Monday, October 31, 2005

Here We Go Again

When my radio turns on in the morning to inform me that it's 6:45, and that I need to get up and get ready for work, I usually turn it off immediately without even looking at the time. This total process takes about 5 seconds, and is sufficient to get my day started. The few words I heard in that 5 seconds today made it abundantly clear that Bush had already chosen a new replacement for Sandra Day O'Connor's seat on the Supreme Court. By all indications, Samuel Alito is exactly the kind of justice that hard-core conservatives have been wanting. This is, of course, not surprising. After the bruising that Bush took over the nomination of Harriet Miers, it was far more likely that Bush would nominate an extreme conservative than a moderate.

I have two comments on this. First, I find it extremely ironic that the Miers nomination was killed by conservatives, and not by Democrats or others who generally find themselves against the president. The reasons given for being against that nomination were because Miers did not have the experience necessary to be on the Supreme Court, and I actually can agree with these reasons. But what really killed the nomination was that Miers could not be trusted by the right wing to vote their way on issues. A common phrase uttered by conservatives was "Where's my Scalia? Where's my Thomas?" as illustrated by this post at confirmthem.com, a post I believe to be fairly representative of many such posts out there. Make no mistake, if the president had nominated a moderate (or, *gasp!* a liberal!) with a long and well-documented judicial record, we'd have seen the exact same phrase from such conservatives. However, the lack of time spent as a judge was a legitimate problem. Ironically, I have little doubt that if confirmed, Miers would have been exactly as conservative on the core issues important to the right wing as they wanted (as the confirmthem.com post indicates). But the right wing couldn't count on that, without a solid Miers voting record to point to. This lack of record is, of course, the likely reason why Bush nominated her. Bush likely hoped to avoid a contentious battle from Democrats by nominating a person that Democrats had little reason to oppose, thereby appeasing his base with a justice that would rule the way they wanted. Bush expected his core to trust him, based on his reliably conservative record thus far. That didn't happen. In reality, the president got the very battle he hoped to avoid, and the Miers nomination failed. To that, all I can say is, if the conservatives want a fight (the confirmthem.com post certainly indicates that they do with such quotes as "what really sticks in my craw is the president’s unwillingness to have a national debate about the proper method of interpreting the Constitution."), they're going to get one. But it won't be pretty.

My second comment relates to my words on Chief Justice Roberts confirmation, where I indicated that there's no such thing as true impartiality. I'm really sick of the mantra "he (or she) won't legislate from the bench." I don't see how anyone can say with a straight face that a judge with a proven record of conservative rulings, who is said to be in a mold of justices with a stated interest in overturning precedent, is anything but an "activist," who would "rule from the bench." To at least some degree, that's what the Supreme Court does! It's what the judges are supposed to do! If the president wants a justice who rules from a conservative judicial philosophy, that's his right, and the justice has a right to be confirmed or voted down on those merits. But the hypocrisy that would suggest that a conservative judge is not an activist is really annoying.

Just. Stop. Saying. That.

In any event, the die is cast once again, and time will tell if I'm proven right in that this battle will be a fierce one.

Friday, October 28, 2005

Good news!

Thanks to everyone who's been praying for me in my recent scare of possible retinal detachment. I'm happy to report that after a visit to the second ophthalmologist yesterday (an appointment that was scheduled far more quickly than I'd expected, causing me to quickly leave work two hours early to make a last-minute fill-in appointment less than an hour after calling to check on availability) I am reliably informed that the pigmentation in the back of my right eye is not a retinal detachment, and should not affect my vision in any way. Just to be safe, I have been asked to make another appointment with this doctor (who is far more communicative than the doctor I've seen the past two times) in another six months. Should the situation change, I'll be sure to let everyone know.

Thursday, October 27, 2005

Introducing G.B. Blackrock

When talking with a friend of mine (who has seen my blog) the other day, I was asked about the little head that appears as my icon on Blogger. Clearly, this isn't my face! (Actually, the current picture is, but it wasn't so at the time) It occurred to me that I've never explained on the blog itself what that is, and that now is a good time to do so.

The head is part of a customized action figure I kitbashed some months ago to resemble G.B. Blackrock. Long-time Transformers fans will know that Blackrock was an important character in the early Marvel Transformers comics. Blackrock was an oil tycoon who, after having several of his energy plants attacked by the evil Decepticons, formed an alliance with the heroic Autobots. In exchange for their protection from future attacks, he provided them with a source of fuel. Toward the end of the Marvel series, Blackrock reappeared to form an "X-Men"-like group of heroic mutants, dubbed the "Neo-Knights," to assist in protecting Earth from the Decepticons.

The idea for my figure came from a similar figure created by long-time Transformers fan Zobovor, using a J. Jonah Jameson figure from the Spider Force line of toys of quite a few years ago. For my figure, I used the more recent J. Jonah Jameson figure that came out with the first Sony Spider-Man movie. The picture to the right representing this figure came from www.toymania.com. I picked up my figure from Target on clearance for under $2.

As with Zobovor's figure, I was glad to find that the vest was a separate piece from the rest Jameson's shirt. Or at least, it was in part. Only the front proved to be removable, leaving the back of the vest, which was molded into the rest of the figure. This needed to be smoothed over with modeling putty.

Another aspect of the figure that needed major reconstruction was the huge lever sticking out of the back. The idea was that you could move this lever up and down to make the figure smash it's fist on top of a desk that was included with it, making lots of "cups" and "papers" on the desk wiggle about. I had no need of the desk, nor of the lever, and it had to go. I cut as much of it away as I could with pruning shears (which I don't recommend if you want to keep the shears in good shape!) and filled in the rest with putty.

There were three other areas of the figure that needed noticable, if minor, structural change. One was the head, as Blackrock's haircut is not at all similar to Jameson's. Again, I followed Zobovor's lead and used putty. Another area was the tie. The folks who made the Jameson toy cheated a bit on the tie, only making just enough of it to be visible above the vest. Once the vest was removed, it was obvious that the tie was WAY too short! I used putty to lengthen the tie to a more realistic size. The final thing was glasses. For these, I cut a piece of plastic out of the remnants of a small Transformer package, used a black paint marker to create "rims," and glued the resulting glasses to the head after the whole thing was repainted.

Unlike Zobovor's figure, which he claims only took a couple of hours, I painted my figure over the course of several weeks, often adding a new coat once one had dried to make sure that none of the pin-stripes of Jameson's shirt showed through the white. I use acrylics, both in paint markers and in jars using a brush. I find that they dry more thoroughly on plastics than enamels, and acrylics hide brush errors more forgivingly.

The end result now sits on top of my bookshelf, and I've used an image of the head as my avatar not only here, but on several of the Transformers message boards I frequent, where I often go by the alias of G.B. Blackrock. As with this board, I usually only give my real name in personal e-mails, rather than on the public boards. It's not that I don't want people to know who I am, so much as I choose to avoid spam in this way. For similar reasons, I tend to avoid using the name of the seminary I work for, even though most of my friends (who also go to the same school) obviously know it already!

Wednesday, October 26, 2005

Financial Woes

I expect I'm not too uncommon these days in that I live pretty much paycheck-to-paycheck. When I do manage to put some money into a savings account (separate from my retirement savings, I'm thankful to say!), I usually end up dipping into it a month or two later to make up for a shortfall that month, leaving me back to where I started.

This morning, during an online chat with my brother, I got to thinking about where my dad was at my age. Just around the time I was born, my dad got a job working for a major engineering company. Although this company did cause the constant moving from state to state I've described earlier, it also enabled him to buy a house by the time he was 24 (maybe even 22 or 23, but I'm not clear on the timeline at this point, as I was still a toddler). By the time he was my age (31), he had quit his job at that engineering company, and we were beginning to settle down in Louisville, KY. Although that period of time was an uncertain one for my family, I have an awareness now (that I couldn't have had as a kid) that Dad was pretty lucky to have found such a financially (if not geographically) stable job at such a young age, and selling that first house enabled him to have enough money to buy a much larger house that was our main base in Louisville, ready for when we finally made that our permanent home (although he no doubt could have done even better if he could have held on to that first place, which was in the Bay Area of California, timing dictated that he pretty much had to sell that place when he did).

By comparison, at age 31, I have no family to take care of (unless you count my wife, who also has a job of her own, although she also has educational expenses that we tackle together), and do not have to pay mortgage costs on a house, but continue to live paycheck-to-paycheck. It's very frustrating. Although I know that some of my situation is due to the choices I've made (such as pursuing a career in the church, rather than the generally-much-more-lucrative area of engineering; living in California rather than moving to the much-less-expensive Midwest; and not choosing to pay the price of moving from state to state for several years, a choice for which my dad was no doubt compensated by his employers), and while I do not regret any of those choices, it's still frustrating to have to struggle so hard. Perhaps that's why I've made some fairly strong statements calling for a raise in the minimum wage. I'm actually paid well enough that such an increase would not directly benefit me at all. But if I'm struggling so hard to make ends meet, any full-time worker at minimum wage has no chance at all!

I've often heard it said that this is the first generation in a while not to be better off than the generation before it. Although I won't suggest that this statement holds true throughout all of history, I have to say that it certainly does ring true for me.

Tuesday, October 25, 2005

May the Legacy Live On

I expect very few people won't have heard or read about Rosa Parks' passing before coming to see this page. As I ponder what to say about this legendary American, I do so with some trepidation. As a white person, I will never fully understand the impact created by this one person's decision not to give up her seat on the bus. As a person born after the main thrust of the civil rights movements of the 1960's, I can only look upon the changes made during those turbulent times with a certain detachment, never fully knowing what the world was really like when segregation was a legal "fact of life" in America.

Not that the work is finished, by any means. Now, almost 50 years after Ms. Parks refused to give up her seat to a white man, it is clear that racism is alive and well for many. What does the following scenario say about me, for example?

Today I read the news of the latest "Left Behind" movie, which admittedly I've not seen (nor have I read the books, although I have seen the movie based on the first book of the series), and read that Louis Gossett, Jr. will be playing the U.S. President. My first reaction is not that he represents better equality (as a black U.S. President, something which has never happened in reality, and very rarely happens in movies and television), but rather that, as a representative of those "left behind," the writers depict a black U.S. President as someone who wasn't as good as all those who were raptured.

Now, to be fair, it may be that this black U.S. President is one of those who come to Christ after the rapture. Since I haven't read the book (nor seen his portrayal in this, the third movie), I don't know. I have merely assumed that this movie, produced by people following the lead of a book representing a theology I strongly disagree with, portrays a black U.S. President as if to say "See? This is why we need to keep white people in positions of power!"

It may be that my assumption is entirely accurate, but what does it say about my own prejudices that I would make this assumption before getting more information? Does it betray my own racist fears? Does it demonstrate that I'm so blinded by more conservative viewpoints that I can't see when they actually do something right? I'm not at all sure, but I want to make sure that if I protest this kind of portrayal of blacks in the media (conservative Christian or otherwise), I do so for the right reasons, rather than acting on the basis of my own biases.

When asked how she found the courage to stand up to the law and keep her seat on the bus, Ms. Parks is often quoted as saying, "my feet were tired." She certainly didn't seek to start a revolution. But nonetheless, she stood up for what was right and courageously refused to back down. It is my prayer that her legacy will cause more of us to stand up for what is right and fight against racism, not only in the world around us, but also as we look within ourselves.

UPDATE: Slacktivist offers some information suggesting that the above "tale of the tired feet" is a myth, and that the bravery shown by Ms. Parks was in fact no accident. If true, this only serves to make her decision to keep her seat, now understood to be intentional, even more courageous, and her legacy even more worth preserving.

Monday, October 24, 2005

Transformers Universe: Ricochet

It took me a while, but here is the latest entry. Ricochet was one of the exclusives from the recent 2005 BotCon. This is the only exclusive I've actually been able to pick up myself, thanks to a generous online fan who attended the convention, and had an extra one he was willing to sell for near-cost.

Unlike my previous entry, that for Transformers Club exclusive Skyfall, I've given up on trying to find character art to match the appropriate poses, and instead have picked up these pictures of the actual toy from the TFW2005 gallery.

As is my usual pattern, I have used the "official" text for this entry. In this case, such text comes from the Tech Specs issued with the toy at BotCon. All I have done is reformatted the text and images to conform to the old "Transformers Universe" template originally used in 1986 by Marvel comics. The file is in PDF format, which requires the free Adobe Reader for viewing.

Friday, October 21, 2005

I've Been Politically Pigeonholed!

Found a "politics" quiz through a friend's blog. Interesting. It says I "exhibit a well-developed sense of Right and Wrong and believe in economic fairness," which I certainly take as a compliment. If you're interested, there's a link below my results. Take this with a grain of salt, of course. (I'm not sure what this has to do with dating, which thankfully I don't need to worry about, anyway!) ;)
You are a

Social Liberal
(65% permissive)

and an...

Economic Liberal
(23% permissive)







Link: The Politics Test on OkCupid Free Online Dating
Also: The OkCupid Dating Persona Test

Thursday, October 20, 2005

An odd realization

As my church continues its year-long "journey through the Bible," we've finally gotten to the New Testament. As I opened my Bible to read from the gospel of Mark (as per the readings suggested to follow along with this process), I came to the strangest realization for a seminarian to have.

I miss Jesus.

We've spent the entire year up to this point dealing with the Old Testament. That's actually a good thing, and I've long been of the opinion that many Christian churches do not pay enough attention to the Old Testament. But while we've definitely talked about these readings with the perspective of a people to whom the New Testament is already a given reality, and we've talked a lot about Jesus in relation to Christian holidays such as Easter when the proper season has come, we haven't spent any time with New Testament readings in church. We haven't spent any time talking about the story of Jesus in particular.

I hadn't realized how much I'd missed that. I'm glad to be back in the New Testament again.

Tuesday, October 18, 2005

Macho Man?

I admit it, I watch "According to Jim." I actually think this is a hard show to defend watching. Jim Belushi's character (also named, "Jim," but the main characters are not given last names) typifies most of the worst stereotypes of the unapologetic male chauvinist imaginable. And while it is truly enjoyable to see his comeuppance whenever it does arrive, just as often as not, he gets away with his boorish behavior.

But if I had to describe, in one phrase, what the show is "about," I would have to say that "According to Jim" is about the differences between men and women. For quite a few reasons, this topic is a fascination for me. Having grown up in a denomination that affirms women's ordination, but going to college in an environment that often opposed it, I've seen quite a few different interpretations on these issues (since the debate on women's ordination is often directly tied to interpretations of gender characteristics).

There have been, of course, long-standing debates about what constitutes "maleness" (or "femaleness" for that matter), and how much of this definition relies upon innate characteristics, and how much is socially embedded. What has actually surprised me about "According to Jim," and what I have actually seen in other recent depictions of "maleness" in American pop culture, is how much fear I see many men have that they (or often, a son of theirs) might display some form of "feminine" behavior. For example, in one episode, Jim's son Kyle wants to dress up as Cinderella for Halloween. Naturally, this horrifies Jim, who tries to get Kyle wear a "manly" dinosaur costume. But Kyle insists on the Cinderella dress. By the end of the episode, Jim has a dreamed conversation with a grown-up Kyle, who convinces Jim that he needs to let Kyle make his own decisions. The last scene has the entire family go out for Halloween wearing dresses. In another episode, Jim reveals that he is actually a wonderful dancer, but has hidden this talent for fear that the knowledge would take away from his "manly" image.

In these (and many, if not most, in my opinion) episodes, Jim sees the very essence of "maleness" threatened. Very often, Jim argues that "men" behave in certain ways just because that's how men are (and the idea that such realities would even be questioned is completely foreign to him). Yet, if such traits are truly innate, what is there to be afraid of? Clearly, Jim believes (even if he does not acknowledge it) that "male" behavior is either learned or chosen, and that it might be lost if not reinforced. This flies right in the face of the concept of "innate" behavior.

I would be remiss if I did not at least acknowledge the obvious homophobia that such behavior puts on display. Certainly the debate of "innate" vs. "chosen" behavior is relevant to the issue of sexual orientation. But it should be noted that not all gay men are "effeminate." There is something deeper going on here. The concept of what constitutes "maleness" is called into question. While I do not deny the possibility of characteristically "male" and "female" patterns of being, it seems to me that, as a society, we waste a lot of energy on this issue. I expect we'd be a lot better off if we'd quit worrying about whether our behavior is appropriately "male" or "female" and we get on with finding ourselves as individuals. Let the distinctions between "male" and "female" characteristics work themselves out as based on the evidence of who we are, rather than by trying to fit ourselves into some pre-arranged rubric.

Friday, October 14, 2005

Update on eye examination

My apologies for the more-sporadic-than-usual posting schedule of late. I think it's reasonably obvious that it's been a fairly hectic time. Anyway, I did see the ophthalmologist again yesterday. Basically, he says the eye looks the same. He describes a "milky white" shape that indicates that the retina is "just a bit 'out'" (i.e. partially detached). He is referring me to get a second opinion from another ophthalmologist, and I should get a letter telling me who some time soon. I will then need to make yet another appointment for a examination before any definitive decision or action is taken.

And so the saga continues.... Perhaps the oddest part of this whole ordeal is my increasing familiarity with the process of having my eye dilated. For those of you who've never had this experience, let me explain. The eye doctor puts a couple of eyedrops in your eye to cause the iris to open up. Basically, this stings for only a few seconds, but after putting the drops in, you have to wait for about 10 minutes while the drops do their work. This is all so that the eye doctor can get a clear, unobstructed view into your eye. In the case of the past two ophthalmologist visits, when the doctor returns, he takes what is basically a jeweler's magnifying glass, and screws it into your eye (at least, that's about what it feels like!) to both hold your eyelid open and also to give him and even clearer view of the inside of your eye. Needless to say, this always leaves my eye feeling just a bit odd afterward. It's not exactly painful, but it's definitely uncomfortable.

After this, I'm pretty much allowed to get on with my day, except that with my iris all opened up, my eye is especially sensitive to light, so I need to either cover the eye up, or wear dark sunglasses for the next few hours (this is more important outside than indoors). I haven't done it yet, but I've been tempted to pick up a patch and walk around like a pirate for the next few hours. Hey, it's Halloween season, right?

Not only am I unusually sensitive to light, but in cases like my last few visits, one eye is dilated while the other remains normal. This makes reading a bit more difficult than usual as it becomes difficult to focus on fine details. I've also been advised against driving in this condition, for obvious reasons. And there are very few sights more unusual than seeing one's own reflection in the mirror with one pupil larger than the other....

All in all, I can't complain, but I'll certainly be glad when this whole ordeal is over.

Prayers are still appreciated.

Wednesday, October 12, 2005

Update on Minimum Wage postings

A few days after I posted last time on the seminary "Board of Declaration," a new response came opposing it. I know this new responder personally, and he's arguably one of the most conservative students on campus. Unlike the previous debater, this one was not a "generally sympathetic, but it just won't work" kind of post, but a three-page-piece detailing why "socialist" methods of economic control not only wouldn't work, but why they were a bad thing to even attempt. In particular, he suggested that any raise in the minimum wage would cause inflation. I have chosen not to respond on the Board at this time. While I can point to examples such as the following:
After the last minimum wage increases in 1996-97, the economy boomed with extraordinarily high growth, low inflation, low unemployment and declining poverty rates--until the Federal Reserve purposefully slowed economic growth by raising interest rates, a mistaken course it has since reversed. (emphasis mine)
I am well aware that opponents of minimum wage increases can point to other "facts" and bits of data to make their point as well. This really is a case where one's way of looking at the world affects not only their position, but the way in which facts are used to support that position. At this point, if I were to respond, I know that I'd only be engaging in a battle of throwing data back and forth, and not getting anywhere. Also, I didn't want to be the only person arguing for my position, lest the arguments become more about me and less about raising the minimum wage or finding other ways of helping those who are in poverty.

Thankfully (and perhaps surprisingly!), a few other folks have stepped up in the past few days. Rather than combatting my conservative colleague's data directly, they have articulated various reasons why, as Christians, we have a Biblical imperative to do something to help those less fortunate, rather than just advocating policies that have already been shown to do nothing to help such people, and in fact have in many ways made their plight worse.

My favorite showed up this morning, though. The newest post accuses my conservative colleague, not of having the wrong view, but of purposely writing a satirical piece showing how people can use the Bible to support the most cruel, evil, oppressive (I'm not actually quoting at the moment, but this was the gist) policies imaginable. I'm curious to see how/if my conservative colleague will respond....

Monday, October 10, 2005

Repeat of prayer request

I mentioned a few weeks back that I will be seeing an opthalmologist this Thursday for a follow-up visit to determine 1) if I truly do have an early retinal detachment, and 2) what to do about it if I do. Since the date is now just around the corner, it seems appropriate to repeat the request, and refer folks who may have missed it the first time to the original post for more information.

Friday, October 07, 2005

My story: One Moment

The year I was in third grade saw me go to three different schools, each in a different state. Thankfully, it's a record that was never repeated in my school-hopping career. The third of these schools was in Saginaw, Michigan.

Now, as I've commented before, all this school-hopping sometimes made it difficult to make friends. Also, as practically anyone who's ever been an outsider (which I expect is practically anyone) can tell you, being an outsider also leads to a fair bit of teasing. In third grade, I didn't always handle that well.

One particular morning, after arriving at school, I was out in the playground with a friend of mine waiting for the morning bell to allow us into the school building. While we were waiting, another child came up to me and started teasing me. Now, I don't honestly remember what he said. I don't remember if he called me names, said something about my mother, or was just laughing irritatingly. What I do remember is that I got very mad.

And so I swung my plastic lunchbox at him. And connected.... with my friend's nose. In one moment, I had gone from a pleasant conversation to giving my friend a bloody nose.

Staring at my friend's bloody nose, I was horrified. Not only had I hit someone, but it wasn't even the person I was trying to hit! The school bell rang at about that time, and so as my friend went to the nurse to get cleaned up, I went to class feeling completely ashamed of myself.

Many of you may have gone to schools where, if you had done something wrong, the teacher would put your name up on the board. If your behavior did not improve, the teacher might put a check up by your name. I didn't wait for the teacher. I immediately went up to the front of the board, wrote my name, and put about 15 checks beside it.

Naturally, it did not take long for the teacher to find out what had happened, and I was sent to the principal's office. While I don't remember the principal being in any way unkind, this was still a matter to be taken seriously, and so I was suspended from school for the rest of the day, and my mother was called to come pick me up.

As part of my punishment, I was asked to write two letters. One to my friend who I'd hit, and another to the kid I tried to hit. While I'm sure I delivered them, I don't really remember what I wrote, or how the kid who teased me had reacted. I'm happy to say that my friend was surprisingly understanding, and we maintained our friendship the rest of the time I was in Michigan. I'm also happy to say that this was the only time I was ever suspended from school for any reason.

Still, that experience definitely affected me. I tend to be a lot more proactive about finding ways of dealing with my anger that don't involve me becoming violent. Perhaps that's why I complain about some political matters so much, and why I take a "not quite, but close to pacifist" stance on Iraq. Or at least part of the reason. While it's true that one moment can change your life, as I expect that one moment did, it is still just part of a lifelong tapestry of events that makes up who we are.

Thursday, October 06, 2005

Jumping Back In

Sorry for my extended absence this week. Had a bout of stomach flu a few days back and, while I feel much better now, have been trying to catch up to my work duties. I'll post more when I've got more time.

For now, I thought this bumper sticker was hilarious: (Logo of the Marine Corps on the left) "When you absolutely, positively, have to have it destroyed by morning."

(And to think that this is a serious statement for the Corps!)

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