Friday, August 31, 2007

Ugh!

Not much to say today, mostly because it's too hot to think properly. Besides having to walk all over Fuller's campus in Southern California heat (and an especially warm spell, at that) delivering end-of-month checks and other mail to professors, my office seems to have something wrong with its air conditioning (a long-time problem in the 50-year-old building in which I work). I'll try to get something more coherent prepared over the weekend.

Wednesday, August 29, 2007

Laguna Matata!

As I mentioned the other day, my wife and I spent the weekend in Laguna Beach. This was kind of an anniversary gift from my in-laws (our actual 4th anniversary is tomorrow), and a welcome break from normalcy, despite having to fit the "vacation" into a standard weekend without taking any time off from work.

We stayed at the "Hotel Laguna," which has a history dating back to the late 1800's, although the current structure was built more recently (dedicated in 1930). It is rumored (though apparently not confirmed) that Humphrey Bogart and Lauren Bacall stayed here. The picture on the right shows the view outside of our hotel room window, where we could see the ocean just beyond the hotel garden, which as used on Sunday for two weddings (a third was held on the nearby beach, also connected to the hotel). Clearly, the location is a popular one.

The beach is certainly one of the reasons Laguna is so popular. Here, you can see our hotel in the background beyond the crowds of people enjoying the sand and sun. I have to confess that I'm not much of a "beach" person, myself, but I still have to admit that the view is wonderful.

Another thing that Laguna Beach is known for is its artistic community. The Sawdust festival is just one of several places where visitors can go to peruse and purchase works from a variety of artists from around the area. My wife and I have been to the Sawdust festival several times, and this trip was certainly no exception. For obvious (I hope!) reasons, many of the artists ask that visitors not take pictures of their works. This is how many of these people earn a living, and people certainly have less reason to buy a painting (for example) if they can just take a photograph of it! So, for the most part, my camera stayed in my pocket while here. Still, I had to snap a shot of what the booths look like just as you enter.

Another tradition in Laguna Beach is the "Festival of the Masters," which is celebrating its 75th anniversary this year. For those unfamiliar with the Festival of the Masters, it is a production consisting of tableau: representations of famous artistic works (in this case, both paintings and statuary) using motionless actors on stage. If you've never seen such a presentation, the effect is difficult to describe. From the distance of the seats in the audience, the motionless actors and the lighting and the backdrops and the props all work together to create an eerie illusion of two-dimensionality, even when you know that there are real (i.e., three-dimensional) people and objects on the stage. The actors are creatively anchored to the backdrops in such a way, for example, that you often cannot tell what they're standing (or sitting) on in order to appear in the proper place within the "painting" that they are recreating. As with most stage productions, photography here was also prohibited, but here's a shot of the program and my ticket. The work depicted on the program: The Giant, was one of the pieces recreated on stage, although the stage recreation had to, for reasons of necessity of scale, focus mostly on the bottom portion with the children, adding the eponymous "giant" only later via an overhead projection.

All in all, an enjoyable "quickie vacation," although I confess that the traffic getting in and out via the two-lane highway leading through the mountains immediately east of town was more than a little frustrating. If you want to go see the sights, consider yourself warned.

Monday, August 27, 2007

Drama in Worship

My wife and I got back late last night from a weekend trip to Laguna Beach. I'll have more to say about this on Wednesday, after I've had more of a chance to collect my pictures and my thoughts. For now, here's a link to an article by Fuller professor Todd Johnson (who will be my wife's PhD adviser) on the use of drama in Christian worship. I expect that even readers unaccustomed to drama within the worship gathering will find this interesting. While Johnson is in favor of the use of certain types of drama in worship (as am I), he has a number of recommendations that should cause anyone interested in using drama during worship to pause and think for a moment.

Friday, August 24, 2007

I'm Not Alone!

I've often blogged in frustration concerning the methods some Christians use when arguing against other Christians. Long-time readers are probably aware that I try to advocate for an attitude of charity when dealing with one's opponents. This certainly doesn't mean that I don't feel free to disagree with them (obviously!), but I at least try to be fair when characterizing their arguments. That is to say, I would hope that if such an opponent came along, they would not feel as though I accused them of saying something that they, in fact, have never said. We may disagree on the implications and applications of such statements, but hopefully we at least agree on what the other person's position is.

But still, blogging about such matters and seeing the world continue on in the same vitriolic pattern can be a bit discouraging. It often feels like I'm just "one man against the world," which is certainly a feeling of futility.

It is therefore encouraging to see someone such as Richard Mouw (President of Fuller Theological Seminary, who I've mentioned in the past) arguing for a similar tone of fairness in debate. As the earlier posts in which I've mentioned Mouw might indicate, this is an issue that he keeps coming back to, as well, but he makes his argument a bit more clearly than I can (not to mention that he reaches a wider audience!).
We want to oppose false teachers because they do not teach things that are true. But if in our attempts to defeat them we play fast and loose with the truth, by attributing to them things that they don’t in fact teach and if we don’t really care whether we have it exactly right or not then we have become false teachers: teachers of untruths!
Mouw suggests, as a partial remedy to this situation, that we "focus on false teachings rather than on false teachers." This sounds a bit cliché to me; a bit like "hate the sin but love the sinner," but I expect that he's right. If we remember that the people teaching falsehoods are, for all their error, nonetheless children of God, we are probably more likely to treat them with respect than if we think of them first and foremost as "that person who teaches hateful (or dangerous, or heretical, or whatever) ideas."

It is not enough to simply "speak the truth" as though the fact that we have the truth gives us license to use whatever methods (including hateful, or dangerous, or even heretical ones) we like. To combat such ideas, the strength of our arguments simply must be better than theirs. If we don't have better arguments, then we simply must, at some level, be willing to admit that we might not be right in the first place. If we can't win the debate without restoring to tactics that are unfair to the person on the other side, how can we possibly expect other people to stay on our side if/when they learn what the other side is really like? At best, any gains made through such tactics are rather shallow-rooted.

So, there it is. Not for the first time, and probably not for the last. Let's be fair to each other. Why does that seem so hard to do?

Wednesday, August 22, 2007

I Dub Thee, "Podwave"

About a week ago, my "Music Label" Soundwave arrived. Basically, it's a new item from Japan that's an update of the original G1 Soundwave that actually plays MP3s. It's not quite the first Soundwave that actually plays music—if you count a non-transforming (but still in robot mode!) Soundwave cassette player released by Hasbro in 1985—but it's still made quite the impression on the Transformers fandom.

That's not to say that it's much of an MP3 player. You can't fast-forward or rewind within tracks, and tracks always play in the same order (the order in which you put the MP3 files on the miniSD card). You can, thankfully, pause, skip forwards or backwards to other tracks, and raise or lower the volume as desired. And, of course, you can transform the player into a robot!

Although there is a "Music Label" Soundwave available in Soundwave's traditional blue color scheme, you'll notice that mine is mostly white. This is intended to homage the original white color scheme of the iPod (although this is not a licensed iPod product, and iPod itself is now available in a rainbow of colors). My brother got a special deal by ordering both variations of "Music Label" Soundwave at the same time. He got the blue one, and I got the white one. Sadly, he tells me that his Soundwave no longer plays! It worked a couple of times, and then just stopped for no known reason. Has anyone else had this problem? I'm wondering if he's blown the small fuse inside, but can't imagine what he's done to blow it so quickly.

Anyway, if you're really into MP3 players, then I expect that this one wouldn't be for you. It's just too limited in its functionality, and you can get something else to do the same job for much cheaper. But since I haven't had an MP3 player of my own (my wife does have an iPod nano, but she uses it all the time, so that doesn't do much for me), I'm pretty glad to have it. It's given me a chance to listen to some speeches on youth work and a few TF Movie parodies (Yeah, yeah, these don't sound much like music, do they? What can I say? I'm just weird.) while driving to and from work, rather than settling for whatever NPR is playing. Also, I've ordered an MP3 CD of the TNIV, which I hope to use with this player to help in my devotional time. All in all, a pretty cool item for Transformers fans, but consider yourself warned. It's not for everyone.

Monday, August 20, 2007

Mister Rogers Follow-Up

A few weeks ago, I wrote in response to a recent suggestion that Mister Rogers was somehow responsible for a rash of "entitlement" feeling among young adults who grew up being told (by Rogers and others) that they were "special" without regard to any particular thing they've done.

The following week, while I was on vacation in Northern California, I picked up The Simple Faith of Mister Rogers in a used bookstore. Despite knowing for years that Rogers was an ordained Presbyterian minister, this book represents one of the most explicit depictions of Rogers as a man of faith that I've ever seen. It has been an encouraging read, and I highly recommend it.

I was surprised, although perhaps I shouldn't have been, to learn that the recent comments by Prof. Chance were not the first suggestion that Mister Rogers has caused children to grow up spoiled because he told them they were "special" (although, in my defense, Chance seems to have been unaware of the incident related in the book, as well). Author Amy Hollingsworth relates an article by Don Feder which appeared in the Boston Herald in 1994, which complained that "Fred Rogers advocated a philosophy of self-esteem that makes children feel good about themselves no matter how rotten their behavior or how dull their intellects" (p. xxiv. Note that the quotation is from Hollingsworth's book, not from the original article by Feder).

Hollingsworth's reply echoed my own of a few weeks ago: "right argument, wrong target. I agree that the cult of self-esteem has gone too far. What I disagree with is that Mister Rogers is a proponent" (p. xxv). She then proceeded to explain how Rogers' own life demonstrated his value for good behavior and hard work ("with degrees in music, theology, and psychology," p. xxv).

Returning to the issue of promoting self-esteem later in her book, Hollingsworth quotes Rogers' response to critics such as Feder:
"Now self-esteem is certainly not brought about by people saying that a child has done something wonderful when that person doesn't believe it....

"Self-esteem doesn't come from a child hearing something that's not true about him or her. If an adult does not believe that the child has done a good job with something, well, it's not the least bit helpful to say so.

"Of course if we do believe that a child has done a wonderful thing, then the best thing we can do is to tell him or her, 'Hey, that was really special. You know you did that so much better than you did the last time, and I'm really proud of you.'

"I often sing, 'I'm proud of you! I'm proud of you!' Don't you with your children?"

I nod yes; I even use his version.

"But I would hope that you wouldn't say 'I'm proud of you' if your child has done something that might be hurtful to him or her or to somebody else, because that just doesn't help. I guess we're coming right back to the very first thing [Rogers and Hollingsworth] talked about, and that's truthfulness--you, know, being ourselves and allowing somebody to share in that." (pp. 65-66)
There are many ways in which I wish I were more like Mister Rogers, although I'm sure he himself would discourage me or anyone else from trying to imitate him too closely. Mister Rogers was always an advocate for helping people be the unique individuals they truly were. Still, I often wish I had his easy-going demeanor, able to deal with all sorts of people and problems with kindness and respect. I'm hoping to get a job working with children in the not-too-distant future, and feel certain that Mister Rogers had the most important things right. Children are people, too. Not just the people of the future, but people of tremendous worth right now. I hope to be such an encouragement to any children potentially in my care as Mister Rogers was to so many through his television ministry.

Friday, August 17, 2007

Remember, If Knowing is Half the Battle, the Other Half is Usually Violence

Most people who grew up in the 1980's (especially boys, I expect) probably know the phrase "knowing is half the battle," not as a saying in its own right, but as the tag line for the Public Service Announcements that would finish off the end of every episode of the old GI Joe cartoon.

For those unfamiliar with the cartoon, each episode would end with a short piece (usually unrelated to the main story itself), in which a kid (or group of kids) is about to do something unsafe or unwise. Just then, a member of the GI Joe team shows up out of nowhere to tell the kid(s) what he/she/they should do. Invariably, the piece would end with a kid saying "Now I (we) know," after which the Joe member would say "And knowing is half the battle" which would immediately cut to the "GI Joe" name being sung in a title wipe.

These PSAs are so iconic that they have been parodied many times over the years. Just check out what comes up when you do a YouTube search for "GI Joe PSA." Good luck finding one that's not a parody! But I was still surprised to find these two advertisements in a recent edition of Master Collector, advertising the new 25th anniversary figures. They're real advertisements, yet obviously parodies all at the same time. Check out the background pictures in the final frames!

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Wednesday, August 15, 2007

Monrovia: City of Curbs

It's no secret that it's hard to find affordable housing in Southern California. What's not talked about so much is that it's even harder to find "housing" for your vehicle. Many apartments will grant a single parking space to their tenants, but in these days when both spouses must work to make ends meet, most families have more than one car. What becomes of those "extra" cars? Well, the answer is, of course, obvious. They park on the street!

One thing that's proven especially awkward in Monrovia, where I currently live, is that the curbs are so high! You cannot open the door on the curb side, because the door smashes right into the curb. This may seem obvious to many of you with similarly high curbs, but it's not what I'm used to. I'm used to short curbs, just high enough to keep the car from driving onto the sidewalk so long as the driver is being responsible. Curbs that you can be right up next to, yet still open your passenger side door so that another family member might ride with you to the store.

My wife (being the passenger most likely to be in my vehicle) actually has to contend with this reality more than I do, as when we go somewhere for dinner, or arrive at our "patch of curb" near our apartment upon coming home, she finds that she cannot get out of the car! I then have to pull the car out to the side just far enough to allow her to exit, while still avoiding driving out into the path of oncoming traffic! It's a bit unnerving. This is a problem in Pasadena, too, but not in almost any other place in the Southern California area in which we're likely to travel.

Does anyone else have this problem?

Wednesday, August 08, 2007

Bad News

I have used this blog to promote the talents of North Carolina-based singer/songwriter David LaMotte in the past (NOTE: that's four separate links, although only the first three are from my own blog), and have followed his career for well over a decade by now. Sadly, it seems that LaMotte's time as a career artist is nearing an end, as he begins to devote himself full-time to peacemaking work overseas. He has indicated that he will be doing a "Farewell Tour" for about the next year or so.

So, I'd like to use this blog entry as an opportunity to call out to my friends, especially here in Southern California, to help find a suitable locale for LaMotte to come to this area during his farewell tour. If you need to find out more about what LaMotte's music is like, here are some YouTube videos featuring him. Also, if you know me personally and are in the area (and if you still have equipment that can play audiocassettes), I've got lots of free cassettes of LaMotte's that I got as a promotion some time back, and I'd be more than happy to give you one (or more!). If you know a venue, you can either let me know about it by sending me an e-mail (link in the upper right), or you can feel free to discuss the matter with the venue owner/manager directly (in fact, this would be especially helpful). Booking information may be found at his web site. Thanks in advance for your efforts!

And, if it makes a difference at all, today's my 33rd birthday, so you have to be nice to me!

P.S. I'll be out of town attending a friend's wedding this weekend, so there won't be any updates to the blog until next Wednesday.

Monday, August 06, 2007

Blaming Mister Rogers?

I was introduced to this article via another blog (but he did something rather different with the issues raised), and knew that I would have to make some kind of response, but also knew that to do so would be fairly difficult.

Disclaimers first: Mister Rogers has been a long-time hero of mine, and I have to be honest in admitting that I may not be able to be completely objective in responding to attacks on his life's work (of course, I also don't believe that total objectivity is humanly possible in the first place, but at least I'm admitting a known bias).

Now, unless you've already clicked that first link, you're no doubt wondering what's happened to cause such a quandry. After all, Mister Rogers' has been accused (falsely) of things before, but this is a bit different. Here's the gist of the article:
Fred Rogers, the late TV icon, told several generations of children that they were "special" just for being whoever they were. He meant well, and he was a sterling role model in many ways. But what often got lost in his self-esteem-building patter was the idea that being special comes from working hard and having high expectations for yourself.
I certainly don't want to say that I disagree with everything Prof. Chance is saying. The presenting issue: that of students asking to get a higher grade (with no apparent evidence that they've done anything to deserve such a grade), is one I have tremendous sympathy for. I've said often to my family and friends that I would be a very unpopular assignment-grader, since I have little sympathy for students who turn in work late or otherwise try to "get away with" anything in order to get a higher grade than they truly deserve. Similarly, I often complain about the sense of "entitlement" that many in our world seem to have.

But to blame Mister Rogers for this situation strikes me as unhelpful in the extreme. Because one very popular children's show host encouraged children to feel good about themselves, and placed self-esteem at a high level, we're supposed to believe that children grew up with an inflated sense of self-worth leading them to feel entitled to things they do not, in fact, deserve? And I definitely wonder at the argument the article makes against having children call adults by their first names. Although Mister Rogers is not directly implicated in this (and, in fact, how many kids do you know who call him "Fred"?), the context of the article would seem to put the blame for this practice on his shoulders, too. I would almost write this article off as some poorly executed satire if it weren't for the response Fox News has given to it.

Certainly parents should encourage children to find value in hard work and excellence. And, certainly, children should be taught that they won't always get what they want, or even what they think they deserve. With due deference to the "certain unalienable rights" that the Declaration of Independence argues that all humans are "endowed by their Creator" with, there really isn't much that people should argue that have any right to if they haven't earned it.

But one of those rights that people should have is the right to feel good about themselves, just for being the unique person that they are, whoever that is. As Christians, we believe that God created each person, and finds value in every one of us. Although Mister Rogers was a largely secular figure, he was also an ordained Presbyterian minister, and no doubt was influenced by such a belief. Not only can't I find any place to fault Mister Rogers for trying to instill children with a healthy self-esteem, but I think he should be praised for it! For all the value of encouraging people to work hard, and to triumph over adversity, there are many, many people out there who will never achieve the greatness that they're capable of, simply because they've been taught that they're not worth the effort. If such people could be taught to find value in themselves, and then taught to work hard to achieve great things, imagine what could happen! But to argue that we should teach kids that they aren't of any value unless they've done something to earn it is a recipe for disaster.

So, I say, hats off to Mister Rogers! Thanks for helping us to know that we are people of worth! May our achievements be a tribute to the value you saw in us!

Friday, August 03, 2007

Now You See It, Now You... Still See It, Actually

Well, my BotCon 2007 collection is now as complete as I intend to make it. Mirage arrived yesterday (of course, Mirage is supposed to be an attendee exclusive, but eBay transcends barriers like that!). This toy is intended to represent Mirage while using his ability to turn invisible.... But he's not exactly invisible, is he?

Even months before Mirage was officially revealed, there was a fair amount of discussion about the possibility that one of the exclusives would be some kind of "invisible Mirage," and when word more-or-less slipped a few weeks before the convention itself, much of that discussion turned surprisingly negative. Many Transformers fans felt (and, no doubt, still feel) that an "invisible Mirage" would be a boring choice. At least one reason (although I expect that there are others) that many of the fans on the message boards gave was that they didn't care for transparent plastic.

Well, this is an area in which I proudly must differ from many of my colleagues. In fact, besides the box set, there were really only two other BotCon exclusives (out of five others available) that I had any interest in getting: Alpha Trion and this one. An "invisible" Mirage has always seemed (at least to me) like an obvious choice for an exclusive. Mirage's signature ability (admittedly, more in the cartoon than in the comic universe the BotCon fiction is supposed to take place in) has been to turn himself invisible, and it's a fairly simple thing to do to illustrate this by means of a toy made of transparent plastic.

That's not to say that the toy doesn't have its faults. For one thing, they chose not to do the toy in colorless transparent plastic, but instead chose blue. And the pictures don't really do the intensity of the blue justice. This toy is actually a fairly dark blue! Not at all "invisible!" In fact, it's debatable how much it's even transparent! I definitely consider this a wasted opportunity.


However, the blue plastic is quite an attractive color, and it does allow for some fun. Courtesy of my Sonic Screwdriver toy, which emits UV light, I can take some pretty cool pictures of this toy in the dark. Perhaps instead of considering it "invisible" Mirage, we should think of this toy as representing "night attack" Mirage?

Wednesday, August 01, 2007

Alternators Rodimus

It's actually not as rare as any of the BotCon exclusives that have come out over the past decade, but to hear the current complaining from folks unable to get one, you might not realize it.

The toy I'm talking about, Alternators Rodimus (or, to go by an apparent misprint in the instructions, "Alternators Rodimus Prime"), was an exclusive at last weekend's San Diego Comic-Con. By all accounts, this convention was huge, with thousands upon thousands of people attending to catch the latest comic and toy-related news, meet up with celebrities, and yes, to pick up exclusive merchandise.

With the success of the theatrical Transformers movie this past month, it could probably be predicted that a Transformers exclusive would be popular. And Alternators have tended to be especially popular with adult fans for their realism and complexity. So, it was no surprise to read news reports of long lines waiting outside the Hasbro booth trying to get the Alternators Rodimus toy. Nor was it a surprise to hear cries of frustration and shouts of Hasbro's supposed incompetence when the lines moved too slowly, or people found themselves unable to get their desired toys for whatever reason.

A friend of mine, who as I type this is beginning a move to North Carolina to start work on her PhD at Duke this fall, was at Comic-Con this past weekend, and offered to pick up for me any exclusives I might want, whereby I would pay her for her expenses later. Having heard the reports of difficulties and frustration as early as Thursday, I gave her the list of exclusives I was interested in, but made it clear that I did not expect her to fight too hard to get these items on my behalf.

I was therefore very pleasantly surprised to find that she was successful in picking up Rodimus during her trip. Knowing that the toy would soon be in high demand, I confess that I was tempted to leave the toy in its (very attractive) box and re-sell it on eBay. I could certainly use the money. But such would be small gratitude to my friend, who got this toy for me as one of her last acts while living in Southern California! No, this item is going on display!

But first, a comment or two about the toy itself. Rodimus is a repaint/remold of Alternators Mirage (It definitely has a new head, but there may well be other remolded details I haven't noticed. I don't have a Mirage of my own, having traded the one I won at BotCon 2006 with my brother, who didn't care for the prize he won, an Energon Downshift, so much. Having been frustrated with Alternators in the past, I felt generous). The flame patterns on the hood/chest are clearly meant to evoke Hot Rod, a classic Generation 1 character, for whom the name "Rodimus" has been applied in more recent homages to the character, since the name "Hot Rod" is trademarked by another company, meaning that Hasbro can't use it anymore.

Now Rodimus occupies a position of prominence among the Alternators I have on display at work. I was surprised to discover that my other Alternators are so predominately blue (I also have the almost-entirely-black Alternators Ravage from a couple of years back, but that one's displayed elsewhere), so the bright red Rodimus simply had to go in the center to create a sense of balance!

Incidentally, Rodimus wasn't the only exclusive offered by Hasbro at the San Diego Comic-Con, or even the only Transformer exclusive. In addition to My Little Pony, Star Wars, GI Joe, and (I expect) other exclusives, there was also a Menasor figure from the Titanium line, which is (ironically) a Rodimus Prime repaint intended to homage yet another Generation One character. All of these "exclusives" were actually made available at HasbroToyShop.com online on Monday, although Alternators Rodimus sold out within a couple of hours. At the time of this writing, there were over 1000 Menasor figures still available, so hurry and head over to the site if you want one!

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