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Not Prince Hamlet

"Full of high sentence, but a bit obtuse."

France, day 5

Saturday, January 29, 2005

Meredith and I are in Thionville, France, after taking the train from Paris yesterday. Today I transacted a trade of cultural sporting paraphanelia: I traded my Denver Broncos money clip for a Metz Football Club stocking cap. I look pretty sweet in it.
posted by Not Prince Hamlet, 1:10 PM | link | 2 comments |

Paris, day 3

Thursday, January 27, 2005

Today we saw the musee de cluny,with its famous tapestries of "the lady and the unicorn." Then we went to the centre pompidou and the bastille. That was a lot of walking. We leave for Thionville tomorrow.
posted by Not Prince Hamlet, 9:37 AM | link | 0 comments |

Paris, Day One

Tuesday, January 25, 2005

We are here and having a grqnd time (the q is where the a should be on French keyboqrds). Today we walked all around Montmartre, home to the movies Amelie and Moulin Rouge. We attended a mass at the Basilique Sacre Coeur; we had couscous for lunch; we walked through the cemetary. Then we walked along the Champs-Elysee to the Arc de Triomphe and took a train back toward the hotel. Now we are in a web cafe only blocks from Notre Dame. What a way to start a vacation. More envy-inducing drivel to come.
posted by Not Prince Hamlet, 8:14 AM | link | 0 comments |

Parlez Vous Vacation?

Saturday, January 22, 2005

Not Prince Hamlet

Meredith and I leave for Paris tomorrow, and won't be back for two weeks. Hopefully I'll be able to post once or twice from France, but if not I'll holla at y'all when I get back.
posted by Not Prince Hamlet, 2:41 PM | link | 0 comments |

Hidey Ho there, neighbor

Wednesday, January 19, 2005

Here's an initiative that I could totally get behind. It has always been said of the web that its' most amazing capability (beyond commerce) is its' ability to connect people across long distances. Well, what about connecting people within short distances? What if people used the web to connect to (gasp!) their community and (e-gads!) their neighbors.

Could this be the thing that young adults need to ease our way into civic life?
posted by Not Prince Hamlet, 9:02 PM | link | 0 comments |

The Kids are Hip, but . . .

It has been argued that corporations shouldn't be demonized for the way they market their products; after all, aren't they trying to make our lives better. And anyway, those of us raised in a media-driven marketing age know what to look for and we're hip to their gig. If we choose to buy something it's in spite of the marketing, not because of it. Right?

Consider this quick exchange between Douglas Rushkoff and a PBS interviewer regarding the way teenagers, especially, are alert to marketing:

"Q: What about the point that kids are hip to what marketers are doing and they have a response to this.

A: ...It is an arms race. It's a coercive arms race where we develop a defense mechanism, so they develop a counter measure. So we develop a new defense mechanism, they develop a new counter measure, and then everybody's just watching the other suspiciously to see who's trying to program who... "

Exactly. And one of the best "counter measures" out there right now is the tactic of massaging our marketing-saavy egos. "We know you're hip to what we're doing; we know you're smart. So buy our stuff because we're being straight with you. Image is nothing." It's an overt and coercive appeal to emotion, a sort of non-commercial that makes the subject feel good about herself. "Yeah, they're right. I am smart." Then feeling smart and self-satisfied is emotionally associtated with that brand. Mission accomplished.

Defense mechanism--counter measure. What's your defense mechanism?

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posted by Not Prince Hamlet, 8:19 PM | link | 0 comments |

Questioning the Psalms

The daily lectionary Psalm for today is Psalm 15:

1O LORD, who may abide in your tent?
Who may dwell on your holy hill?
2Those who walk blamelessly, and do what is right,
and speak the truth from their heart;
3who do not slander with their tongue;
and do no evil to their friends,
nor take up a reproach against their neighbours;
4in whose eyes the wicked are despised,
but who honour those who fear the LORD;
who stand by their oath even to their hurt;
5who do not lend money at interest,
and do not take a bribe against the innocent.
Those who do these things shall never be moved

I've read this Psalm bunches of times, and I've been particularly challenged by the virtue of standing by one's oath even to one's own hurt. But applying a little Tom Long exegesis to the passage, the question arises, "what does this passage sound like to (fill in the blank)". The question impressed upon me this morning is, "What does this sound like to someone who is reluctant to leave an abusive marriage?"

For that person, this may sound like a command to stay in that marriage, even to their own hurt (physical and otherwise), because of the oath they have made. To that person, taking steps to end the marriage out of self-protection amounts to breaking their oath, failing to stand by it "even to their hurt."

What do we make of this principle today? Is the interpretation limited to oaths pertaining to financial or capital transactions, since that's most likely what the Psalmist was referring to? Or is it a general principle, one that we should seek to apply everywhere: stand by your word, even when doing so means you get hurt.

Obviously, I don't think we can do that. I think trying to apply such a principle generally leads to dangerous and unhealthy decisions, decisions that grieve God. But is this just a bit of situational exegesis? Can one say, "in this situation the text means . . . but in this situation it means . . ."

I think faithful interpretation requires that we do that.

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posted by Not Prince Hamlet, 6:57 AM | link | 0 comments |

The Real Major League

Upon further reflection, the potential sale of the Wizards is bad news for more reasons than that if could signal a simalar fate for the Chiefs. It's bad news in its own right. MLS is a growing entity, one that has a DirecTV subscription package for TV revenue and VERY devoted (even if they aren't that big) fan-bases in the cities that have franchises.

But here's the good news: after Hunt announced the sale of the team in early December, an activist group got together right away to construct a grassroots campaign to keep the team in KC. The Heart of America Soccer Foundation has served as a liason between Hunt's people and potential local buyers. And the Kansas City Star reported three days ago that there are at least two (anonymous) local suitors who have met Hunt's initial bid criteria (he wants the new owner to be able to finance a new complex).

Here's what I'm going to do: I'm going to participate in the new foundation's letter-writing campaign, and I'm going to go to their events. Starting with the rally on Feb. 19th. It's on my calendar. Wanna come?
posted by Not Prince Hamlet, 6:39 AM | link | 0 comments |

Major League Trouble

Here in the Heartland, we love our football and baseball teams. Sure, they may be pathologically un-successful franchises, but it's hard to imagine Kansas City without the Royals and Chiefs, without Kauffman and Arrowhead stadiums. Could it be that we might have to?

Last November, voters rejected a sales tax proposal that would finance improvements to the Truman Sports Complex, which is home to both Kauffman and Arrowhead. The Royals and Chiefs don't own those facilities; they lease them from the county. So yesterday the Jackson County Legislature introduced a proposal to increase the county sales tax in order to pay for the required improvements. If the county doesn't finance the improvements, they default on the lease and the teams will be allowed to move.

Realistically, I think we're a long way off from seeing the Chiefs or Royals leave KC, but it has to be considered a realistic possibility. After the November initiative failed, Chiefs owner Lamar Hunt announced that he was putting the KC Wizards up for sale. The Wizards are one of three MLS teams that Hunt owns, and he's making a push for soccer-specific stadiums to be built for those franchises. He's smart enough to know that Kansas City voters won't bankroll such a project with their own taxes, so he wants to sell the team to someone who will either finance it personally or convince the voters to do it. Could the Chiefs be next?

Here's the issue: everyone always complains about the corporate takeover of sports, what with the naming rights of stadiums being sold left and right. But here's an example of a locally-owned, non-corporate sports franchise struggling not only to compete but also to stay afloat. Jackson County owns the stadiums and has a contractual obligation to honor their end of the lease by financing needed improvements. Jackson County citizens need to realize that they can no longer have it both ways; either you get on board with the tax increases or you get used to the idea of corporate financing, even if that means Kauffman Stadium becomes Hallmark Stadium and Arrowhead stadium becomes Sprint Stadium.

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posted by Not Prince Hamlet, 5:59 AM | link | 1 comments |

This Iraqi Life

Monday, January 17, 2005

I'm only halfway through it, but this TAL piece is great (the one dated 1/7--click the 05 button on the archive menu). I have avoided a lot of the writing and reporting about on-the-ground goings on in Iraq, but this one has grabbed my attention. I hope I can say truly that my appreciation for it is free of idealogical conceit. Probably not. But, in any case, it's good radio.

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posted by Not Prince Hamlet, 11:09 AM | link | 2 comments |

Justifiying My Preoccupation

I was trying to articulate to my father-in-law last night some serious rationale for the seemingly disproportionate amount of time and energy I have spent thinking about media and coersion (as well as COERSION the book) of late. I wasn't really satisfied with what I was able to produce.

So here it is, from the Daily Lectionary reading for the day from Ephesians 4:14:
"We must no longer be children, tossed to and fro and blown about by every wind of doctrine, by people’s TRICKERY, by their CRAFTINESS in DECEITFUL SCHEMING (emphasis mine).

There you have it. That's the conviction that drives my interest in coercive media messages and how to decode them.

Not that anyone asked, but . . .


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posted by Not Prince Hamlet, 8:07 AM | link | 0 comments |

Burrito-tainment

Sunday, January 16, 2005

"Can you tell? We have this thing for music. We're your friends who make special mix CD's for parties, the ones who bore you with our latest obscure discovery, the ones who can't be in a room without the stereo on."

CD store? No. Record label? No. Burrito restaurant? You got it.

This stirring example of "Marketainment"--the coercive technique employed by restaurants and stores that aims to bring the music and video out of the background of the consumer's experience and into the foreground--is found on the back of a drinking cup from Chipotle. But it's more than just "marketainment"; Chipotle has done more than make you pay conscious attention to the music they're playing as you eat your burrito, they have cast themselves as a character in your life, a friend. It's a coy, self-denegrating way of shouldering up to you with a sales pitch, and it's all cloaked in the native language of a college sophomore.

The 20 year-old in the booth next to me loved it, I can assure you.

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posted by Not Prince Hamlet, 7:36 PM | link | 0 comments |

Atmospherics in Action

Saturday, January 15, 2005

This KC Friday night was an elaboration on a classic theme: dinner and a movie. That's the theme. The elaboration was the gift card that paid for the dinner and the fact that the movie preceded the dinner.

Thinking back on it (a mere 12 hours later), the outing was a fieldtrip into the crumbling infrastructure of modernity. Follow me on this. First of all, the movie we saw was Kinsey, the biographical flick about the famed sex researcher starring Liam Neeson. The film itself is a commentary on the promises and dangers of modernity's quest for an objective, value-free, scientific ethic for all things, specifically, in Kinsey's case, for matters pertaining to sexual behavior. The reality, of course, is that no such ethic exists; there is always a value behind it, even if its the value of having no value.

But the gem of the date came before the movie, when Meredith and I killed an hour strolling through the mall. I was consciously looking for the kind of atmospherics described by Douglas Rushkoff, those elements intended to disorient consumers and subvert their rational decision-making ability. He's right. It's all there. But is it working?

A top-of-my-head catalogue of examples includes the Merry-Go-Round in the middle of the mall, the moving spotlights that encounter shoppers on the walkways, the absense of windows, and the long passageways that separate "anchor stores" from eachother. The absense of windows in a mall is nothing new; what struck me for the first time was that, when walking past an arm of the mall that includes a doorway (the doorway is never on the walkway itself, but at the end of an arm off of the walkway), the shopper can't see anything outside beyond the parking lot. The doors aren't high enough. They only permit a view of the cars in the parking lot, so, of course, the view from every door in the mall is the same. Where are you? Who knows? Is this where we came in? I dunno?

I was able to see the tools of atmospherics for what they were (not to mention the "soft sell" tools employed by Victoria's Secret sales staff--"Have you been sized lately; this sale only goes until this weekend"). But do they still work? They don't work on me, I know that. And I don't know that they have worked on me since I was a teenager. Malls make me sick. Physically. The disorientation and confusion that is thrilling to a teenager only looking for a place to hang out and socialize is stomach-turning and headache-inducing to an adult trying to kill time.

But malls aren't for adults. At least not adults like me, married with no kids. Malls are for teenagers and their parental benefactors, the "adults" who bankroll their atmospherics-driven consumption. That is the engine that makes the mall run.

Does this sound like conspiracy theory nonsense? Or have you been sucked in by it all?


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posted by Not Prince Hamlet, 7:36 AM | link | 5 comments |

End of the Year Music Rush

Friday, January 14, 2005

The dust has settled from my end-of-the-year rush on cd's from the library. I checked out roughly 20 cd's over a two week period, cd's that were hailed by someone (the pitch, XPN, or The Planet) as "best of the year." I'm such a sucker for these lists it's shameful. I spend the whole year proud of myself for not being a critic-crazed consumer of music akin to the average college sophomore; then, during the last week in December, I get it all in at once. My self-righteous justification is only that I'm not buying it. I'm taping it for my car if I like it. Really. That's all.

Last year Fountains of Wayne's "Welcome Interstate Managers" pretty much walked away with all of my attention at the end of the year. This year, the trend for finger-in-the-air white guy bands continued. Two cd's have emerged from the fricass as clearly the best and most compelling:

1. The Get Up Kids, "Guilt Show." The Get Up Kids are a local KC area band, and they've been around for awhile. I've honestly never taken an interest in them. But a local radio station was high on them at the end of the year. Now so am I. Guilt Show is a straight rock record, populated by quirky, intelligent, poppy pieces that command repeated listening. I'm crazy about it.

2. Jamie Cullum, "Twentysomething." This is one of those cd's that you listen to once and think, "wow. I need to hear that again." Think Harry Connick meets David Gray. Twentysomething is an analog-recorded thing, which it gives it a feel sort of like David Gray's "White Ladder," and Cullum is a witty, defiant, throaty piano crooner. It's really great. There are only a couple of originally-penned songs on here and a lot of covers (from Hendrix to Jeff Buckley to Cole Porter). But I can't stop listening.

Any advance notice on what I'll be searching the library catalog for next December?

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posted by Not Prince Hamlet, 6:43 AM | link | 3 comments |

Read the paper, man

Thursday, January 13, 2005

So, it turns out that newspaper readership is connected to levels of active citizenship; people who read the paper vote and do the other things that make participatory democracy work. Further, it turns out that young people between the ages of 20 and 40 don't do either very well.

I've spent a good deal of personal and professional angst on the issue of young adult civic engagement. None of that angst has ever produced any kind of improvement anywhere, so here's a suggestion: what if we organized opportunities for young adults to get together in coffeeshops and simalar venues for the sole purpose of reading and discussing the paper together? You could try to get the local paper(s) to sponsor it and donate free copies, and the publicity mechanism is built-in (but it's a publicity mechanism that no young adults actually read, so scratch that). Would a Not Prince Hamlet reader find such an invitation appealing or no?

The response to the "young adults don't read the paper" lament has tended to appeal to the internet as an alternative news source for young adults. But most of the studies done on the matter show that the internet is not used widely by that age group as a news source. The bottom line is that 20-40 year olds don't follow the news and that they are much less engaged in their communities than their grandparents--and even parents--were.

But perhaps there is a more fundmental issue here: maybe the problem is the news. Or, put another way, maybe the problem is the container of the news. It's a business of course, and so it depends upon readership for ad revenue. Consequently, it is given to the same kind of tactics that every business--from breweries to automakers to churches--employ to try and attract young adults. This boil down essentially to sensationalism and sex (read: the twins and The Bad Girls of the Bible study so popular in some churches). Maybe young adults are too smart to toyed with like that. Maybe they (we) see through the corporate agenda of "the news" and just opt out of the whole thing. I tend to think that the truth lies more in that direction than in the direction of apathy and disaffection, the issue's most notorious culprits to date. But that leaves the question: how are young adults participating in public, civic, democratic life?

Anyone want to meet me at the local coffeeshop to read the paper?

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posted by Not Prince Hamlet, 6:13 AM | link | 5 comments |

I'm not a Democratic operative, I swear

Wednesday, January 12, 2005

So the Bush administration paid people to pose as journalists and produce phony news segments to distribute to local news stations. Here's the story.

What's the big deal? Companies do it, why shouldn't the president? I remember a news story on a Philadelphia news channel last fall about the release of the new Corvette. It was introduced and narrated as a news event, but it was obviously nothing more than Vette-supplied footage of the car driving around a closed track.

Douglas Rushkoff is right: in our media-driven age, products and politicians are one and the same.
posted by Not Prince Hamlet, 8:08 PM | link | 0 comments |

More Bush and Jesus

Andrew Sullivan is all in a tizzy about George Bush telling the Washington Times that he can't see how anyone could be President without a "Relationship with the Lord." As well Sullivan should be. This strikes me as unlike anything any President has ever said before.

Listen up, world, as the most powerful elected official on the globe disqualifies from consideration for the American Presidency anyone not having a relationship with Jesus. And before people complain that "that's not what he said," it's exactly what he said. "I don't see how anyone could . . ." is just another way of saying, "in my opinion (and I have been elected President twice), no one can."

I'm interested in hearing people's thoughts as to the political ramifications of a statement like this. As for me, I'm simply floored at W's candor, boldness, and, well, carelessness.

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posted by Not Prince Hamlet, 7:53 PM | link | 0 comments |

The long winter

Ladies and gentleman, if I could have your attention for a moment? We are now getting word of an official word from Not Prince Hamlet. At about 7:40 A.M. Central Time this morning, January, 12th, Not Prince Hamlet announced that it is officialy SICK of winter. The announcement specifically mentioned difficulty getting up in the morning and annoyance at an intensive skin care regimen. I'll quote directly from the statement here: "Once you've taken a colloidal oatmeal bath, something happens to your manhood and to your zest for life. Please, please: bring back spring and baseball and sunshine."

Not Prince Hamlet did refer to the February reporting date for pitchers and catchers as a target survival date. Until then , the blog's author can be found huddling under thick blankets with a block of cheese and a Holiday Spice Pepsi, waiting for the next KU basketball game.
posted by Not Prince Hamlet, 5:41 AM | link | 3 comments |

Atmospherics

Tuesday, January 11, 2005

I now have three Douglas Rushkoff books in my possession courtesy of the inter-library loan mechanism of the Kansas City Public Library. The one that is having the greatest benefit, I think, is Coersion: Why We Do What "They" Tell Us To.

The book is useful essentially as a primer in media and marketing, an overview of the many ways in which coercive techniques as employed upon us in nearly everthing we do. There's a great chapter on "atmospherics," the science (seriously, science) of understanding how consumer's shopping and buying habits are affected by the atmosphere. So our senses are always being appealed to, and not just in the inocuous "make-the-shopping-experience-pleasant" way that you might think. In fact, the goal of most sensory appeals is to disorient the consumer, so that she functions of logical and rational decision-making are subverted from without. For example, the layout of shopping malls. Utilizing something mall planners call the "Gruen transfer" (named for the guy who first figured it out in the 1930's), malls are designed so that shoppers are cutoff from natural sensory cues, like your ability to note that passage of time by the movement of the sun. Further, mall corridors can be maze-like, twisty passages that serve to make you unable to tell how far you've walked and how far the next big store is ("oh, it's just around the next corner").

A lot of the atmospherics strategies used by retailers and mall-planners are the same as those employed by casinos. Appeals to sight through the use of specific colors, appeals to the sense of smell and sound are all part of psychologically sophisticated effort to subvert consumers' rational decision-making processes.

Consider the sense of sound. Historically, Muzak has been unmatched in its ability to "maximize the effectiveness" of shoppers; studies show that people exposed to Muzak in department stores shop 17% longer are purchase 18% more stuff. In grocery stores it's even higher, and it's calibrated to match the time of the day. Well, the world is awash with Muzak, and it's effectiveness has lately been called into question. So now, stores like Starbucks are employing a new strategy called "Marketainment," which brings the music out of the background and into the foreground. The goal is for the consumer to consciously be aware of the music and to make a positive association between that music and that store. Then the store can sell the music back to you as part of the "Starbucks experience."

More later. So the next time you go into a mall or a department store or a casino, note the ways in which your senses are being appealed to. You might be surprised by what you notice.

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posted by Not Prince Hamlet, 7:48 PM | link | 0 comments |

Like I was saying

Here's an article about a company that sells ads to dentist offices. These ads run on video screens that patients watch as they are being worked on. That's just what I would want if I were a advertiser: an association between my product and the intense pleasure of, say, a root canal.

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posted by Not Prince Hamlet, 5:48 AM | link | 0 comments |

Not Prince Hamlet--relocated

Monday, January 10, 2005

My conscience wouldn't allow me to subject my friends and family to a deluge of ads any longer. So on the advice of credible individuals, I have relocated Not Prince Hamlet. Welcome.

I'm reposting the last couple of posts from the old blog just for the heck of it.
posted by Not Prince Hamlet, 2:42 PM | link | 1 comments |

Cigar anyone?

So on New Year's Eve Meredith and I remembered that we had these cigars. One was a gift from the stately Mr. Jim McGraw, and the other was taken from Meredith's intern gragudation dinner. Last May. Needless to say, they were old and nasty, but we didn't really care. They we were, if only for a few moments, ushering the New Year as married people smoking stogies. It was beautiful.
posted by Not Prince Hamlet, 2:41 PM | link | 0 comments |

05's First Friday

How am I spending the new year's first Friday, first day off? I'm taping cd's and writing on my blog, with the cat at my side. There's work to be done, sure, but isn't there always?

A reason why some of this week's work hasn't been done yet is the ice storm, which pretty much knocked out all of Wednesday. Another reason, though, is Douglas Rushkoff. That guy's books took much of my work time this week.

I picked up "Coersion" at the library on Teusday (just in time to be iced-in). I'm only at the second chapter right now, but it is very, very promising. Basically, Rushkoff wrote the book as a primer in media and the "coersion industry." It's a searching look at the ubiquity of persuarsion and coersion in our society, from the methods used by car salesmen to the outlay of the local shopping mall. Someone is always--always--trying to coerce you into spending your money on their stuff.

One of the tactics he discusses is the tactic of sending a free gift with a mail solicitation. Non-profits and banks do it all the time (I just had coffee with a friend who described the way that the bank he used to work for would send $1 bills out with their mailings). The tactic is to make the recipient of the gift feel a sense of obligation, like some sort of transaction has been initiated by their acceptance of it, and thus to feel compelled to sign on the dotted line or send a check. This works on me when it comes to the use of someone's time. Whether it's a door-to-door or a telephone solicitation, I can't turn people away when once they've launched into their pitch. If I can cut them off early enough, I don't feel any guilt about turning them away; but if I wuss-out and they get well into their schpeal, I feel I owe it to them to at least hear them out. Of course, once you've heard them out, you may as well give them your wallet.

It's an authoritarian play on the sense of obligation and guilt that the mass of people have. Much of the time it works. At least with me.

So let the solicitations begin.
posted by Not Prince Hamlet, 2:39 PM | link | 0 comments |