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Not Prince Hamlet

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

TV Kids

Friday, May 26, 2006

A study released by the Kaiser Family Foundation and the Princeton Research Group discloses that American children under 6 spend more time in front of electronic "screen" media than they do reading or being read to. More than hearing books read to them or reading books themselves, the survey found most kids are playing video games, watching TV, or using a computer.

NPH readers may wonder, "so what?"

That's what the Vice President of Programming for the Cartoon Network, Alice Cahn, would like you to ask. She responds to the survey by positing that, "TV can be a trustworthy babysitter for children."

Yikes.

In response, a well-known psychology and pediatrics professor at GW Medical School emphasizes that, especially for kids 3 and under, any "screen time" is bad: "Experience wires the braind and forms the mind," he says, "not genes."

So we are raising up a generation of young people whose brains are wired by more and more experience with electronic screen media and less and less experience with print media and auditory story telling.

NPH is not a parent (he's a lackluster uncle and cousin, at best), so he can't criticize parents who use the TV as a babysitter with any moral authority. But this research is damning. And one aspect of TV viewership by children not addressed by early coverage of the report is advertising; pretty much every avenue of screen media has been permeated by advertising, so kids who spend a lot of time consuming TV, video games, and computers are taking in gads of advertising messages, many of which are masked to conceal their coersive character.

My wife and I are this close to putting the TV in the closet and cancelling our Netflix subscription; this report only makes it easier.

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posted by Not Prince Hamlet, 7:12 AM | link | 0 comments |

Rushkoff on Idol: They Both Suck

Thursday, May 25, 2006

NPH missed the Idol final last night because he was at a preschool graduation. Instead of listening to 40 29 year old Taylor Hicks sing his victory ballad, I was listening to about 25 preschoolers christening their own victory with a rousing rendition of "Jo-Jo-Joseph Had A Rainbow Coat."

But NPH favorite media analyst, Douglas Rushkoff, watched it. It's the first piece of the reality franchise he's watched all year, and he's convinced that the same fatigue effect that causes high school theater teachers to, after months of rehearsals, think their pubescent performers are actually good is clearly at work in who wins American Idol. I tend to agree.

I didn't watch much this season. I saw some of the audition episodes, where Chris Daughtry sang the knobs off my TV. Seriously, if Idol picked its winner after that initial stage of auditions instead of dragging us through four months of weekly performances by these people, the best singers would actually win.

Instead, what happens is that people with a gimmick endear themselves to millions of 14 year old girls, so they get trotted out there week after week, doing the same thing over and over again. And the audience, after awhile, is less offended by its poor quality each time it sees it.

Rushkoff's verdict? "Consuming bad media degrades our ability to perceive."

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posted by Not Prince Hamlet, 7:58 AM | link | 0 comments |

What'd She Say--er Sell? A Rejoinder

Tuesday, May 23, 2006

One more thing: the moms tabbed by P&G to talk up their stuff are all women with extensive social networks. From the Business Week story:

"P&G concentrates
on finding women who have large social networks. Vocalpoint moms, who
range in age from 28 to 45, generally speak to about 25 to 30 other
women during the day, where an average mom speaks to just five."

Any civics junkie with her salt will immediately hear echoes of Robert Putnam here, the Harvard sociologist who has done his darndest to make civic involvement cool again. One of Putnam's main Theses is that people's social connections, their circle of friends with whom they associate and socialize, is a major indicator of their civic involvement. In other words, the more friends you have (or, at least, the more people you're friendly with), the more vital you are to the civic fabric of your community. Because how do people find out what's going on in their community? Mostly through the people who know what's going on and who then tell their friends.

Well, Vocalpoint is nothing else if it isn't this same principle applied to marketing. So my question is: why does this kind of thing only have appeal to people in the private sphere? Is it because they reap a material benefit, rather than a community one, one that is less easy to measure?

Why don't we recruit 600,000 people to go to city council meetings or organize neighborhood block parties? Anyone?

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posted by Not Prince Hamlet, 7:50 AM | link | 0 comments |

What'd She Say--er, Sell?

The Center for Media and Democracy has a piece today on Proctor and Gamble's new stealth word-of-mouth marketing initiative, called Vocalpoint.

P&G has enrolled over 600,000 mothers (the biggest block of P&G consumers) to pitch their products to the people in their social networks--without disclosing their affiliation with the company.

What does this mean? NPH thinks it means the commodification of conversation; small-talk is a commodity useful for pitching products.

Be wary of any coupon-wielding soccer moms you may encounter. Be very wary.

Here's the link to the full Business Week story.

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posted by Not Prince Hamlet, 7:41 AM | link | 0 comments |

Idol Trends

Tonight is the American Idol final. NPH is not a big Idol fanatic, but he is interested in the sociology of the thing. He can name for you the previous four winners (and finalists), and he does a mean Simon Cowell impression.

This is the fifth Idol finale, and NPH is curious about the public's perception of the racial makeup of past winners and finalists; NPH notices and ruminates on such things as these, but does anyone else? A few salient figures:

  • The fifth final marks the four-and-a-halfth time that a white person has been in the final (Justin Guarini, the inagural runner-up was half-white and half-black)
  • This is the third-and-a-halfth (again, Guarini) out of five years in which a white male has been in the final.
  • This final is the fourth out of five years in which a white female has been in the final
  • There has only been two-and-a-half (need I explain?) African American finalists (Guarini, Ruben Studdard, and Fantasia Barrino)
  • Two of the two-and-a-half African American finalists won the competition
  • If Kelly wins tonight, she will become the third white female to win
  • If Taylor prevails, he will become the first--yes, the first--white male to win American Idol.
  • Never has there been a non-white or non-African-American finalist.
Do with that information what you will, dear reader.

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posted by Not Prince Hamlet, 7:18 AM | link | 0 comments |

Raze The Roof

When Jackson County (MO) voters failed to approve a tax increase measure that would fund the construction of a rolling roof over Arrowhead and Kauffman stadiums, few people believed that they'd seen the proposal for the last time. People were almost certain that it would be on the August ballot again.

Well, breathe a sigh of relief, opponents; it's dead until at least November.

NPH is glad. Maybe the extra three months will give Chiefs and Royals ownership some time to search the couch cushions for the spare change needed to pay for the thing. That way the taxpayers won't be asked to bankroll an amenity that, financially, will almost certainly benefit team owners more than the metro area itself.
posted by Not Prince Hamlet, 6:35 AM | link | 2 comments |

Free Health Care

Monday, May 22, 2006

NPH is a medical spouse, the low-glamour end of the dynamic marriage of a doctor and a minister (doctor T.V. shows abound, while minister T.V. shows get cancelled after a few episodes--read: "Life of Daniel").

As such, NPH hears a lot from his wife about the free medical services doled out by the hospitals in which she works in the center of this Heartland city. And now she has evidence.

"[The center-city's] two busy hospitals delivered more than half the
charity care provided by . . .area hospitals. No other hospital
came close to matching the $38 million in care [center city hospital] gave without
charge to poor, uninsured patients. [The hospitals] also wrote off $7 million in
bad debt."

That's from a Star piece about charity health care as depicted by a recent report of the Missouri Hospital Association. The story continues:

"The traditional categories used to measure a hospital’s benefits to the
community are charity care provided with no anticipation that patients
will be able to pay, and bad debt, the unpaid bills hospitals have
given up trying to collect. Together, these categories make up a
hospital’s uncompensated care.

'We are looking more broadly than a charity care or uncompensated care
report,' Becker said. 'We’re looking at the broad range of benefits
hospitals make to their communities.'"

By those "more broad" measurements, those two central city hospitals actually lag behind other urban hospitals in this area when it comes to charity care.

Charity care, the MHA wants to argue, is about more than care for the uninsured and written-off debt. But the center city hospital's president argues, "I think people go where they feel welcome and they're treated with dignity and services are available."

Treated with dignity? That gets harder and harder as the load of uninsured people needing health care gets heavier and heavier. Because almost all of that weight is felt in the central part of the metro area, and not out in the sprawling suburbs, where all of the new hospitals and home developments are being built.

NPH can't avoid the irony that the word "hospital" comes from the same root as "hospitality," and that a hospital's ability to treat people with "dignity" is now a measurement of its charity. Dignity is what the invention of the hospital was all about.


posted by Not Prince Hamlet, 8:34 AM | link | 0 comments |

Immigration and English

NPH has heard, on more than one occasion, this statement, uttered by white people who are over 50 and who are surrounded by more racial diversity today than they are comfortable with: "I'm happy to change, but they should have to change too."

NPH wonders if this kind of sentiment has anything to do with recent actions taken by white people who are over 50 (i.e. the U.S. Senate) to mandate English as the "official language" of the United States.

For those NPH readers who live in Missouri: Kit Bond and Jim Talent both voted for the "official langauge" measure, introduced by Oklahoma Republican James Inhofe. Here's Bond: “Anyone coming to America should be encouraged to learn English. We should do everything we can to promote the integration of
prospective U.S. citizens for the sake of our national unity and to
boost their own prospects for educational and economic success.”

Uhh, Kit, you're not "encouraging" anyone to learn English; you're forcing them to; you're not "promoting integration of prospective U.S. citizens," you're building a linguistic fence to keep them out of those areas of American life that demand mastery of English--i.e. voting, buying a house or car, getting good job, all things that depend upon facility with formal-register English.

Here's a money quote from the Star's coverage of the bill:

"The 'national language' amendment from Republican Sen. James Inhofe of
Oklahoma says that 'unless otherwise authorized or provided by law,'
the government has no obligation to provide any services or information
in any language except in English."

In other words, you can't make us change the way we do things, especially the way we talk.

NPH is annoyed by all of this. Social conservatives need a win badly, and this is obviously the easiest target. Because what elected official is in a position to tell her consituents that she doesn't think English should be the national language, unless her constituents are in Southern California, Arizona, New Mexico, Texas , or Florida? It would be like telling her consituents that she likes to use the flag as a personal wipe.

Colorado Democrat Ken Salazar introduced another English measure, mandating English not as the "official" language of the U.S., but as the "common and unifying" language. This was the bill for those representatives from southern states. It says the same thing the Inhofe bill says, but doesn't do what the Inhofe bill does.

Surely this is an easy win for social conservatives. But what good will it actually do for "national unity?" NPH thinks none. At most, white people over 50 will feel better that they don't have to listen to so many customer service options in Spanish.
posted by Not Prince Hamlet, 8:11 AM | link | 1 comments |

New Digital Download Locale

Wednesday, May 17, 2006

NPH has been a bit slow jumping on the digital download bandwagon. iTunes, Real Rhapsody, Yahoo Music, Napster: they all look cool, but NPH can't bring himself to jump into a phenomenon with a questionable financial benefit and an even more questionable business model.

But here's one that I may get into. BurnLounge is working on getting more independent artists out there and on compensating artists more fairly for their work.

Happy downloading.

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posted by Not Prince Hamlet, 7:21 AM | link | 0 comments |

More Politik

Wednesday, May 10, 2006

The Senate passed a resolution (S. Res. 458) saying that the National Anthem should be "recited or sung" in English.

Jim Talent cosponsored it.

Simon Cowell suggested to Elliot Yamin two weeks ago that a song featuring the lyric, "I just want to go home" was a dangerous choice for an American Idol contestant. I wonder what Cowell would think of a sentence that reads, "E pluribus unum," in a resolution arguing for an English-only rendition of the National Anthem.

Political conservatism in the United States has hardened over the last 50 years into something that sees things like language and religion as fixed, immovable entities, as the ludicrous debate over "God" in the Pledge of Allegiance demonstrates ("God" was never in the pledge until the anti-communist period of the 50's). It's the same with the National Anthem. Since 1919, there's been a Spanish language version of it approved by Congress.

And now this measure to calcify its recitation into English only has to draw upon a principle articulated in Latin to drive its point home.

There has never been an "official" language in this country, just like there's never been an "official" religion. That's as it should be.


posted by Not Prince Hamlet, 6:53 AM | link | 0 comments |

Voting in Missouri

The Senate candidate NPH publicly prayed for may be in for a tougher-than-expected election in November. For sure, incumbent Jim Talent is a tough adversary in any case, but the Republicans in the Missouri congress are about to make him even tougher.

The KC Star is today reporting that Republicans in the House are close to passing a bill that will both require photo-ID at the polls and repeal straight-ticket voting, the process whereby voters can vote for all the candidates in one party with a single punch.

Both those moves will create favorable conditions for an incumbent, and the photo ID part of it will make it especially difficult for the elderly, physically handicapped, and many minorities (the groups who most frequently are without photo ID) to legally vote.

Republicans claim that the measure will curb rampant voter fraud in Missouri. Whether or not voter fraud is "rampant" in Missouri is an open question, but the measure certainly will do something else: make people who could legally vote less likely to do so.

Low turnouts always favor incumbents.

Oooh, NPH is starting to get fiesty about this. Don't make me start campaigning!
posted by Not Prince Hamlet, 6:34 AM | link | 0 comments |

Stumping (er--Praying) for The Man (er--Woman)

Monday, May 08, 2006

NPH was today asked to give the invocation at a campaign event for a candidate for the U.S. Senate. NPH did it.

Here's the KC Star's coverage of the candidate's speech, with video. If you watch the video, you can spot NPH on the front row of the crowd, three over from the left, in a white shirt. As you study the grainy blank look on my face, know that the thought repeatedly running through my head is: "I'm a political lapdog; I'm a political lapdog; I'm a political lapdog."

Och, well. If asked to do the same by her competitor, I'd do it. That's right: my invoking talents are for sale. Politicians take notice!

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posted by Not Prince Hamlet, 3:14 PM | link | 1 comments |

Saturday, May 06, 2006


Ever since NPH heard Tina Fey crack on the idea over a month ago he has hankered for a taste of this new gimmick. So, when, getting beer and snacks for a small apartment gathering, I spotted a 4-pack on the shelf, I didn't have to think twice about smacking down $4.50 for it.

It's Coke. It's coffee. It's "Coke effervescence and coffee essense."

So here I sit with a frosty glass of it, ready to take the first sip, live here on Not Prince Hamlet. Readers take note: this is history. If only NPH had existed when that blissful drink, Holiday Spice Pepsi, came out in the winter of '04 . . . ah well. The past is passed, and the future is Coke Blak.

So, here goes the first sip:

Mph. That's good. The coffee taste evokes a shopping mall coffee vendor, like a Gloria Jean's, one that features a lot of flavored whole bean coffees. The sensation is all cola, bubbly and cool. But the substance is heavier, more filling.

The second sip: nope, the first sip wasn't an aberration. This stuff is good. Let's just hope NPH can restrain himself and not overindulge in the 45-calorie-per-serving beverage.
posted by Not Prince Hamlet, 6:26 PM | link | 1 comments |

Too Good To Script

Donald Rumsfeld in a 2003 interview with George Stephanopoulos:

"We know where they [WMD] are. They're in the area around Tikrit and Baghdad and east, west, south and north somewhat."

Now, Donald Rumsfeld in an exchange with some (for the time being) anonymous interlocutor:

interlocutor:"Why did you lie to get us into a war that caused these kind of casualties and was not necessary?"

Rumsfeld: "I did not lie,"

Interlocutor: "You said you knew where they were."

Rumsfeld: "I did not." "I said I knew where suspect sites were."

Interlocutor: "You
said you know where they were, near Tikrit, near Baghdad, and north,
east, south and west of there. Those are your words."
"I'd just like an honest answer. We're
talking about lies."

Here's the best part: the interlocutor was a retired CIA analyst, one who used to give the President daily briefings, Ray McGovern.

From generals to CIA analysts to the American public, we can all agree: the Bush administration flat-out lied about our reasons for invading Iraq.

That's all. NPH just wanted to point that out.
posted by Not Prince Hamlet, 7:33 AM | link | 1 comments |

No More Free Booze

Thursday, May 04, 2006

One of the coolest things to happen to KC in the last 10 years has been the resurgence of the Crossroads District, home to gads of art galleries, by way of "First Fridays." On the first Friday of every month, galleries remain open and serve free wine, and people swamp the district to look at art, be outside, and have some free wine.

But the city of KC is putting the brakes on the wine bit. The crowds have gotten too big.

In other words, the event is working so well that something must be done to stop it.

Here's a great quote from one of the City's regulators: "It became a free drinking event rather than an
arts event. I'm
not sure a lot of the drinkers were admiring the art."

Well, duh. Most of that stuff looks a lot better after you've had a couple glasses of red, if you know what I mean. And consumption helps commerce, does it not?

Seriously, this worries NPH a little bit, because the Crossroads district is ground zero for KC's urban revitalization, and I'm not sure it needs tampered with. I'll still go to First Fridays, and I hope the thousands of others who have been going continue to.
posted by Not Prince Hamlet, 7:41 AM | link | 0 comments |

All These Little Victories

Coke and Pepsi have agreed to stop selling soft drinks in elementary and middle schools. And they'll only put diet sodas in high school vending machines.

This has to be one of the biggest public health gains for America in the last 100 years. And it was brokered by the Prez, Bill Clinton.

NPH applauds Clinton, Coke, and Pepsi by having a Coke and a *burp* smile. :)

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posted by Not Prince Hamlet, 7:32 AM | link | 1 comments |