Friday, April 30, 2010

Empathy, Christian Virtue, and the Supreme Court

It's always an interesting time when a president nominates a Supreme Court Justice.  Maybe that's why I followed the three previous nomination processes that have happened in the few years that I've been writing this blog.  I've already said my piece about impartiality, and don't wish to retread ground too deeply.  Even so, with new comments making the rounds about the value of "empathy" (or, more properly, how President Obama seems to be avoiding the word, if not the concept, on this go-around), which I touched upon very quickly last time, it seems important to reflect on this issue as it relates to Christian virtue.

Now, of course, in a secular country, it's not entirely appropriate that a Supreme Court Justice be chosen on the basis of "Christian virtue," but I expect that few people would argue that such virtues (being virtues, after all) are a bad thing for a Justice to have.  Certainly, for those of us who are Christians ourselves, I think it's safe to say we want Justices in place who will respect such virtues.

But, is "empathy" a virtue that we should value in a Supreme Court Justice?  Consider, for example, this quote from a one-time adviser to former President George W. Bush named Ed Gillespie, who helped with at least one of Bush's Supreme Court nominations: "Empathy’s a great trait in a drinking buddy, but not so much a Supreme Court justice." 

Likewise, this quote from constitutional scholar Lee Epstein: “You hear ‘empathy’ and you don’t think impartiality, judicial temperament."  If being empathetic means that a Justice wouldn't be as good at their job (specifically, the job of determining the impartial application of the United States Constitution in difficult cases), then perhaps it is something we can do without.  Perhaps empathy isn't really a virtue at all!

On the other hand, here's a quote from law professor Pamela Karlan: "...the real issue is that many people do not understand the difference between empathy and sympathy. Empathy means being able to imagine oneself in the condition or predicament of another, while sympathy means sharing the feelings of another to the point of compassion or pity."  Perhaps a lot of this controversy is simply because people don't all agree as to what we're talking about in the first place?

It seems to me that, in order to be fair to those who seek justice, one must be "able to imagine oneself in the condition or predicament of another."  This doesn't mean that a person who is on the wrong side of the law should get better treatment than the law demands.  But it does mean that one can imagine how less-than-clear laws (and, let's face it, if the laws were clear, the cases wouldn't be getting to the Supreme Court, but would have been decided at a lower level) might apply to people in various circumstances (Richard Beck of Abilene Christian University articulates this better than I could ever hope to).  It is, in fact, the very opposite of imposing one's prejudices on a situation.

But let's go back to the idea of empathy as a Christian virtue.  Indeed, Beck (among others) considers empathy the greatest virtue!  Christians are fond of citing what we call "The Golden Rule."  Jesus teaches us to "do to others what (we) would have them do to (us)."  Doesn't obedience to this command require empathy?  And what if Beck's right, that empathy is the virtue that is "at the foundation of moral practice"? What does it say about us if, as Christians, we advocate against empathy?  If we're really serious that we want our government to reflect the principles of the people who live in it, and we believe that, as Christians, we have as much right to advocate for our beliefs as anyone else should, don't we want our leaders (including our lawmakers and those who administer the laws) to reflect the virtues that are at the core of who we say we're supposed to be?

Wednesday, April 28, 2010

CrazyDevy in Action!

Of all of the unofficial products (and it seems that there are more and more all the time) being made for Transformers, some of the more interesting to come around in recent times come from the appropriately-named  Basically, these guys have created parts that can be fitted to the Generation One Constructicons to not only potentially replace easily lost combiner parts, but to even give added articulation to what used to be a fairly static combined mode.  For example, check out this pose where Devastator is attacked from all sides by the (also unofficial) WST Dinorobots.  You can't do that with Devastator's original parts (by the way, images in this entry were all taken by my brother, Nick Wright, who is the one who shelled out the money for these parts)!

Devastator was, of course, the very first combiner robot released as part of the Transformers franchise, and it still remains one of the most popular (which is part of why this character itself has been revisited so many times).  But one of the most common complaints about combined robots (and especially the early ones) is that they simply don't have very good articulation.  Now, thanks to the combination of advances in toy technology and the more widespread availability of that tech to fans, it is now possible to rectify that failing.

Now, there are actually a lot of different parts one can buy (and for other combiners, too!), although at around $30 for each, I doubt that even the CrazyDevy folks really expect very many fans to get all of them.  My brother has just invested in the movable thighs and articulated hands.  He liked the idea of the ball joint neck, but didn't care for the appearance of the actual head it came with.  If only CrazyDevy did the ball joint neck with the regular head, I'm pretty sure they would have made another sale!

Monday, April 26, 2010

The New Testament in a Year: John 13-17

For my own personal study, I am using a combination of tools. These include listening to an audio version of the Bible (TNIV) and a series of commentaries in addition to the text itself. I recognize that not everyone will have access to these materials. I can at least provide a link to the Biblical text itself. For this purpose, I've found that is a very useful tool. Not only does it include the TNIV, which enables me to link to the same text as what I'm listening to with the audio version, but one can easily switch to another translation (if one so desires) simply by using the drop-down menus. I hope that this is helpful.

This week, I am working through John, chapters 13-17.

Before moving on to specific references, I want to comment that the first thing that stood out to me upon going through these chapters is that chapter 13 opens with a scene generally understood to be part of the Last Supper (despite John not referring to the body/bread and blood/wine in this passage, as the synoptic Gospels do).  Yet, by the end of the five chapters for the week, Jesus has still not yet been arrested.

Chapter 13

  • Verse 2 - This is the first of a couple of references to the Devil in relation to Judas and Judas' betrayal of Jesus.  At this point, John merely says that the Devil "had already prompted Judas... to betray Jesus."  The later reference is stronger.
  • Verse 10 - When Jesus responds to Peter's request to not only wash his feet, but indeed his whole body, I tend to picture Jesus laughing out loud before he explains to Peter why only washing one's feet is sufficient.
  • Verse 27 - Here's the second reference to the Devil (here explicitly called "Satan").  This time, "Satan entered into (Judas)."  I wonder what John is thinking about when he says that Satan (fully) "entered into" Judas at this time (and explicitly at this moment), vs. where the Devil had only been prompting Judas earlier.  To further muddy the waters, should this reference to the Devil be taken to suggest that Judas was somehow not responsible for his actions?
  • Verses 21-30 - I'm a bit surprised at the disciples' confusion here (of course, the suggestion that the disciples are easily confused is nothing new).  In one moment, they ask Jesus who will be the one to betray him, and he gives them an answer that seems to explicitly point to Judas. Then they don't understand why Jesus tells Judas to "do quickly" what he is about to do.  Seems obvious enough to me that he's saying "so you're going to betray me.  Let's get it over with."
Chapter 14
  • Verse 9 - Jesus seems surprised at Philip's lack of knowledge.  Given how often the disciples are demonstrated not to understand what Jesus is telling them, this is perhaps surprising.  On the other hand, perhaps it's reassuring that Jesus (who, as he's so intent on pointing out to us in this passage, is one with the Father) assumes knowledge on the part of his followers rather than the lack of it.1  It's kind of a vote of confidence, really....
  • Verse 15-26 - It seems to me that any attempt to understand the person of the Holy Spirit (undeniably the trickiest part of the Trinity to grasp) needs to spend a fair bit of time with this passage.
Chapter 15
  • Verse 2 - It doesn't matter if it's good or bad, you're going to get cut!
  • Verses 5-8 - While the analogy of vine and branches works in many respects, I wonder why Jesus uses it for the rather non-passive2 command to "remain in (Jesus)."  A branch has no power to cut one's self off, even if it "wanted" to.  A branch only fails to remain a part of the vine because something else cuts it off!  But I don't get the impression that this particular analogy is one of Jesus' "beware of the devil" warnings.
  • Verses 13-17 - It's well-known, of course, that Jesus commands us to love each other.  However, there's something about this context of Jesus calling his disciples "friends" that I find particular special--and particularly challenging.  Not just because Jesus couples being "friends" with doing what Jesus commands (although that's hard enough!), but also because this implicitly challenges me to a more social and communal life towards my friends than I may find comfortable. 
  • Verses 18-25 - Anyone who says that following Christ is supposed to be easy are going to find these verses particularly difficult.
  • Verses 26-27 - Another bit to add to the "need to spend time with in any attempt to understand the Holy Spirit" bit.
Chapter 16
  • Verse 5: "None of you asks me, 'Where are you going?'" - Actually, Peter did, in John 13:36. 
  • Verse 7 - I take it that "the Advocate" (that is, the Holy Spirit, see the verses already referenced in Chapter 15) is actually better (in at lease some respect) than Jesus, for Jesus to say it's a good thing that Jesus is going away, because the Advocate won't come if he doesn't....  (But I've got to say, writing that statement makes me feel a little bit heretical.  I'm just trying to follow what the Bible says!  Honest!)
  • Verse 29 - How is it that the disciples can say that Jesus is speaking clearly now as opposed to so much of what they failed to understand earlier that often seems even clearer than these immediately preceding verses?
Chapter 17
  • This whole chapter is a prayer Jesus prays to God.  Of course, like some others of Jesus' prayers, it has a definite feel of being as much being directed to Jesus' followers as it seems directed to God.

1See J. Ramsey Michaels, John (New International Bible Commentary), Hendrickson, 1989, p. 268.
2Michaels, p. 271.

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Friday, April 23, 2010

Because a Little Pooh Bear Is Needed Once in a While

I took these pictures last summer during a trip to Disneyland (for my birthday, actually).I don't really have much to say about them. I just feel like sharing.

Wednesday, April 21, 2010

Special Transformers Feature: Target Exclusive Animated Shockwave and Bumblebee

Often, when a new Transformers toy comes out--especially if that toy shares a name with a classic Transformers character from the past--it seems inevitable that a recolor of that toy will come out in colors that more closely homage the new character's namesake.  For this reason, when the first toy representing the Transformers Animated incarnation of Shockwave was released in gray, it was pretty much a foregone conclusion that a purple version would be forthcoming.  It is also increasingly the case that these "homage redecos" tend to be retail chain exclusives.  As the sticker in the upper right-hand corner indicates, the purple Animated Shockwave came from Target.

Shockwave didn't come alone, of course.  The set also came with the small "Activators" toy of Animated Bumblebee.  Filling the slot once called "Basics" or "Scouts" in previous lines, "Activators" were small toys with button-activated transformations.  See that red button on the top of Bumblebee's vehicle mode?  Push down on that, and the toy pops open to reveal Bumblebee's robot mode.  You may need to adjust the limbs somewhat to reach your desired pose, of course.

But let's be honest.  Bumblebee's just an extra.  People bought this set because of the purple Shockwave.  Shockwave's robot mode, while being a clearly different character than his Generation One namesake, clearly evokes the original version with the "ears" and the single eye in the middle of an otherwise blank face (to say nothing of the purple color!).

Animated Shockwave's alternate mode, on the other hand, bears no resemblance whatsoever to the distinctive "space gun" that Generation One Shockwave turned into.  But this can perhaps be forgiven once it is realized that Animated Shockwave is a character who, like Punch/Counterpunch (full review to come in a few months!), has distinct modes for both a Decepticon and an Autobot identity!

Shockwave's alternate robot mode goes by the Autobot alias of "Longarm" (or "Longarm Prime" in the cartoon itself, although this appears nowhere on the toy packaging).  The engineers really did a pretty remarkable job here, changing the toy's face, shoulders, hands, legs, height, and so on to create a new robot form that really could easily be taken for a totally different character (although this is definitely where the original toy's gray made for perhaps a more believable Autobot form than this toy's purple does.  Seriously, there just haven't been very many purple Autobots--if any--in the 25+ years of the Transformers franchise.  I won't say there have never been any, but I can't think of one off the top of my head).  

Unlike Punch/Counterpunch, who had only one vehicle mode between the two forms (I can only assume that he didn't transform very much while on spy missions, because I'm sure that having the same alternate mode would have made it difficult to maintain the pretense of secrecy for long...), Longarm even has a distinct (and appropriate) alternate mode!  While it's probably fair to say that the toy's alternate modes sacrifice something for the gimmick of having so many distinctive transformations, this really is a pretty impressive achievement!

A discussion of this set would hardly be complete without mentioning an oddity of the set's retail history.  This set was released at the same time as another Target exclusive (Sunstorm and Activators Ratchet).  Each set retailed for about $25.  Not at all a bad price, considering what you were getting.  However, after only being on the shelves for a short while, a glitch in Target's computer system caused these sets to come up as selling for a mere $5 for several days.  This glitch apparently affected all Target's across the country, and thus Transformers fans from all over made a mad scramble to pick up the toys for this dirt-cheap price before Target could fix the error.  Now, to be fair to Transformers fans, this wasn't strictly a bunch of less-than-honest fans being opportunistic.  Target has a long-known tendency to clearance their exclusive toys after a surprisingly short time on the shelves, because the toys are apparently intended to be sold during a fairly limited window of time, after which Target is anxious to clear them off the shelves so that they can sell new product.  Although the $5 price showed up a bit quicker, and with a bit steeper reduction, than had previously been known, that Target would have done such a thing on purpose was by no means beyond the realm of possibility.  Even so, Target no doubt lost a fair bit of money that they would have gotten had the error not happened as it did, and it seems probable that someone lost their job over it.  I hope that's not actually true, but it's that kind of large-scale foul-up that tends to cause heads to roll.

But, what's done is done, and because so many fans did manage to get these toys so cheaply, you can probably find them on eBay for a pretty low price even now.  But do stop by and sign up with Big Crumbs before you zip over to eBay to check, okay? ;)

Monday, April 19, 2010

The New Testament in a Year: John 8-12

For my own personal study, I am using a combination of tools. These include listening to an audio version of the Bible (TNIV) and a series of commentaries in addition to the text itself. I recognize that not everyone will have access to these materials. I can at least provide a link to the Biblical text itself. For this purpose, I've found that is a very useful tool. Not only does it include the TNIV, which enables me to link to the same text as what I'm listening to with the audio version, but one can easily switch to another translation (if one so desires) simply by using the drop-down menus. I hope that this is helpful.

This week, I am working through John, chapters 8-12.

Chapter 8

  • Verses 1-11 - This passage (including the last verse of Chapter 7--this is one of those times where one wonders why the chapters were set as they are.  Verse 1 starts in the middle of a sentence!) is one that doesn't appear in the earliest manuscripts, and thus many scholars believe that it's a later addition to the gospel (presumably by a different author).  Some manuscripts even insert this portion in a different location entirely!1
  • Verse 4 - If this woman was indeed "caught in the act of adultery," it stands to reason that someone else was caught at the same time.  Where is he?
  • Verse 5 - The law mentioned here would seem to be Deuteronomy 22:22.  While that law does indeed proscribe death for the woman (it doesn't explicitly mention stoning), it's pretty explicit that both the woman and the man caught with her are to be put to death.  Again, where is the man?
  • Verses 6-8 - The act of Jesus writing on the ground is quite odd (and unique in the gospels).  What was he writing? Those questioning him seem not to notice, or at least their response seems to be one that doesn't see anything more than a delaying tactic at work.  Then, when Jesus finally does give an answer (and what an answer!), he starts writing again, but again, we're not told what he's writing....
  • Verse 22 - Since Jesus talks about his upcoming death a fair bit (sometimes more explicitly than others), it's perhaps odd that people don't wonder if he's suicidal more often....
  • Verse 37 - I've said before that Jesus doesn't seem to worry about saying things that will offend people (especially in this gospel), but this verse seems especially odd, since Jesus is accusing people who (at least at one time?) "believed in him" (v. 31) of seeking to kill him.
  • Verses 39 and 41 - Jesus' opponents seem confused.  A mere two verses after insisting that "Abraham is our Father" they proclaim that "the only Father (they) have is God himself."
  • Verse 48 - While I can understand how opponents of Jesus might accuse him of being "demon-possessed," I'm at a bit of a loss as to where the accusation that Jesus is a Samaritan comes from (but readily acknowledge that, given the deep racism that exists at this time between Jews and Samaritans, it's intended as a grevious insult).
Chapter 9
  • Verse 2 - Leaving aside the importance of this story for demonstrating that physical maladies are not always the result of sin, one wonders how the disciples could have imagined that a person could be blind from birth due to a sin of his own (Michaels does suggest that Psalm 51:5 might have been in their minds,2 but even so, I'd have the same question).
  • Verse 7 - The idea that the name of the pool of Siloam means "sent," must of been of some importance for the gospel to make a special note of the fact, but the significance is lost on me.3
  • Verses 20-23 - One wonders at what kind of a relationship the blind man had with his parents.  The text certainly doesn't paint them in a very favorable light.  Rather, they're pretty quick to pass any potential hostility from the Jewish leaders back on him.
  • Verse 27: "Do you want to become his disciples too?" - Given the nature of the questions, thus far, I have to believe that the formerly-blind man knows that his questioners don't like Jesus much.  Why is he asking them a question that's only going to make them mad?
Chapter 10
  • Verses 1-18 - Someday, I should make a list of all the places that "sheep" and "shepherd" language shows up in the Bible.  I'm at least somewhat sympathetic with the fact that the people Jesus is talking to here seem confused.  In this particular example of the metaphor, Jesus simultaneously claims to be the "shepherd" and the gate itself!  If someone did this today, we'd accuse them of not understanding how a metaphor should work!
  • Verses 40-42 - The legacy of John the Baptist is still felt....

Chapter 11
  • Verses 1-2 - We've read about Mary and Martha in Luke, but this is the first we read of Lazarus (the name was used of a character in a parable told in (a different part of) Luke, but this is clearly a different--and real--person).  Given what happens to Lazarus, I'm somewhat amazed that his story is told less often than theirs!
  • Verse 16: "Thomas (also known as Didymus)" - I wonder why the translators of the TNIV chose to translate this bit in this way.  The fact that John went to the trouble of telling us the "other" name of Thomas means that he saw significance in the name that he knew would be lost on his Greek readers if he didn't spell it out.  In this case, that significance seems to be in the fact that (as the footnotes attest) both "Thomas" and "Didymus" mean "twin."  Apparently, Thomas was a twin, and John wanted us to know that.  Yet, by retaining this Greek name as a name (rather than translating to something an English-speaker would understand), this significance is entirely lost on TNIV readers (other English-language translations do this, too.  The TNIV is hardly the only culprit.  But quite a few English translations come right out as translate "Didymus" as "twin" without the need for footnotes).4
  • Verses 53: "So from that day on they plotted to take his life" - Errr, what about all those times we've read about people wanting to kill Jesus already?

Chapter 12
  • Verse 3 - John's actually already referenced this action of Mary's, in verse 2 of the previous chapter.  This would indicate that the story John's only getting around to telling now is already well-known among the early Christians.5
  • Verse 6 - Judas is really rotten.  He's not only going to betray Jesus, thus leading to Jesus' death, he's also a thief!  What's interesting to me is that no other gospels care enough about this "other" of Judas' failings to even mention it, yet John goes to some length to rub it in.  Then, having established that Judas has a weakness for money, he doesn't specifically mention that Judas was paid ("thirty pieces of silver," you may recall) for the act of betraying Jesus.
  • Verse 10 - I wonder what became of the chief priests' plan to have Lazarus killed.  The gospel doesn't mention him again (except for the upcoming verse 17, which has little to do with this scheme).

1J. Ramsey Michaels, John (New International Bible Commentary), Hendrickson, 1989, p. 146.
2Michaels, p. 159.
3Michaels, p. 164, gives some of history behind how the pool may have gotten the name, but that doesn't really answer the question, and I find his suggestion that "the narrator probably took advantage of (the name) to make a symbolic connection between this pool and the Spirit sent from God" to be possible, but an argument from silence rather than a clear connection.
4Michaels, p. 199, notes that "Thomas" was also a Greek name, if one used (exclusively?) by Jews. Perhaps the fact that both names were Greek is part of why some translations are reluctant to make things easier on English-readers.
5Michaels, p. 194.

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Sunday, April 18, 2010

Remembering UPN's Legend

Fifteen years ago today, on April 18, 1995, Richard Dean Anderson made his first appearance as a lead actor in a television series since the end of MacGyver, playing Ernest Pratt, the lead character in LegendLegend takes its name from Pratt's alter ego, Nicodemus Legend, a dime novel hero created by Pratt, who Pratt is (often unwillingly!) called upon to portray in real life.  Perhaps taking a cue from a couple of "dream episodes" of MacGyver, where Anderson's character imagined himself in the Old West, Legend was a western, but with a twist.

I remember the first time I saw Legend.  It was my Junior year of college. Saturday afternoon. I was visiting a friend, helping her hammer out some grammar and citations for a term paper she was working on. She decided to turn on the TV while I mused over proper sentence structure. The channel happened to be showing a western. No big deal here. A lot of stations show westerns on Saturday afternoons, presumably because no one watches TV at that time. Before she could change the channel, however, I noticed something: "That's Q!" Sure enough, John De Lancie's face was square in the center of the screen, surrounded by two large columns of electricity.  De Lancie was Janos Bartok, an inventor (inspired by the real-life Nikola Tesla) who used his inventions to enhance the reputation of Pratt's "Legendary" hero.  I eventually realized that I had happened upon the first episode of Legend, a show on the then-new broadcast network, UPN (which no longer exists).  Because our college was located in the mountains of North Carolina, we didn't have enough local TV stations for UPN to have its own channel. For us, the local FOX station had agreed to air UPN's programming at whatever time it could be fit into the schedule. For Legend, that meant Saturdays at 3:00 PM. Not a time when I'm generally watching TV. If it hadn't been for that chance encounter, I might never have gotten attached to UPN's far-too-short-lived show.

Unfortunately, when ratings figures didn't immediately show up as highly as had been hoped, Legend was quickly in danger of being canceled. The fact that UPN was still in its first few months of programming didn't seem to matter. The executives were already threatening to kill the show after only its third episode. It's not that Legend did poorly.  It was UPN's second-most highly watched show (after Star Trek: Voyager).  Rather, the UPN executives simply had unrealistic expectations for what ratings on a brand-new network (that wasn't even airing on dedicated stations in a large part of the country) should look like (obviously, that's my own opinion, but I think that this is one that others would agree with.  I remember hearing John De Lancie, at a convention appearance a year or two later, remark that people often confused "UPN" with "UPS").

Valiant efforts were made to save the show, and it is largely due to these efforts that we saw a total of thirteen episodes of Legend (counting the two-hour pilot as two episodes).  I even took it upon myself to do what I could to save the show. I sent in written letters to my local UPN station (this one in Louisville, where my parents live, and where I watched the show that summer) and to the UPN headquarters in California. I also tried my hand at some Legend fan fiction. The result was a story I called "Legend Runs for Mayor."  At the time it was written, Legend was still on the air, running through its last few episodes. Although the show had already been proclaimed "cancelled" by this time, I figured hope was alive as long as it still had an on-air presence. I posted the story to AOL and several BBS's (both of which seem antiquated now, but the Internet was not yet the widely accessible "superhighway" it is today) with a note at the end of the story telling people how to write UPN to voice their feelings. Unfortunately, I was not able to gain anywhere near enough widespread notice for my little story to even make a dent, and on August 8 (my birthday!) of that year, the show aired its final first-run episode.  As it turned out, every one of UPN's first-year programs were scrapped, except for Star Trek: Voyager, the show to which UPN owed its very existence, even though that show itself was a disappointing take on the Star Trek franchise. (Note: Voyager was given a two year guarantee when it was picked up by UPN. Don't even get me started on how bad the first two years' worth of Voyager programming was. If Legend were given a tenth of the chance Voyager was, it would have lived a nice, long life.)

A year later, I started seminary. I lived at the time in a little middle-of-nowhere town in South Carolina. Still struggling to find a job, I had a lot of free time on my hands. My searches for Legend information on the web yielded very little of use. The only site I could find was this site, which even at that time hadn't been updated since the series was canceled.   So I then decided to begin my own site. This was my first effort at doing my own web page.  Perhaps due to the short run of the show, I never had too much competition, so it eventually was widely regarded by many as the premier Legend site on the web.  Unfortunately, I moved on to other things, and the site no longer exists (although parts of it can still be found via the Internet Archive, and I have given many of the images I collected, including a number of behind-the-scenes pictures, a home at Picasa), while the other site remains (still unchanged, apparently) to this day.  I'm told that the show pops up in reruns from time to time, but this always seems to be on cable networks (which I don't get), so I can't say how reliable that information is, let alone how recently or often it happens.  Although there are a few You Tube clips out there, I've yet to see Legend on a service like Hulu, and the show has never been released on DVD, and so I encourage people to tell Paramount that there's an interest from time to time (although even that link is pretty old, dating back to before MacGyver had even been released on DVD!). (25th anniversary edit. Legend eventually was released on DVD! Sadly, some of the music had to be changed for copyright reasons)

I'm sad to note that both co-creators of Legend, Michael Pillar and Bill Dial, have passed away in recent years.  A reminder that the show actually has been gone for quite some time, even though it doesn't really feel like it's been so long....

Note: April 18th is also (coincidentally!) the 5-year anniversary of this blog. Between these two anniversaries, I'm going ahead with a Sunday post to make sure that it actually appears on the correct day.

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Thursday, April 15, 2010

BotCon 2010 Brochure is Up

They're cutting it closer than they've ever done before, but the BotCon 2010 brochure is finally up.  Head over to to see what's what.

Wednesday, April 14, 2010

Fuller Flashback 2000: Serving as Arts Concerns Chair

Back in the year 2000 (it seems amazing to realize that was a full decade ago, now!), I had the privilege of serving as the chair of what was then called the "Arts Concerns Committee" of Fuller Theological Seminary (they go by "Fuller Arts Collective" nowadays).  Although I am proud to have had that title, it has to be said that I kind of "fell into" the position, accepting the role as a favor to a friend who was experiencing a family crisis, and being the only one of the then-only-3 other people on the Arts Concerns Committee who was really in any position to take on extra responsibilities (let alone these extra responsibilities!).

It's a very different story these days.  Now that the Brehm Center for Worship, Theology, and the Arts is fully in place, there are quite a few people at Fuller who aren't shy about expressing artistic inclinations.  But that wasn't always the case. I think it might be fair to say that my "generation" of students fell into a kind of "donut hole" at Fuller.  The Arts Concerns Committee started perhaps a decade before my time, when there was already a considerable number of students with deep interest in expressing their artistic skills in ways that connected with their Christian faith.  But that generation of students had long since moved on, and the wave of students that would eventually come because of the Brehm Center had not yet arrived.  In many ways, it seems that I was a "caretaker," making sure that Arts stayed alive on campus during a fallow period.

Although there weren't as many of us back then, that's not to say that I had nothing to do during my tenure.  Fuller had already established the tradition of an annual Arts Festival at that time, although it did look a bit different then than it does now, with its focus on a single guest speaker and a Saturday "Chalk Walk" where families would come to draw on our sidewalks.  I also helped to edit the annual arts magazine, Offerings, drawing upon my experience doing something similar while I was in college.  I'm especially proud of a project we put together toward the end of the academic year, whereby we invited students to do oil paintings once a week for about a month in the open patio area we call "the Garth" (which actually is the legitimate term for the place, and not a reference to a person's name).  Quite a few students stopped by to participate, or perhaps just to admire the works being created.  Either way, people were being made aware of the place artistic expression held within our community.

This week is the 2010 edition of the annual Arts Festival (now called "Arts Fest") at Fuller.  In keeping with this year's theme of "The Elements," a few students have already been working to increase awareness on campus through various creative means.  A few weeks ago, some chalk drawings featuring a periodic table (Get it?  "Elements"?) have appeared on campus, with various "elements" missing from the table, only to be found isolated in other portions of the campus.  Although I'm not entirely sure, I suspect that the mass of pinwheels discovered on the grassy mall area last week were also part of this awareness project ("wind" is often considered an "element," in the classical "earth, air, fire, and water" sense).  The Arts are alive and well at Fuller!

Monday, April 12, 2010

The New Testament in a Year: John 3-7

For my own personal study, I am using a combination of tools. These include listening to an audio version of the Bible (TNIV) and a series of commentaries in addition to the text itself. I recognize that not everyone will have access to these materials. I can at least provide a link to the Biblical text itself. For this purpose, I've found that is a very useful tool. Not only does it include the TNIV, which enables me to link to the same text as what I'm listening to with the audio version, but one can easily switch to another translation (if one so desires) simply by using the drop-down menus. I hope that this is helpful.

This week, I am working through John, chapters 3-7.

Chapter 3

  • Verses 1-21 - Nicodemus is an interesting character, who will show up again later in Luke's narrative.
  • Verse 2 - The fact that Nicodemus approaches Jesus at night is suspicious, but perhaps one should be impressed that he approaches Jesus at all.  Even if he has ulterior motives (and he does seem to be laying to compliments on rather thick), he is notable for actually engaging Jesus in conversation throughout this passage.
  • Verse 10 - Translations (including the TNIV) almost universally phrase this sentence as a question.  Michaels suggests that it should be taken as a statement, instead.  Part of the reason for this is that, if it's a question, one expects Jesus to be referencing the Old Testament for support of his teachings on baptism, which he does not do here.  Thus, "there is no way Nicodemus can be expected to understand Jesus' new teaching."  Rather, Jesus' point here is that these "spiritual things" are only able to be understood "by those born of the Spirit."1
  • Verses 22-26 - Apparently, according to John, Jesus and John were both active at the same time at the beginning Jesus' ministry.  Other gospels seem to imply that John was imprisoned shortly after Jesus' baptism (which this gospel still never explicitly discusses, despite another clear opportunity to do so).
  • Verse 26 - Already, there seems to be some confusion about whether or not Jesus himself is baptizing people.  John doesn't immediately clarify that it was Jesus' disciples (and not Jesus himself) performing the baptisms until a little later.
Chapter 4
  • Verse 2 - Here John makes explicitly clear that Jesus isn't the one performing the baptisms.  I've always wondered why not....
  • Verse 3 - And why is Jesus responding to this word about baptizing more people than John by returning to Galilee?
  • Verses 13-15, 31-34 - These are among several passages (especially in John) where Jesus is discussing spiritual matters in terms that not only sound a lot like physical hunger and thirst (and their fulfillment), but it is clear that those to whom he is speaking understand these words in precisely these physical terms.  Does Jesus want people to understand what he's really talking about or not?
  • Verse 54 - Other gospels seem content to record Jesus' miracles and leave room for any number of unrecorded signs that may have taken places earlier or later in his lifetime.  John is still being very specific at this point.  This is miracle number two.  He doesn't seem to allow for the possiblity of Jesus performing any other miracles earlier than these that John didn't write down.
Chapter 5
  • Verses 6-7 - Given the man's response to Jesus' question (not so much an answer as an excuse), one wonders if he really did want to get well, as absurd as the idea that he might not would seem on its surface.
  • Verse 14 - What sinning does Jesus refer to, that the formerly invalid man had been committing?
  • Verses 36-40 - I'm not going to spell this out every time it appears, but it seems to me that a strong recurring theme in the gospel of John is Jesus' insistence that he is sent by God as a kind of emissary or ambassador, given authority by God to do the work of God.

Chapter 6
  • Verses 1-13 - There are only a small handful of stories that appear in all four gospels.  The fact that the feeding of the five thousand is one of them (and that so many of the details remain consistent.  Five loaves and two fish.  Twelve baskets of food left over...) would seem to suggest that it is a story considered especially remarkable.
  • Verses 50-65 - Oddly, John doesn't tell the story of Jesus eating (or offering) the Last Supper on the night before his crucifixion, but Jesus' teachings about his flesh and blood are clearly intended to connect with the sacrament that developed out of that event.

Chapter 7
  • Verses 3-5 - How interesting.  Jesus' own brothers tell Jesus to make himself more public, not because they really want his message to spread, but because they "did not believe in him."  Apparently, even Jesus' own brothers want to see him fail.  Do they somehow suppose that this is for Jesus' own good (if his "delusions" are brought to light, might he then "come to his senses"?), or do they not care about their own brother at all?
  • Verses 14-24 - Jesus clearly doesn't mind telling people things that he knows will offend them....
  • Verse 42 - Note that the gospel of John doesn't explicitly confirm Jesus' birth in Bethlehem.  One can only speculate if he is himself aware of this birth history (yet doesn't bother to record it), or if he simply doesn't consider the objections he quotes other people as having as sufficient to deny Jesus' claim to be the Messiah, even if the facts of the objection turned out to be true.  (Other common contemporary "objections" to Jesus being the Messiah--dying on the cross, for example--certainly shouldn't be considered as "evidence" against him).
  • Verse 50 - Nicodemus makes his second of three appearances in this gospel.  Blink and you'll miss him.

1J. Ramsey Michaels, John (New International Bible Commentary), Hendrickson, 1989, p. 61.

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Friday, April 09, 2010

Offbeat Transformers Collectibles: Bumble Spud

One of the many Transformers message boards I frequent is TFW2005.  A few weeks back, Hasbro donated a couple of toys to them to give away to some lucky board members, and so TFW2005 had a contest, and I was fortunate enough to become the winner of "Bumble Spud," a Mr. Potato Head toy with parts resembling the live-action movie version of Bumblebee.

Basically, we were asked to answer this question: "How would Sam's interaction with Bumblebee been different in the two movies if instead of Sam getting his first car, he got a transforming potato?"

Here's my response, which was apparently judged as "funniest or most creative":
Upon seeing the baked potato Sam's well-meaning (but incredibly stupid) mother had given him for dinner transform into a miniature robot, Sam nearly jumped out of his seat. Although both parents looked up at Sam's cry, both seemed oblivious to the walking piece of food now standing upon the dinner table. Sam asked to be excused, and upon rushing to the next room to get some air, Sam saw that the robot was following him around wherever he went. "You're not crazy" the food-bot said aloud. "I had our chief medical potato give both of your parents a mild sedative earlier so that they would remain unaware of our conversation. I need your help to retrieve an artifact of great importance to my entire race: the Allspud!"

Sam merely stared at the tiny robot in disbelief. "I don't know what you're talking about, and more to the point, I don't care." With that, Sam raised his foot in the air, and with one not-entirely clean motion, squashed the potatobot into mash.

Sam's food never dared to speak to him again.
Anyway, my Bumble Spud arrived in the mail yesterday.  If you're familiar with the Mr. Potato Head concept, you pretty much know what to expect with this toy.  It's got various parts that can be removed and either swapped out with other parts, or perhaps placed on other portions of the toy altogether, so if you want to give your Mr. Potato Head an arm where his ear should be, you're welcome to give that a try.  Me?  I thought it was enough to "transform" Bumble Spud's robotic face into something more closely resembling a "normal" Mr. Potato Head form.

Because you really can't attach all the parts that come with the toy all at once, it's a good thing that they also give you a space to store all those parts, but it's probably best not to think too hard about the implications of this location and how Mr. Potato Head pulls things out of here.... ;)

The packaging of Bumble Spud uses essentially the same design motif used for mainstream Transformers: Revenge of the Fallen toys, although it does parody some of those concepts and have fun with them.  Instead of calling Bumble Spud an "Autobot," for example, he's a "Taterbot," and the package proudly proclaims that Bumble Spud is "More Then (sic) Meets the Fry!"  Bumble Spud is even given Tech Specs on the back of the box, although each statistic is given an additional (seemingly random) potato-themed modifier (I don't actually know how these numbers match up with the "real" Bumblebee).

All in all, this toy will make a fun addition to my office shelf, and I want to thank TFW2005 for sending it to me!

Wednesday, April 07, 2010

"Transformer" Feature: Action Master G2 Breakdown

2004 was a difficult year in the history of Transformers conventions.  Although BotCon had developed a reputation as the largest and best-known convention devoted to the franchise, the name was phased out in the previous year as the convention took on official status with Hasbro and the person then in charge of organizing the convention moved to separate the company from the folks who had started the "BotCon" concept.  Although not all the facts about exactly what happened, and why, are entirely clear even today, it is obvious that this was a very contentious decision that caused a lot of hurt feelings and it is not too uncommon to hear words of blame tossed in one direction or another whenever the topic is brought up, even today.  Without getting into those painful details, it is enough to say that one result was that, in 2004, there were two significant conventions.  One, called the "Official Transformers Collectors Convention" because, well, it was, and another unofficial convention, run by the Hartman brothers, the original BotCon organizers, which retained the "BotCon" name.

Because 2004 was the 10th anniversary of the original BotCon, the organizers wanted to do something special for an exclusive, but no longer having official ties to Hasbro, their options were limited.  Ultimately, the Hartmans teamed up with Joe Toscano (who had been creating custom Action Masters for a few years by that time) and Chip Wallace (who at the time was running a custom stickers site) to create an unofficial Action Master to homage the original BotCon exclusive from 1994, G2 Breakdown.  Using the never-released-in-the-US Action Master Sideswipe as the base from which to create a mold, and creating a new head which more closely resembled Breakdown, this toy nicely captures the feel of the character despite having features that the original Breakdown toy never had (most notably the Lamborghini hood as a chest) .

One of the featured guests at BotCon 2004 was Peter Cullen, who provided the voice of Optimus Prime in the original Transformers cartoon (and who has since come back to provide Prime's voice for the Michael Bay live-action Transformers theatrical movies).  As I understand it, BotCon 2004 was held in Pasadena specifically so that Cullen (who lives in the Los Angeles area) could participate.  Since I work in Pasadena, that naturally worked out great for me, and so I made arrangements to attend.  It was actually announced sometime after the initial registration period that an (as yet unrevealed) exclusive would be provided to those who paid a little bit extra to attend a breakfast on the morning the convention began.  Although I wasn't keen on spending extra money, the promise of an exclusive was too much to turn down, and so I signed up for that, too.  As a result, I was able to get one of the few Action Master G2 Breakdowns made, and I don't regret paying to attend the breakfast one bit.

The folks who created AM G2 Breakdown also went to the trouble of providing packaging for the figure which, like the Headrobot Cobra, had to be careful to avoid using any of the trademarks then in use by Hasbro.  You can find pictures of the package, as well as a detailed "making of the figure" feature, at this site.  The package even included a set of "Tech Specs" that duplicated the style used in Generation Two.  What it didn't include, oddly enough, was a set of the "Power Plans" that were characteristically on all (real) Action Master figures.  Naturally, I couldn't allow this oversight to go unaddressed, so when I went home the evening after I picked up my figure, I put some together.  I even made sure to print out a copy to give to the Hartmans (I assume they got it, but I wasn't able to hand it to them in person, but rather to one of the staff of the convention).

Of course, "BotCon" is once again the name of the official Transformers convention, and the theme for this year's BotCon is "Generation Two: Redux."  It was revealed just this past weekend that one of the figures in the box set is a new Generation Two Breakdown figure!  Because this toy uses the mold created for the "Universe 2.0" Sideswipe figure, it actually looks more like the "unofficial" Action Master than it does the original Generation Two Breakdown, but I, for one, am not complaining.  My only concern right now is scraping up the money to afford the new toy, so it can go next to the Action Master I already have!

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Monday, April 05, 2010

Transformers Easter Egg Decorating Kit

This Easter season, I decided that, since it's been a few years since I've actually colored any Easter Eggs, and since Transformers products really do seem to be everywhere these days, I'd go ahead and get the "Transformers Easter Egg Decorating Kit" recently on the market (since it's now after Easter, if you're able to find this set, I'm willing to bet you can get a really good price on it!).  Here's my assessment.

Most of the contents of the kit are pretty standard for Easter Egg kits these days.  You've got stickers, little tablets of dye, a wire for dipping the eggs into the dye (and for fishing them out again afterward), and paper holders for so few of the eggs you're going to make that I always wonder why they bother.  The Transformers kit also comes with a little mini-poster (what am I supposed to do with this?  I suppose if I were still in grade school, I could stick it in my locker) and a "trading card."  Apparently, there are four of these (what, are people supposed to buy so many kits that they stand a chance of getting all four of these blind-packed things?).  I got Ravage.

Having already hard-boiled 18 eggs (of which only 17 survived to be colored), I started work.  The instructions suggest adding a few teaspoons of vinegar to the water if you want bolder colors on all but one of the colors they give you tablets for.  The exception, the pink tablet, they are very explicit about saying it goes in water only.  I assume there's something about the chemicals in that one that either makes the color not especially strong when put in acid, or it creates some other undesirable effect.  I didn't tempt fate to find out, but since not all of the other tablets look like the colors they'll be once you put them in water (green is especially confusing beforehand), I would have hoped that they'd label which tablet is which if they're going to make such a big deal about treating one differently.  Suffice it to say, I guessed correctly, and pink is the only one I didn't put in a vinegar solution.

Knowing that this was going to take some time, I stuck in a DVD to watch/listen to while I worked (sorry, Transformers fans, I went with Bugs Bunny instead.  Seemed appropriate for Easter).  There's not an exact science to this kind of thing, but I basically left an egg in each color for about 10 minutes (or about 1-and-a-half Bugs Bunny cartoons) before taking them out to dry.

Like most commercially-bought Easter Egg kits, the box was designed to poke out holes in the back to let your eggs sit while they dry (also like most such kits, they suggest using the circles punched out in this process as spinny-disks.  I didn't bother with that).  Basically, I only used up to five of the nine spaces they gave us at any one time.  Thus, I minimized the danger of knocking one egg into another before they were dry.  Eggs stayed on this tray for more-or-less the same 10-minute cycle as the next set of eggs would spend sitting in the dye.

Of course, I had to move those eggs out of way before the ones in the dye could come out, and this is where I put them.  Basically, once an egg was dry to the touch, it would be moved here until I was done dying all of the eggs.  I then watched a few more Bugs Bunny cartoons (I have five volumes of the "Golden Collection" DVDs on hand, but only needed the Bugs Bunny-devoted disk of the first two to get through this whole project) before moving on to the stickers and stands.

Stands like these are increasingly standard fare in Easter Egg kits, but I really think this is where these folks are stingy in the extreme.  There's enough dye here to handle literally dozens of eggs (I almost felt I was doing too little by getting only 18 eggs, but someone's going to have eat all these eventually!), yet they give you only four stands!  Come on, folks!  I'm already paying several dollars to get this stuff, the least you can do is print out a few more pieces of paper!  Anyway, given the Transformers theme, I did my best to match up stickers to the character for each stand (not that you can tell here), and even matching stickers to egg color to some extent, although this is obviously just a matter of personal preference.

I'm not especially thrilled with the stickers, either.  I don't think a single one of them laid flat on the egg.  They've all got little wrinkles like this!  Give me some decals, folks!

All in all, this was fun to do once, but I don't expect I'll be spending money on this again next year (assuming they even release such a Transformers-themed set again next year).

The New Testament in a Year: Luke 22-24 and John 1-2

For my own personal study, I am using a combination of tools. These include listening to an audio version of the Bible (TNIV) and a series of commentaries in addition to the text itself. I recognize that not everyone will have access to these materials. I can at least provide a link to the Biblical text itself. For this purpose, I've found that is a very useful tool. Not only does it include the TNIV, which enables me to link to the same text as what I'm listening to with the audio version, but one can easily switch to another translation (if one so desires) simply by using the drop-down menus. I hope that this is helpful.

This week, I am working through Luke, chapters 22-24 and John, chapters 1 and 2.

Chapter 22

  • Verse 3 - I think this is the first version of this story to explicitly tie Judas' betrayal to Satan's influence, as opposed to a "merely" human motivation on Judas' part.
  • Verses 24-30 - The placement right in the middle of the story of the Jesus' Last Supper is striking, but this argument about "who is the greatest?" starts out a lot like one we've read already in the Gospel of Mark and even earlier in Luke itself.  The separate similar incident in Luke argues against this being a different telling of the same story, but it does seem unusual to see this dispute pop up again, and especially here.
  • Verses 36-38 - Jesus is actually telling his people to buy swords, even encouraging them to sell stuff to get them?  This is unexpected.  On the other hand, he does indicate that two are enough....
  • Verses 49-51 - In light of this, perhaps it is less surprising that the disciples think to use swords when Jesus is being arrested (although they do seem to ask him for permission while using them, for whatever that's worth.  I notice they don't see to wait for answer).  I also find it striking that, here in Luke, Jesus doesn't say the famous passage that those use the sword would die by it, although he does seem to tell his disciples to stop, and immediately heals the damage the attack has caused to the person's ear (if you'll forgive a rather gruesome question, does this mean that the man now has two ears, and a third is now laying on the ground?).
  • Verse 51 - Geldenhuys makes an interesting observation here.  Since one of Jesus's followers has attacked (and injured!) someone, Jesus' enemies would indeed have cause to accuse him of being the leader of a group of violent followers.  By not only ordering his disciples to stop, but also by healing the wounded servant, Jesus acts to work against this potential accusation.1
Chapter 23
  • Verse 12 - I don't find the idea of Pilate and Herod becoming friends (nor of the idea that they had previously been enemies) intriguing so much as the question of what, exactly, initiated the change in the relationship.  The fact that both of them had met Jesus (as a factor by itself) seems unlikely.  After all, what would be noteworthy enough about this incident, among all of the accused people each was likely to have to deal with, that--despite Pilate's insistence on Jesus' innocence and Herod's displeasure with Jesus at Jesus' unwillingness to perform miracles for him--they would become friends because of it?  Geldenhuys suggests that Herod was impressed by Pilate's "gesture of paying homage" to him (by having sent Jesus to him--the fact that this was done as a move by Pilate to evade responsibility for Jesus' fate notwithstanding).2
  • Verse 18 - Luke has the people ask for Barabbas without even waiting for Pilate to offer them a choice.  So far as Luke records it, the people are just upset that Pilate is going to let Jesus go, and they ask for a substitute.
  • Verse 44 - Jesus' death seems to have caused a change in the local weather pattern.  I expect that the fact that Luke tells us that it lasted for three hours is, itself, of some significance (or, alternatively, that it happened at those specific hours of the day), but I don't pretend to know what it is.
  • Verses 55-56 - Luke tells us two things: 1) that the women saw the body of Jesus being placed in the tomb, and that 2) although they went home to prepare spices and perfumes (presumably to treat the body with), they "rested on the Sabbath in obedience to the commandment."  I wonder, if Jesus had happened to die on a different day of the week, would the women have returned to the tomb earlier?
Chapter 24
  • (Due to a fortunate coincidence, I happen to be writing this on Easter Sunday)
  • Verse 4 - Although the men are not explicitly referred to as angels, the fact that Luke tells us that their clothes "gleamed like lightning" seems clear enough....
  • Verse 13 - It is somewhat unfortunate that, to this day, we cannot with certainty say where "Emmaus" was.  There is a city with a similar name ('Amwas) on a straight road to Jerusalem, but it is nearly three times as far from Jerusalem as the clear "seven miles" reference here would allow.  Another city, Kubeibeh, is about the right distance away, and was apparently considered the correct location by the Crusaders, and Geldenhuys considers this the most probable location.3  We'll probably never know for sure.  It's not too improbable to assume that a "village" (as Luke calls it) might have died out with little trace for future archaeologists to find....
  • Verses 13-35 - Another story where people look straight at Jesus (post-resurrection) and fail to recognize him.  Although I suppose it's possible that these particular followers had never been so physically close to Jesus at any given time so as to be able to recognize him, I suspect that the reality isn't so mundane.
  • Verse 34 - By the way, it seems that Jesus (who did, it seems vanish into thin air) beat the Emmaus disciples (who it seems didn't waste any time) back to Jerusalem to meet Simon (Peter?) and then leave again....
  • Verse 36 - ...and then re-appear again....
  • Verse 51 - Although Luke records Jesus' ascension into heaven here, it's worth noting that Luke wrote the book of Acts, also, and he backtracks a bit when he starts that book.  We'll get to that in a few weeks.
Chapter 1
  • Verse 1: "In the beginning" - It's no accident that this gospel starts of the same way as the first book of the Hebrew Bible....
  • Verses 1-16 - Brown argues that (most of) the verses so far are not only a poem (many would agree on this point), but may have been a hymn composed separately from the rest of the gospel, which was later adapted to become the "prologue" to it.4
  • Verses 32-34 - John (the gospel) does not actually show Jesus' baptism.  Indeed, some of the events of Jesus' baptism (especially the decent of the spirit "as a dove") are recounted by John the Baptizer.
  • Verses 45-47 - There's something refreshing about this exchange.  Nathaniel scoffs at the location of Jesus' origin, and Jesus--far from appearing to be insulted--actually compliments Nathaniel on his lack of deceit.
  • Verses 48-50 - This bit, on the other hand, is just bizarre.  Why should Nathaniel be amazed that Jesus "knows him" on the basis of the exchange in the previous verses?  And what's so special about being seen sitting under a fig tree that Nathaniel should be even further impressed?  It's really very mundane sounding.  Surely there's more going on here.  Brown notes a common interpretation that this demonstrates "Jesus' ability to know things beyond the normal human range,"5 and I see no reason to question that.  Indeed, something of the kind would almost have to be going on to explain Nathaniel's reaction.

Chapter 2
  • Verse 4 - The footnotes to the TNIV tell us that "The Greek for Woman does not denote any disrespect."  On the one hand, I wonder how they know this, but accepting them at their word, this seems to be important for modern English readers to understand.  I can't tell you the number of times I've heard this passage read aloud when the inflection made it clear that the person reading did think Jesus was using the word "Woman" in a derogatory manner.  (In a related note, I wonder if there's a cultural reason why Jesus does not refer to his mother as, well, "Mother," or something similar.)
  • Verse 11 - John explicitly tells us that this is the first "sign" (other translations say "miracle") that Jesus performs.  I wonder, then, how it is that Jesus' mother knew that Jesus could do something about the wine.  (There are traditions of Jesus performing miracles during childhood, but none of these are contained within the canon of Scripture, to say nothing of the contradiction to this particular assertion of John's.)
  • Verses 13-17 - This is way early for Jesus to be cleansing the temple compared to the synoptic gospels (all of which depict this story toward the end of Jesus' earthly ministry before his crucifixion).  Also, I'm intrigued by the lack of any "den of robbers" reference, here.  Going by the words alone, the fact that people are selling things ("Stop turning my Father's house into a market!") is sufficient to rouse Jesus' anger.
  • Verse 24 - Although the passage seems clear enough as to the question of "why not," I'm not at all sure "what" it means that Jesus didn't "entrust himself" to any of the people.

1Norval Geldenhuys, The Gospel of Luke (The New International Commentary on the New Testament), Eerdmans, 1951, p. 580.
2Geldenhuys, p. 594.
3Geldenhuys, p. 636.
4Raymond E. Brown, The Gospel According to John I-XII (The Anchor Bible Commentary), Doubleday, 1966, pp. 18-21.
5Brown, p. 83.

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Friday, April 02, 2010

Not-Quite Transformers Feature: Headrobots Cobra

The fan base for Transformers is large enough these days that there are a number of companies out there that, while not officially sanctioned by either Hasbro or TakaraTomy, create products of obvious interest to Transformers fans.  One very recent example of this is the first of what promises to be a new line of "Headrobots" figures.  These small figures are designed to replace the official heads of Headmasters toys made in the 1980's.

The concept takes its origin from a line of extremely rare figures produced by Takara in 1987.  Instead of turning into small robots, these heads turned into various animals, such as a lion or a tiger.  These figures are SO rare that even sites dedicated to cataloging Transformers toys haven't always been able to secure images (this one's supposed to turn into an elephant, but the only image I've ever seen comes from the Takara catalog.  If you happen to have an actual specimen of the toy, the folks the TF Wiki and would love to get some pictures from you!).  The concept for a cobra head figure was actually created way back then, but no such figure was ever created.  The Headrobots folks have decided to take these concepts (including a few others that Takara came up with), tweak them just a bit, and create actual figures of them for the first time.

The toy comes in packaging that intentionally homages the original Transformers packaging, but carefully avoids any actual Hasbro- or Takara-owned trademarks.  Even the insignia that looks like a Decepticon symbol, at first glance, is actually a new design.  The packaging is also designed to be able to open and close without damage, so you can take the toy out, play with it, and then put it back in the package for display, and no one should be able to tell that it isn't a "mint, unopened" sample.

The real fun of this little toy comes from being able to put it on the bodies of any 1980's era Headmaster toys you might have lying around.  Here is the Headrobot on my Chromedome toy.  The back of the Headrobot package suggests that these guys are evil characters who have the ability to attach themselves to transtectors (official Takara-speak for the bodies of Headmaster and similar toys) in order to control them.  Not all that dissimilar from the Transformers: Animated character "Headmaster" (who is otherwise largely unrelated to the 1980's Headmaster concept).

The Headrobot guys really paid attention to detail.  They even designed this figure in such a way that, if you open up the stats meter found on the vintage toys, it will display stats unique to the cobra figure.  I really appreciate that they've homaged this concept so fully.  These figures can be found at the usual Transformers-related online shops.  I got mine from


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