Wednesday, December 29, 2010

Special Transformers Feature: Power Core Combiner Leadfoot with Pinpoint

It's not really my habit to feature Transformers toys that are still available on retail shelves.  Part of the reason for this is because there are so many other Transformers blogs and sites out there that do this already, and I would just as soon focus my attentions elsewhere, but some of it really is due to the fact that I've got such a backlog of older toys that have kept my interest over time, there's really very little need for me to go out looking for more just so that I can blog about them.  Even so, when I saw this toy at the store recently, it caught my eye immediately for a very personal reason.  Perhaps you can tell what that reason is already in the official art to the left.

Tuesday, December 28, 2010

The New Testament in a Year: Revelation 18-22

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 BibleGateway.com 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.

It's the end of the year, and the last chapters of the Bible!  This week, I am working through Revelation, chapters 18-22.


Chapter 18
  • I have often heard it said that the message of Revelation can be summed up as "God wins!"  Perhaps this chapter can be summed up as "Babylon loses!"
Chapter 19

  • Verse 8 - I find it especially interesting that the author goes to the trouble to spell out that "fine linen stands for the righteous acts of God's people" when so much of the other imagery of this book remains unexplained.
  • Verse 10 - I'm reminded of Peter's reaction to Cornelius in Acts 10:25-26.
Chapter 20
  • Verses 1-10 - I'm trying to look at this passage in any way I can think of: with a "literal" 1000 years, with the 1000 being a number chosen for its connotations of completeness and therefore being an indeterminate "actual" length of time, with the periods of time representing reigns on earth vs. a more spiritual domain.  I just can't make sense of it.  I especially cannot comprehend why Satan and Satan's forces should be bound for a period of time only to be released, and to be released only to be eternally defeated so effortlessly (if the length of time devoted to it in this chapter is anything to go by) just afterward. 
Chapter 21
  • Verses 1-3 - I see a couple of potential call-backs to Genesis here.  The first is the lack of sea.  If memory serves, Genesis has waters as one of the pre-existent "chaos elements" from which God set order to the world.  The lack of such water here would be an indication of the perfection of the new earth.  The second element would be the idea of God dwelling among the people, as God was depicted as walking around the Garden of Eden.
Chapter 22
  • Verse 1 - The lack of sea water obviously doesn't mean a lack of water altogether.  Water is the stuff of life, after all.
  • Verses 6-7, 10, 12 - I wonder what John supposed the angel (and Jesus, at the end) meant by the word "soon."1
  • Verse 9 - Once again, John has to be reminded not to worship things that aren't God....
  • Verses 18-19: "If any one of you adds anything to them... if any one of you takes words away..." - There seems to be a school of thought that takes these words as a sign that the canon of Scripture itself should not be amended.  I confess that I've never understood how this understanding came to pass, as it seems self-evident that the words are only to be taken in reference to the prophecy of Revelation itself.  In any event, it must be recognized that the canon of Scripture (certainly the New Testament, but even the Old, if we're honest) was not solidified for several centuries yet after the text was written.

1Robert H. Mounce, The Book of Revelation (The New International Commentary on the New Testament), Eerdmans, 1977, pp. 390-391, notes that the problem that an author sees eschatological events as somehow imminent is hardly unique to Revelation.  I've mentioned this kind of thing a few times over the course of this year-long project, myself.

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Thursday, December 23, 2010

Special Transformers Feature: BotCon 2010 G2 Breakdown

The Generation Two franchise ran from 1993-1995 (depending on what you choose to include), and thus is old enough now that the children that are the intended target audience for Transformers figures all hadn't yet been born when the line gave way to the "Beast Wars" concept.  But for those of us old enough to remember, this was the line that brought Transformers back from the abyss (at least, here in America).  For that fact alone, many of us remember it fondly.  When the folks behind BotCon 2010 announced that the theme for the convention would be "G2: Redux," my interest was piqued, despite the fact that I knew that attending the convention would be impossible for me this year.  When one of the exclusive toys for that convention would be a new G2 Breakdown, I knew immediately that I would need to get the non-attendee set.

Monday, December 20, 2010

The New Testament in a Year: Revelation 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 BibleGateway.com 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 Revelation, chapters 13-17.


Chapter 13
  • Verse 3 - I'm trying to imagine what a "fatal wound" that had been healed (by which I'm gathering the writer means something other than the obvious fact that the beast isn't dead) would look like.  And why only one head?  What does this symbolize?  Mounce suggests that it represents a Roman emperor contemporary to the period (there are a couple of options).1
  • Verse 5 - I'm not sure what the significance of the number 42 would be in this context.  I'm guessing that John wasn't familiar with The Hitchhiker's Guide the Galaxy.  Mounce says that 42 months is "the traditional period for religious persecution."2
  • Verse 18 - The significance of the number 666 has been much debated over the centuries.  I notice that the TNIV is translated in such a way as to make it seem more likely that the number refers to a specific person, rather than (as the footnotes suggest) humanity as a whole.  Certainly I've heard interpretations consistent with this "specific" rubric, ranging from Nero to Ronald Wilson Reagan (note that each name has six letters).  (Mounce also notes a strand of interpretation that insists that 666 is "a human number" as being opposed to a "nonhuman" number, but dismisses this interpretation.3)  Suffice it to say, this is a mystery that remains unsolved (although I expect that Nero is closer to the truth than Reagan!).
Chapter 14

  • Verse 1 - I've heard much of the "mark" given to those who follow the Beast (last chapter), but very little seems to be made of the fact that the followers of the Lamb are given a similar mark.
  • Verses 14-20 - Usually, when I hear the language of "harvest" used in Christian contexts, it's referring to the harvest of people to follow God, not a harvest of those who have failed to do so.  Yet the fact that "grapes" harvested are thrown "into the great winepress of God's wrath" leads me to believe that the latter is what is going on here. 
Chapter 15
  • Verse 1 - The indication that these are to be the "last" plagues comes as a relief.  But, admittedly, this is less because of any great feeling of relief that the pain of those who suffer will soon be at an end, and more because the sheer number of these plagues has caused them all to run together, and it's made my head spin trying to keep track of it all.  Let's move on to something else!  (Of course, these "last" plagues still haven't even started by the end of the chapter!)
Chapter 16
  • Verses 9, 11 - The writer notes that the people suffering (because they have followed the beast and not God) still refuse to repent.  Verse 9 even notes their refusal to glorify God.  The thing I find odd about this is the apparent expectation that they should glorify God after God has made them to suffer.  This seems contrary to all reason to me.  A person has just been made to suffer horribly for failing to follow the will of the one causing the suffering. Why, of all things, should that cause the person to glorify the one causing the suffering?  One doesn't decide "OK.  I'll now glorify you who have made me suffer so much.  Praise to you!" in such a circumstance.  Not unless something is horribly wrong with that person's mental state!  That's not "continued rebellion."  That's just not giving glory to an abuser!  If this is their final punishment, and they're getting what they've deserved for their failure after all this time, fine.  But to expect them to glorify God after this treatment just seems wrong.
Chapter 17
  • I'm afraid I have no wisdom to offer on this passage.  Indeed, it seems to me a rehash of much of what's already been done in this book.   I'm definitely glad that I'll be done with this book next week.

1Robert H. Mounce, The Book of Revelation (The New International Commentary on the New Testament), Eerdmans, 1977, pp. 252-253. Mounce further notes a translation difficulty with verse 3. He is emphatic that the original text does not indicate the healing of head, but rather of the beast. The head would still be wounded in this interpretation.
2Mounce, p. 254.
3Mounce, p. 264.

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Friday, December 17, 2010

Transformers Comic Recreation - Marvel #41 - The Battle on the Moon

I entered this image into a contest for the official Transformers Club.  We were asked to "Shoot the Ultimate Battle" using actual toys. As I thought through scenes I could do with the toys I had on hand, I remembered the classic battle in issue #41 of the Marvel Transformers comic: "Totaled!" In this issue, Grimlock (then-current leader of the Earthbound Autobots since the death of Optimus Prime) and Fortress Maximus (leader of a faction that came to Earth more recently) meet for the first time, and it doesn't go well. Grimlock challenges Maximus to a duel for leadership. Maximus knows that he is unlikely to win such a duel, having been injured in a previous issue, but Blaster (having his own reasons to want Grimlock defeated) steps up to accept the challenge in Maximus' place. While they fight, the Decepticons take the opportunity to launch a sneak attack on the rest of the Autobots, which brings us to the scene depicted here.

Wednesday, December 15, 2010

Transformers Comic Recreation - Marvel #17 - Straxus Holds Court

Issue #17 of the original Marvel Transformers comic was something of a milestone. It marked the first story set on Cybertron since the beginning of the series more than a year-and-a-half previously. This gave writer Bob Budiansky the opportunity to feature quite a few new characters (as he was always being pressured to do by Hasbro, who had this annoying habit of continuing to make more toys that they wanted to see featured in the comic) and do so all at once.

Perhaps surprisingly, Budiansky also went ahead and created a couple of new characters for which no toy existed at the time. Notable among these were Autobot spy Scrounge and Decepticon stronghold governor Straxus. The reason for creating new non-toy characters was so that Budiansky could kill the characters off without fear of toy-buyers (and perhaps the toy-makers as well!) who might complain that they just wasted money on a toy for a character that had already been eliminated from the story. Scrounge was killed off in that very issue, and Straxus was knocked off in the next (That didn't stop UK writer Simon Furman from using Straxus — shown to have somehow survived...or his head did, anyway — in subsequent UK-only issues).

Modern Transformers fans were thus overjoyed to discover that Hasbro was finally making a Straxus figure (although it is being sold under the name "Darkmount" for trademark reasons) in 2010. This gave me an opportunity to try something a little creative. The comic image above mostly features characters that been given new or reissued toys all within the past few years.  I decided to try to recreate this group shot with actual toys. I had to fudge a bit on the couple of exceptions to this "new toy" rule. No Scrounge toy has ever been created, but I still have the figure I got from "Crazy Steve" a few years ago, and I used a single generic MiniMate to represent the generic Transformers about to be killed by Straxus. I'm pretty pleased with how it finally turned out. I hope you agree. As with most images on this blog, you can click the image to get a larger version.

Monday, December 13, 2010

The New Testament in a Year: Revelation 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 BibleGateway.com 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 Revelation, chapters 8-12.


Chapter 8

  • Verse 1 - A half an hour of silence?  Why?  And, perhaps my importantly, is this length of time supposed to be significant beyond "a long time"?
  • Verses 6-13 - Now that all seven seals have been opened, we have seven trumpets to work through, and as before, each one does something different.  I notice that we're only through four trumpets by the end of the chapter, with the chapter ending with a warning about the upcoming three trumpets.  And I notice that each trumpet causes something to happen to "a third" of something.  Why a third?
Chapter 9

  • Verse 1 - There's a lot of this kind of thing in this book, so don't make much of my singling this instance out, but the personification of a star is intriguing. 
  • Verse 5 (again, just as one example) - It's definitely passages like this that lead people (mostly unbelievers) to say that God is cruel.  If we claim to follow a loving God, we simply must be able to deal honestly with passages like this.
Chapter 10
  • This chapter seems to serve as an interlude between the sixth trumpet and the final one (although chapter 11, verse 14 would suggest that the sixth trumpet repercussions just take a couple of full chapters to work through).  Another scroll (a "little" one, apparently not part of the seven mentioned earlier) is introduced. Seven thunders also show up, apparently out of nowhere, although the definite article seems to suggest that I should know about them already.
  • Verse 11 - "OK.  I've just forced you to eat this thing that made you sick.  Now, prophesy!"
Chapter 11
  • Verse 6 - It's hard to hear about "plagues" and "water into blood" and not think of the story of the Exodus.
Chapter 12
  • Verse 5 - An iron scepter?  Why iron? (the footnotes suggest this is a reference to Psalm 2:9, but I have my doubts as to how explicit this reference would be)1

1Robert H. Mounce, The Book of Revelation (The New International Commentary on the New Testament), Eerdmans, 1977, p. 238, also references this Psalm, and seems to make a connection between the "rule" apparent in Revelation and the "break" of the Psalm by suggesting "shepherd" as an alternate interpretation for the Psalm, but I don't see how that would connect with the rest of Psalm 2:9.  The footnote to the Psalm gives us the "ruling" interpretation back again, but only by referencing the Septuagint--which would have almost certainly been known to New Testament authors--and the Syriac.  I am left to wonder if this verse shows us more about the history of Scriptural interpretation than it does about the actual original intentions behind either passage.

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Friday, December 10, 2010

Transformers: The Movie - The Version You've Never Seen

About a month ago, Ron Friedman, one of the writers behind the original 1980's Transformers cartoon, put a bunch of items up for auction.  Animation sheets, scripts, notes, etc., were all available to fans, much of it for the first time ever.  Needless to say, Transformers fans with money to spare (that doesn't include me, I'm afraid) happily bid on these previously unknown relics.  The Allspark, following a pattern set earlier in the year, organized a donation drive, any excess from which would go to charity.  As a result of these efforts, many of these items were obtained for the express purpose of making them available online so that fans everywhere could have access to the new bits of historical data that could be obtained.

Perhaps one of the most exciting finds from this group of auctions was an early draft of the script to the 1986 Transformers: The Movie.  Jim Sorenson, author of some pretty cool books and blogger at Disciples of Boltax, was the recipient of the physical copy of this script and has now scanned it and placed the link on his blog.  Rather than steal his thunder, I'd rather send you to his blog so you can see what he's been up to.  This version of the movie really is significantly different than what we ended up seeing on screen, and is worth taking some time to look through (full disclaimer: I've only had a chance to skim parts of it all, myself, but hope to spend more time with it this weekend, when I'm not trying to juggle job concerns, as well).

Thursday, December 09, 2010

Marriage, Education, and the Economy

Marriage certificateAfter hearing a recent news report on NPR early this week, I started writing what would ultimately become this article.  This morning, I found a different, but topically-related, post on Scot McKnight's blog, which helped me to refocus my thoughts into something I was finally able to post.

The NPR report discussed the reality that more couples are choosing to have children without getting married.  This in itself didn't surprise me too much, although I was struck by the fact that this issue was discussed from an economic angle rather than the usual religious angle that I often hear when this topic comes up.  Specifically, it suggested a link between education and deciding not to marry despite having children.  The report seems to infer that economic realities (can a parent get a job that pays enough to afford marriage and/or divorce should things go wrong?) are the real issue.  Unfortunately, the NPR report makes this inference based more on anecdotal evidence than on anything actually supplied by the data, which was mostly about the education, not the economics.

McKnight's entry also discusses the decline of marriage in connection with educational factors.  He summarizes the report he links to as suggesting the following:
  1. Marriage is an emerging dividing line between America’s moderately educated middle and those with college degrees.
  2. Marital quality is declining for the moderately educated middle but not for their highly educated peers.
  3. Divorce rates are up for moderately educated Americans, relative to those who are highly educated.
  4. The moderately educated middle is dramatically more likely than highly educated Americans to have children outside of marriage.
  5. The children of highly educated parents are now more likely than in the recent past to be living with their mother and father, while children with moderately educated parents are far less likely to be living with their mother and father.
Unlike the NPR report, McKnight makes no attempt to argue from education to economics, but he seems to be working from the same root data, which comes from "The National Marriage Project" via the University of Virginian.  Basically, the line seems to be between those who obtain a four-year college degree and those who only get a high school diploma.

I am actually glad to see these kinds of discussions of marriage that argue on the basis of secular data rather than any attempt at religious argument or moralizing.  It's not that I don't think that marriage is a sacred institution.  I do very much.  But if we as Christians are going to decry the erosion of marriage in our society, yet we only discuss marriage's importance for religious reasons, we have no reason to expect that non-religious people should listen to our arguments.  Or, to perhaps turn that around just a bit, if we only criticize people who choose to have children without getting married on religious grounds ("they're disobeying God," etc), why should they care that we disapprove?

Although I would rather see a new study more explicitly linked to economics before making this case too strongly, I do think the argument about economic status could be important.  As one person in the NPR report said: "Time was, a man could go from high school to a well-paying, secure factory job. No more."  While one of the mothers depicted in the article does comment on the old "marriage as a piece of paper" chestnut, but it was surprisingly NOT to just to argue that marriage is meaningless, but that it's something of comparatively low (but not non-existent, as I'll get to in a moment) meaning that costs a lot of money!   Unfortunately, that cost (as cited by the person interviewed) was particularly seen on the divorce end.  It's "a piece of paper that costs a lot of money to change."  Even with a child already present, the view does indeed seem to be one that asks "what if I want out?" rather than one expecting marriage to be permanent.

And the NPR article suggests that this attitude seems to ensure that relationships between couples with children, yet who remain unmarried, are not permanent.  These couples are twice as likely as married couples to split up before the children are five years old.

The data cited by McKnight brings up some interesting questions.  As he says "What... should/could be done?" If the decision to enter into marriage is linked to the amount of education one receives, and if there is any desire to see more couples with children actually make the commitment to marriage, then it stands to reason that we want to encourage people to get more education.  But encouraging people to get education, itself, has economic implications.  College is expensive!  I'm not necessarily trying to argue that college should be free, or where any more money to make education less expensive should come from, but this is clearly something that Christians who care about making sure that children grow up in homes with both parents should be looking into.

Perhaps the most intriguing thing about the NPR report, however, were the ways in which it was demonstrated that marriage (or, at least, having a wedding) continues to be held in high esteem even among these obviously secular couples.  For example, one person suggested that she did want to get married (and, in this instance, was actually engaged when she got pregnant), but apparently didn't consider getting the marriage license at the courthouse as an option.  Although it is not stated explicitly, it is implied that she wanted the trappings of a full ceremony, and just getting the license wasn't enough.

If even non-religious people see marriage as having importance, I think we do have hope of being able to work out some kind of solution.  The question becomes, what will actually work?

Monday, December 06, 2010

The New Testament in a Year: Revelation 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 BibleGateway.com 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 Revelation, chapters 3-7.


Chapter 3
  • Verses 15-16 - I can't tell you how many times I've heard this passage as interpreted to mean that God would rather have people be actually against God than be merely "indifferent" (neither "hot" nor "cold").1  I have since come to believe that this is not what this passage is getting to at all. I understand this passage to say "do something helpful!"  (Hot water has therapeutic uses, while cold water is good for drinking and refreshing, and lukewarm water being useless for either.)2  Indifference may well be no virtue, but it just doesn't make sense to me that open hostility would actually be better!
Chapter 4

  • Verse 4 - I'm not at all sure what the number twenty-four is meant to signify, here.3
  • Verse 8 - Somehow, these guys never seem to make the list (it's quite short) of "talking animals in the Bible" (I know of only two, in fact: The serpent in Eden and Balaam's donkey.)
Chapter 5
  • Verse 4 - I wonder why John's so upset at not being able to look inside a scroll he'd never even known about just minutes earlier....
Chapter 6
  • Verses 1, 3, 5, 7, 9 and 12 - It is intriguing to me that "things happen" when the Lamb opens each seal, wholly separate from anything actually written/read upon the scroll itself.  Generally, a seal is unimportant (outside of signifying a letter/scroll's source, which is determined without breaking/opening it), it is what the seal is attached to that has the meaning.
  • Verse 6 - Not knowing how much wheat and barley should cost, I needed to look this one up.  Apparently these are highly inflated prices, possibly signifying a time of famine.4
Chapter 7
  • Verses 4-8 - More numbers.  Mounce: "The number (144,000) is obviously symbolic: Twelve (the number of tribes) is both squared and multiplied by a thousand--a twofold way of emphasizing completeness."  Mounce also notes that the actual tribes mentioned have all disappeared by the time this book would have been written, which would also imply a symbolic understanding rather than a literal one.5

1David E. Aune, Revelation 1-5 (Word Biblical Commentary), Word Books, 1997, p. 257, follows this interpretation.
2Robert H. Mounce, The Book of Revelation (The New International Commentary on the New Testament), Eerdmans, 1977, pp. 125-126, is much closer to this understanding.
3And, apparently, there isn't a scholarly consensus, either, although I am most intrigued by the possibility, mentioned in Aune, p. 289, that suggests that twenty-four would be the number of the tribes (Aune says "sons") of Israel plus the Twelve Apostles.
4See Mounce, p. 155.
5Mounce, p. 168.

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Friday, December 03, 2010

Special Transformers Feature: Chromedome

Chromedome is one of those toys that I actually got a little bit at a time (and, as evidenced by the Kaboodle wish list request for the two laser cannons, I never did actually complete it!).  Oddly enough, I got the Nebulan, called Stylor, first, having found the tiny figure at a yard sale roughly twenty years ago.  I paid 10 cents for it, feeling like I'd gotten a rather good deal even at the time.  Seeing that Nebulans--the head components to the Headmaster figures--vary pretty wildly in price today (but 10 dollars seems to be a low-end price on eBay, and that's before shipping), I feel that my assessment back then has been vindicated several times over.

Some time later, I don't recall how long for certain, I picked up a "headless" body for about $5, and my Chromdome was more or less complete (if you don't count the fact that it's still weaponless).

In America, Chromedome was no more or less important than any of the other Headmasters, which means that he showed up a few times in the comic books, and in the "Rebirth" three-parter that closed out the original animated series, and otherwise wasn't seen all that much.  In Japan, Chromedome was the nominal Headmasters leader (under Fortress Maximus, true, but Maximus was HUGE, and therefore didn't really go out on missions much), and thus got a LOT more screen time.

Chromedome's transformation to vehicle mode is fairly standard for the time.  Flip the arms back, fold the robot in half (but take the head off first!), rotate the feet a bit, and you're pretty much done.  Like other 1987 Headmasters' Nebulan figures, Stylor can fit into a compartment in vehicle mode to "drive" the vehicle.

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