Monday, July 30, 2007
But, still, there are a few things that have always been a part of my life in some form or another. I was reflecting the other day on the fact that my Dad's 1930 Ford Model A Sports Coupe is one of those things.
This vehicle has an interesting history, but I must confess that I know nothing of the car's original owners, or how it came to its then-current state (being used as a buzzsaw!) before my Dad found it in the late 1960s, while he was still in high school. But once my Dad got the car, he started work restoring it. This was the car that he and my mom went on most of their dates with, that they drove away from their wedding in, and in which, some time later, I was transported from the hospital just after I was born. (Yes, this was definitely the era before mandatory child-safety seats! Model As don't even have seat belts!)
My Dad's had the 1930 Sports Coupe for just shy of 40 years, pretty much half of the vehicle's existence. Whereas once it was nearly forgotten, being used as an overgrown power-tool rather than a vehicle, it is now well maintained, and is often used in parades and Model A shows. My Dad also has another Model A Ford, a 1929 4-door Town Sedan, which he completed restoration on in the 1980s. He and my mom drove both of these cars to a Model A celebration in Virginia this past month, and they continue to attract attention wherever they go.
Friday, July 27, 2007
But there are productive and non-productive ways of responding to such a situation. For an example of the latter, see the following comments on the blog of Southern Baptist Theological Seminary president Albert Mohler:
The Roman Catholic Church is willing to go so far as to assert that any church that denies the papacy is no true church. Evangelicals should be equally candid in asserting that any church defined by the claims of the papacy is no true church. This is not a theological game for children, it is the honest recognition of the importance of the question.To some degree, this should not be surprising. Like Benedict, Mohler sees the "true church" in terms of adherence to a certain set of non-negotiable boundaries (I may not disagree here, but I expect we differ on what those boundaries are), and (more importantly) he sees the claims of Catholics and Protestants as mutually exclusive to those boundaries. Although Mohler intends to remain civil (and, indeed, is largely successful), his statement ultimately comes off as sounding like "Well, we don't care that you don't think that we're the true church, because we don't think you're the true church! So there!"
But there is another way. Here is a quote from a recent blog entry by Fuller Seminary President Richard Mouw (via the Newsweek/Washington Post "On Faith" forum).
Ecumenical relations will not flourish apart from an honest statement of what each church body believes. Pope Benedict has now reminded us that there is no easy path to unity. The most helpful response that we non-Catholics can offer is to make it clear where we in turn disagree with his declaration. So let me state my basic contention. While I love my Catholic friends and have learned much from them, I firmly believe that Catholicism holds to specific teachings--about churchly authority, about Mary, about the sacraments--that are seriously mistaken. From my Protestant evangelical perspective, the Pope has his work cut out for him if he is to bring his church up to speed as a full--to say nothing of "the fullest"--expression of what Christ desires for his church. But my saying that would not surprise Pope Benedict. This means that we are still at the point where we have been for a long time: much in common, but also much to argue about.Like Mohler, Mouw argues against hostility. Like Mohler, Mouw argues that the Pope's comments represent an opportunity to be honest about the differing claims of each tradition. And like Mohler, Mouw honestly believes that the Pope is mistaken about important theological issues. But unlike Mohler, nowhere in Mouw's response is the suggestion that the Catholic Church is somehow not part of the "true church." At worst, he says that "the Pope has his work cut out for him if he is to bring his church up to speed as a full... expression of what Christ desires for his church." This is admittedly a subtle distinction, but a very important one. Certainly, I would have appreciated another line stating (and I think Mouw would agree with this) that all of us have work to do in our churches if we want them to be "full expressions" of what Christ desires. But the fact that we are all fallen and imperfect doesn't mean that we're not part of the "true church."
Let's be honest about our differences, yes. They are important differences. But we cannot hope to have productive dialogue about such difficult issues if we accuse each other of being "outside" the "true church" before we've even begun to talk!
Wednesday, July 25, 2007
I've also been privileged in the past week to get my Alpha Trion figure. Blog readers already know that I've been wanting this one since it was first announced. I was pleased to be able to get it directly from the club store, a feat made possible only because there were actually a few left over at the end of this year's BotCon, something that hasn't happened since Fun Publications took over the production of BotCon a few years ago. Alpha Trion is pictured here on the right, alongside Vector Prime, on whose mold the figure is obviously based. (Note: that weapon in Alpha Trion's right hand is an "Energon Spear" from a previous BotCon. I thought the purple was a pretty good fit, and it seemed like the kind of thing Alpha Trion might hold)
Alpha Trion sports a newly molded head, completing the impression that the toy is the classic cartoon character. I had to sell off my BotCon 2006 Megatron (featured here) to afford this toy, but so far, I've no regrets whatsoever!
Monday, July 23, 2007
I admit it. I'm a Muggle.
If that phrase means anything to you at all, you'd know I'm talking about the world of Harry Potter even if you didn't read that "meta" text up at the top. And if you read this blog regularly, the odds are that you're connected enough to the outside world and certain "religious" aspects of it (either pro or con) to know that not all Christians think Harry Potter is a "good thing." You probably also know me well enough to know that I do not have any such problems with the Potter books, myself.
I confess that I'm a bit mystified (if you'll pardon the pun) as to why some Christians think that Harry Potter is dangerous (usually citing Biblical injunctions against magic), but don't tend to have problems with the works of J.R.R. Tolkein or C.S. Lewis, both of whom use magic rather heavily in their most famous works. Is it because they are known Christians? For what it's worth, Rowling herself claims to be a Christian, as well (Here's a link to an article from October 2000, just after book 4 came out). Perhaps she doesn't believe in the "right kind" of Christianity? I wouldn't know. I don't pretend to know the ins and outs of Rowlings personal beliefs. I also believe that it's not my place to judge. She affirms the Christian God, and that's enough for me.
Quite a few defenses of the Harry Potter books focus on the messages of friendship, loyalty and self-sacrifice which are all undeniably present in the stories. I also appreciate that the heroes of these stories are still flawed human beings. Remember Harry's outbursts in Book 5 (presumably also depicted in the movie that's just come out)? Harry's had a rough year, and his credibility has been called into question. His life hasn't exactly been a bowl of cherries. It's understandable that he should be upset. Yet, I'm not sure we're supposed to be sympathetic when Harry takes out his anger on his best friends. We're not being given the message that "it's okay to take things out on people who aren't even the source of your problems." Harry does have to apologize to the people he's wronged in the course of the story. I think that it's important that our "heroes" have these kinds of human failings. It teaches us that, while we're human and have these failings, too, we need to take responsibility for our actions. After all, Harry Potter did, didn't he?
I also think that Christians need to reminded of the words of the Apostle Paul:
Many Christians had a huge problem with the practice of eating meat sacrificed to idols, believing that to eat such meat was to pay homage to false Gods, something clearly forbidden for Christians to do. Paul asserts that, since there is only one God, and that an idol is nothing more than a figment of human imagination, that one can safely eat meat without worry about revering such non-existent Gods. Likewise, Christians who know that the world of magic (such as appears in the Harry Potter books, at least) is imaginary should have nothing to fear by allowing their kids to read them.
So then, about eating food sacrificed to idols: We know that "An idol is nothing at all in the world" and that "There is no God but one." For even if there are so-called gods, whether in heaven or on earth (as indeed there are many "gods" and many "lords"), yet for us there is but one God, the Father, from whom all things came and for whom we live; and there is but one Lord, Jesus Christ, through whom all things came and through whom we live. (I Corinthians 8:4-6, TNIV)
That's not to give the books a total pass, though. We read on in Paul:
Those of us who find Harry Potter "safe" do need to be aware of the impact of our beliefs upon those who do not believe as we do. Suppose a person, not understanding the difference between the magic of Potter's world and real occultic practices decides that it's safe to explore such practices, since we've told them that Harry Potter is "okay." Clearly this would be an abuse of our freedom, and we will be inadvertently responsible for another's failure to understand. But just as Paul didn't actually become a vegetarian (despite the way that this passage ends), I do not think that all Christians are enjoined to avoid reading books like the Harry Potter series for fear of how "weaker" Christians may respond.
But not everyone possesses this knowledge. Some people are still so accustomed to idols that when they eat sacrificial food they think of it as having been sacrificed to a god, and since their conscience is weak, it is defiled. But food does not bring us near to God; we are no worse if we do not eat, and no better if we do.
Be careful, however, that the exercise of your rights does not become a stumbling block to the weak. For if anyone with a weak conscience sees you, with all your knowledge, eating in an idol's temple, won't they be emboldened to eat what is sacrificed to idols? So this weak brother or sister, for whom Christ died, is destroyed by your knowledge. When you sin against them in this way and wound their weak conscience, you sin against Christ. Therefore, if what I eat causes my brother or sister to fall into sin, I will never eat meat again, so that I will not cause them to fall. (I Corinthians 8:7-13, TNIV. See also Romans 14:13-15)
I can't pretend to know how everyone should act. But here's my stand. I'm a Muggle. I can't do magic. I'm not going to pursue doing magic, because my God tells me to trust in God alone. I'm fine with that. I'm also fine with reading a truly entertaining story that happens to use "magic" as one of its plot devices, but which also talks about the human condition in ways that are applicable to people everywhere.
Friday, July 20, 2007
Wednesday, July 18, 2007
Actually, I do have a bit to say about the exclusive comic that came with this set. But I think that may be something of greater interest to the Transformers community as a whole than to the readers of this blog, so I've posted it on alt.toys.transformers, where more Transformers fans are likely to see it.
Monday, July 16, 2007
Friday, July 13, 2007
Of course, this is basically just a redecorated version of the original Optimus Prime from the 1980's. But having (oddly enough) never picked up the original back in the day, nor having ever gotten either the G2 version nor the 2002 TRU reissue (Of course, from the G1 era alone, I do have the Powermaster, the Action Master, and a smaller Japanese-exclusive "junior" version, but those are all different molds), it seemed worth picking up.
The trailer, of course, is new (or at least, it was when this concept was created for the Japanese market a few years ago. It's really only "new" in the sense that it hasn't been available in the US until now). It didn't come with that Pepsi bottle I have on top, but as you can see, it was designed to be able to carry one. It's also designed to fit 3 12-ounce cans on it, should you wish to place them there. Should make for an interesting conversation piece at parties!
One of the "problems" that plagued nearly all of the original G1 Transformers was that you couldn't always find a place to put all the parts when the toy was transformed into one mode or the other. In the case of Optimus Prime, there was no place to properly store his weapon when in vehicle mode. Sure, you could stash his gun in the trailer, but it would still rattle around loose. Likewise, you were intended to place Prime's fists in the chest compartment while in vehicle mode, but again, they'd just rattle around in there. But, fear not, Pepsi Prime owner! This new trailer has places underneath where you can store your spare parts, as indicated in the picture below.
In robot mode, Prime is a walking Pepsi billboard. This guy's got Pepsi decorations in places I didn't expect. They even went to the trouble to put little Pepsi logos on the sides of Prime's head! But that's not to say that the deco doesn't work. It's really only a minor modification from the original Optimus Prime red and blue color scheme. In fact, now that technology has advanced to the point of being able to use tampographs for most details rather than stickers (they do still give you two stickers to put on Prime's forearms), the overall effect is much cleaner than the original.
I'd definitely recommend this toy to anyone who's a Transformers collector.
Wednesday, July 11, 2007
The middle character, Shadowjack, was my own creation. Basically, I had an extra Jackpot figure lying around, and decided to do something with it. Even before characters like RiD Scourge and Nemesis Prime came upon the Transformers scene, the idea of an "evil clone" has long been a staple of science-fiction. Perhaps the most obvious example is "Bizarro" among Superman's enemies. When creating "Shadowjack," I most specifically had in mind an obscure character created near the end of the 80/90's run of Firestorm called "Shadowstorm" (this guy's so obscure that he doesn't even have his own Wikipedia entry, although he is mentioned here.) Here's the Tech Spec I put together for Shadowjack:
Monday, July 09, 2007
The greatest cartoon of all time (as determined by the 1994 book The 50 Greatest Cartoons: As Selected by 1,000 Animation Professionals), "What's Opera, Doc?", celebrated the 50th anniversary of its first screening on July 6, 2007.
But like so many of the greatest achievements in culture, it was an achievement that could never have been accomplished under today's corporate-driven reality. Here is an excerpt from the opening words to an article celebrating "What's Opera, Doc?" that appeared on Sunday:
Imagine the pitch: "Let's steal time and funding from our other projects so we can go way over budget making a cartoon with no jokes, and no real gags. The score will be a German opera. Kids won't get it. Most adults won't get it, but I don't care because I think it's funny."And it is funny, if totally atypical. In a sense, this isn't such an oddity: Warner Brothers cartoons have utilized classical music throughout most of their long history. Imagine the following scene: It's morning. You look out upon a grassy countryside, and the sun is slowly rising. You hear this music. Without realizing it, kids (and adults) the world over have been hearing a fragment of "William Tell" (yes, the same piece which also gives us this popular fragment). But "What's Opera, Doc?" took this element so much further than anyone had ever done it before. It created a whole cartoon comprised entirely of elements of these classic works (actually taken from several of Wagner's operas). And whereas Disney's Fantasia took classical and operatic pieces and set them to animation, "What's Opera, Doc?" actually created something new out of such works, using only the most immediately recognizable bits edited together to create a whole story within the 7-minute time frame a Bugs Bunny cartoon required.
Does it work? Answer whether or not the following quote (which comes at the end of the article I linked to earlier) applies to you:
No one who knows and loves "What's Opera, Doc?" will ever hear Wagner's "Der Ring des Nibelungen" without hearing, in their own minds, "Kill da wabbit ... kill da wabbit.""The Wabbit" is dead. Long live the wabbit! Happy 50th Anniversary, "What's Opera, Doc?"!
Friday, July 06, 2007
Of course, the main reason I was able to even aspire to completing the section of my Transformers collection is the fact that Action Masters were so unpopular back when they were first released. I've already spelled out why I like them ages ago, but it's worth noting here that they were so unpopular when they first came out that I was able to find them on clearance at Kay-Bee toys (as KB toys was then spelled) for less than a dollar each! Of course, this only covered the carded toys. Not the boxed ones. And even then, I only bothered to get all the Action Masters that were representations of existing characters from early in the original line.
Naturally, this left several holes in my collection that I started trying to fill once I was out of college. I started with the boxed toys representing popular characters, although I turned to getting the carded new characters before I was able to finally achieve my goal of getting all of the Action Master versions of established characters when I won Action Master Optimus Prime in an eBay auction. Optimus Prime cost me a fair bit back then, and I figured that would be as far as I went.
But when I eventually started cataloging (and later creating) the Power Plans that came with the Action Masters, I soon realized that there weren't too many gaps left to fill. So I slowly worked towards getting the remaining boxed toys representing new Action Master characters, until I eventually had them all... except Gutcruncher.
Gutcruncher remained the sole gap in my American Action Master collection for a rather long time. I can't really explain why. Part of the reason was no doubt that, as the largest "new" Action Master character in the line (same price point as Megatron, but less than Optimus Prime), Gutcruncher was fairly rare, and quite expensive. But I could have probably picked Gutcrucher up a long time ago if I'd really bothered. Long story short, I finally found an auction for the toy at a reasonable price on eBay recently, and the toy arrived this past week. Now my collection is complete! (Well, I could always work toward getting all of the European Action Masters, but that will take quite a while yet, not to mention more money than I care to think about at the moment.)
I do have a request, though. Although my Gutcruncher is in wonderful condition, and came complete with all of the parts for the vehicle it was originally packaged with, it did not come without any stickers whatsoever. I have already contacted the folks at Reprolabels about getting replacement stickers, and they've indicated that they would be very happy to create a Gutcruncher set, but they lack scans of the original stickers (or access to a clean Gutcruncher with factory stickers applied) from which to create the set. If anyone has access to such, please send them a line via the Reprolabels site. I'm sure the Transformers fan community would be most grateful. I know I would!
Wednesday, July 04, 2007
These are signs of respect, and I do think that Christians should have a proper respect for the country they find themselves in, especially if that country treats them as (comparatively?) well as America does. But I see two major problems: 1) people who identify Christianity and American patriotism too closely, and 2) people who put on the facade of patriotism without stopping to think about what they're saying or doing.
But, again, what does a "proper" respect for our country look like? Richard Mouw, President of Fuller Theological Seminary, wrote a piece several years ago that he recently reposted on his own blog. The whole thing is worth a read, but here's an excerpt that, among other things, deals with the issue of flying American flags in church sanctuaries. First off, Mouw tells his readers that it is good and proper that church worship gatherings are distinctive according to the culture and nation in which they take place....
On this July 4th, it is good and proper for Americans to remember the good things that we enjoy by living in this particular nation. These are gifts from God, and not everyone in the world is privileged to enjoy them. But let's not equate being good Americans with being good Christians. Our loyalty to God is higher than our loyalty to our country, and if our country asks us to do things that are contrary to what God asks us to do (which I have to say I think happens a good deal more than a lot of well-meaning American Christians want to think), then our loyalty to God comes first.
It is one thing, though, to incorporate our national context into our worship. It is another to foster non-Christian loyalties as we worship. And there can be no question that the danger of alien loyalties is a real one in dealing with the relationship between Christian worship and civic symbols.
Take the flag question. Strictly speaking, there is nothing wrong with having a national flag in a place of worship. As a reminder of our national “place” and as a stimulus to reflect seriously on what it means to be Christian citizens, a flag can be a rather innocent symbol.
But it is difficult to assess this issue properly without also reckoning with the constant danger of nationalistic pride. We are often asked to offer to our nations the kind of allegiance that we should direct only to God. A national flag seldom serves as a mere reminder of the fact that we are citizens of a specific nation. It is a powerful symbol—even a seductive one—that can evoke feelings of loyalty and pride that are not proper for Christians. And when a national flag stands alongside the so-called Christian flag, we can easily be led to think that God and Caesar have equal importance in our lives.
When we come together for Christian worship, we are acknowledging our identity as members of “a chosen race, a royal priesthood, a holy nation” (1 Pet. 2:9). And we need to be reminded that other racial and priestly and national loyalties are constantly competing for our allegiance. Our worship services are gatherings in the divine throne-room, where we acknowledge that our true loyalties belong to God alone. Nothing in our liturgical content or setting should detract from this expression of fidelity.
Monday, July 02, 2007
- Exclusives: Perhaps it's a bit mercenary of me, but the toys have always been the major reason for me to go to BotCon, and so it's always the first thing I want to find out about when I look up what was going on. I've already talked about the five toys from the boxed set revealed several months ago, and will focus here only on the toys revealed at the convention itself. I've also updated my exclusives data sheet with such information as I currently have available, although there seems to have been some confusion about the Alpha Trion/Weirdwolf 2-pack. I'll post more reliable information once we get the expected e-mail from Brian Savage detailing post-convention news.
- Clear Mirage: This was the attendee-only freebie. A clear blue version of the Classics Mirage mold, intended to represent Mirage as he turns invisible. Apparently a lot of fans didn't like this one. Oddly enough, it's one of few that I really liked, and I've already got a couple of requests in for people looking to get rid of the one they got at the convention. If no one ends up contacting me, I'll look for it on eBay.
- Alpha Trion/Weirdwolf 2-pack. The first of these has been known for a couple of months already, and is a remold (new head) of Vector Prime from the Cybertron line. This is the definite "must buy" for me, and I'll be looking on eBay if it turns out that FP doesn't have any leftover to sell to club members via the online club store (they never have before, but like I said, there seems to be some confusion on this one). Weirdwolf was one of a number of characters revealed in an online teaser of the convention comic, but we didn't know for sure which of the teased characters would actually be at the convention. It's a recolor of Snarl from the Cybertron line. If I end up getting this as part of a 2-pack deal to get Alpha Trion, I'm turning right back around and selling Weirdwolf. A lot of folks really like this one, but it's just not for me.
- Springer/Huffer 2-pack. Springer is a repaint of Cybertron Defense Hot Shot, and Huffer is a repaint of Armorhide, both toys from the Cybertron line (and, no, in the case of CD Hot Shot, that's not redundant). Again, it seems that my tastes run counter to those of the rest of the fandom here, as I've heard lots of good things about them, and there seems to be little question that they've sold out (although, again, I hope to get more positive confirmation of this when Brian Savage sends the expected e-mail), but they just don't interest me.
- It was disappointing (but not wholly unexpected) to learn that both the Alternators and Titanium lines are being canceled. The latter was even more disturbing because of the revelation of several molds which will, apparently, never see the light of day. The Cosmos figure is especially interesting, and I can only hope that something happens to give that design another chance elsewhere.
- We also learned that the "Classics" line will see more molds (although not under that name. Apparently these will be released under a new "Universe" line), which is great news, but unfortunately fuels the anger of those who were angry at FP for doing exclusive repaints of several of the Seeker jets, thereby making it unlikely that these characters (and certainly not replicas of the same designs) will ever be made available at retail. I have to repeat what I've said elsewhere many times over: FP wanted to make cool exclusives, and the Seeker jets were obviously popular choices that Hasbro hadn't yet done. They STILL had to get permission from Hasbro to use them, and Hasbro had, at the time, no plans on using those concepts. The fact that Hasbro made a decision later to do something whereby they probably would have used (at least some of) these ideas does not negate this. FP ensured that (all of) these designs would get made. If FP didn't make the exclusives, there was a strong chance that the toys would never exist at all. And even with this latest turn of events, we probably would never have seen all of those Seeker designs used (Thurst, with it's peculiar wing-design, would have been especially unlikely). In any event, it happened. Deal with it.
- It has already been known that a new cartoon will be showing up on Cartoon Network (dubbed "Transformers Animated") next year. Attendees got to see the first actual animated clips (as opposed to just still pictures) to be seen, and apparently these, coupled with the news of classically-inspired characters scheduled to appear, have converted many fans from being fearful about what this new cartoon will bring to being excited about the possibilities.