Wednesday, June 30, 2010

Jim Shooter's Original Transformers Treatment

One of the surprises to come out of BotCon 2010 was a display of the original treatment, written by Jim Shooter of Marvel Comics, creating what we know of as the Transformers franchise.  A discussion on resulted in someone asking if the treatment had been archived on Usenet for posterity.  I decided to give it a shot, transcribing the document (which is currently visible on the web only via images taken of the PowerPoint displays at the convention, but "Thank you!" to the Allspark for making these available!), and posting the end results both in that ATT thread as well as here.  I've tried to retain the style of the original document as much as possible, and have included a number of the "corrections" made by Shooter and/or his staff, visible on the document itself as seen in the images, using "strikethrough" code.  The result is a fascinating look into the origins of the franchise.

This is a pretty long bit (well, it was 8-pages typed!), so here goes:


Civil war rages on the planet Cybertron.  Destruction is catastrophic and widespread, and yet no life is lost.  None, at least, in the sense that we know life--for the inhabitants of Cybertron are all machines.  There is NO "life" on Cybertron save for mechanical, electronic, "creatures." As mankind is first among the organic denizens of Earth, intelligent, sentient robots are the dominant species on Cybertron.  Even the planet itself is one vast mechanical construct.  Perhaps there was once a "real" world upon which Cybertron was built on, into, under, and through until no trace of the original planet can be found, but the origin of the planet is unknown, lost in antiquity.  Similarly, it is unknown whether the robotic "life" of Cybertron was originally created by some mysterious, advanced, alien race in the dim, distant past, or whether these strange metallic beings somehow evolved from bizarre, basic life forms beyond human comprehension.

What is certain is that the sentient, robotic beings of Cybertron are destroying one another.

The Autobots have, for untold eons, devoted themselves to peaceful pursuits--commerce, trade, and travel--wayfaring endlessly upon the broad turnpikes, through the winding transit tubes, and across the soaring skyhighways of Cybertron.

The Decepticons have no use for peace.  For untold eons they have developed their technological capabilities and quietly prepared themselves for war, all the while dwelling among the Autobots in seemingly perfect harmony.  Finally ready, they struck.

It is a war of annihilation.  The Decepticons, many of whom can convert their bodies at will into awesome weapons, or into mighty aircraft, able to swoop down from the sky upon their astonished enemies, seek to erase the Autobot presence from Cybertron.  Some, capable of transforming themselves into seemingly innocent communications devices, act as spies, undermining Autobot resistance.  Once in absolute control, the Decepticons plan to rebuild their world-machine into a cosmic dreadnaught-- to turn their very planet, a sphere the size of Saturn, into the single most awesome weapon ever conceived.  And then-- let the universe beware...

The Autobots, though peace-loving, are not weak by any means, however.  They, too can transform themselves-- from their usual robotic configurations into unearthly vehicles -- and they, too, are mighty warriors.  They fight back fiercely.  The Decepticons wiped out billions of Autobots in the first surprise attack, which was orchestrated with precision that only machines could effect.  The surviving Autobots, fighting desperately, gathered together here and there around, through, and within Cybertron, establishing strongholds against the Decepticons.  Thus, a sparse network of Autobot City-States, each surrounded by vast areas of Decepticon-held territory, struggle for survival.

A thousand years after The Treacherous Attack of the Decepticons, the war still rages.

Cybertron has sustained much damage, and, in fact, has been shaken loose from the orderly orbit it once maintained around Alpha Centauri, and hurtles through space out of control--a runaway planet.

Thus, it is that the Autobot City-State, Iacon, the mightiest Autobot stronghold of all, launches a space vessel bearing a computer-picked Autobot crew.  Their mission--to clear a path for the planet through an asteroid belt that orbits a certain yellow star which Cybertron is passing near, lest a collision with a large asteroid further damage, or perhaps destroy their beloved, war-torn world.

But, the Decepticons have learned of the Autobot mission, and send out their own space vessel.  It lurks in ambush while the Autobots work feverishly to destroy a huge asteroid.

Once the job is done and Cybertron is safe, the Decepticons attack!  They're bent upon capturing the Autobot ship and learning the secrets of the Autobots' latest weapons.

Their weapons' power exhausted from shattering the asteroid, the Autobots can only flee, and take evasive action.  The chase covers millions of miles through space.

But, at last, the Decepticons manage to close in on the helpless Autobots, near the third planet from the yellow sun.  They manage to hold the Autobot ship for only seconds with their tractor beams, but it is enough.  A Decepticon boarding party smashes into the Autobot ship.

Outnumbered and outgunned, the Autobot crew holds off the invaders for precious moments, while locking the controls to crash their ship at full speed into the crust of the third planet!

Witnessing the apparent destruction of the Autobot ship, the remaining Decepticons turn homeward toward Cybertron, which is already hurtling out of the solar system and onward into the black reaches of space.

Time passes.  Much time.

Four million years after the crash of the Autobots vessel, Mount St. Hellens Hilary erupts--and deep within the rocky carapace of the Earth beneath Oregon wilderness disturbed by the volcanic rumblings, something stirs.

It is the Autobots' ship -- badly damaged but not utterly destroyed.  Automatic force-shields helped protect the ship's mighty hull.  Though battered into dormancy for eons, the shock waves emanating from the volcano have at last reawakened the ship's "brain" --computer would not be the right word.  It begins to probe the world around it.  This thinking machine, whimsically called "Aunty" the Ark in the Autobot language, has been damaged in the fighting and the crash.  Her Its sensors are no longer fine enough to detect life, but she it does discover much mechanical activity.  True to her its programming, Aunty the Ark begins to alter the structure of the ship's inhabitants rebuilding them to resemble what she it detects in the environment according to standard first-aid/repair procedure.  Only partially functioning as she it is, Aunty the Ark does not distinguish between Autobot and Decepticon; friend and enemy alike are subject to her its attentions. Aunty's The Ark's alterations are done in such a way as to preserve the robots' true, basic nature.  The Autobots, therefore, resemble Earthly vehicles; the Decepticons look like Earthly weapons, aircraft, and communications devices.  Both can revert, in a few moments, to forms very much like their original robotic forms.

The Decepticons leave the ship first.  Although they have been in stasis for millions of years, they remember their mission.  They group in battle formation and aim their combined firepower on the ship and the Autobots still inside.  They fire -- but Aunty the Ark, who has endured so much, somehow summons the strength to raise her its defensive shields one more time and blunt the force of their blast. The Decepticon leader realizes that their forces are too low to annihilate Aunty the Ark and her its crew.  They leave in search of power -- power to fuel themselves and destroy their enemies.  Thus, the hostilities that swept Cybertron are renewed on Earth. its defensive shields one more time and blunt the force of their blast.  The Decepticon leader realizes that their energy levels are too low to annihilate

A day later, an Autobot shaped as a dune buggy sees a Decepticon infiltrate a human atomic energy plant.  When he reports this, his leader is alarmed.

He realizes, as the Decepticons already have realized, that the earth is a prize of incalculable value, for, unlike Cybertron, where there are no resources -- all materials must be recycled and nothing new can be made without cannibalizing something old, and energy is scarce, indeed -- the Earth has coal and oil, oceans, a mineral-rich crust, and a molten metal core!  It is all that Cybertron lacks -- and its riches, in Decepticon hands, could spell doom for the Autobots and all other peaceful races of the universe!

The Autobots ponder trying to send a message to Cybertron, seeking to learn what has happened there.  Is the war still going on?  If not, who won?  Did either side survive?  It might take centuries for these questions to reach Cybetron, centuries more for the replies, if any, to reach Earth.  And if the Decepticons have won, the reply might be their annihilation.  One thing is certain, the Autobots have no choice; they must defend themselves, and prevent the Decepticons from gaining more power here to abet their evil cause.

So the age-old struggle continues, but in a strange, strange land, full of strange creatures...

(page break)

In the first adventure the preceding origin will be briefly told, and the following will be accomplished:
  • The Decepticons will establish a new, high tech, futuristic base of operations on Earth.  The Autobots will headquarter inside Aunty, their ancient, battered, half-buried spaceship.
  • Some supporting human cast members will be introduced.
These will include "Sparkplug" Witwicky, and his son, Spike Buster. Sparkplug (whose real name is Stanislas Piotr) is a rough, tough guy -- uneducated and rowdy, but a natural mechanic with an affinity for things mechanical.  By instinct he can take apart, put together, and fix almost anything.

Spike Buster, despite his name, isn't much like his father.  He's not much interested in mechanical things.  Dad might be able to understand that if he were interested in sports, or adventuring, or even science -- but he's not.  He likes to draw, and he reads philosophy books, and even some poetry.  "Where have I failed?" his father moans.

Spike Buster and his father meet the Autobots and become their confidants, though they relate in completely different ways.  Sparkplug thinks of them as the ultimate machines, and is eager to help them in their battles.  Spike reacts to them on a "human" level.  He cares only about them as beings, and would give anything to stop the war.

Spike's Buster's friends, a big, somewhat rotund kid called "O" and Worm Jessie whose diminutive stature belies her boundless courage, will eventually become involved in the conflict.  Sparkplug's lady friend, called "Toots" can't understand why he's suddenly so busy all the time, until she, too, gets caught up in the fray.

In addition to these human characters, there will be human pawns and allies of the Decepticons.

Being highly developed, sentient machines, they will have distinctive personalities.

For example:

OPTIMUS PRIME - If he had been born on Earth, he would be a doctor, a mechanic, a scientist, and a warrior.  But on Cybertron there is no difference between these professions.  So Optimus uses his skills to heal and repair -- which are the same thing to Autobots -- to control the world around him and, if necessary, to destroy.  He is the leader of the Earthbound Autobots, and also the largest, strongest and wisest of them.  Both in power and in intelligence, he has no equal.  He has the personality of an Abraham Lincoln.  He can be immensely kind and his compassion extends to all that lives, including the creatures of Earth.  Yet when what he holds sacred is threatened, he can wage war swiftly and mercilessly.

PROWL - He is quiet, competent and very loyal, but perhaps his most valuable trait is his almost endless patience.  Once Prowl is assigned a task, he will keep at it until it is accomplished.  He works with proven facts, not imagination or guesses.  If he has any doubts, he will radio Optimus Prime, his commander, before proceeding.  He hates doubt in any form, and strives to make everything he encounters reasonable and logical.  He believes it only when he can explain it.  Personally, he is friendly, but not too sociable.  In conversation, he will tend to listen instead of talk except when someone says something unreasonable.  Then, he will demand an explanation.

ULCHTAR STARSCREAM -Soaring swiftly through the clouds, Ulchtar Starscream gazes with scorn on the creatures below.  He is utterly contemptuous of anything that cannot lift itself from the ground and claim the sky.  Occasionally, he expresses that contempt by diving and striking, leaving flame and destruction as he again speeds upward.  Yet he is not totally insane.  He needs a reason for his violence, some way to justify it.  This is provided by his Decepticon companions.  He believes their words about the war against the Autobots being a holy mission because his soul requires that belief.  Without the sense of purpose that the other Decepticons provide, his life would be meaningless and this he could not bear.
  • The Decepticons' goals, and hence, the conflicts faced by the Autobots will be developed.  In the first adventure, the Decepticons might decide to dry up the oceans in order to gain access to certain raw materials from the ocean floor.  As the series progresses, the Decepticons will continue trying to sieze (sic), control and exploit Earth's energy and resource.  Ultimately, they will seek to transform the Earth itself into a world like Cybertron -- a machine world/weapon of incredible power, with which they intend to fulfill the destiny of conquest they dreamed of for their lost world.
We see the Autobot/ Decepticon battles as far-ranging, outrageous action sequences in various road-oriented settings.  We'll do desert highway battles with a Road Warrior feel, battles on the Pacific Coast Highway along the cliffs, and some in city settings in crowded, high-traffic areas.  We're going to use lots of 'props."  We plan to wreck skyscrapers, Boulder Dam, offshore oil rigs and possibly the Grand Canyon.  The Indianapolis Motor Speedway certainly isn't safe either...

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Monday, June 28, 2010

The New Testament in a Year: Romans 9-13

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 Romans, chapters 9-13.

Chapter 9

  • Verse 1- Paul seems keen to assert his integrity here.  Perhaps I'm just cynical, but in the modern world, I'm perhaps more likely to think someone who asserts "I am not lying" is more likely to be lying than someone who just makes his case and leaves it at that.
  • Verses 14-15 - I could ask for better argumentation from Paul than we're getting.  If we were talking about anyone other than God, quoting that person as saying "I will have mercy on whom I have mercy, " etc., would seem to be the very proof of them being unjust!
  • Verse 20 - And, of course, this would be the rebuttal.  My point still stands.
Chapter 10
  • Verses 6-7 - This seems to be as clear a statement as any that we shouldn't be concerning ourselves with the "status" of others.  Perhaps it's just human nature that we seem unable to avoid it.  Or perhaps it's the difficulty of following the command to evangelize without assuming some status or another in regard to other people's salvation....
  • Verse 21 - Evangelism is often a thankless task, to say nothing of often having high cost for the one doing the evangelism.  Yet we still are called to offer the good news.  Whatever we might suggest about "method" and "attitude" and "assumptions," the call remains.
Chapter 11
  • Verses 2-4 - Paul is referencing a tale that comes from I Kings 19.  I am often reminded that this complaint of Elijah, and the fear that it comes from, takes place right after a tale of one of Elijah's greatest victories (of course, God did the action, but the point remains that Elijah was there to see it happen) in the previous chapter.  Even those who have seen God's work up close need to be reminded of God's faithfulness.
  • Verses 13-21 - It really is a horrible crime that so much antisemitism has taken place at the hands of Christians over the centuries.  We're really not following our own teachings at times....
Chapter 12
  • Verse 2 - I think we shouldn't be too quick to assume what Paul means by "do not conform to the pattern of this world."  I suspect that both liberals and conservatives alike would accuse the other of "conforming" while practicing the very acts that "the other" believes are being faithful to God (perhaps, even, they would argue that such actions are faithful to the "renewing of your mind" clause that Paul prescribes as an antidote!).
  • Verses 4-8 - Paul will expand further on this analogy of a body with many parts when we get to I Corinthians (also chapter 12, coincidentally).
  • Verse 13: "Practice hospitality" - I don't want to push this too hard, but I know some who would argue that practicing hospitality is a central commandment, out of which all (or, at least, most) other commands naturally flow.  One who is not hospitable is not worshiping God aright.
Chapter 13
  • Verse 1 - Such an interesting command, especially when one considers that Paul offers it as instruction to Christians to follow a non-Christian government!  Not just "secular," but one that actively didn't understand (if, indeed, wasn't actively hostile to) Christians.
  • Verse 8 - This verse is really more about love than about debt, but it reminds me of something I read recently, pointing out that Biblical commands against "usury" were intended (at that time) to refer to ANY interest on a loan, not just "excessive" interest.  Either way, debt is to be avoided if possible.  That said, I do think that some debt (and, indeed, some charging of interest) is acceptable in today's world.  One must remember that the Bible is NOT a "rule book," even if it has "rules" within it.  Acknowledging the context of time, place, genre, and "story" is important.

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Friday, June 25, 2010

Special Transformers Feature: Punch/Counterpunch (Club Version)

Well, BotCon 2010 is in full swing by now. Sadly, I am unable to be there this year. I'll be posting updates as I get them via Twitter (not to mention the exclusives datasheet), but won't be able to do proper features on the convention exclusive toys (the ones I'm getting, anyway) until I get them myself.

Also, I need to take a moment to apologize for not having the "ceremonial cat shot" as I've done for past club exclusives. The reason, of course, is that I no longer have a cat. You may pause now for a moment of silence.

With that out of the way, here's the official Transformers Collectors' Club version of Punch/Counterpunch. It's a redeco of a mold created for Universe Sunstreaker and Sideswipe, with a new head. When the toy designers created the mold for Universe Sunstreaker (well, Sunstreaker came out first. I don't know who was in mind first during the creation process), they designed a couple of different transformation possibilities for the mold. By offering different transformation instructions (at least, that was the theory) and giving each character a new head, Hasbro could offer two distinct-looking toys out of the same mold. When fans realized this, they pretty much immediately suggested that Punch/Counterpunch was an ideal possibility for a club exclusive using this mold. At last year's BotCon, it was revealed that the club was listening.

When Punch/Counterpunch was finally offered for pre-order a number of months later, it quickly became the only club exclusive to date to sell out while still in the pre-order process. In fact, out of (what is believed, but not yet confirmed to be) a record 1800 figures available, they were all spoken for in only three days! Naturally, this created a fair bit of anger among many fans, many of whom would argue that it was somehow "unfair" for other fans to snatch up all the figures before they could get to them, but if there's one thing that has become clear about exclusive figures by now, it's that there's no pleasing everyone. (UPDATE: At BotCon 2010, it was announced that the club will be doing a new run of 300 more figures, available only to those unable to get one during the original pre-order process. I don't know when these will be made available, so check the club's site to see when they post details.)

Unfortunately for the Transformers club, Punch/Counterpunch proved to be controversial in a number of other areas, as well. One was the fact that actual photographs of the figure were never released on the club website until after the figure was already starting to arrive in members' mailboxes. Couple this with the fact that the size of the head on this toy is notably smaller than on the Sunstreaker and Sideswipe figures, and many started to argue that the club knew that Punch/Counterpunch was inferior, and were actively trying to hide this fact until it was too late. Personally, I think this argument is pretty outrageous, and in fact pretty hateful. It's not that I think the head couldn't have stood to be a little larger, but I refuse to attribute malice to a group like the club when innocent (if perhaps not particularly flattering) motives will do.

All in all, this is actually a pretty good exclusive, and I really don't get a lot of the fan rage against it. That's not to say that some parts aren't disappointing, but I guess that I'm not one of those who thinks that just because it is an expensive figure is sufficient reason to have a conniption if every aspect isn't perfect. That cost is for the fact that this is a small run, before we've even gotten to the discussion about perfection. Your mileage may (and perhaps does) vary.

Wednesday, June 23, 2010

Special Transformers Feature: Punch/Counterpunch (Original Version)

I promised that I would feature the original Punch/Counterpunch once the new club exclusive version finally arrived. That time has come! I'll focus on the original version today, and on the club version on Friday.

A toy from the 1987 line (that is to say, the same year that introduced the Headmasters and Targetmasters), this toy is often referred to as the "doublespy."  Punch is an Autobot who masquerades as a Decepticon named Counterpunch.  Apparently, it's public knowledge that the two robots are related to each other, as in the character's sole significant American appearance in the old Transformers cartoon, "Counterpunch" famously tells his Decepticon "comrades" that his "Autobot counterpart" is "nearby... real nearby" (this last part said as he transforms into Punch mode out of sight of the aforementioned Decepticons). 

Remembering that this is a 1980's toy, one doesn't really expect even an ambitious (for its time) toy like this to go to the lengths that the more recent Animated Shockwave toy does to achieve unique appearances for each faction.  Whereas Shockwave goes so far as to have alternate vehicle modes for each of his identities, Punch/Counterpunch has to make do with just one, which the TF Wiki says is a Pontiac Fiero.

In my "teaser" post, I noted that this toy was designed to have a different "Punch" transformation than what the instructions finally made official.  I'm really not entirely clear as to why they changed their minds.  Although the official form is certainly taller and less stumpy looking, it really looks pretty bizarre from the waist down.  Also, you'll note that the official package art at the top of the page depicts Punch with legs that definitely seem to be drawn using the "dwarf" transformation as a reference, rather than the official transformation.

Transformation to "Counterpunch" isn't especially difficult. Basically, you turn the robot's back to face you, swap out the arms (and the weapon, although since there's no place to put the weapon not currently in use, I tend to have both robots holding both weapons all the time), make sure the toes are in place, and flip the cap on the robot's head to reveal the appropriate robot's eyes. For such simplicity, the new robot mode is strikingly distinct. Of course, it would have been more distinct if Punch was as short as originally intended, but I've pushed that point enough. And, naturally, one must suspend disbelief to imagine that no Decepticon ever looked at Counterpunch from behind and thought, "you know, that looks familiar...."

I got this specimen from eBay, and the stickers were pretty well-worn.  This toy looks as nice as it does now thanks to the miracle of Reprolabels.  I really can't recommend them enough.  Now, if only they'd finally get around to making those Gutcruncher labels I need....

Monday, June 21, 2010

The New Testament in a Year: Romans 4-8

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 Romans, chapters 4-8.

Chapter 4
  • Verse 3: "Abraham believed God, and it was credited to him as righteousness" - Although Christians (especially Reformed Christians) often cite this passage (where Paul himself is citing Genesis 15:6) as evidence that works don't matter in regard to obtaining righteousness, Paul himself seems to be using this passage because the Rabbinic Jews of his time had apparently been using it as "clear support for the diametrically opposite view,"1 but Paul was demonstrating that this passage had been misinterpreted all that time. 
  • Verses 4-5, 13-14 - Besides making a case that God reckons righteousness on a basis other than that of works (esp. works of the law), Paul seems very keen to argue that God doesn't owe anyone anything.  Rather, God promises and gives freely.
Chapter 5
  • Verses 3-5 - Paul seems to create a chain of events wherby suffering inevitably leads to hope.  I'm not sure all who suffer would agree.  However, I do find myself wondering if Paul means any kind of sufering, or if he's particularly talking about suffering that comes as a result of one's faith (or, alternatively, as a means by which God enables us to grow, but this then gets into the question of whether or not God actively causes or intends all suffering that befalls us, which I'd rather get into at another time).
Chapter 6
  • Verses 1-2 - As I've said a few times over the past few months, it's clear that "actions matter," if perhaps not in the quid quo pro way that lists of "good actions" or "sins" would imply.
  • Verse 15 - I wonder if the question that Paul asks (rhetorically) here can be asked in any way other than one that assumes that nothing matters except one's eternal destiny.  That is to say, "if I can get into heaven no matter how bad I act, why not have fun?"  Paul's point, it seems to me, is to say that sin is a bad thing, not (just?) because it might keep one from eternal life (in the hereafter), but because it has negative effects on our life here and now.  Far from "fun," one who behaves this way becomes a slave!  (and not a "good kind of slave")  (To put that another way, "eternal life" is not just a "later" thing, but itself is active already in the life of the Christian!)
Chapter 7
  • Verses 2-6 - The analogy of marriage strikes me as an odd one.  In the marriage example, it is the death of another person (the spouse) that frees a person from the applicable law, whereas Paul seems to speak of our death to the law as freeing us from the law.
  • Verse 5 (and elsewhere) - One of the more legitimate (in my opinion) criticisms of the TNIV is its consistent use of "sinful nature" for the Greek word normally translated as "flesh."  Without a doubt, "sinful nature" is an extra layer of interpretation laid on top of Paul's Greek that other translations (which go with the undeniably more literal "flesh") do not impose.  Although I hasten to note that "all translation is interpretation," I'll leave it to the reader to decide if the TNIV really has gone too far here.
  • Verses 7-12 - I'm trying to figure out if Paul seems to argue that he wouldn't have coveted had he not known of the law forbidding it, or if he simply would have been ignorant of it (even though his covetous behavior would have been same either way, just unnamed).
  • Verses 14-25 - This seems to be a particularly difficult passage.  I've seen scholars argue that Paul must be talking about his struggles as a law-abiding Pharisee prior to his conversion to Christ, and others who insist that this kind of "battle... is not possible until a man is sanctified by the Holy Spirit" (and thus, has already become a Christian).2
Chapter 8
  • Verses 9-11 - Paul seems to be aware of the possibility that not all people who confess Christ are in fact indwelt by the Spirit (a necessary condition of those who "belong to Christ").  However, this is not his emphasis.  He's assuming that his audience has the Spirit.3
  • Verse 28-30 - Predestination is a hairy issue, and that's not going to change anytime soon.  It's worth noting here that, for those of us who do accept some form of predestination as being true, the doctrine is intended to be a comfort for those of us who are Christians already.  It was never our job to consider the "predestined status" of others.  That's up to God.  We should consider everyone as potentially a part of the "predestined" group.

1C.E.B. Cranfield, Romans: A Shorter Commentary, Eerdmans, 1985, p. 85.
2The quote is from Cranfield, p. 166, who definitely represents the latter point of view.
3See Cranfield, p. 181.

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Friday, June 18, 2010

Special Transformers Feature: Dion

This is truly a season of plenty from the official Transformers Club.  In the past few days, Dion, Punch/Counterpunch, and Shattered Glass Cyclonus have all been arriving in members' mailboxes.  And in just another week, BotCon 2010 will be taking place, bringing with it even more exclusive toys.  I'll be dealing with as many of these figures as I have access to as I have time.  For now, I'll focus on Dion.

Dion was this year's membership incentive figure, given to all fans whose memberships were active on March 16, 2010.  The club actually refers to it as "free," but since one has to pay a minimum of $40 for a membership, it's easy to see why some fans argue otherwise.  Still, when one considers that this is only the second deluxe-sized incentive figure to be offered by the club in six years (the others were the smaller "scout" size), it's really not a bad deal at all.

Dion is a redeco of the 2009 Universe Hot Shot mold (or, more properly, the Japanese version of that mold, which includes some minor retooling and a couple of missile launchers the Hasbro version lacks).  This mold is, to be blunt, not especially popular among fans.  I never got Hot Shot, so I can only really comment on the basis of this figure.  The bits of Dion's vehicle mold that sit behind the shoulder's in robot mode really do get in the way pretty bad, limiting the robot's mobility.  A number of ways of dealing with this flaw have been suggested by fans, but these seem to involve removing parts of the figure to relocate them in robot mode, an alternative I'm not particularly thrilled with.  Your mileage may vary, of course.

As the Hot Shot mold came with the helicopter Mini-Con, Jolt, that mold is included redecoed with Dion, as well.  This is Cop-Tur, named in homage to a classic GoBots character.  Being a straight redeco of Jolt, Cop-Tur inherits Jolt's deficiencies, as well.  Specifically, Cop-Tur simply cannot stand properly.  The helicopter kibble on back is just too heavy, and will cause Cop-Tur to fall over.  If one poses Cop-Tur with a serious hunchback, and with his arms raised forward, as you see here, the figure can indeed stand unaided, but it does make him look a bit like a zombie.

The Universe Hot Shot mold is, of course, patterened after Armada Hot Shot.  The big deal with Armada figures was that, if you plugged a Mini-Con into designated ports on larger figures, you'd activate some kind of special feature.  The Universe mold retains the ability to plug the Mini-Con in, but no special features are activated.  I suppose that one can imagine that Dion is granted flight capabilty if Cop-Tur is plugged in, but I wouldn't take any bets on the official fiction backing up such imaginings.  Assuming they ever get around to featuring Cop-Tur in the first place!

Wednesday, June 16, 2010

The Ordination of the Seven: Redux

As related in the book of Acts, the first deacons were appointed to help the Apostles with certain tasks that needed to be done, but which they didn't have the time or resources to handle by themselves. Recognizing this fact, seven believers — Stephen, Philip, Procorus, Nicanor, Timon, Parmenas, and Nicolas — were chosen and given the responsibilities and authority that we now associate with the office of deacon.

This past Saturday, my wife was one of a group of seven Episcopalians who were ordained to the office of deacon in the Diocese of Los Angeles. Now, we in the Presbyterian church also ordain deacons, but it is a bit different in our tradition. Although there is some overlap — both types of deacon are specifically called to works of service toward the poor and those in need — "deacon" is an often ignored role in Presbyterian circles. Many churches don't have deacons at all, in fact, and such responsibilities are assumed under the office of "ruling elder" (this is to say, as opposed to "teaching elder," another name sometimes used for ministers). In Episcopal Churches, "deacon" is a much more significant role. One cannot become a priest without first becoming a deacon. In fact, even when one becomes a priest, one remains a deacon. "Once a deacon, always a deacon," as I've heard more than a few times over the past few years. Among other things, this means that, although I also hold the office of deacon (within the Presbyterian tradition), and thus we both are deacons, only my wife can now properly be addressed as "Rev. Baker-Wright."

In keeping with this... "elevated" understanding of what it is to be a deacon, the ordination ceremony, which was held in the "pro-cathedral" for the Diocese of Los Angeles (St. John's Cathedral), was far more elaborate than mine. While the ordination service in my church was basically about 5-10 minutes worth of a regular Sunday gathering, the Episcopal ordination service was dedicated to that purpose alone, and it took roughly two hours.

"Low church" Christians no doubt could be easily confused, or at least amused, by some of the traditions of the liturgy in the ceremony. For example, in this image, the seven people about to be ordained prostrate themselves before Christ. It is a symbolic gesture of service, very much in keeping with the role. But since most Protestants don't do anything like this, it is only to be expected that such an image solicits a few jokes when posted.  One of my favorites among my Facebook friends who have seen this image: "Oops...I guess they forgot to not lock your knees...." Truly, this image would be an ideal candidate for a "funny caption contest."

This ordination service is by no means the end of an already-long journey.  Assuming all goes well, Michelle will become a priest in another half-year or so. And, of course, even then, that's only the "end" of the first part. The life of service still lies ahead.  Even so, it is a significant event, and one that we were very happy to see take place. I took quite a few pictures (and my in-laws took a few more). You're welcome to see the entire album at this link.

Monday, June 14, 2010

The New Testament in a Year: Acts 27-28 and Romans 1-3

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 Acts, chapters 27-28 and Romans, chapters 1-3.

Chapter 27

  • Verse 3 - Paul may be a prisoner, but it seems that at no point do the Romans act particularly concerned that he might try to escape.
  • Verse 9 - Apparently, the Day of Atonement fell in what would now be the first week of October, and  "among the ancients the dangerous season for sailing was defined as extending from September to no later than early November... after which all but the most urgent navigation on the open sea came to an end until the following spring."1
  • Verse 11 - Luke is obviously keen to play up the "they should have listened to the man of God" angle (and again in verse 21), but let's be honest, why should the centurion have taken the word of a prisoner over that of both the pilot and the owner of the ship?
  • Verses 24 and 31 - At first, Paul seems to unconditionally guarantee the lives of the rest of the crew, then he suggests that their well-being is contingent upon not only doing what he says, but doing something very counter-intuitive.
Chapter 28
  • Verses 3-6 - The section of the gospel of Mark that promises that Christians could pick up snakes safely is not in the earliest manuscripts.  Still, the fact that Paul has this experience would seem to lend credence to that promise.
  • Verses 25-27 - Jesus used this same passage from Isaiah when describing why he taught in parables.
Chapter 1
  • Verses 11-15 - At the end of Acts, Paul has been in Rome for quite some time.  It is clear from these verses that, when Paul is writing this letter to the Romans, he has not yet been there, but nonetheless knows of a group of Christians there (a fact barely alluded to in Acts).
  • Verses 18-32 - Much has been made of the list of sins included here, and yet it seems that many miss the point.  Paul is describing the basic human condition here, and all people have sinned.  "If 1.18-32 does indeed declare the truth about all men, then it really does follow from it that the man who sets himself up as a judge of his fellows is without excuse."2  This is not intended to be a list whereby Christians can judge non-Christians (or other Christians!) as outside of God's will, and yet this passage is used in precisely that way all too often.  God will be the judge.
Chapter 2
  • Verses 1-6 - The need not to pass judgment upon others is not to negate the need for repentance.  It is rather to suggest that the Christian must attend to his/her own need for repentance.
  • Verses 12-24 - A large portion of Romans will deal with the interrelations between sin and the law.  If the Christian is no longer to be bound by the law, how is the Christian to know what behaviors are acceptable or not?  Answers will be provided by the letter, but they can be argued to be both simpler than following the Jewish law and more complicated....
Chapter 3
  • Verses 9-18 - A litany of Psalms (and one bit from Isaiah) are used here.  Why so much from the Psalms, in particular, as opposed to other Old Testament teachings?
1David J. Williams, Acts (New International Bible Commentary), Hendrickson, 1990, p. 429.
2C.E.B. Cranfield, Romans: A Shorter Commentary, Eerdmans, 1985, p. 28.

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Friday, June 11, 2010

Who's Hostile to the Church?

I was listening to a sermon recently on what is often called "The Parable of the Great Banquet."  Basically, Jesus tells of a person who had a great, big, party.  But although lots of people were invited, they all had excuses for not coming, so the person sent for more guests.  Jesus makes fairly clear that the person throwing the party is not pleased to be snubbed by the original invitees.

While granting that the parable seems to be most directly about God's relationship with the people of Israel, I don't think the preacher was out of line applying it to the dedication of Christians today.  As a specific example, he talked about the growing problem of declining church attendance, which most denominations in America have been struggling with for many years now.

The thing he said that caught me by surprise was when he said that "it's not that people don't like church.  They're not hostile to church.  It's just 'second.'"  The point, of course, was that even among people who profess faith in Christ, there is a tendency among many to prioritize other things.  I can certainly agree that this is a problem.

But, given that I have been reading a lot of material that specifically suggests that, yes, many people are "hostile to the church"--if indeed (as the article referenced in my reflections from a few years ago indicates) "friendly to Jesus Christ"--perhaps my surprise at hearing a preacher say that people aren't "hostile to church" is only to be expected.  I thought the rest of the sermon was quite good, but I spent quite a bit of time wrestling with this inconsistency.

Ultimately, and despite the seemingly diametrically-opposed statements, I think that the preacher and I don't really disagree on the important points, but that we are looking at the situation from rather different points of view.  The preacher, I'm guessing, is responding to a vocal minority of Christians who seem to use that language of "hostility" a lot, themselves.  Usually in sentences like "our culture is hostile to Christian faith" or "Christianity is under attack."  And, obviously, there is at least a sense in which that's true.  But I think (and the preacher I was listening to seems to think) that it's not so much that "the atheists are trying to destroy the church" (as such Christians sometimes argue) as there is something about human nature and the world in which we live that, if we're not careful, slowly and subtly works against the values that Christianity advocates.  Even so, it seems to me that we live in a culture that is still, even to this day, predominately (if nominally) Christian.  For example, we still expect our political leaders to profess faith in God (if in a watered-down sense that doesn't alienate any particular denomination), and it is nearly inconceivable that a Muslim or atheist could be elected to national office (the ravings of certain extremists against our current President notwithstanding). 

But, what I think my preacher-friend may not recognize, but which I see and read about all the time, is the sense in which many people have been actively injured by those who profess Christian faith.  Women who have been told that they cannot hold certain jobs because "Christians" tell them that they can't.  People who, having pasts scarred by certain particular types of sins, are ostracized by "Christians" no matter what they may have done to repent.  And, of course, Christians of devout faith who have had their faith called into question because of some disagreement on a matter of doctrine (usually, not a matter of orthodoxy--that is to say, not a matter decided as heretical by one of the ancient ecumenical councils--but something that much more accurately describes the kinds of doctrinal differences that separate one Christian denomination from another).  I think that there are a great many people out there who have been brought up in a Christian faith, but who have turned their backs on that faith more out of the ways in which Christians have treated them than out of anything else.  Such people are, sadly, very "hostile" to the church, but only because the church has been hostile to them first.

And, of course, the very church that alienated these fellow image-bearers often continues to blame them for the alienation.  "They're just rebelling against God," such a church might be heard to say.  There may indeed be rebellion here, but I would posit that rebellion against a church that behaves in an ungodly way against people is not the same as rebellion against God.

Now, I'm not anti-church.  Just read the "reflections" link I referred to earlier, and that should be clear.  The church is the body of God, and is God's vehicle for spreading God's word, so it should be taken seriously.  Still, I think that we of the church have created a good deal of any "hostility" that exists towards us unnecessarily, and I think that God weeps over that fact.

Wednesday, June 09, 2010

Reflections on Predestination and Free Will

The following was originally published, in a different form, a few years ago in the Fuller student newsletter, the SEMI.

My wife’s parents are committed Christians, and would certainly describe themselves as "Evangelical," but they do not see themselves as belonging to a single denomination.  This is borne out by the fact that their three children, all fully grown, each themselves attends a church from a different denomination: one is Catholic, one has been attending a Mennonite congregation, and another (my wife) is Episcopalian (incidentally, she's being ordained as a Deacon on Saturday!).  When my wife and I first started dating, her parents had recently joined a church that identified itself (broadly) within the Presbyterian tradition.  Upon learning that I was a Presbyterian, my future in-laws immediately wanted to ask me about an issue that seemed to loom large in their new church: predestination.  To this day, the topic still comes up frequently.

I struggle with my response to such questions.  It’s not so much that I don’t have an opinion on predestination, but that despite growing up as a Presbyterian, this isn’t an issue that I care about enough to argue about.  There’s no question but that predestination has often been a contentious issue.   At Fuller, we’re bound to have people with strongly held differing opinions on it. I don’t have any desire to add fuel to the argumentative fire, but in the interests of greater understanding, perhaps I can explain how at least I, as one person from a specific tradition, view the issue.

Few people dispute that the word προοριζω appears a number of times in the New Testament text, and although the word is translated in various ways, I don’t see that anyone disputes the basic meaning of the word as “predestination.”  But while we can safely say “it’s in the Bible,” there obviously remains a considerable amount of room for discussion on what is meant by the concept of predestination in regards to God’s plan for us. Who is predestined?  What are we “predestined” for?  Is this a reference to the heavenly destiny of Christians, or just about becoming Christian itself? Does it say more about who God is than about what God is doing?  And, of course, the biggie: What is the place of human free will?  Are we puppets, and free will is only an illusion?

My in-laws are particularly interested in that free will question.  Despite being exposed to several different denominations over the years, they’d never been given reason to seriously question the idea that human beings have free will until joining the “predestination” church.  Real-life observation certainly seems to support the idea of free will. When asked about this question, I’m often reminded of the teachings of Jonathan Edwards, who argued along the lines that human beings have free will to do whatever they want, but apart from God’s grace, will never have the inclination to choose God.  This, at least, allows for the obvious reality that people choose to do “ungodly” things all the time, and does not make us “puppets.”

Unfortunately, this answer doesn’t really address the problem that, if God does “predestine” people to become Christians, God is also responsible for the fact that many people do not accept Christ (therefore, many would argue, God is responsible for sending such people to hell).  Of course, the problem of whether or not all people get to heaven is, itself, a topic of great debate among many Christians, and that's an issue that deserves a discussion all its own.  At the very least, Christians who do believe that God predestines only some people need to admit that this is an issue that makes God look bad, and stock Reformed explanations such as “all people are sinners, so God shouldn’t let anyone into heaven at all, and the fact that God does choose some is a sign of God’s grace” really don’t do much to make God look any less bad.

I said at the beginning of this article that this isn’t an issue I care all that much about.  That’s only partly true.  The fact is, this issue has been deeply engrained in my sense of call.  When I arrived at Fuller, I was already in the middle of the ordination process.  As Presbyterians seeking ordination know only too well, part of the process involves passing several ordination examinations.  I’ve passed all of my examinations except for one: theological competence.  After the fifth (and so far, final) time I took the exam, I was told that, while I could be seen to be “thinking theologically” in the Reformed tradition, I did not go deep enough into specific theologians and specific theologies to warrant a passing grade.  Although there were many factors, I suspect that one was that I could not, in good conscience, advocate a strict Calvinist theory of predestination that does not accept the possibility that human free will plays into the reception of God grace.

As an ecumenical Christian, I prefer to focus on the fundamentals that Christians agree on, rather than on specific theologies (such as predestination) that are the source of so much division between Christians.  I can only guess as to what the implications of this stance may be for my potential ordination within my own tradition, but as one who feels that God calls people of all kinds of Christian belief to live in unity, I can only respond as Martin Luther did, when bucking the trend of his tradition: “Here I stand, I can do no other.” In the midst of it all, I have faith that God will somehow get me to where God wants me to be.

Monday, June 07, 2010

The New Testament in a Year: Acts 22-26

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 Acts, chapters 22-26.

Chapter 22

  • Verse 1 - It's clear enough that the chapter begins to include all of Paul's speech.  Still, I don't see why they didn't include the few verses at the end of chapter 21 which provide context.  They actually broke right in the middle of the sentence to do it this way!
  • Verse 7 - I won't go so far as to call this a contradiction o f the account in Acts 9, but it's worth paying attention to the differences in how the two versions of Paul's conversion are told.  In chapter 9, we are not told wehter or not Paul's companions can see the light.
  • Verse 21-22 - I actually needed to go back to chapter 21 to remember that Paul is currently giving his speech in Jerusalem (and, thus, his audience is mostly Jewish).  Luke even specifically notes that this is the point when Paul's audience decides to stop listening to him.  I wonder why he had to add this point about going to the Gentiles right now?  It doesn't seem very wise....
Chapter 23
  • Verse 2 - I guess that Ananias is a common name.  That's at least three distinct individuals with that name in Acts alone!
  • Verse 2 - That said, it seems really... wrong for a man of God to, in his role as a man of God, order people to physically hit someone... in the mouth yet!  (Before I start to get comments, it occurs to me that some Christian denominations actually include being slapped on the cheek as a part of confirmation.  That is, part of becoming a member of that denomination.  In that context, the slap is to remind the new member that persecution comes as being part of following Christ.  I don't think that's Ananias' purpose here, although one could certainly argue that Paul's experience is an example of that kind of persecution.)
  • Verse 3 - Paul thinks so, too.
  • Verse 5 - I find myself in agreement with Williams.  Paul probably did not actually fail to recognize that Ananias was the high priest, but was being ironic: Ananias was not acting at all like a high priest of God should be acting, so how could Paul be expected to recognize him?1
  • Verses 12-15 - I guess that Paul's enemies expect to have him killed rather quickly.  Otherwise, a vow not to eat or drink seems rather short-sighted and counter-productive.  How do they expect to have the strength to kill him if they're starving?
  • Verse 16 - I'm not sure which is more noteworthy: that Paul has family (that we actually learn about), or that they are apparently not hostile to him (as many Jews are)?
  • Verses 26-30 - Although obviously not Christians themselves, the Romans (and their law) are clearly being used to help Paul.
Chapter 24
  • Verses 2-8 - For all we hear about first-century Jews wanting to be free of their "Roman oppressors," they sure knew how to suck up to them when it suits their purposes.
  • Verse 15: "...there will be a resurrection of both the righteous and the wicked" - I don't think Christians make nearly enough of this phrase (either for the purposes of advocating that the wicked are condemned to eternal punishment nor for more universalist interpretations).
  • Verse 27 - We shift from the days surrounding Paul's trial to two years later (still as a prisoner) almost off-handedly.  I wonder what Paul did in all that time (writing epistles, perhaps?).  Williams suggests that Luke may have occupied his time during this period by collecting data for writing Luke and Acts.2
Chapter 25
  • Having already followed Paul through one trial, I see little to comment on in this one, except perhaps to note how Paul avoids the dangers of a Jewish kangaroo court (and of likely not even making it to one alive in the first place!) by appealing to the Roman government.  Indeed, I see some aspects her that might be said to parallel Jesus' own trial, and his being passed on between Jewish and Roman leaders, but Paul has a very different result, of course.
Chapter 26
  • Verse 14: "It is hard for you to kick against the goads." - Williams says that this was "a familiar proverb in the ancient world," but I can hardly be alone in not really understanding what it means, myself.  I see no reason to dispute Williams' suggestion that "the general sense of the proverb is that it is foolish to struggle against one's destiny."3
  • Verse 24 - Apparently, anti-intellectualism is hardly a modern phenomenon.
  • Verse 32 - Agrippa may well believe that Paul has miscalculated, and that Paul's continued imprisonment is only the result of this misstep.  However, we've already noted that Paul made this legal appeal, at least in part, to avoid what would almost assuredly have been a non-legal death sentence at the hands of an angry mob.

1See David J. Williams, Acts (New International Bible Commentary), Hendrickson, 1990, p. 385.
2See Williams, p. 403.
3Williams, pp. 418-419.

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Friday, June 04, 2010

Offbeat Transformers Items: Movie Prime Piñata

While shopping this past weekend, I saw these piñatas at a local Wal-Mart.  If you've ever dreamed of being able to literally beat the stuffing out of Optimus Prime, here's your chance!

Thursday, June 03, 2010

BotCon 2010 Video

I won't be able to attend BotCon this year, but I thought that some of you might appreciate having a link to the video being used to promote this year's event.  Here you go!

Wednesday, June 02, 2010

Don't Believe Everything You See in Political Ads - Vote NO on Proposition 16

If you don't live in the state of California, most of this post isn't really intended for you.  Perhaps you'll find it interesting nonetheless, but if not, please accept my apologies in advance.

If you do live in California, you probably don't need reminding that elections are on June 8th.  Republican candidates are busy calling each other "liberal" and trying to position themselves as the true conservative choice, Democratic candidates seem few and far between (indeed, are any Democrats running for governor or senator in this election? The state web site tells me that there are quite a few, but I haven't seen any on television yet...), and a number of propositions are on the ballot that are struggling to get attention in the midst of it all.

I'm not writing to discuss the politicians themselves.  This is just a primary election after all, so there will be plenty of time to go over them when the November elections come along (if I even care to do so at that point).  I'm especially interested in talking about these ads I've been seeing for Proposition 16, which is being called the "Taxpayers Right to Vote Act" by its proponents.  If you've seen the ads, you probably already know the Proposition I'm talking about.  We're told about how the government wants to be able to buy energy companies, an act which (naturally) costs millions of dollars, and that taxpayers don't have any say in the matter.  Citing the tough economic times (a truth generally even more profound in California than elsewhere in the nation, I think I can say without contradiction), voters are encouraged to pass this proposition, which would change California's state constitution to require voter approval before such energy purchases can take place.

The commercials do their job well.  Indeed, it's difficult to see one of these commercials and see anything especially controversial about it.  We live in a democracy, after all.  Voter approval is a good thing.  If we're being denied it, we should do something about it, right?  Especially when our tax dollars could be wasted if we fail to act!

Before we go further, here's the actual text of the summary from the official voter information guide, as distributed by the state board of elections.
• Requires local governments to obtain the approval of two-thirds of the voters before providing electricity service to new customers or expanding such service to new territories using public funds or bonds.
• Requires same two-thirds vote to provide electricity service through a community choice program using public funds or bonds.
• Requires the vote to be in the jurisdiction of the local government and any new territory to be served.
• Provides exceptions to the voting requirements for a limited number of identified projects.

The first thing that stood out to me to question the line of reasoning in the ads was the fact that the bill does not simply call for voter approval, but a two-thirds "super-majority" to allow government action in this area.  Something smelled fishy, so I decided to do a bit more digging.  It appears that the major source of funds for these commercials is PG&E (the Pacific Gas and Electric Company), and that they are responsible for putting it on the ballot in the first place.  Is it really plausible that an energy company is acting in the interests of consumers when they suggest that consumers vote for this proposition?

Of course, even if we grant that PG&E has a clear self-interest in keeping governments from entering the energy industry (thus creating competition against PG&E), that doesn't mean that they're wrong.  The taxpayers' right to vote is a powerful thing.  Some would argue it's the very thing this nation was founded upon.  There are few mantras that can mobilize voters so effectively.  We need to go further.

It may help clarify matters if we look at the reality behind the issue of government-run (or sponsored) energy.  It's actually not terribly common in California.  The voter guide, in the "background" section, says that "investor-owned utilities" (such as PG&E) provide 68% of all electricity service to Californians.  "Local publicly owned electric utilities" provide 24%, and "electric service providers (ESPs)" provide 8% (I didn't know what an ESP was, either.  I'm not sure how much this helps, but here you go.  Suffice it to say, that part's only 8%).  Generally speaking, for those municipalities able to provide local service, they've tended to be able to do so for considerably lower rates than their larger private counterparts, which may be why some areas are looking into providing this kind of service now.

Obviously, PG&E would rather not lose their business, and they've been spending quite a large amount of money over the past few years fighting such competition, especially in Sacramento and San Francisco (where PG&E is based).  Unfortunately, unlike the privately-owned PG&E, publicly-owned agencies are forbidden from spending money on political campaigns.  So, while PG&E looks to be spending some $46 million (money earned from the electricity bills of its customers, no doubt) to try to get Proposition 16 passed, very little has been spent to date in opposition to it.

It's no secret that popular distrust of the government is at a high point (perhaps an all-time high).  Incumbents (both Republican and Democrat) are losing elections to politicians promising to change the way that government works. Proposition 16 is well-timed for success in this context.  It sometimes appears that all you have to do is say that the government wants something, and the popular opinion is very quickly turned against it.  What?  The government wants to start an electric company?  Not on my dime!

Do I sound like I'm being cynical?  That I'm accusing PG&E of manipulating voter sentiment for their own ends?  How about this quote from PG&E's CEO Peter Darbee, said during a March 2010 PG&E shareholders meeting (warning, that's a 2-hour long speech):
"[It] occurred to us that people aren't very pleased with the job that government is doing these days in general, you know … The June time frame looked ideal and in the context of what everything that is happening with government today -- the dysfunctionality of it -- we concluded that it was a very ideal time!"
I hope that I don't come off as some pro-government liberal in voicing my opposition to this Proposition in favor of more government-run energy.  But in case I do, it's worth noting the level of conservative backlash against it. The Chamber of Commerce of San Diego (a strongly conservative city if ever I saw one!) voted 79-2 (counting a series of votes together, not just one) against Proposition 16, and a San Diego Union Tribune editorial says that calling it the "Taxpayer Right to Vote Act" "...ranks right up there with the most deceptive political advertising slogans of all time -- and that covers a lot of deception."  The Republican Party of Los Angeles County is against it.  The Napa Valley Republican Central Committee opposes it on the grounds that PG&E's rates are already the highest in the state.  I could go on....

It's a well-established conservative mantra that tells us that competition is good for business. PG&E threatens to become an even further entrenched monopoly if Proposition 16 passes, making it even harder for competition to gain enough foothold to thrive in the open market.  This is bad for consumers, and bad for democracy.  Please vote "NO" on Proposition 16 on June 8th.


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