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Not Prince Hamlet

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

The NFL and Ads

Sunday, December 31, 2006

Is there a more ad saturated event than an NFL football game? Watching his hometown Broncos this afternoon, NPH has been subjected, he is sure, to more advertising content than on-the-field action. It is more and more the case that the product that the NFL produces is inseparable from the pitches of the advertisers who underwrite it. Football is a thoroughly televised sport, as it came to prominence in this country just as television was making massive inroads into the leisure and entertainment life of the citizenry.

NPH simply can't stand it.

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posted by Not Prince Hamlet, 3:00 PM | link | 0 comments |

Stuff I Should Have Liked

Saturday, December 30, 2006

Not Prince Hamlet has a new tagline: "Global Media and Local Civitas for Faithful Life." We felt the need to sort of hone in on what we discuss here and what kind of conversation we want this to be, and these are the three things that constitute the heart of it: media, citizenship, and faith.

On media: as citizens of a media-saturated civitas, we are constantly urged to define ourselves in terms of the media that we consume. NPH has felt the pull to do this especially in the arena of music. We constantly feel as if we should like certain types of music or certain artists in order to be the kind of person we feel we ought to be. This definition gets worked out in community with others, people we both know and don't know who's musical expertise seems to contribute toward an ebullient life. "Maybe," we think, "if we listen to what they're listening to, we'll become as they are."

It's a sham, obviously. Lots of what they like just doesn't sit well. We try and try, but we can't make ourselves like it, and faking it just isn't an option. So, as people are compiling their "Best Of" lists for 2006, NPH offers his list of things we're now (this very minute) deleting from our hard drive, stuff we should have liked but just didn't. We're content to let it say whatever it will about who we are.
  • Alejandro Escovedo, "The Boxing Mirror"
  • Ben Kweller, "Sha Sha"
  • Five for Fighting, "The Battle for Everything"
  • Franz Ferdinand, "You Could Have It So Much Better"
  • James Hunter, "People Gonna Talk"
  • Joan Osborne, "Pretty Little Stranger"
  • Joan Armatrading, "Lovers Speak"
  • Kanye West, "Late Registration"
  • Madeline Peyroux, "Careless Love" and "Half The Perfect World"
  • My Morning Jacket, "Z"
  • Rhymefest, "Blue Collar"
All music that, in the last 12 months, somebody told NPH he should get into. With apologies to those concerned, we tried.

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posted by Not Prince Hamlet, 10:37 AM | link | 2 comments |

Light Rail

In November NPH punched "yes" on his ballot when asked if his city ought to build a massive light rail line. We had been asked this question in this city at least twice before and answered the same both times: yes. But the "no's" always seem to outnumber the "yes's" where we live, and so the question kept having to be asked.

This time it was asked like this:

SHALL THE FOLLOWING BE APPROVED?

In order to provide for the people of Kansas City a pioneering urban rail passenger system, constituting the foundation of a future regional transit system, offering not only increased energy-efficiency, comfort, mobility, transportation savings, and convenience, but also a greener, cleaner, safer environment, a stronger economy, and a means to help America reduce its dependence on imported oil; shall the City of Kansas City, Missouri extend the current three-eighths (3/8) cent transportation sales tax, due to expire on March 31, 2009, for 25 years, beginning April 1, 2009 and ending March 31, 2034, with said tax to be used solely to fund the construction, operation, maintenance, and beautification of the following transportation improvements under the auspices of the Kansas City, Missouri City Council:


This time, to everyone's surprise, the "yes's" carried the day. An unusually large light rail starter line was approved by the citizenry, with an assumption of federal matching funds that is questionable at best and a city administration positively annoyed by the occurance. Right away there was talk that the city would have to overrule the voter's choice because the plan is unrealistic (the city has since backed away from that talk).

Well, things are going to start moving on this thing, and NPH is tickled. There's something in this blogger's soul that delights in being a part of something as dreamy and in-the-clouds as this, if only for the reason that the prevailing pragmatism of our age has bred a certain skepticism and sluggishness that we feel compelled to avoid. We understand the very real possibility that this thing never gets off the ground, or that it gets off the ground and then comes to a screeching halt. But for now, we're glowing in the fact that the yes's finally beat the no's, and we're reading this light rail blog regularly to keep up with the train.

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posted by Not Prince Hamlet, 10:07 AM | link | 1 comments |

This Thing Could Blow Up in Our Face

NPH lives in a Heartland urban center that has been flailing for years. Not only have the city's residence had to watch downtown languish in irrelevance while our neighbors to the east and west enjoy "revitalization" of their downtowns, but there has been little hope for improvement throughout. Major proposals were carried by crackpots who voters simply couldn't get with, and those proposals that actually did get planned often ended up dying on the vine.

But today downtown is buzzing with construction. H&R Block and the KC Star have built new complexes, a new arena is being constructed with hopes for an NBA or NHL tenant (the WNBA is much more likely), and the KC Power and Light District, a massive retail complex that hopes to draw shoppers from all over the region, is also underway. Add to that the endless rows of "urban lofts" and condominiums that are popping up everywhere, and you've got a certified boom.

But NPH is a little worried. First, any downtown reivatilization carries with it a process of gentrification, as cool middle class white people move to be closer to the cool bars, thereby displacing many of the poor, non-white people who live there already. Obviously it's much more complicated than that, and it is precisely our awareness of the complication that makes us nervous. We're afraid, ultimately, that revitalization happens along fairly predictable lines of racially homogenous, college-educated folks who can afford the new rents and nightly bar tabs.

But also there is the concern about this particular city and the long record of failures it boasts. That record is highlighted in a Kansas City Business Journal article this week that points out that the KC Power & Light District is projecting a very slim margin for error. NPH will let readers take in the article for themselves and voice only this concern. If we've learned anything living in this city, it's that Murphy's Law has legal effect here, so that anything possible that could go wrong will. Especially when it comes to major planned projects.

Five years from now the "revitalization" that the city is currently enjoying could turn out to be a trainwreck of wealthy developers and hubristic city leaders. Or it could be a beacon of creativity and commerce to make the region gawk.

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posted by Not Prince Hamlet, 8:11 AM | link | 2 comments |

A Night in Nerd Land

Friday, December 29, 2006

W.H. Auden's For The Time Being: A Christmas Oratorio provided the occasion for NPH to gather with friends at a local coffeeshop last night. We felt delighfully humored by those who know our idiosyncracies and fascinations and who go along with them all the same. We simply pulled together a number of people we know from various circles, seated them around a table (after hours), and read a few bits from a great work of poetry; it was a delightful end in itself.

A snippet:
Well, so that is that.  Now we must dismantle the tree,
Putting the decorations back into their cardboard boxes --
Some have got broken -- and carrying them up to the attic.
The holly and the mistletoe must be taken down and burnt,
And the children got ready for school. There are enough
Left-overs to do, warmed-up, for the rest of the week --
Not that we have much appetite, having drunk such a lot,
Stayed up so late, attempted -- quite unsuccessfully --
To love all of our relatives, and in general
Grossly overestimated our powers. Once again
As in previous years we have seen the actual Vision and failed
To do more than entertain it as an agreeable
Possibility, once again we have sent Him away,
Begging though to remain His disobedient servant,
The promising child who cannot keep His word for long.
The Christmas Feast is already a fading memory,
And already the mind begins to be vaguely aware
Of an unpleasant whiff of apprehension at the thought
Of Lent and Good Friday which cannot, after all, now
Be very far off. But, for the time being, here we all are,
Back in the moderate Aristotelian city
Of darning and the Eight-Fifteen, where Euclid's geometry
And Newton's mechanics would account for our experience,
And the kitchen table exists because I scrub it.
It seems to have shrunk during the holidays. The streets
Are much narrower than we remembered; we had forgotten
The office was as depressing as this. To those who have seen
The Child, however dimly, however incredulously,
The Time Being is, in a sense, the most trying time of all.
For the innocent children who whispered so excitedly
Outside the locked door where they knew the presents to be
Grew up when it opened. Now, recollecting that moment
We can repress the joy, but the guilt remains conscious;
Remembering the stable where for once in our lives
Everything became a You and nothing was an It.
And craving the sensation but ignoring the cause,
We look round for something, no matter what, to inhibit
Our self-reflection, and the obvious thing for that purpose
Would be some great suffering. So, once we have met the Son,
We are tempted ever after to pray to the Father;
"Lead us into temptation and evil for our sake."
They will come, all right, don't worry; probably in a form
That we do not expect, and certainly with a force
More dreadful than we can imagine. In the meantime
There are bills to be paid, machines to keep in repair,
Irregular verbs to learn, the Time Being to redeem
From insignificance. The happy morning is over,
The night of agony still to come; the time is noon:
When the Spirit must practice his scales of rejoicing
Without even a hostile audience, and the Soul endure
A silence that is neither for nor against her faith
That God's Will will be done, That, in spite of her prayers,
God will cheat no one, not even the world of its triumph.


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posted by Not Prince Hamlet, 9:39 AM | link | 1 comments |

Year In/Year Out

NPH used to live outside Philadelphia, where the fantastic public radio station WXPN graces the airwaves like a crane.

Um, well, every year the staff at XPN compile their top 50 cd's of the year and play them, one after another, for the entire week between Christmas and New Year's Day. It's great fun. You can follow along online here. Also, you can listen to a live stream of XPN, but only for so long, since licensing agreements don't allow them to play a record in its entirety over the internet.

Stop over and take a listen.

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posted by Not Prince Hamlet, 7:41 AM | link | 2 comments |

WOMMA!

Tuesday, December 26, 2006

NPH feels like he's on a blogorific soap box here. We also feel like we're way behind and flailing to get caught up on cultural happenings. Few interest us more than word-of-mouth marketing (or "stealth" or "guerilla" marketing).

The Sacramento Bee story linked in the last post made mention of the Word of Mouth Marketing Association (WOMMA). This is an organization dedicated to honing the craft of stealth marketing. The banner on their website reads, "We're the companies pioneering the art and science of amplifying genuine consumer enthusiasm."

Two things: first, stealth marketing is both an "art" and a "science." Which means that there are dedicated clusters of artists and scientists out there who's highest aim is to sell things to the citizenry without the citizenry knowing it.

Second, that guerilla marketing is simply a process of "amplifying genuine consumer enthusiasm." Word of mouth marketing is not about "amplifying" existing enthusiasm any more than political propaganda simply amplifies a country's already-existing sentiments. That there is a need for actually creating the enthusiasm in the first place can't be denied. And that manufactured enthusiasm is less-than-"genuine", well isn't that obvious?

NPH has subscribed to the RSS feed of the WOMMA's website. We're looking forward to reading the detailed accounts of viral marketing--how people train for it, how it's done, and how consumers are assumed to be too dumb to figure it out.

We'll keep you posted.

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

Blogging As Guerilla Marketing

This may be old news to NPH readers, but we're just learning about the latest trend in guerilla marketing: fake blogging, or "flogging." In some ways it seems like a natural extension of already-existing forms of stealth marketing that companies widely use, mainly those that involve employing a highly connected individual to talk about a product through his/her extensive social network. But, whereas getting Cool Kid Joe to talk about his cool new sneakers to all his friends has at least the possibility of transparency, the flog is completely deceptive.

Enter Sony's alliwantforchristmasisapsp.com

According to a story in the Sacramento Bee, Sony employed a blogger named "Charlie" to write about how his cousin "Pete" really wanted a PSP for Christmas. Only, there is no Charlie, and there is no Pete. Sony ran the whole thing as a way to market their gaming console to urban youth. When real bloggers cottoned on, Sony shut it down and called the whole thing a "humorous site targeting those interested in getting a PSP system this holiday season."

Uh huh.

Only a few months ago, Wal-Mart got outed for doing something similar. The seemingly innocent-yet-hoaky adventures of a couple motor-homing across the country and sleeping in Wal-Mart parking lots, a-blogging as they went--a project dubbed "Wal-Marting Across America"--turned out to be a marketing campaign organized by Wal-Mart's ad agency, Edelman. The couple was being paid.

That blog has not been taken down, as the Bee article reports, but has now got a "Sponsored By Working Families For Wal-Mart" badge on its front page. It also now has a pseudo-apologetic post by one of the bloggers explaining what they "should have explained" at the beginning, that they were paid by an advertising firm for their blog. The post is a moving narrative about how one couple's love for America and Wal-Mart prompted them to approach a brother who works at Edelman to see if the firm would allow them--out of their irrepressible devotion to their stores-- to take pictures of Wal-Marts and talk to their customers and employees for their blog. Surprise! Edelman even offered to sponsor the trip. All the while, the post raves about the greatness of Wal-Mart and oozes a synthetic admiration for the company and its ubiquitous presence on the great American landscape.

No way that's true.

The silver lining here seems to be that the blogosphere is pretty good at policing itself; both of these flogs had the alarm sounded against them in fairly short order. Yet you can bet it's only one step in a larger journey toward embedding product advertising deeper and deeper into every form of human discourse.

NPH is nervous.

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posted by Not Prince Hamlet, 7:45 AM | link | 0 comments |

A Mug(ging) For Christmas

Doug Rushkoff got mugged at knifepoint on Christmas Eve while he was taking out the garbage. You can read his reflection on it here, but here's a striking excerpt:
I negotiated with him for my health insurance card - not only because it has my Social Security number and was really hard to get, but because I knew that such a request would humanize me in the mind of my attacker, and make it harder for him to stab me. Such are the benefits of studying human behavior. All I lost was my phone, cards, and money.

NPH wishes his favorite media guru safer passages than these.

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posted by Not Prince Hamlet, 7:37 AM | link | 0 comments |

Silent Night

Monday, December 25, 2006

Stille Nacht! Heil'ge Nacht!
Alles schläft; einsam wacht
Nur das traute heilige Paar.
Holder Knab' im lockigten Haar,
Schlafe in himmlischer Ruh!
Schlafe in himmlischer Ruh!

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posted by Not Prince Hamlet, 6:34 PM | link | 1 comments |

Guerilla Warfare

Thursday, December 21, 2006

After NPH has just said that the guerilla tactics of culture jammers wins our sympathy and applause but not our involvement, an important fact comes obviously to mind: advertising are doing the same thing.

In the opening scene of The Persuaders, a couple of guys marketing shoes sneak onto a NYC construction site in order to project a massive commercial onto the side of a whitewashed building. It's under the cover of darkness and totally illegal. Likewise, consider the story of a video game manufacturer that used graffiti spray paint to market its gaming consoles in Philadelphia neighborhoods.

Marketing itself is going guerilla. What do the original guerillas do now? I mean, how do culture jammers react when the corporations who's messages they're trying to jam start to copy their tactics in order to spread their message to consumers? What's left if not an all-out war for what remains of our culture's physical and intellectual space?

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posted by Not Prince Hamlet, 6:28 PM | link | 0 comments |

Adbusters

NPH likes Adbusters. A lot. The militant counterculture rag never fails to provoke thought and self-examination. It's artwork, as much as its literary content, is striking and powerful.

Yet as we thumbed through the latest issue at the local megachain bookstore this afternoon (insert "irony" or "hypocricy" line here), we realized for the first time what it is that adbusters is all about. And, while we like it, we also don't feel like we ought to be a part of it. Let us explain:

NPH's love of Adbusters started years ago when the slick magazine's startling photo art lifted the veil from our eyes to reveal just how saturated our culture is with corporate marketing messages. Subsequent interest in the Douglas Rushkoff's and Neil Postman's of the world all stemmed from early encounters with Adbusters. Heretofore, the publication has existed in our mind as a strong voice of commentary, albeit a far left and radical one. The main form of that commentary is expressed as "culture jamming," that is, using the implements of mass media against itself in order to turn a consumer message into a negative critique of the product or the the compay selling it. It's truly delightful stuff to watch, and it has produced some of the most effective initiatives to counter the mad push towards consumption that is our culture (see Buy Nothing Day).

But NPH is realizing the obvious, if not intentional, tension inherent in Adbusters and culture jamming, which is this: in order for it to be effective, it has to be increasingly covert and militant, even violent. For example, the current issue of Adusters contains a sort-of advice/criticism piece for culture jammers, lifting up the need to not allow corporations and advertisers to turn culture jamming against the culture jammers and use it for the company's own benefit. It seems some companies like Coke and Apple, having had their billboards defaced, have directed their consumers' attention to the act, thereby deepening loyalty and making the brand into a victim and a legend. So, the writer insists, culture jammers need to step things up a notch, even get back to basics (nothing works as well as a bucket of paint to jam a corporate culture message) to make sure that their culture jamming enterprise is not jammed itself. The piece counsels with the authority of a sensei, "Do whatever it takes."

Here is where we have a problem. Culture jammers are fighting a sort-of guerilla war against the machinations of corporate culture. But what, precisely, are they fighting for? Local business? The environment? Socialism? It's impossible to tell. The entire enterprise is directed against a multi-headed hydra that can now not only deflect the arrows hurled at it by determined culture warriors but also use those arrows to advance its work of devouring the cultural landscape.

NPH hopes that his squeamishness will not be taken for a dutiful deference to the rights of private property; we think that to be a perpetual thorn in the proverbial side of western culture. However, given the model we tend to try to follow in life, militivism is a misleading path, frustrated at best and idolatrous at worst. NPH just can't get wholly behind efforts to deface property, for the simple reason that as a serious vocation it lacks purpose and leads nowhere.

However, neither will NPH ever have any sympathy for a corporate entity that finds itself jammed by the likes of those who fill the pages of Adbusters. In fact, we will continue to get warm fuzzy feelings when advertisements get defaced and marketing slogans get subverted. We may even stand to applaud.

And, of course, we will continue to read Adbusters, feeling slightly guilty for not doing more than reading.

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posted by Not Prince Hamlet, 5:13 PM | link | 0 comments |

The Persuaders

Tuesday, December 19, 2006

NPH lives a charmed life, full of leftover dinners at friends' houses and late nights at the pub with a buddy. In the midst of this charmed day, NPH was blessed with several moments of Douglas Rushkoff's excellent Frontline documentary, "The Persuaders." NPH thinks that there's no excuse for not watching it, since you can see it free online here. NPH has seen it, like, three times now, and the fact remains: it's really top notch stuff.

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posted by Not Prince Hamlet, 10:07 PM | link | 2 comments |

Three Cheers for Clear Thinking

NPH is relieved at the sanity that is surfacing now that the dust has started to settled from our home town team's trade over the weekend, in which we acquired the guy there on the left and got rid of a taco-snarfing pitcher.

For example, Clark Fosler at the Royals Authority blog says this:
My take, is simply that this was another shot across the bow of the entire organization. Just a year ago, former GM Allard Baird pretty much labeled relievers Mike MacDougal, Burgos and Sisco as untouchable and building block for the future. Today, all three are gone. The message: potential and ‘plus projections’ are great, but you better be able to perform and you better have a mentality focused squarely on winning. Oh, and by the way, you are just relievers.
And a reader calling him/herself "Howserfan" at Royals Review points out that

This move shows the importance GMDM [General Manager Dayton Moore] places on two things difficult to measure and therefore often dismissed even by attentive baseball fans.

Namely, defense and attitude.

GMDM's first principle is that you have to get 27 outs a game to win. You can win [or lose] with one run, or three, or ten but you must get 27 outs to win a regulation game.

His second principle seems to be that attitude & character matter. Without it, players are unlikely to help build a winner long-term.

Just about all of the moves so far have been about getting more outs or getting players with better charcter/work habits.

Imagine, a leader in an organization making decisions based on work habits and attitude. When you're a small-market operation, you simply can't afford the weighing down effect of star players' bad attitudes; you have to try to be the little engine that could. And for that to happen, everybody's got to be "all aboard."

Ooh, NPH apologizes for that.




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posted by Not Prince Hamlet, 11:50 AM | link | 0 comments |

Re-Reading Revelation

NPH is re-reading Something he had to read in seminary. Actually, we only had to read a chapter of it, so we're now trying to read the whole thing. We're finding ourselves highlighting liberally, reading entire sections out loud and over again, and generally having a grand time.

The book was originally published in 1941. So NPH wants to know how certain sentiments from the work which we find ourselves gleefully agreeing with stand up to the critique of the nuanced postmodern perspective of those with the commitment to intellectual improvement that it takes to read this blog regularly.

For starters, this:
Man (sic) as a practical, living being never exists without a god or gods; some things there are to which he must cling as the souces and goals of his activity, the centers of value. As a rule men are polytheists, referring now to this and now to that valued being as the source of life's meaning. Sometimes they live for Jesus' God, sometimes for country and sometimes for Yale. For the most part they make gods out of themselves or out of the work of their own hands, living for their own glory as persons and as communities. In any case the faith that life is worth living and the definite reference of life's meaning to specific beings or values is as inescapable a part of human existence as the activity of reason.
Begin.

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posted by Not Prince Hamlet, 7:01 AM | link | 0 comments |

Early Christmas Gift

NPH had started a ridiculous post last week raving about some of our friends, then scrapped the thing as akward. But when people give you gifts like this, how can you keep from telling the world of their greatness?

Oh, the gift is the mug, not the dashingly good looks (those are God-given).

A big hearty thanks from NPH to his and the wife's killer friends everywhere, especially, today, those responsible for our new, extra large, coffee recepticle.

NPH gets all warm and fuzzy at Christmas.

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posted by Not Prince Hamlet, 5:07 AM | link | 2 comments |

Oh The Things We Know

Monday, December 18, 2006

On Saturday, NPH's hometown baseball team traded a big lefty relief pitcher with lots of upside for a backup first baseman. Initial reporting of the trade was befuddled, loudly wondering what Royals GM Dayton Moore could be thinking. The player they got, it was pointed out, could be got anywhere in the minor leagues in any year, while the player they gave only comes along once in a great while, even if his performance last year was a marked regression from the year before. One writer deemed the move "less than impressive" and concluded that Moore was a "Bad GM" who got caught on a "bad day."

Such is still the majority opinion. And yesterday the GM of the team with whom Moore made the deal pooh-pooh's his new pitcher's poor last season and said,"There's a mechanical issue or two that hopefully by now, by going down to winter ball, he's gotten himself straightened out." Got that? It's a mechanical issue.

Only, the mechanics seem to have more to do with tacos than they do fastballs or sliders. It seems that Mr. Upside was cut by his winter ball team for eating tacos on the stadium concourse during the first inning of a game. Here's the text of an email that one baseball writer received a couple of weeks ago"

"Check this out: [the player Moore traded], the 6'9" kid from Eastern Washington who pitches for [NPH's home team], was just cut by Mazatlan. He was pitching well enough, however the team director saw [him]munching on a couple of tacos in the stadium concourse...during the first inning of a game. Apparently, heshowed up in the dugout sometime in the second, but his fate was sealed."


NPH always assumes, when the ink starts to fly about a trade, that the GM knows more than the writers do. And more than simply un-worried about Moore's latest move, we're positively thrilled by it. It may have added five ticks to the win column by itself.

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posted by Not Prince Hamlet, 5:57 AM | link | 2 comments |

"This Tube Is The Gospel"

NPH watched the 1976 film "Network" over the weekend. When Studio 60 On The Sunset Strip did a takeoff on the film for its pilot, On The Media ran a segment (click "Listen Now" on the left) on the foresight of "Network's" writer, Paddy Chayefsky. So our interest was piqued.

It's great stuff (warning: the clip above contains objectionable language). It's all about the blurring of the line between news and entertainment in media, television specifically. 30 years ago, the idea that news could be made more appealing by dressing it up as entertainment was scandalous; today, with our Bill O'Reilley's, we're quite used to the idea (in fact, right before the movie came out, Barbara Walters had just had half of her contract with ABC paid by the network's entertainment division). But that's what's great about "Network": pre-cable news, pre-"reality" television, pre-internet, pre-YouTube, the film articulated deep distress over the confusion between illusion and reality generated by electronic screen media. Consider these gems:

"Television is not the truth! Television's a . . . amusement park! We're in the boredom killing business!"

"We deal in illusions, man. None of it is true."

"You're beginning to believe the illusions we're spinning here. You're beginning to believe that the tube is reality and that you're own lives are unreal."

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posted by Not Prince Hamlet, 5:49 AM | link | 3 comments |

Ministry and Buildings

Saturday, December 16, 2006

NPH read with great interest this story in the Christian Science Monitor about a Presbyterian church in Queens, New York, that has decided to tear down its building and replace it with affordable apartments for senior citizens. The church has steadily declined in membership for several years, and its existence has increasingly come to be defined in terms of simply "staying alive" and "keeping the doors open." And in that beautiful old building, the doors cost a lot to keep open. It was becoming clearer and clearer that, absent some dramatice redevelopment stategy, the church would soon be forced to close its doors and sell its building.

What NPH finds remarkable about this story is that the redevelopment strategy that this church and its pastor have hit upon is directed entirely towards its community; it has nothing to do with the "survival" of the church and everything to do with the well-being of the people to whom the church is called to share the Good News. It's a paradigm shift in the classic sense, and one that carries with it a great deal of sacrifice and loss (certain members have left). But NPH thinks that this is precisely what the church is called to be and do.

NPH's church just approved its budget for 2007. In it, close to 15 % of total operating costs are going to building maintanance. Our congregation has a solvent preschool and daycare that serves the community and pays rent to the church for its space, so those costs are not as daunting as they are for many churches. But the issue still remains: church building often become ends in themselves, rather than serving the end of the church's mission. How long can churches with expensive buildings justify pouring larger and larger percents of their operating budgets into building costs if they can't say how the building serves God's mission to the world?

In the changing landscape of North America, it's more and more going to be the case that established, prominent community churches are going to have to ask this question. It falls to those called to leadership in those churches to ask it and to suggest some tough answers. The pastor of the First Presbyterian Church of Astoria in Queens has done that, and NPH gawks in admiration.

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posted by Not Prince Hamlet, 8:55 AM | link | 1 comments |

Au Lait and Old Testament

Friday, December 15, 2006

While doing sermon prep work this morning at our favorite local coffeeshop, NPH was politely interrupted by a gentleman at the next table who had been eyeing the loveable blogger's Bible and Minor Prophets commentary for some time. "Excuse me," he said, "I don't mean to be rude, but can I ask you something?"

We braced ourself and said a smiley, "Sure."

"Do you think that the world, in the 21st century, would be better off without the Old Testament?"

Thinking ourselves to be faced with the ghost of Marcion, we covered our discomfort with a chuckle before answering, "No." He stared blankly back for a moment, and then, thinking the conversation over, made to get up and leave. So we added, "I think the Old Testament read rightly has some remarkable things to say about God's purposes for the world, purposes for healing and salvation and peace."

That seemed to be the ticket. He took up our response into a larger reflection on the many ways in which people mis-read the Old Testament. We carried on for a minute or two more before he promptly said "Thank you" and left.

He's somebody that NPH has seen at this coffeeshop multiple times over a span of several years, but has never, before today, spoken to. What were we waiting for? He seems a delightful guy.

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posted by Not Prince Hamlet, 12:34 PM | link | 2 comments |

Morning Prayer

Only four people showed up to this week's Advent Morning Prayer time, down from the six of the first week. Still, it is a time of stillness, of pausing at the break of day to return thanks and to seek God's intervention for the life of the world. For awhile this morning we thought we would be only two, and even then we were content.

We lit the Christ candle (not the Advent candle--that thing's gonna burn down before Christmas!), read Psalm 100, then prayed our way through the daily lectionary texts.

Lord, hear our prayer.

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posted by Not Prince Hamlet, 5:34 AM | link | 0 comments |

What A Blog Should Be

Thursday, December 14, 2006

NPH has been reading Happy In Bag for over a year now, and we've never been disappointed. We've not been thrilled every day, but there's no doubt that reading this blog makes one a better local citizen over time.

NPH in in the midst of a conversation with friends and colleagues about the nature of blogs--what they're for and why one should invest time in one. Happy in Bag is what a blog should be: a daily literary and visual chronicle of life lived in a specific way in a particular locale.

Read it immediately.

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posted by Not Prince Hamlet, 10:31 AM | link | 1 comments |

"This World in a Uproar, Lord"

NPH has been going over to a local retirement community once a week for about a month to lead a small Bible study on "faith." The participants are all (obviously) retired, African-American, female, and Baptist. It's like nothing else we do during the week. It's grand.

Yesterday, as the hour drew to a close, the convener of the study led us into a time of prayer. Typically NPH leads the group in an opening and closing prayer, perfunctory and perfectly Presbyterian. Yesterday, however, everybody prayed. And can these women pray; the prayer time lasted nearly as long as the study itself. But NPH hardly noticed, so drawn in were we by the fervency and the assurance and the grounded-ness of the praying going on. And what with all the "Mmm" ing and "Yes Lord"ing going on, it was easy to lose track of the then-and-there.

The woman seated to our left prayed for the state of the world with the spot-on assertion that, "This world in a uproar, Lord."

Mmmm.

Yes, Lord.

NPH loves his work.

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posted by Not Prince Hamlet, 6:17 AM | link | 1 comments |

NPH Knew Them When

Wednesday, December 13, 2006

It has come to our attention in the last two days that two people currently occupying the television landscape are "people we used to know."

First, Wendell Middlebrooks, the star of the new series of Miller High Life commercials (here and here). These ads are great, and Wendell is hilarious.

Secondly, Kristen Bush, who was featured in this year's season premier of Law and Order: SVU. NPH didn't see the episode, but we have it on good authority that she was great.

Let us simply say, as our own claim to fame, that we shared a small college stage with both of these rising dramatist (Bush was actually in high school at the time). This we did in the shadow of someone else who has since gone on to our same vocation. Since the public is surely dying to know: Wendell was in a horrendous rendition of The Winter's Tale with NPH, and he played the guy who gets eaten by a bear; Kristen was the lead in a very Waiting-For-Guffman-esque staging of The Crucible with NPH, where she played the female lead and we had a bit part.

It's really fun to see these two have this kind of success. NPH wishes them both much success, and will be watching their rise with much interest.

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posted by Not Prince Hamlet, 5:52 AM | link | 4 comments |

Sunday's A Work Day

Monday, December 11, 2006

One of the things about preaching is that you have to hear a fair amount of it in order to do it well yourself. For those of us who's vocations require regular preaching of the word, taking intentional time to listen to other people preach does wonders.

NPH has regularly tried to do this by listening to mp3 sermons, mostly those of Josh McPaul and Mark Labberton at The First Presbyterian Church of Berkeley. Also, when they're available, NPH likes to listen to the sermons of Dave Davis, the pastor of Nassau Presbyterian Church, in the town where we went to school. The styles of these preachers are quite different from one another; two of them ply their trade in a west coast university town known for its liberals and hippies, while one of them works in an east coast ivy league university town renowned for its intelligentsia.

Note to self: add non-presbyterians and non-men to the list of preachers to whom we regularly listen.

As great as mp3's are, however, there's no substitute for the real thing. And last Sunday NPH had a double-dose of the real thing which, a week later, paid immediate dividends. Getting to lead worship with The Very Left Reverend and listen to him preach was a real treat, and getting to participate in his installation later that day and hear another great sermon was also special. But it wasn't until seven days later that NPH got a sense of how useful it was to be in the company of those preachers. We found ourselves unwittingly adopting some of their phrasing, even their mannerisms, and we felt more grounded and comfortable in the pulpit than we had in awhile. We are thankful for our calling and those who model it for us well.

If imitation is the sincerest form of flattery, gentlemen, you have cause to be flattered today.

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posted by Not Prince Hamlet, 7:17 AM | link | 2 comments |

Stadium Naming Rights

Saturday, December 09, 2006

One of the things that NPH gets really interested in is the economics of professional sports. There is a connection, we believe, between the money and marketing aspects of our culture's entertainment (sports being the most lucrative part of our culture's entertainment industry), and the efforts of citizens to live a good and virtuous life. What's the connection? NPH is still working that out. But we're sure there is one, and that it is significant to how we live.

So this story in Forbes magazine piques our interest. Citibank has purchased the naming rights to Shea Stadium, the home of baseball's New York Mets. The contract to get those rights is bigger than any other naming rights deal out there, and for a baseball stadium it's almost without precedent. The Forbes story gets into the rationale for the deal, but then presents a slide show of the ten biggest stadium naming rights deals out there.

What concerns NPH about naming rights deals is the way in which the will of the citizenry can get trumped by corporate gain. In Denver (which has one of the top ten naming rights deals), citizens fought and fought to keep the name of its old football stadium for its new one. They even had the voice of the city's former Mayor out front. But "Mile High Stadium" was never going to be chosen for the new stadium. The millions of dollars of revenue available for selling the name makes it a no-brainer for teams like the Broncos; so instead you get "Invesco Field (at Mile High)".

More and more of our public space is taken over as commercialized marketing space. The world of sports is no different. A stadium may be one of the most prominent buildings in a city's skyline; pity to let such a perfectly good billboard go to waste.

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posted by Not Prince Hamlet, 7:02 AM | link | 1 comments |

Morning Prayer

Friday, December 08, 2006

This morning, NPH will join a few folk down at the church to get our pray on. At 7 am. It's a bit of an experiment: Friday morning prayer time during Advent. We really have no sense of who will participate and what will happen. That's what makes it an experiment.

A couple other experiments that NPH is mulling include:
  • Creating a name for the church's Adult Sunday School class, so that we don't have to call it "school" anymore
  • Moving the monthly session meeting from Thursday night to Sunday or Monday; Thursday is prime programming time
  • Starting a once-a-month "healing service," perhaps on the last Sunday of the month following regular worship
  • Doing a seven week sermon and teaching series on the Book of Revelation during January and February--call it "Beginning at The End"--that will include a weeknight small group study of this book; call it "Not Left Behind."
  • A Martin Luther King Day churchwide service project
  • A weeklong Christian Formation series of activities during T.V. Turnoff Week that would partner with our preschool, the local library, another church or two, and some schools in the community.
Yeah, we're full of ideas and grand experiments. But NPH struggles to make ideas into reality. There's our New Year's Resolution?

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posted by Not Prince Hamlet, 4:05 AM | link | 0 comments |

The Very Left Reverend

Thursday, December 07, 2006

NPH encourages readers to check out The Very Left Reverend. It's a pastor blogging the first weeks and days at a new church. And what better time than Advent?

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posted by Not Prince Hamlet, 3:49 AM | link | 0 comments |

Wednesday Pastor's Duties

Wednesday, December 06, 2006

Today NPH moderate his last meeting of the church's Daycare and Preschool board; we're handing off moderatorial duties beginning in January. At this meeting, NPH will need to propose and advocate that the Daycare and Preschool budget begin to absorb some of the church's utilities and custodial costs, a suggestion that is bound to meet with resistance. The relationship between the "church" and the "preschool" has always been fuzzy; the preschool is not accredited by the state and so is a church preschool, complete with quasi-religious curriculum and teachers who attend "Christian preschool teacher" workshops every year. In addition, the preschool is governed by a volunteer board of directors made up of church members and moderated (up till now) by the church's pastor.

Yet it's a separate entity. It pays rent to the church, and most of its staff, students, and parents have little else to do with the church. Of course, NPH has tried to create a climate of belonging in the preschool--"preschool students and their families are a part of our church family"--but that kind of language only goes so far when the worshiping congregation on Sundays never sees the folks who use the building Monday through Friday.

Ministry or business? Or both? That's the pressing question that exists constantly in a church-run preschool and daycare. Right now, as a business, the preschool is more solvent than it's ever been, and it's only getting better. While the church, as is the case with most small churches, is ever-mindful of its cash flow.

Anyway, that's the first part of NPH's day.

The second part will find him picking up a young man and taking him to the community health clinic. This is our first experience with the local free clinic, and so far it's been trying. Calling to get an appointment was like trying to win a radio promotion: dial, busy signal, dial again; dial, busy signal, dial again; and so on. And once we did get through, we were on hold for nearly an hour before we got an appointment, the first available one being at 7:15 in the evening the following day. But this is a free clinic, one staffed by volunteer doctors, so we're not complaining.

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posted by Not Prince Hamlet, 5:07 AM | link | 2 comments |

Dayton Moore Update

From the Royals blog on the Most Valuable Network:
But what we are seeing here is more evidence Dayton Moore is following the Atlanta Braves model. The Royals are in dire need of starting pitching. If they’re actually thinking about adding Miguel Batista for three years, that’s insane. So, they decide to deal a reliever who might never realize his potential because he was rushed to the major leagues, for a decent (and cheap) starting pitching prospect.
This in response to the news that Moore has inked a trade with Mets GM Omar Minaya to send reliever Ambioroix Burgos to New York in exchange for starter Brian Bannister.

Not exactly a headline-ticker trade, but evidence of what Moore is all about: get more starting pitchers. As a fan, this is fun to watch.

Other rumors have the Royals in the running for Miguel Bautista and Gil Meche. Again, innings-eaters, guys who will beef up the starting rotation.

NPH is enjoying this.

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posted by Not Prince Hamlet, 5:06 AM | link | 2 comments |

Preachy-Teachy Tuesday

Tuesday, December 05, 2006

It's 10 past seven in the morning, and NPH should be well into his reading routine. But he's not. Instead he's been adding blogs to his RSS reader, deleting others, and watching the minutes tick by. All is not lost, though; we came upon a really thought-provoking post here.

This morning we're going over to the Salvation Army to lead morning devotions for the staff. We have no idea what to expect, and so preparation has been minimal. Since worship and teaching at the church is centering on Micah during Advent, NPH will most likely use the first seven verses of chapter one or the first 12 verses of chapter three as a starting point, and try to engage participants in a conversation about the text. These are people who work for an agency in the center of the city that, especially at this time of year, sees tremendous need and works hard to meet it; NPH wants to hear their experience, to watch them connect that experience to the voice of the prophet, and to learn from them.

Hopefully we won't make a fool of ourselves. Or, if we do, it'll be for the right reasons.

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

I Am Not My Father's Son

Monday, December 04, 2006

What was supposed to be a two hour break for sipping coffee and reading yesterday afternoon turned out to be a 30 minute coffee-break tacked on to the end of an hour-and-a-half exercise in auto mechanics futility. Let us explain.

On the way to church yesterday morning, NPH's wife was honked at by a fellow traveller to inform her that her brakelights weren't working; we've known one was out for some time. Then, later, she was pulled over by a police officer and told the same thing: both her brakelights were out. And while the officer was not going to ticket her, he pointed her to an autoparts store with a stern warning.

So we parked her car in the coffeeshop parking lot and got in the NPH mobile. At the autoparts store, NPH purchased two brakelights and a cheap screwdriver to do the job. Returning to the afflicted vehicle, we discovered that the brakelights are affixed not with a standard or phillips screw, but with star-headed screw. So, frustrated, NPH returned to the autoparts store, borrowed the proper tool from the sympathetice gentleman at the counter, and then twisted, scraped, pulled, and cussed his way through changing the two brakelights in sub 20's temperatures. Job done.

Not really. Because a triumphant return to the coffeeshop was spoiled when NPH's wife got back in the care, pressed the brake pedal, and viola: nothing.

The long-and-short of it is that NPH took his wife to work this morning, then drove the car to a mechanic's, handing the keys off with some self-assured recommendation about fuses, only to have the mechanic retrieve us a short time later with the news that fuses were not involved at all but . . . brakelights. That's right friends, NPH had replaced the wrong bulbs. He had taken perfectly good turn tailight bulbs and replaced them with, well, other perfectly good talight bulbs, leaving the brakelight bulbs untouched.

Cue the music. "Mwah, mwah, mwah, mwaaaaah."

The egg on our face is only now beginning to dry.
posted by Not Prince Hamlet, 8:38 AM | link | 3 comments |

Advent

The first Sunday of Advent found NPH at a church other than his own this year, taking part in a couple of really exceptional events. The first was the baptism, which NPH administered, of a child whose parents are very near and dear to us. To stand before a congregation of the faithful and ask these friends to profess their faith in Jesus, the faith of the church, and to promise to raise up their child in that faith, was something that fundamentally altered our relationship. In a good, good way.

We've come a long way from dormitories and a watermelon-colored theater.

Then NPH got to be part of the same friend's installation as pastor at that same church. Specifically, we were asked to give the charge, a brief bit of guidance or counsel to the newly installed. NPH does not presume to have much advice to give anyone, but we did the best with the task we were given and were truly blessed by the opportunity.

Thanks be to God for the embrace of friends and the even stronger embrace of God; this weekend the former mediated the latter.

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posted by Not Prince Hamlet, 8:30 AM | link | 2 comments |

Last.FM

Saturday, December 02, 2006

One of NPH's coolest friends recently awakened him to Last.Fm, the social networking tool based entirely on your music listening habits. And while the website is one of those technological innovations that has the ability to covertly steal away large portions of one's time and energy, it also may not be that. Much of what the tool does it does on its own, while you're simply doing what you do.

What's cool about last.fm is the creation and constant updating of your personal profile based on the music that you're listening to on your computer or iPod. It's called scrobbling. Once you've got the free software installed, every track you play gets sent to the last.fm website and fed into your profile. From this are generated charts that display your music listening habits: who are you most listening to? What tracks? Then the site develops your own personal radio station, makes recommendations of things you might like, and connects you to other users with similar music tastes. Best of all, it allows you to invite and add "friends," and then allows you to see what they're listening to.

Check it out. Then search for NPH under the email address rocky.meredith@gmail.com to be added as his friend.

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posted by Not Prince Hamlet, 4:54 AM | link | 0 comments |

No He Did Not Just Say That

In a news story about an American Indian tribe's refusal to allow the members of Westboro Baptist Church (who, pastored by Fred Phelps, believe that soldiers' deaths are punishment from God for the country's tolerance of homosexuals) to protest outside the funeral of National Guard Cpl. Nathan Goodiron, the lawyer for the protesters said, "We don't go on private land."

He continued, "We don't get into anyone's private area."

NPH does't wish to make light of such ungodly hatemongers or the lawyers who represent them, but surely the irony of that statement could not be lost on Phelps and his flock of followers. "We don't get into anyone's private area."

Actually, y'all spend your entire lives in people's private areas.

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posted by Not Prince Hamlet, 4:47 AM | link | 0 comments |

Kiva

Friday, December 01, 2006

One of the coolest things around is micro-lending, the making of small loans to entrepeneurs in developing countries. Frontline did a piece about it (a piece that NPH has not yet viewed), and one of our favorite bloggers has written about it.

NPH and Mrs. NPH are planning on using Kiva gift certificates as Christmas gifts this year. Watch your mailbox.
posted by Not Prince Hamlet, 3:33 PM | link | 0 comments |

It's A Bird, It's A . . .



"What is that noise?" is a question that NPH and his wife have asked one another over the last several weeks, with an increasing degree of annoyance. Every night these shrieking, cawing, ticking noises have cascaded down 48th street from the heights of one of the street's many trees. Our best conclusions as to the origin of the racket were that it was either a lovesick bird or a dying squirrel.

Well, last night NPH discovered this notice taped to the front door of our apartment building. It turns out to be not a bird or a squirrel, but a recording. That's right, the property company that owns the condominium building behind the tree has been piping the sounds through a speaker. For what reason? Who knows?

Anyway, the notice on the door gave the number of the company and urged residents to call and complain, which we promptly did. Yet, as he was listening to the seemingly endless mailbos options on the company's voicemail system, NPH suddenly wondered, "Why am I doing this? Why complain? The noises don't bother me that much; in fact, once inside my apartment I can hardly hear them. So why even bother with it?" In the end, he left a complaining voicemail anyway, if only because the thought of a realty company polluting the idyllic nightime soundscape on the Plaza with phony jungle bird noises is perturbing. What reason could they possibly have for doing that?

Any guesses? The most creative guess wins a prize.

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posted by Not Prince Hamlet, 9:42 AM | link | 2 comments |