all time previous high, and you could definitely get those sepearately, or at most 2 in a box).
I therefore find myself torn on this convention: not on whether I'll go or whether I'll buy any of the toys. I won't. Simply can't afford it. But I do want to see the current club owners succeed, so that the club can continue to thrive and improve in years to come. But I'm concerned that by pricing so many of the members they obstensively wish to serve out of the market, they won't make the sales they need to continue to make the club succeed.
It should be noted that we've gotten used to lower (if not "low") prices under previous management, which clearly wasn't able to make enough money to survive. The previous owner went bankrupt and left many club promises unfilled. It is unclear whether this was because he didn't price his product and services high enough, or if (as is often assumed) he simply didn't know how to manage funds properly. Clearly, by charging higher prices, the current club seeks to make a profit and avoid bankruptcy due to underpriced services. I only hope that they don't fail because they priced on the other unwise extreme.
Thursday, June 09, 2005
As an evangelist who preached the gospel, either directly or indirectly through his radio and television broadcasts, to more people than anyone else in recorded history, Rev. Graham deserves nothing but the deepest respect. But that's not to say that I agree with him on all things.
I got into the habit of reading Graham's daily newspaper column, "My Answer," while I lived in Montreat, and I am glad to be able to maintain this daily ritual through the wonders of the internet. Some days, I wholeheartedly agree with his advice. Other days, I may have reservations or wish he would say more, but acknowledge the limitations of space in a daily newspaper column.
Other days, I feel that he missed the mark entirely. Take today's column, for example. A reader is concerned by the fact that he/she continues to have doubts about the existence of God. Graham responds by directing the reader to the story of Thomas in the gospel of John, and quotes Thomas' exclamation "My Lord and my God!" (John 20:28) So far so good. We acknowledge that even one of Jesus' disciples doubted, despite having seen the entirety of Jesus' ministry, and having every reason to have faith in who Jesus was.
But then Graham says something that leaves me asking "Wha...?"
Notice what changed Thomas: It wasn't his feelings, but the fact that Christ was alive and cared about him. And the same can be true for you.The fact that Christ was alive, yes. Absolutely. And it's all but certain that Christ cared for Thomas. But the "caring" doesn't seem to me to be why Thomas' doubts were cleared away. Thomas stopped doubting because he saw Jesus standing there in front of him! Jesus even makes a point of this in what he tells Thomas next: "Because you have seen me, you have believed; blessed are those who have not seen and yet have believed." (John 20:29) (A quote Graham conveniently fails to mention!)
But, of course, Graham couldn't give the reader that kind of assurance. Thomas was given a rare gift. One that is generally considered unavailable to most Christians living today. Thomas got to see Jesus, in the flesh, alive, after the resurrection. I'd even go so far as to say that Jesus' words to Thomas that those who haven't seen, yet still believe, are uttered specifically because Jesus didn't plan on physically appearing to Christians as a matter of course throughout the rest of time. So Graham goes on to talk about trusting facts rather than emotions (as he does in many similar situations):
You see, often our faith is based only on our emotions; sometimes we feel God is near us or we feel we believe in Christbut other times we don't feel that way. But feelings are not a reliable guide to the truth! Our feelings come and gobut the facts remain the same.But surely this advice is virtually useless to the reader! What "facts" can the reader turn to? Certainly we have the words of the Bible. But from the standpoint of the doubter, the Bible is an unverifiable resource. It must be accepted by faith, if at all. While Christian apologists enjoy pointing out that the existence of Christ can be verified by more independent historical resources than any other ancient historical figure, an argument I agree with and have no wish to argue against, the same cannot be said of the "fact" (quotations from the standpoint of the doubter) of Christ's resurrection. The resurrection is an event of faith, which few sources outside of the Bible attest to (and the few that do exist can largely be attributed to the lives of believing Christians, rather than witnessing the risen Christ himself). Every "fact" (again, strictly speaking from the point of view of the doubter) that Graham attests to in the above paragraph is a statement of faith, not something one can verify as a "fact" from independent sources.
What am I saying? Simply this: Put your faith in Christ, and keep your focus on Him as He is revealed in the pages of the Bible. In other words, don't trust your feelings, but trust the factsthe fact that Christ was God in human flesh; the fact that He died on the cross for you; the fact that He rose again; the fact that He promises to save all who turn in faith to Him.
None of this even gets to the question of whether emotions are such a wholly unreliable way to know about God. Certainly I'll agree with Graham for the sake of argument that emotions are not to be taken on their own, but surely they are not totally without value. But that's an argument for another time. I'd certainly love to hear a charismatic view on the matter. (Not being one myself, I'm ill-prepared to speak for charismatics, but feel sure they'd have something say about it....)
Wednesday, June 08, 2005
It doesn't take a genius to realize (if one thinks it through) that all the Republicans have to do is present one non-white or non-Christian Republican to prove that such a statement is overblown. In fact, perhaps Dean's counterpart in the Republican party, Ken Mehlman, said it best: "a lot of folks who attended my Bar Mitzvah would be surprised" to learn that he's the head of a "Christian" party.
While I actually think that Dean is largely correct in his assessment (if only in broad strokes), it's annoying that the leader of the party can't come up with a more effective way of making his point. Rather, he says something so clearly an exaggertation that the extent to which the statement isn't true and the idea that the Republican party's enemies have to resort to "name calling" to make their point will become the main focus of the statement, thereby allowing the party to get away with the very agenda (which is indeed largely the agenda of people who happen to be white and Christian) that Dean sought to make a point of. The fact that Dean himself is white (undeniable) and a Christian (if a liberal one) is totally lost. If Dean wanted to say that Democrats are better at appealing to a diverse group of people (as he himself states in the same interview in which he made the statement in question), surely he could have done better than to make such an easily disproven statement.
Of course, this is the same man who seemed a shoo-in for Democratic candidate for President only a little over a year ago, yet destroyed his chances with a scream-filled-speech (the man truly seemed unhinged) that was played, to much effect, over and over again in the days after he made it. Obviously this is not a man known for thinking about his statements before he makes them. But perhaps that isn't a pre-requisite for being a successful politician anyway. After all, our president is rather known for some not-well-thought-through-beforehand quotes, as well (You wouldn't believe how hard it was to find a page, of the tons out there, that wasn't filled with material that was inappropriate for some audiences!).
Tuesday, June 07, 2005
My first reaction to such news, and such interpretations of the Bible in general, is "this guy's bonkers!" The passage in question is in Genesis 49:25, as Jacob blesses Joseph. Among other things, Jacob tells Joseph that God has blessed him with "blessings of the deep that couches beneath" (I'm not sure what translation this is from. Certainly not the TNIV or NIV translations I use for reference. This is the exact quote from the news article.). The now-oil baron has, following the words of an evangelical preacher some years earlier, interpreted this passage as referring to oil ("blessings of the deep") "beneath" Israel (Joseph's legacy). While I can bend my mind enough to see how one might get to this interpretation from the text, it is by no means intuitive or obvious, and certainly fails to look at the passage in relation to any of the other blessings in the chapter. In fact, I can suggest any number of better possibilities, and generally lampoon interpretations that sound more like something out of Left Behind than the Word of God (oooh, now I've made the fundamentalists mad).
It is worth noting that scientists apparently say that there is some possibility of find a fair amount of untapped oil in Israel, although virtually no one suggests that there will be enough to grant Israel total energy independence.
Which causes me to take a step back for a moment. What would it mean if it turns out that there is a huge oil resource underneath Israel? The Gospel of Matthew contains lots of examples of "prophecy fulfilled" that follow the most appalling exegetical standards. Yet we accept this as the Word of God. And what would it mean if Israel did suddenly become "energy independent"? I confess to a bit of fear and trepedation here, not because my interpretive conclusions about the Genesis passage would be proven wrong so much as because it would be seen as an affirmation of Israel's anti-Palestinian human rights atrocities. This, in turn, would call into question my assumptions that, although Palestinians are not (yet) Christian, God still loves them, and hopes to save them (as opposed to using the nation of Israel to wipe them off the face of the earth).
But would the existence of oil really prove that this interpretation was correct, or would it be just a coincidence? It has long been assumed that no amount of "proof" is ever absolute, and that some level of faith must enter into the equation. I certainly don't want to be on the wrong side of God. But at the end of the day, I just can't accept that this passage of Genesis is God's way of telling Israel that, in the 21st century, they would come upon "blessings of the deep" in the form of oil. It's simply not consistent with my understanding of the revelation of God.
Monday, June 06, 2005
I've been here for five years now, and we keep trying new methods to cut down on the confusion where possible. For example, I put a big sign on the back of my door with my room number on it. Since room numbers tend to be on the fronts of doors, and my door is always open while I'm in it, the room number would never be seen to assure the student that they have, in fact, found the right place without the extra sign. I also hang a sign with an arrow from the ceiling toward the end of the week. I'm fortunate enough to have a neon hall light right in front of the door, which gives this sign a nice glow.
I've tried other ideas over the years which have fared less well. I've put up signs saying exactly which classes I take papers for, but find that students won't read signs containing this kind of detail. In another effort, since I only serve full-time professors and not adjuncts, I've had signs saying that adjunct papers go to another office (with appropriate directions to the office in question). But not all students know who is an adjunct, and who isn't.
The only thing that seems to work well is just to ask all students with papers who their professor is, and then to tell them whether the paper is one I take, or if it goes elsewhere, to give directions to the most likely place (I'm not always certain, but generally know where such papers go after so many years). Unfortunately, this time of the quarter gets to be stressful for me as well, especially when twenty students are waiting outside my office at the end of the day trying to get papers on "on time," and I'm not always good at hiding my own frustration. I can only ask for understanding, as I in turn try to offer that same understanding to the students who are ready for the quarter to be finally over.
Friday, June 03, 2005
I was introduced to APHC shortly after starting work at my current job, and found Keillor's mix of humor and small-town reality very appealing. I always thoroughly enjoy the parody commercials he does regularly. So much so that I used one of his commerical concepts to do this parody for a seminary function a few months ago (link no longer valid). For those interested, I didn't do any of the voices in this sketch, but I did write and direct it, in addition to doing a minor edit on my computer afterward (splicing a small section of one take into the otherwise better take that we finally used). My wife DID play the piano background, though (shameless plug for her musical skills!).
I'll be back on Monday, still trying to find the answers to life's persistent questions. (Bonus points to those who get the reference!)
Thursday, June 02, 2005
Wouldn't be so bad if I hadn't already packed up all my "winter" clothes thinking the cold weather was behind us....
Wednesday, June 01, 2005
Watergate provided another major turning point in the history of modern American Christianity: the arrest of Charles Colson, who had a well-publicized conversion experience during the Watergate goings-on, entered prison as "born again" Christian, and upon his release has become one of the major conservative Christian commentators and activists, particularly in reaching out to current prisoners with various forms of Christian assistance. Allow me to go on record right now as saying that, while I don't agree with some of Colson's politics, I think that he has done a tremendous amount of good, not only for the sake of God's kingdom, but also for increasing awareness of the need for humanitarian aid to prisoners. Although the recidivism rate among prisoners is still far too high, I expect it would be even higher without the work of people like Mr. Colson.
Having said that, I'm rather disappointed to learn of Colson's reaction to the identity of "Deep Throat:" W. Mark Felt, former second-in-command at the FBI. Colson accused Felt of being unprofessional, lacking honor, and insisted that he should have worked through the proper channels to bring this news to light, rather than going through anonymous channels "where it could never be checked, where you could never rebut the accusation."
I had naively assumed that Colson would have forgiven whoever "Deep Throat" was long ago as part of his conversion experience. One of the most prominent aspects of Christian theology is that, as a forgiven people, so we should forgive others. Especially when one consideres that Colson's entire conversion experience came as a result of being investigated, and later arrested, on Watergate-related charges, I would have hoped that he would have seen the admitted hardship he endured as being "for his good" in the long run (much as Joseph regarded his brothers' betrayal in the book of Genesis).
On the other hand, Colson's assertion that, despite widespread assumptions to the contrary, "I think government is willing to investigate itself, and I think we've seen it do it many, many times," is entirely in keeping with a person who's modern-day, post-conversion, political stance has been to defend the Republican party in general, and the current administration in particular. (An administration that is renowned for its secrecy, and is likewise widely assumed to be incapable of investigating itself in anything resembling a fair and detached manner. See the vice-president's comments regarding the recent Amnesty International report, for example.)
I find it sad that Mr. Colson's political outlook apparently trumps his religious loyalties in this matter. But I suppose that I shouldn't be suprised....