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Not Prince Hamlet

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

From Rushkoff

Monday, February 28, 2005

A piece on Douglas Rushkoff's blog makes the following statement, in reference to the arguments between the left and the right, the counter-culture and the popular culture:
"The Enlightenment [messed] us up in that it led us to believe that dialectics led to truth. Two people arguing honestly from opposing points of view are supposed to be able to resolve their debate to a synthesis. But that synthesis may not be connected to reality, at all. Two politicians can argue about whether the tax code should have 40 or 39 lines, while the child starves from lack of rice."

The commodity that is the political debate show is a great example. Nobody ever really expects anyone on those shows to actually change their mind; they're there to spin their issue, hit their talking points, push their candidate, or whatever. Which is fine. But let's stop thinking that these are supposed to be "debates" in the classic sense of the term. Our culture doesn't know how to debate; it only knows how to mimic party lines.

And now--for the Christians--there is "Faith Under Fire." Just another way for media-saavy evangelicals to mimic the mainstream: "look! We're cool like you guys. We're just more moral."

Labels: ,

posted by Not Prince Hamlet, 9:45 AM | link | 2 comments |

"Human Beings Have Never Lived Like This Before"

Andrew Sullivan's piece from las week's Sunday Times is about the iPod craze, and it's fantastic. Here's a money quote:
"Music was once the preserve of the living room or the concert hall. It was sometimes solitary but it was primarily a shared experience, something that brought people together, gave them the comfort of knowing that others too understood the pleasure of a Brahms symphony or that Beatles album.

But music is as atomised now as living is. And it’s secret. That bloke next to you on the bus could be listening to heavy metal or a Gregorian chant. You’ll never know. And so, bit by bit, you’ll never really know him. And by his white wires, he is indicating he doesn’t really want to know you."

I had a walkman as a kid, but I couldn't ever get into it; it was too akward and clunky. But since the advent of the iPod, I have failed to get on board with this new, sleek, not-at-all-clunky version. First of all, I'm not technologically sophisticated enough. But secondly, I never felt the slightest bit of compulsion to participate in what was obviously becoming an all-out craze, driven by really cool marketing and celebrity pseudo-endorsements from the likes of U2. I have sort of sat back and watched from the sidelines as the phenomenon has spread.

I'll let you read Sullivan's piece for the sociological commentary. But let me contend that the "atomising" trend he is worrying about is limited to a relatively small segment of the population: urban/suburban, college-educated, mostly white, and upper-middle class. The rest of society is "atomising" in different ways, ways that owe less to iPod's and the internet than they do to highways (I talk to no-one, after all, during my 30 minute one-way commute every day, and I have my own tunes at my command--albeit by a tape player) and suburban sprawl. In other words, things are as they always have been.

The iPod, it seems to me, is just another way for a niche segment of the population to tune in and turn off.


posted by Not Prince Hamlet, 9:01 AM | link | 4 comments |

And the [*choke!*] Oscar Goes To . . .

Wednesday, February 23, 2005

It's official. The maker of that soft drink that comes in a blue can and boasts such celebrity endorsements as Michael Jackson, Britney Spears, and P-Diddy, wins the product placement oscar for 2005. The soft drink appeared in more movies (and more high-grossing movies) last year than any other brand of product.

Is everybody like me? When you're watching a movie or a television show, do you feel the need to call out every bit of product placement you see? Last night's "Law and Order: SVU" featured a scene on the street where a FedEx truck rolled by. "Gotcha!" I shouted. Product placement really is an inescapable phenomenon, so my righteous indignation about it has largely died off in favor of an enjoyable sort of game. Because, as any marketing expert will tell you, if the viewer notices the product placement AS A PRODUCT PLACEMENT, it hasn't worked.

I guess it's subversion by paying attention.
posted by Not Prince Hamlet, 5:02 AM | link | 1 comments |

Next Up: Netflix

Monday, February 21, 2005

For someone who doesn't have cable, doesn't have Direct TV, doesn't have Tivo, the next best thing must be Netflix. The virtue of all of those other entertainment outlets is that they multiply exponentially the amount of choice that consumers can exercise over entertainment. With literally hundreds of channels and the ability to automatically record things for later viewing, you no longer have to be in a specific place at a specific time in order to enjoy something.

Well, for me, movie rental has for too long been limited by the constraints of the here and now: when can I go rent a movie? What are they going to have available? And for my wife, it's even more frustrating, since she's seen just about every French movie on stock at every video store in town. So I did something drastic. After mulling over it for (literally) minutes, I jumped in and started a two week trial with Netflix.

Blockbuster Video has come after Netflix recently, announcing the discontinuation of all Late Fees (a campaign that is now under legal scrutiny) and establishing its own mail-based rental service. Well I'm not going for it. Netflix was an enterprising idea when it started, and it has been commended to me by numerous friends. In the words of those televised poker players: "I'm all in."

Surely you're dying to know what's at the top of the new Netflix que? Two French movies ("White" and "Venus Beauty Institute") and the first season of West Wing. Incidentally, I spent half a day a couple of weeks ago driving to three different video stores and trying to locate West Wing for rental. No dice. Thanks Netflix!


posted by Not Prince Hamlet, 7:00 AM | link | 7 comments |

Not Prince Hamlet's Podcast debut

Friday, February 18, 2005

As proof of the internet's ability to let any mediocre schlock yap about nothing significant, Not Prince Hamlet had a wee essay broadcast in today's edition of Landon Explains It All. The entire show is worth listening to, but NPH begins at around the 43rd minute.

What will they think of next?


posted by Not Prince Hamlet, 9:26 AM | link | 1 comments |


Thursday, February 17, 2005

Our Lenten Study begins on Sunday. I didn't have enough time to thoroughly plan something out, so I've cobbled something together about "Christian Practices," drawing largely on this book and this related website. It will be a five week study that focuses on five different practices.

We start this Sunday with Testimony. Like many of the ideas central (and peripheral) to the Christian tradition, testimony has its origin in legal language, as in the testimony of a witness. For certain strands of the protestant Christian tradition, the understanding of the believer as a witness, as one who gives testimony to the good news of the gospel, is crucial. However, as a practice or a discipline in North American churches, testimony belongs largely to the domain of African-American Christianity. So why not try to introduce the practice intentionally into a congregation of midwestern Presbyterians?

The thing I appreciate most about Thomas Hoyt Jr.'s exposition on testimony (apart from his simple definition) is the attention he pays the the multiplicity of "testimonies" that exist in our media-driven age. One of the things he recommends doing with a study group is to watch some commercials and identify the thing that they are "testifying" to. I like that. I think I'll use it.

What do y'all think about Testimony? Where, culturally, is testimony a common practice (outside of the legal sphere)? Do techonologies like email, blogs, and podcasts provide ways to testify to life and God in meaningful ways? Back in the day, architecture itself (note the photo of the Strasbourg cathedral) was a testimony to something grand and otherworldly; does that still occur? What do the physical buildings that we inhabit and admire testify to, if anything?

Talk amongst yourselves.

Posted by Hello


posted by Not Prince Hamlet, 5:12 AM | link | 0 comments |

Mutual Master-Oration Society

Tuesday, February 15, 2005

You scratch Not Prince Hamlet's cyber-back and' Not Prince Hamlet will scratch yours.

Not Prince Hamlet earned a couple of references on today's edition of Landon Explains It All, a very thought-provoking and entertaining podcast. The show posts twice a week, on Teusdays and Fridays, and you can be sure that it's unlike anything you'll hear anywhere else.
posted by Not Prince Hamlet, 3:26 PM | link | 2 comments |

It's finally here!

In less than a week, pitchers and catchers will report to Spring Training, and baseball season will officially be back. For Kansas Citians, this means a couple of weeks of excitement, of deluding ourselves into thinking that the Royals can hang in there past June. Then it's months of bemoaning the fortunes of a perennial failure. And the Royals too.

There's a great profile of the Royals General Manager Allard Baird in today's KC Star. It's a well written piece that exposes the scandalous likeability of Baird, the guy with the most unfortunate job in town. He has a sober understanding of the reality of his job, and he expects criticism. Here's a money quote:

“Not that people care, but it does take time. I don't expect people to understand that in this day and age. It's like when I get coffee. I don't want to wait five minutes. I want it now. Only you can't Band-Aid it. And I understand that's nobody's problem but ours.”

That's nobody's problem but ours. He understands the messed up structure of baseball economics like an ant understands the bottom of your shoe; yet, it's "nobody's problem but ours." That's why Kansas Citians haven't run him out of town yet. Not only is he infinitely likeable, but he also has a firm grasp on the vocabulary of accountability so important to Heartlanders.
posted by Not Prince Hamlet, 10:38 AM | link | 1 comments |

Music and TV on a Friday Night

Friday, February 11, 2005

My wife is sick in bed this Friday night, so I have stayed up and watched the best non-cable offering out there: a rerun of last week's "Road to Stardom with Missy Elliot" on UPN. I've seen this once or twice before, and I actually like it. I think that when you compare it to that other music competition reality show, what Missy Elliot is asking her contestants to do is a lot harder. Simon Cowell never tires of reminding nervous auditioners that American Idol is "a singing competition"; but "Road to Stardom" is demanding a singer/rapper/dancer, and it is demanding that that person be able to perform at any given moment. I would venture to say that most of the kids on "Road to Stardom" could get pretty deep into the American Idol field, but that the opposite is not true; very few of the people American Idol spits out could last a day with Missy Elliot's crew.

Another TV music programming note: the local PBS station ran an ad for tomorrow night's Austin City Limits, which will feature Damien Rice and Patty Griffin. I might do something I haven't done since about 1988 and tape that. Damien Rice is simply sweet, and it really doesn't get much better than Patty Griffin (in fact, if you don't own this cd you oughta be ashamed of yourself).

Music and TV: what a combination. I wonder if anyone will ever create a television channel dedicatied exclusively to music. You could call it, like, TMV, for "Tele-music-vision." Yeah. That would be cool.


posted by Not Prince Hamlet, 7:07 PM | link | 3 comments |

Another First

Thursday, February 10, 2005

First funeral, first wedding, first Christmas Eve, first annual meeting, and now, alas, first Lent and first Ash Wednesday.

Only one reflection from last night's Ash Wednesday service: one of the most incongruous things someone in my vocation will ever be asked to do is to kneel down to the level of a six year old child, look him in the face, and tell him, "Remember that you are dust, and to dust you will return," as you mark his forehead with ashes.

The incongruity seemed to escape him, however. He looked right back at me as my thumb went for his forehead and requested, "I want a cross."

posted by Not Prince Hamlet, 5:55 AM | link | 6 comments |

This is how a map program is supposed to work

Wednesday, February 09, 2005


Like all things Google: sweet.
posted by Not Prince Hamlet, 3:46 PM | link | 0 comments |

Reflection on Ash Wednesday, based on Matthew 6

Lent and Ash Wednesday are about secrecy. They are about the secrecy of who Jesus really was and what he was really sent here to do. To people who saw him, Jesus was any number of things: a teacher, a healer, a miracle-worker. But the truth about Jesus was a secret, even a secret to his closest and most trusted friends. The truth was that Jesus is Israel’s Messiah and the world’s Lord, and that he came to seek and save the lost, to forgive sin and to open the doors to abundant and everlasting life by giving away his own life.

Jesus’ life—his healing and caring and teaching—was spent telling a secret, something totally hidden from the view of everyday men and women. Jesus life repeatedly whispered the secret that people’s power is found in their willingness to be weak, their wisdom is found in their willingness to appear as fools, and that fullness of life is found the willingness to give life away.

Lent is a time for Christians and for the church to dwell in this secret, to practice this secret by our willingness to make ourselves weak, to make ourselves foolish, and to give away our lives in the way that Jesus gave away his. And Ash Wednesday is about this very secret, that our emptiness is our fullness and the dust from which we came and to which we will return is the theater of our greatest glory.

And so on Ash Wednesday we hear Jesus telling his followers that their charitable giving, their praying, and their fasting should be done—how else?—in secret. It is common practice, he said, for people to give alms with the blow of a trumpet and a round of applause, to pray loudly in church and on the street corner so that everyone sees and nods in approval, and to fast with deep-set eyes and a long face to win the admiration of those who admire austerity and piety. But you, he said, you are to be more secretive than that.

The secrecy of prayer and alms giving and fasting that Jesus exhorts us to is based in the knowledge of the God who is in secret, who is out of the view of the approving, applauding, congratulating masses. It is based in a relationship with the God who sees in secret and who rewards in secret.

Secrecy is restraint. When you have been told a secret, it takes a great deal of restraint not to tell it to someone else, and thus to exploit the lack of restraint of the person who told the secret to you. And restraint is grounded in the wisdom that comes from knowing that the things about which people make a big deal are really no big deal at all. The praise of peers, the respect of neighbors, the admiration of onlookers, the comfort of money and material goods: all of these things can seem to be a very big deal indeed. But the secret of Jesus, the secret of restraint that we strain our ears to hear in Lent and on Ash Wednesday is that they are not a big deal. In fact, they are nothing. Like everything else—including ourselves—, they come from dust, and to dust they will return.

Secrecy is its own reward. The reward that praying behind a closed door and keeping the giving of your left hand a secret to your right, that reward far, far outweighs the rewards of approval and praise. And that reward is itself a secret, one that can only be unlocked by a will that seeks it and a heart that yearns to hear it.

Beginning tonight, with Ash Wednesday, we enter into a seven-week period of preparation: preparation for Easter in which we walk the Jerusalem Road with Jesus, enter the city behind him on a donkey, and watch the secret of the gospel get spilled with the coins on the temple floor, with tears of terror, with anointing perfume, and with spear-pierced blood. Into this preparation are woven secrecy and restraint, repentance and discipline, stillness and quiet. For it takes restraint and discipline to keep from telling a secret, and it takes quiet and stillness to hear it in the first place. Are you ready to listen?

posted by Not Prince Hamlet, 2:43 PM | link | 0 comments |

Sandra Tsing Loh and Gilmore Girls

Case in point (see post below): "Gilmore Girls." The WB produces a steady stream of coming-of-age sentimental nonsense, but "Gilmore Girls" does more for the kind of mom-is-your-drinkin'-buddy view of parenting than the rest of WB's programming--with the possible exception of "7th Heaven."

Take, for example, a recent storyline in which Rory, a Freshman at Harvard, has an affair with her now-married ex-boyfriend from high school. This, of course, has devastating consequences for said ex-boyfriend's marriage, as well as for his wife's family and his own family. People are, in short, very angry at he and Rory for what they have done. And what does Rory's ranting, faithful mother provide in such a crisis? Understanding. Not understanding accompanied by a healthy dose of critique and an expression of disappointment, but understanding as a substitute for those things, understanding as the highest parenting virtue available. Compared to this, other people's expressions of anger and indignation appear irrational and even mean.

It's the only episode of "Gilmore Girls" I've ever watched. Really.
posted by Not Prince Hamlet, 6:22 AM | link | 2 comments |

On Parenting, by a non-parent

This month's Atlantic has a great piece by Sandra Tsing Loh called, "Marshal Plan: The age of parents as friends is over." The piece is a review of three books to recently come out about parenting, all a sort of backlash against the self-esteem-happy, parents-as-therapists ideal of parenting pushed in the 1990's. It will be obvious to anyone who knows me that I'm treading in unfamiliar water when it comes to parenting, since I'm no more of a parent than, say, Papa Smurf (or is he?); but I have sat through enough conversations with young parents about the best way to do this or that, and the developmental advantages of such and such parenting strategy to know that Loh's giddy review is on to something.

Here's a money quote from one of the titles reviewed, Muffy Mead-Ferro's Confessions of A Slacker Mom: "I get mad at my kids. And I holler at them . . . I try to make sure I apologize, but I didn't stop being emotional or fallible when I gave birth. Besides, I don't think getting mad is necessarily ineffective. One of the consequences of bad behavior is that it tends to make other people irate. So even if you don't have a better reason to be good, you'd better not be too bad or you might really tick somebody off."

You'd better believe it. Expressions of anger were (and still are--don't yell at me!) very effective in steering my behavior growing up. However, it doesn't work for all kids. My brother, for example, treated my parents' anger as fuel for an already raging fire of out-of-control behavior. Some kids love to see people mad at them and will do things simply to evoke anger; others (if you're lucky) are devastated by other people's anger at them and will do backflips to avoid it--which isn't necessarily healthy either, since it could tend to produce children who turn in to people-pleasing adults, those annoying people who starve without the constant affirmation of others. Right?

Was that too much?

You agree, right?

I knew it: you hate me!

(Read the piece; it'll lighten your day, I guarantee).

posted by Not Prince Hamlet, 6:02 AM | link | 2 comments |

Tuesday, February 08, 2005

I'm still recovering from jet lag, so here it is 5:00 in the morning after I worked an 11 hour day, and I'm up. Yesterday I used my premature awakening to do laundry; today I'm using it to reflect on the city of Strasbourg, a city I was in only six days ago (sigh).

Strasbourg is a city surrounded by rivers, and the main island of the city is where the action is. Meredith and I took a day trip there from Metz during our time in France because I was interested in the role the city played during the Protestant Reformation (John Calvin pastored a church of Genevan refugees in Strasbourg and a major reformer, Martin Bucer, had based his work from the city). But a tour of the Protestant Reformation history of Strasbourg is like a tour of Yankees history in South Boston: it either isn't there, or you have to know someone who can show you where it is. Because, apart from a Martin Luther Street and a Calvin Street (which is really more of a dead-end back alley), almost nothing from that time is maintained or memorialized. There is a mention of Martin Bucer on a plaque in the Protestant St. Thomas' church, but that's about it.

But, apart from the disappointment of a wannabe student of the Reformation, the trip to Strasbourg was fantastic. It is a dazzling city. The cathedral in the central square is a gargantuan structure that begs to be stared and gawked at for hours (the picture above is of a statue of a stork--the emblematic bird of the Alcaise--projecting out from the side of the cathedral); narrow winding alleys paved with cobblestone run between large, ages old buildings, beckoning you to explore. And while, in the way of all western cities, Strasbourg's character has gone mainly commercial--what else would you populate all of those beautiful streets and lanes with if not shops and stores?--it doesn't prevent you from being able to vividly imagine yourself participating in history.

And don't even get me started on the food.
Posted by Hello
posted by Not Prince Hamlet, 3:18 AM | link | 0 comments |

Sunday, February 06, 2005

Meredith and I got back from France last night, and I didn't want to waste any time posting this photographic validation of the afore mentioned cultural exchange of sporting merchandise. So here I am donning a stocking cap of my new favorite French soccer team. Posted by Hello
posted by Not Prince Hamlet, 5:11 AM | link | 1 comments |