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Not Prince Hamlet

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

Chesterton Revisited

Wednesday, March 22, 2006

Five years ago, on a routine day during my fist year of seminary, I received in the mail a delightful gift. My dear friend Toby Becker, who worked at that time for a nationally known publisher of catholic papers and books, had sent me a slim paperback edition of G.K. Chesterton's St. Thomas Aquinas.

As a first year divinity student, the gift was appropriate. But somewhat in the same way that a sailor will disdain a glass of water, I slipped it onto my shelf without actually reading it; I was reading far too much about Aquinas and his ilk as it was. But this morning I opened it for the first time and began to read it (out loud, as Chesterton is most enjoyably to be read). NPH readers will be treated today to an entire excerpt from the book, a vintage piece of Chestertonian argument and wit. Enjoy.

"The Saint is a medicine because he is an antidote. Indeed that is why the saint is often a martyr; he is mistaken for a poison because he is an antidote. He will generally be found restoring the world to sanity by exaggerating whatever the world neglects, which is by no means always the same element in every age. Yet each generation seeks its saint by instinct; and he is not what the people want, but rather what the people need. This is surely the very much mistaken meaning of those words to the first saints, "Ye are the salt of the earth," which caused the Ex-Kaiser to remark with all solemnity that his beefy Germans were the salt of the earth; meaning thereby merely that they were the earth's beefiest and therefore best. But salt seasons and preserves beef, not because it is like beef; but because it is very unlike it. Christ did not tell his apostles that they were only the excellent people, or the only excellent people, but that they were the exceptional people; the permanently incongruous and incompatible people; and the text about the salt of the earth is really as sharp and shrewd and tart as the taste of salt. It is because they were the exceptional people, that they must not lose their exceptional quality. "If salt lose its savour, wherewith shall it be salted?" is a much more pointed question than any mere lament over the price of the best beef. If the world grows too worldly, it can be rebuked by the Church; but if the Church grows too worldly, it cannot be adequately rebuked for worldliness by the world."

Thanks again (or for the first time), Toby.

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posted by Not Prince Hamlet, 7:05 AM | link | 1 comments |

Case in Point

Friday, March 17, 2006

South Korea has exempted members of their national baseball team--the one that just defeated arch-rival Japan for the second consecutive time to advance to the semifinals of the inagural World Baseball Classic--from compulsory military service.

Like a number of coutries, South Korea requires young men to serve two years in the military. But now, the guys on the baseball team get a free pass.

Could there be a better illustration of the gap in the seriousness with which teams took the WBC. For the teams from Asia and Latin America, it was a chance to participate in a national accomplishment bigger than the individual players; for the United States, it was a marketing opportunity and a spring training warmup.

If they do this thing again in 2009, the North American teams need to do a much better job of preparing to play; they need to be in big-game shape from the very start. So they need to play in some high-competition international games during the months leading up to the tournament, maybe spend some time in Latin America and Asia for a few weeks playing against those teams. Or maybe there needs to be a round of qualifying games, like in the olympics (where the U.S. was eliminated last time around) and the World Cup.

But all of that depends on how important Major League Baseball thinks the WBC is, which depends on how successful it has been as an international marketing tool.
posted by Not Prince Hamlet, 5:49 AM | link | 3 comments |

Globalization and Baseball

Wednesday, March 15, 2006

NPH has written before about globalization and sports, reviewing Franklin Foer's book, How Soccer Explains The World. Watching an evening of World Baseball Classic games, I have to wonder if Foer would glean any globalization insights from this inagural gathering of Americans, Koreans, Japanese, Cubans, Puerto Ricans, et al.

Cultural differences have been apparent, I think, in the somewhat reckless swagger of the Cubans, the stoic magnanimity of the Japanese, the pinache of the Dominicans, the meticulous fundamental play of the Koreans, and the blaise indifference of the Americans. Perhaps that's painting with a broad brush (it certainly is), but it's one of the great things, however you take it, about an event like this. And while it's the kind of thing you would see in an amateur competition, the fact that these players are professionals in Major League Baseball and in their respective countries makes the cultural aspects of it only that much more interesting.

I sincerely hope this thing sticks. And, as much as I want Korea to beat Japan tonight (which will allow the Americans to advance to the finals with a win over Mexico tomorrow), part of me things the finals will be more entertaining without the Americans; they are certainly the least interested and least invested team in the tournament, even though, on paper, they may be the most talented. Although they've lost twice; Korea and the Dominican Republic are undefeated.

Suffice it to say: NPH is a big, big fan of the World Baseball Classic.
posted by Not Prince Hamlet, 8:44 PM | link | 0 comments |

I Couldn't Take It Anymore

Monday, March 13, 2006

So I broke down and paid $10 for the right to watch World Baseball Classic games online. I did it after checking the score of the USA/Korea game and finding that our boys were down 3-1 in the fourth inning.

I felt it was my duty to watch. And I don't have cable, so this was the only option.

You should too.
posted by Not Prince Hamlet, 8:28 PM | link | 3 comments |

What I Did Yesterday

Thursday, March 09, 2006

Was to walk into a comic book store and make a purchase. That's a first for me. In my whole life. Going into a comic book store. And buying something.

The impulse that prompted the move was part curiosity, part fidelity. Back in December, media critic and author Douglas Rushkoff realeased the first issue of "Testament," a comic book he's authored with Liam Sharp. The hype surrounding it dubs "Testament" as an amalgam of Biblical reflection and futuristic fiction. What can I say? My interest was piqued.

I bought the first three issues, and read them all throughout the afternoon. The first thing to note is that the book is put out by Vertigo, the "mature" branch of DC comics. I realized this fact as I thumbed through the first issue while waiting for a friend at a public restaurant. More than one passerby was treated to a full page image of a blue-colored and topless goddess type figure. Yeah, didn't like that so much. It was more the feeling that I was reading something seedy in a public place (or, at all, for that matter) than it was an objection to the artwork, which, on its own merits, is pretty impressive.

But more than that, "Testament" is a cool read. Rushkoff is a bit of a Biblical scholar, and he's committed to the proposition that Biblical stories are living, generative things, and not repositories of some kind of unchangeable code of truth. And so the book melds pretty straightforward re-telling of Genesis narratives (can you draw Sodom and avoid an "R" rating?) with the unwinding of a story about a futuristic underground cyber-community.

For what it's worth, I'll be buying the next installment.
posted by Not Prince Hamlet, 7:00 AM | link | 0 comments |

Pandora Sidebar

Pandora has created a sidebar for websites and blogs. And so now you, dear reader, may check out a few of the stations NPH has created and listen at your leisure. Enjoy.

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posted by Not Prince Hamlet, 6:49 AM | link | 0 comments |

Campaign Sites

Tuesday, March 07, 2006

The pro-question 1 site, a bit dramatically titled, "Save Our Stadiums" (as if the question's failure will result in the stadiums instantly being sucked beneath the Truman Sports Complex asphalt and straight to Hell--or Omaha).

The pro-question 2 site, a bit self-consciously called, "A League of Our Own." Pfthththth!!

In reality, both sites are maintained by the same organization, because question 2 is contingent on question 1; if the renovations to the stadiums don't pass, the rolling roof can't be built.

Both questions have been endorsed by the KC Chamber of Commerce and, surprisingly, Kansas City's Downtown Council, the organiztion in town that had been the most ardent and thorough advocate for a new downtown baseball stadium. They claim pragmatism in their endorsement, patting themselves on the back for not being "parochial" and insisting on their own idea. But isn't that how it works? The ideas with the most insistent proponents win?

Don't miss this wonderful parody opposition site, called "Save Our Owners," with the great tag line: "Protecting Kansas City's most valuable resource: its billionaires!"

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posted by Not Prince Hamlet, 6:01 AM | link | 1 comments |

Oh, How It's Good To Be Back

If only for the sake of Kansas City politics. As we speak, I'm printing off the web-based form to change my address with the Kansas City Election Board, so that I can vote in my new precinct on April 4. And what is there to vote on in Kansas City on April 4, you most certainly are dying to know?

Stadiums!!!

Back before we left for Africa, the Jackson County Sports Authority was making noises about a ballot proposal for renovations to the stadiums at the Truman Sports Complex, home to the Royals and the Chiefs. When we returned, we found that not only did that proposal actually make it on the ballot, but another one did as well, a proposed tax on goods used in Jackson County but purchased outside the county (yeah, it's confusing) for the purpose of funding the construction of a rolling roof for the complex. A rolling freaking roof.

You can find all the information about the details of the proposals elsewhere. Like here and here. I won't get into it. Here's what I'll get into: Kansas City's seeming inability to make the kinds of moves and developments that cities like Denver and Dallas and Cleveland and Detroit have been able to make over the last 10 years.

All of those municipalities have seen construction of new amenities aimed at enhancing their downtown: ballparks, lightrail, and so on. But for some reason, Kansas City can't pull the trigger on any of these kinds of things. To its credit, the city did approve construction of a new arena downtown. In August of 2004. And construction hasn't started yet. Ahem.

So here are these two proposals, both aimed at enhancing the existing sports complex, a sprawling concrete expanse on the city's eastern frontier, surrounded by absolutely nothing of interest to event-goers, save a Denny's and a couple of hotels. The renovation plan will lock in the two teams' leases for over 20 years, guaranteeing that Kansas City won't endure the shame of being without major league baseball and football until at least 2026 (only the shame of having perrenial losers in those sports). 90% of the renovations--90%--will be paid by the tax increase (3/8 of a cent); the two multi-million dollar franchises could only combine to chip in 10% of the cost--combined. That's jacked.

And the rolling roof plan? Come on. The only reason for this is to get the Super Bowl. NFL Commisioner has "promised" that, if voters were to approve this addition, Kansas City will host the Super Bowl in 2015. Great. And next year's Oscars will be held at my apartment.

So how am I going to vote? I don't know. I'm an ardent sports fan, and living in a city with Major League Baseball and the National Football League is pretty cool. But I'm almost 30, and I see a few more important things that tax money could be spent on in this city, this county, and this state (er, education perhaps). It bothers me that the driving force behind these proposals is fear: if we don't fund these upgrades, the teams will leave and then we'll be lumped in with the Omaha's and Oklahoma City's of the world. I'm not so sure I care enough about that to punch the "yes" dot for these things.

Half a billion dollars in mostly tax-payers money just to "upgrade" (read: maintain) what's already there? That's a hard sell.
posted by Not Prince Hamlet, 5:30 AM | link | 0 comments |

Of Definitions and Directives

Saturday, March 04, 2006

A Permanent Judicial Commission of The Presbytery of the Redwoods ruled yesterday in favor of the Rev. Jane Spahr, the minister accused of misconduct for performing two same-sex marriage ceremonies. In a 6-1 ruling, the PJC said that The Rev. Spahr is not guilty of misconduct because the clause in the Presbyterian Church's constitution that defines marriage as between a man and a woman is precisely that: a definition. It's not a directive. So the charge that The Rev. Spahr acted inappropriately as a minister can't be sustained for the simple reason that she did not violate a directive.

I don't have an opinion to rant on this either way. I have consistently failed to stake out a conscientious position on one side of this issue or another (if calling it "this issue" is not too broad a generalization), making me, in the end, I'm afraid, a foe of both.

As an ordained minister in this church, I want to lament the fact that polity is the thing driving the church's voice. I want to lament that fact, but I can't. Because when our presbytery had the debate about changing the church constitution to open the door for the ordination of openly gay men and women, I sat in my chair and kept my mouth shut. I want there to be a vigorous theological conversation about sexuality and ordination and marriage, but, obviously, I don't have the mettle to make that happen.

All of it reduces me to the role of reporter. Should Rev. Spahr have done what she did? Ought she (and others like her) be allowed to continue performing same sex marriages? Ought the Presbyterian Church to clear the way for the ordination of openly gay men and women?

I can only answer that The Rev. Spahr "violated no directives"; I can only tell you that the church's General Assembly will be debating the ordination standards (again) this summer. I can only tell you what's happening, what others in the church are doing and saying.

Christ have mercy.
posted by Not Prince Hamlet, 5:21 AM | link | 0 comments |

Jet Lag Is for The Birds (who coo outdide my window at 5 am)

Friday, March 03, 2006

Yeah, I'm not sleeping. In the place where I have slept for the past 30 days it's 1 in the afternoon; my brain's like, "Hey! It's the middle of the day! Let's do stuff!" And my body is like, "No way, man. Can't you feel how tired we are?" And my brain's like, "Tired schmired; you're not sleeping any time soon, so you might as well get up."

And that's that.

So here's a post about another book I read last month (or at least finished during the month): Douglas Rushkoff's Get Back In The Box: Innovation from the Inside Out. It's a fantastic book through and through, written for the business community and addressing fundamental assumptions about work, purpose, and innovation. I'm not in the business community, but Rushkoff's insight and argument will apply to a broad range of communities and no small number of individuals. His core proposition is that businesses need to be driven, in their innovating and operating, by a knowledge of their "core competency"; that is, they need to know what it is they do best and to be secure enough to do that thing really really well, while ignoring all of the clarion calls to "expand" to this or that market.

Enough in the way of summary.

The book devotes a whole chapter to the idea of fun and work. Rushkoff ridicules those corporate efforts to inject "fun" into work, like casual Fridays, office parties, and weekend retreats. Because if your work is so bad that you have to work extra just to avoid being bored to death, then you should be doing something else.

In this post on his blog, Rushkoff develops the idea a little further. Here's a money quote from the post:

"Real fun at work means the work itself is the fun. Go visit the people at Apple, Google, Fleuvog, Herman Miller, Powell's Bookstore, DC Comics or Song Airlines, to name just a few, and you'll find people who derive fun and meaning from what they do. And that's what attracts employees and consumers, alike."

I agree. But here's my question: is this a luxury that can be afforded only by those with the lifestyle mobility to be so deliberate about their choice of work? Do the exigencies of modern life necessitate work--any work--that will put food on the table and pay the rent, regardless of how much one "enjoys" it?

I wonder what my dad would say. He's worked for 30 + years at the Adolph Coors Company in Golden, Colorado, operating the machinery that prints the labels on aluminum cans. I honestly don't know how much he honestly "enjoys" that work, how "fun" it is for him in and of itself, and how much he has been faithful to it for all the reasons one is faithful to their job. In fact, I think he enjoys parts of it immensely, the parts that have to do with engineering and mechanics. But I also know that leisure time away from work has always been extrememely important to him, so there must be something about "work" that makes it such a desireable place to leave.

I suppose it's that way for all of us, to one degree or another.
posted by Not Prince Hamlet, 3:15 AM | link | 1 comments |

Africa Reading

Thursday, March 02, 2006

One of my hoped-for changes following a month in Africa is that I'll read more. There was a lot of down time with nothing else to do but play cards or read, so I plowed through a few books, only some of which had to do with Africa itself. Here's some quick feedback and recommendations.

Best of all, King Leopold's Ghost. This book was a historical event in itself when it was published in 1998, because so much of what it contains had never before been published. The author, Adam Hochshild, is an accomplished reporter on human rights issues, and he investigated the history of Leopold's Congo from that angle. The book draws heavily on the journal entries of some of the most important people to have a hand in that 20 + year reign of terror, from Leopold himself to Congo State officials to missionaries and senators. It is a page-turner in the strictest sense, and I hope I haven't read it for the last time.

Another Africa analysis book I got into was Africa in Chaos by George Ayittey. I only could get about half way through it before I had to give it back, but the part I got through was valuable. Ayittey writes about post-colonial Africa, taking up the argument that the tremendous problems that have resulted have had more to do with factors internal to African nations than to issues external to them. In other words, he wants to say that the wars and poverty that have ravaged countries like Congo and Nigeria in the last 50 years have been more the fault of the leaders of those countries than they have been the fault of the "legacy of colonialism" or multinational corporations.

I only got halfway through it, but I'm not sure I buy it. It seems that Ayittey's position represents quite the pendulum swinging the other way. International opinion about Africa has leaned heavily on the externalist view for the last 30 years, largely ignoring the corruption and greed displayed by African leaders themselves. But the truth is somewhere in between, I think. Because democracy and good governance are not things that can just be "implemented"; they have to be learned. And when the model a country has to learn from is a colonial one or a multinationally corporate one for so long, how can it be expected that that country can just, over night, become democratically sound when once it has declared its independence? Anyway, it's a thought-provoking book.

Black Samson is a wonderful little book that I read in about two days. Its subject is a man named Maweja, who grew up in colonial Congo, and who was imprisoned for murder. In prison he became a Christian. I came upon this book because one of my travel companions, a doctor in Congo for 25 years, was a personal aquaintence of Maweja. After his release from Prison, Maweja went to seminary at Ndesha and became a pastor. Everyone in the Presbyterian church in Congo knows of this guy, and after reading the book I feel like I do to. It was written by a Mennonite missionary, but it's in first person (the author transcribed Maweja's biography, which he tape recorded). The language is simple but elegant, and it's full of the kind of African proverbs that are so influential to the thinking and the culture of Congo.

At present I'm in the middle of Joseph Conrad's Lord Jim. I got about halway through a musty old paperback edition of it before we left, so now that I'm home I'm going to finish it. I have a copy that I got at a used book store years ago (only because I recognized Conrad as an author I was made to read in college--Heart of Darkness), and that I have never read. I do very poorly at reading fiction, so it's important that I finish it.

My highest recommendation goes to King Leopold's Ghost. Even if you don't consider yourself a goodness crusader, and even if the subject of Africa doesn't interest you, the book is excellent.
posted by Not Prince Hamlet, 12:45 PM | link | 1 comments |

Mark Doyle Piece

Mark Doyle is a BBC journalist in central Africa. He covered (if I'm not mistaken) much of the Rwandan genocide and is an internationally recognized reporter. Here's a link to a remarkable little piece he's written about a chance meeting he had with the president of the DR Congo, Joseph Kabila, regarding the country's elections scheduled for June. It wasn't an interview, but more like a one-on-one debate (surrounded by men with guns).
posted by Not Prince Hamlet, 12:32 PM | link | 0 comments |

NPH is back from Africa

Click the Flickr tag on the right to see pictures.
posted by Not Prince Hamlet, 9:43 AM | link | 1 comments |