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Not Prince Hamlet

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

Open Source Patriotism?

Friday, April 28, 2006

At the risk of being that guy, the one who becomes enamored with an idea and then blatheres on about it while still knowing relatively little about it, NPH would like to pose a question about the flap over immigration.

Driving to the local grocery this afternoon to pick up breakfast items to entertain an out-of-town guest, NPH heard part of an NPR piece about a spanish version of the American national anthem that had been produced by a British musician. Opponents of the anthem (which features its own new melody and new lyrics) contend that it's just another example of immigrants who are unwilling to assimilate into American life, and they guffaw at such evidence of outsiders wanting to recast America in their own image.

Given my aforementioned preoccupation with open source as an idea, I immediately wondered, "What would an open source conception of citizenship and patriotism look like?" Wikipedia (the best living, breathing example of something open source) says that open source "describes practices in production and development that promote access to the end product's sources." In other words, the issue is access to the end product's sources. What are the sources of citizenship and patriotism, and are they completely closed, historical artifacts, or are they open and available for practioners to enhance and improve?

Much of what passes for patriotism in modern America is thinly-veiled Xenophobia, or fear of the stranger. Appeal is regularly made to traditional American "values" (hard work, frugality, freedom of expression, an entrepreneurial spirit) that are threatened by an influx of outsiders who don't share those values. But what people forget is that all of those values came from somewhere else, mainly from western Europeans and Africans hundreds of years ago. Even the ones that were already here when Europeans arrived came from somewhere else.

So what if we came to understand citizenship and patriotism as things that can be improved by a broader base of practioners? What if the influx of residents from Mexico was seen as an opportunity to re-examine the sources of American identity and be intentional about opening those sources up to anyone willing to call themselves an American? In other words, what if we saw outsiders as assets instead of threats?

What kind of end product might we end up with then?
posted by Not Prince Hamlet, 4:51 PM | link | 0 comments |

Open Source Mudslinging

Thursday, April 27, 2006

NPH has become fascinated with the idea of open-source ever since reading Douglas Rushkoff's "Get Back in The Box." I've gorged myself on Firefox extensions, and even downloaded and begun to use Open Office, an open source software bundle comprable to Microsoft Works.

So NPH is intrigued by this story. Because Wikipedia is the standard-bearer for much of what open source is about; it's an online encyclopedia whose entries are generated entirely by users and can be altered by anyone. And so the campaign manager for a Georgia gubernatorial candidate went and changed the Wikipedia entry about an opponent to include the fact of the candidate's son's DUI, an infraction that killed a person.

The campaign manager resigned after Wikipedia confirmed that the entry came from an IP address associated with the campaign. Open source information is almost impossible to massage into a slick PR package; and yet so much of what happens in an open source environ can be ethically sketchy, since regulation depends almost entirely on those who use and consume the information. I guess, in that sense, the regulation worked here.
posted by Not Prince Hamlet, 6:29 AM | link | 0 comments |

"Mommy, Can I Learn About Sex in School?"

Wednesday, April 26, 2006

The Missouri House of Representatives initially approved a bill yesterday that will require students to get parental permission before taking sex ed in school.

Let's see if the Missouri House gets ripped the same way the Kansas Board of Ed. did for a similar policy.

It's funny: after being in Africa for a month--where education about sex and sexually transmitted diseases is literally a life-and-death matter--I come home to a place where people are actually trying to take education away. Advocates will say they're putting the education where it belongs, in the home, but that's bogus. Most parents can't (or won't) teach their kids the kinds of things that the school can about contraceptives, about diseases, about responsibility.

Another case of ignorance being masqueraded as a value.


posted by Not Prince Hamlet, 2:34 PM | link | 0 comments |

United 93 Trailer

Sunday, April 23, 2006

Over the last few weeks, NPH has watched with interest the trailer for United 93. It's not a film I plan on going to see, but I find the publicity campaign very interesting. If you haven't seen it, the trailer features clips from the film interspersed with interview clips of the director. What he's doing is defending the making of the film. It's a publicity campaign that is anticipating the number one objection people will have to the film--it's not the right time--and firing a preemptive volley ahead of time.

What I find a little disconcerting is that, in order to justify (and therefore promote) the film, the trailers wax patriotic about the heroism of the United 93's passengers, people whose heroism has never been questioned by anyone. It's like the campaign is seeking to identify the film entirely with the memory of United 93's passengers as a way to sell the merits of the film. In other words, if you don't like the movie you don't think those passengers were heroes.

And this is precisely why I think now is not the right time for a film like this. The effort that the film studio is putting into arguing the appropriateness of the timing is signal enough that something's not quite right.

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posted by Not Prince Hamlet, 6:29 PM | link | 1 comments |

The Story I Missed

Thursday, April 20, 2006

Here's the link to the story as it was reported before Pastrana cancelled. It's a lot more detailed.
posted by Not Prince Hamlet, 7:39 PM | link | 0 comments |

How Cool Is My College?

The PC (USA)'s website is reporting that the Colombian ambassador to the United States, who was scheduled to be the  commencement speaker for Sterling College (my alma mater) on May 13th has cancelled . Andres Pastrana, formerly the President of Comombia, made the decision after a group of students raised questions with the school's administration about Pastrana's human rights record.

The Student Government Association (of which my roomate, Barry, was President in 1997/98) scheduled a public forum about the issue, but Pastrana had already cancelled.

Yeah, that's Sterling College: student body of under 500, smack-dab in the middle of the heartland of American religious conservatism, and, yes, foist upon the international stage for its students' concerns over human rights.

Take that, KU.

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

Just One More Reason

In the ultimate open-source marketing move, the Firefox web browser have invited the product's users to make short films. Their users are making their ads for them, and it's costing them next to nothing. What's more, ads like this and this are as good as (if not better than) what could be produced by big PR firms.
posted by Not Prince Hamlet, 9:57 AM | link | 0 comments |

I'm a Bozo

Wednesday, April 19, 2006

So I completely missed yesterday's presbytery meeting. When my time on the docket came, my name was called to a room of nearly 200 people, and I was 45 miles away, completely unawares.

The meeting was notable for a reason other than my absence, however. The presbytery approved (by a margin of one--yes, you read that right: one--vote, the following overture to the General Assembly:

Heartland Presbytery overtures the 217 General Assembly to:

Call upon individual Presbyterians,member congregations, and the Presbyterian Church at all levels to urgently pray and raise its voice for peace in the nation of Iraq and an end to the United States military presence there.

Reaffirm the 216th General Assembly’s call for the church to express its pastoral concern for andoffer pastoral care to members of the United States armed forces serving theircountry in the war in Iraq and their families as well as for veterans of thewar who have returned home.

Direct the various mission program agencies engaged in relief efforts in Iraq to continue and expand the Presbyterian Church (USA)’s commitment, in cooperation with our ecumenical partners, to ministries that address human needs in Iraq caused by the war and long-term development efforts to assist in the rebuilding of the country.

Call upon the United States government to develop and implement a specific timetable for the complete withdrawal, to be accomplished within a twelve month period of time, of United States military forces; and reaffirms the 216th General Assembly’s
call for the United States government to engage with the international community
through the United Nations and other international agencies to cooperate with
the government of Iraq in providing security, peacekeeping forces, and funding
for the rebuilding of the country.

Direct the Presbyterian Church(USA), through its Washington Office and all other means available, to advocate with the United States government for the complete withdrawal of United States military forces and for engagement with the international community to support the government of Iraq, providing resources for peacekeeping and long-term development needs.

It can be considered a bit ridiculous that a national denomination thinks that it can "call upon" the United States government to check the weather, let alone set a timetable for withdrawal from Iraq. But in addition to a bit of pious hubris, the perilously split vote evidences a major split in the presbytery in particular (and in the country quite generally). It's a split in sentiment, between those who feel that the church has no role to play in international military conflict save that of cheerleader and chaplain, and those who feel the church must ever and always speak out (and protest and overture) against any military action anywhere.

I never liked this war from the beginning. My family will call me un-patriotic, but I have always been critical of this thing, on religious, civic, and intellectual grounds. But I haven't joined a protest or written a single letter to my senator about it. I haven't preached about it. In fact, I've probably written more about it in the last two minutes than I have in the war's three years.

I can't see the use in deepening already painful divisions within the church for something that seems as ineffectual as "calling upon" the US government to do something. Pundits "call upon" governments to do things. The church witnesses to the good news of the Prince of Peace. If part of that witness is to urge governments to taken certain courses of action, then so be it. But there already seems to be a lot of people and groups doing a fairly good job of that. I fail to see how the church is doing it any differently.

posted by Not Prince Hamlet, 8:23 PM | link | 0 comments |

I Love Firefox

For one thing, this post is being typed using the performancing extension, which allows me to post to my blog without even going to blogger. It's just so cool!
posted by Not Prince Hamlet, 7:44 PM | link | 0 comments |

Judas Was A Good Guy (And Other Shocking Overstatements)

Monday, April 17, 2006

First The DaVinci Code and now this. And during Easter week, too. Either the minds behind last week’s publication of a manuscript of The Gospel of Judas are totally unaware of the religious frenzy cause by Dan Brown’s book (soon to be released as a movie), or they are totally in league with it.

The timing of the publication couldn’t have been more inconvenient. During the Christian church’s most hallowed week of the year, the National Geographic Society held a press conference to announce that it was publishing a manuscript of a long-lost early Christian writing, one that takes the very Biblical account of Jesus’ betrayal that millions of Christians around the world were simultaneously rehearsing, and turns it completely on its head.

It seems Judas was a saint, not a traitor.

On a related note, this just in: Genghis Khan was a sensitive artist, Mussolini was a lilting peacenik, and Buddy Bell has resigned from the Royals to join the touring cast of Cabaret.

Predictably, mainstream media outlets pounced on the Judas story. “Text might be hidden ‘Gospel of Judas’” proclaimed a CNN.com headline. The Arizona Daily Star announced, “New Light Shed on Judas’ Role.” Christians everywhere railed against the God-less forces of liberalism and academia. The Pope re-excoriated Judas as a “greedy liar”; the Archbishop of Canterbury took aim at “conspiracy theories” that infect the faith with doubt.

My grandpa said, “It just aint right.”

What they all saw proof of was that the revisionist advance upon the fortress of Christian doctrine had quickened. Or gained another weapon. Or whatever.

I, for one, am not worried. I don’t count myself among those who sense in announcements like this an urgent call to arms, a do-or-die moment of truth for Christian truth claims. I don’t share the fear of many that the machinery of modern technology and skepticism will stop at nothing to bring down the world’s most widespread religion. I just don’t.

Because, for one thing, announcements like these (and the press reaction they arouse) are almost always overblown; they promise more than they deliver, and much of their effect comes from what they leave out. So there is to be published a translation of a “long lost” gospel, one that directly contradicts the claims of the gospels in the Bible?

So what? It’s only “long lost” to contemporary historians and scholars. The early church knew all about The Gospel of Judas, just like it knew all about the scores of other Gnostic gospels (the genre to which Judas belongs) that were written and circulated during the second and third centuries.

Irenaeus, the second century Bishop of Lyon, wrote about those who declared that, “He [Judas] alone, knowing the truth as no others did, accomplished the mystery of the betrayal.” He dismisses their declaration as “fictional history.”

But here’s the main reason why announcements like the Judas discovery don’t compel me to take up my position on the battlefield of doctrine: I think the more we know the better. I think Jesus meant it when he said that the truth will “set you free.” And I don’t think the truth can flourish in a climate of fear and militant opposition to discovery.

The publication of The Gospel of Judas is less of an earthquake than the buzz would have you believe. After all, it’s hardly a new discovery; it was unearthed over 30 years ago in the Egyptian desert and has collected dust at an antique shop for much of the time since then. It’s a partially-reconstructed document that is missing entire pages and that has suffered badly from neglect and profiteering (individual pages of it have been auctioned off to the highest bidders).

And it’s a Gnostic gospel. Like all the other Gnostic gospels, it professes not faith but “special knowledge” a revelation given to a select few who are able to transcend the corrupt limitations of bodily existence. It belongs to a thought system that the church dispatched as wrongheaded long, long ago.

But that doesn’t mean it isn’t worth reading. And that doesn’t mean that good Christians everywhere should line up to suppress and discredit it. It is, after all, a genuine historical document, a circa 300 a.d. Greek copy of a dialogue gospel originally written in the late second century. It confirms much of what history has known about Gnosticism, that early esoteric cousin of Orthodoxy. It’s really kind of cool.

And, yes, it yields an uncomfortable perspective on Judas, one that praises him for his role in Jesus’ death, which will no doubt delight historians and trouble (if not outrage) the faithful.

But can faith that has never been troubled really stand up to scrutiny? I don’t think so. The tendency to suppress views and claims that don’t gel with the ones you already have isn’t faith; it’s ignorance. And Jesus doesn’t condone ignorance, no matter which gospel you’re reading.

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posted by Not Prince Hamlet, 4:31 PM | link | 1 comments |

Invaders from a distant land arrive with the pretense of friendship, but their real intent is to take control of and export an invaluable natural resource: water. A small but well-organized band of resistence fighters leads an insurgency, relying on guerilla tactics and ultimately resorting to chemical warfare to drive the invaders back to where they came from. Humanity is saved. The people parade through the streets.

So goes, in essence, the plot of the classic two-part TV miniseries, V. I was enthralled by it when it first aired in 1983 (I was seven), and I just finished watching it again (I'll be 30 in almost a month). Shown against the backdrop of the Cold War, it fits snugly alongside other apocalyptic invasion stories, like Red Dawn. It also employs a heavy dose of American moral indignation towards the great evil empires of the 20th century, allegorizing heavily to depict Nazism and Apartheid.

But watching V in the year 2006 is a different exercise than watching it in 1983 (whether you're seven or 30). How about this synopsis:

Invaders from a distant land arrive under the pretense of friendship, but their real intent is to take control of and export an invaluable natural resource: oil. A small but well-organized band of resistence fighters leads an insurgency, relying on guerilla tactics . . .

You see where Not Prince Hamlet is going with this. One generation's Freedom Fighters are the next generation's terrorists.

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posted by Not Prince Hamlet, 12:56 PM | link | 0 comments |

Some Shocking News

Wednesday, April 12, 2006

The Washington Post reports today that clinical studies of antipsychotic drugs often find that the best drug studied is the one manufactured by the company that funds the study.

Money quote:

"In fact, when psychiatrist John Davis analyzed every publicly available trial funded by the pharmaceutical industry pitting five new antipsychotic drugs against one another, nine in 10 showed that the best drug was the one made by the company funding the study.

"'On the basis of these contrasting findings in head-to-head trials, it appears that whichever company sponsors the trial produces the better antipsychotic drug,' Davis and others wrote in the American Journal of Psychiatry."

What other reason would a pharmaceutical company have for funding a study? To increase public awareness? To benefit humankind in some way? C'maaaahhhn.

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posted by Not Prince Hamlet, 10:32 AM | link | 0 comments |

New Gadget

Tuesday, April 11, 2006

My Fantasy Baseball league home page (Yahoo) has a banner ad promising a chance to win tickets to the World Cup this summer. I'm a sucker, so I clicked it and was directed to Yahoo Answers.

This is Yahoo's latest little innovation (how innovative it actually is I don't know): an online message board managed by Yahoo where people can submit any kind of question they want and receive a number of answers within minutes. Questions like: "What is the best way to save on gas?" and "What's the best website for translating from Spanish to English for free?"

Doug Rushkoff contends that the real power of the internet is its ability to connect people to other people, where knowledge and expertise can be shared. I think Yahoo Answers is onto that.

The other value for users is that it makes you feel smart when you can answer someone's question.
posted by Not Prince Hamlet, 7:09 AM | link | 0 comments |

Fake News

Monday, April 10, 2006

While NPH was living in New Jersey a couple of years ago, he occasionally, when forced, would watch the wretched local news (wretched not because it's local to New Jersey, but wretched in the way that all local news is now wretched). On one particular occasion, NPH watched a piece about the release of the new Corvette. It was a news piece that simply stated the specifications of the car while showing footage of it driving around a windy country road. "Hrmph!" he thought, "that certainly doesn't look like news."

Well here's why: it wasn't. It was what is commonly known as a Video News Release (or VNR), a piece of corporate-funded PR made to look like news and then given to a news station. The Center for Media and Democracy has recently released their report of a study they conducted on VNR's. Turns out that these bits of fake news are way more prevalent than anybody thought. The online report has got a map of the stations who the study found to be using VNR's, as well as several bits of video footage of VNR's themselves.

You really have to see it to believe it. Although, if it's been worth the money paid to PR firms, you already saw it and already, well, believed it.

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posted by Not Prince Hamlet, 6:59 AM | link | 0 comments |