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Not Prince Hamlet

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

More Guns

Sunday, April 29, 2007

NPH flipped the channel away from the Royals game this afternoon to find a live action local news break about a shooting at a local mall. It's the mall we drive right past nearly every single day, and the locale of our local Target store. It's where we got our cell phone. It's where the wife meets with a group of colleagues to study for the medical board exams. It's where NPH bought a pair of sandals not three weeks ago.

Hardly anything is known about it at this point, since it only happened about 45 minutes ago.

If the cover of the most recent Presbyterian Outlook wasn't unsettling enough already, it looks even worse now. Is the church somehow complicit in our culture's media narrative about guns?
posted by Not Prince Hamlet, 2:33 PM | link | 0 comments |

Letter to The Editor

Wednesday, April 25, 2007

NPH had a letter to the editor published in the local paper on Tuesday, April 24th (scroll down to "OK to rush to judgment).

What started as an unsolicited and not-a-little self righteous "guest editorial" ended up being a 200 word letter. You take what you can get, and hopefully you don't embarrass yourself.
posted by Not Prince Hamlet, 2:30 PM | link | 1 comments |

Steve(gis) and Kathy (Lee)

Friday, April 20, 2007

Here's the link to the Steve and Kathy Show, the show for which we did a man-on-the-street interview earlier this week.

Seriously, the thought that NPH would appear on a video montage of this show is absolutely mortifying. Click "This Week's Episode" to see what we mean.
posted by Not Prince Hamlet, 11:55 AM | link | 1 comments |

Not Exactly Jay Leno

Wednesday, April 18, 2007

NPH and his wife took an innocent jaunt for cheesecake this evening that ended with NPH mistaking Pope Benedict for Jack Kavorkian in front of a television camera.

Lots of people in blue button up shirts and a couple of cameramen standing on a Plaza street corner looked like the perfect weeknight diversion. As we walked by, one of the blue shirts asked us if we'd like to answer some questions for a new TV show. NPH could see what was going on, as a short, ruddy white guy with a crop cut showed pictures of political figures in an obvious hope for a display of ignorance. But it looked kinda fun, so we said, "Sure. We'll go on TV and be made a fool of."

Plus, we had 30 minutes to kill before American Idol.

We were given a waiver to sign, giving the show permission to use our image and name. We signed it mindlessly, asking as we did such basic questions as, "So are you guys a locally produced show? Where else has your show been on? When is it starting?" Yeah, the blue shirt said, it's locally produced, and, yeah, it's been on in some other cities, and it starts here in about a month. Then she gave us a flyer with info about when the show airs and on what channel. Then we looked at the flyer.

Then it got interesting.

There in our hand was a flyer with "World Revival Church" and a cheesy picture of the two people standing in front of me interviewing people (cheesy like standing back-to-back cheesy). Inside were details about worship service times and the church's pastoral staff, all of whom were white men with titles like, "Overseer of Uprising Music" and "Associate Pastor of Evangelism and Intercessory Prayer."

The whole thing came into focus pretty clearly after that. What we were dealing with was a conservative church TV production that was seeking to illustrate the average American's ignorance of politics. It was good to know that going in.

Here's what Steve asked your favorite third person-referring blogger:
  • What is a liberal? What is a conservative?
  • What do the words IRS stand for?
  • What does Congress do?
Then he showed us a series of pictures and asked us to identify the people in them. Laura Bush, Harry Reid, Condoleeza Rice ("Should she run for President?"), Tony Snow, and a white-haired man with deep set eyes who we couldn't quite recognize. So we asked, "Is that Jack Kavorkian?"

If they were looking for ignorant Americana, NPH gave them all they could handle.

We nervously looked to the wife, who was desperately mouthing "It's The Pope!" from a few feet away. But the damage was done. We had already been made a pawn of the religious right.

In reality, the wife has repeatedly assured us that we actually smacked ol' Steve down, easily recognizing every other picture. She even said it was sexy. Take that Steve.

And please don't show the video of NPH.

Really. Please.
posted by Not Prince Hamlet, 5:54 PM | link | 1 comments |

A Hunch

NPH has a hunch that the mass shooting that happened on Monday is of a type. It's a type of violent crime that is unique in its own right and is quite distinct from most other types of violent crime involving guns. It gets carried out by an individual or a small group who are motivated by an interior sense of isolation and a grievance against the collective culture. They are not "criminals" in the classic sense, and so gun-control measures aimed at keeping them out of the hands of criminals won't stop them (the VT shooter passed the required background check to purchase his gun).

Secondly, and more to the policy point, they aren't gun buyers or gun owners. They buy their guns to be used once. They're like the 9/11 hijackers in that they don't need to learn how to land. NPH mentions this because gun-control measures always come up against that mass of gun owners who defend their right to bear arms. We need to somehow distinguish, legislatively, between the average gun-owner and the person who's only got one use for it.

How do we do that? Surely it can be done, and we look forward to learning how.
posted by Not Prince Hamlet, 3:12 PM | link | 1 comments |

Insights from The Internet: Smaller Is Better?

Church of the Customer links to a whitepaper today that says that, in the world of online communities, the fewer the participants the greater the contribution of those participants. Communispace, a company that specializes in creating online communities for companies around certain products, studied 66 different private online communities (totaling over 26,000 participants) and found that roughly 86 % of people who logged on to online communities with an average size of 300-500 participants contributed content to the site.

So the smaller the community, the more its member actually participate in it.

NPH wants to pursue this insight into the emerging online space a little bit. What might this say to the "declining" brick-and-mortar space of the small church? Most people in small churches would probably agree that there's a relationship between the intimacy of a community and its activism; when you know most of the people in your church by name, you're more likely to join with them to get stuff done. Paid staff can't be relied on to do as much as in a "large" church, so the members themselves contribute a lot of content, to put it one way.

But what more is there here? What actually constitutes "small" in the world of churches? In the world of online communities small is 300-500 members, which is no doubt a "large" church.

And what does "contributing content" look like in a congregation? Volunteering? Leading worship? Teaching a Bible study? Bringing a casserole to the pot luck?

There's a good conversation to be had here, one that lifts up the virtue of smallness when it comes to the church's task of cultivating community.
posted by Not Prince Hamlet, 6:12 AM | link | 2 comments |

Settle Down?

NPH wants to relatavise the value of "calm" and "objectivity" in the wake of the Virginia Tech shootings on Monday. Starting with a White House spokesperson, then proceeding to Senate Majority Leader Reid, and now fully permeating the blogosphere, the assertion that the country needs to avoid a rush to judgment and a fresh battle on gun control makes NPH a little sick.

Consider this quote from the uber-blogger, Atrios: " if people want to kill people and don't care if they get killed or caught they're going to kill people."

Yes, but the elephant in the middle of the university is that, without the easily availability of firearms, those people aren't going to be able to kill people as easily. NPH wonders if he's the only one who thinks the existence of the debate itself points to the need for an un-objective solution. I mean, how many times does a public have to endure the same kind of tragedy before it stops treating the nature of that tragedy as a debating point and instead FIXES THE DAMNED PROBLEM.

Blacksburgh, Columbine, Nickel Mines, Paducah . . .

The list goes on and on, and it's only going to grow. And that despite the assertion of another blogger that mass killings, given the availability of weaponry in this country, are "blissfully rare." Sorry? What was that? Blissfully rare? Forget for a moment the leap required to place "mass killing" and "blissful" in the same sentence and try to answer the question the assertion begs: how often would these incidents have to happen for it to be an actual problem? This is the second one in about six months.

And do we need to observe that, for the friends and relatives of those dead and for those survivors who leapt from windows and played dead, it's not "rare" at all. It will recur for them every day for the rest of their life.

"Guns don't kill people; people kill people." What other industry, what other lobby, what other interest would be allowed to simply explain away the cause of killing so glibly without some kind of public outcry or legislative avalanche? What other product has to defend itself against the connection between itself and lots and lots of killing?

Can anyone imagine the auto industry suggesting that since, "cars don't kill people; people kill people," everybody ought to be legally allowed to drive a car, regardless of age?

NPH thinks that to posture for "objectivity" and "cool heads" right now is stupid, stupid, stupid. Further, we suspect that it's self-interested (every politician knows that gun control is a no-win election issue). How would the FAA appear if it made such appeals in the wake of the 9/11 attacks? We didn't hear anybody calling for "cool heads" as the airport security protocol got completely overhauled.

Here's where our rambling lands: now is the time to act. In the wake of tragedy, when emotions are at their most raw, when we are most horrified, is the time to attack the horror. Trust the rage. Trust the disgust. That reaction is the most reliable guide in deciding how to fix this. Once cooler heads prevail, then the people who died are simply names on a list and the country simply shrugs its shoulders--until the next time.
posted by Not Prince Hamlet, 5:14 AM | link | 0 comments |

Vacation Soundtrack

Sunday, April 15, 2007

Joshua Radin's new record has served as a sort of soundtrack for NPH's vacation this week. Here's the video for one of the tracks on that record, "closer." The video was directed by Zach Braff.

Friends compared his sound to Simon and Garfunkel. NPH can't disagree.

posted by Not Prince Hamlet, 6:10 PM | link | 0 comments |

Vacation: over

NPH has been on vacation this week, and now it's over. What have we done (besides blog more-than-one-ought about Imus)? Nothing. Gloriously nothing. Which has led us to a realization: we are an extrovert in the classic Myers-Briggs sense of the term. We need other people around to re-charge and relax. A day of solo reading and blogging in coffeeshops is nice. Two is pleasant. But any more than that is downright oppressive. Our best moments during our vacation were spent with other people, primarily the wife, but also Andre, Lydia, Jeff, Brian, Landon, Jerilyn, Troy, Chad, and Jarrett.

NPH has brilliant friends.

Vacation Catan record: 1 win, 2 losses.
posted by Not Prince Hamlet, 5:54 PM | link | 1 comments |

Kansas City's Own

Saturday, April 14, 2007

Jason Whitlock has been a staple in the Kansas City media scene for years, and not all for good reasons. Actually, for a lot of bad reasons. NPH remembers when a staff writer for the Star told him and a group of Kansas sports writers (back in 1997) how Whitlock wrote off the cuff, was rude to his colleagues, and was generally a bad guy to work with.

That being said, here he is offering a distinctive take on the Imus affair. Now, it's not lost on NPH that many viewers will be unimpressed by accolades of "impressive" from somebody as embedded in the white media establishment as Tucker Carlson, but Carlson's fawning aside, Whitlock's critique speaks to aspects of the controversy that are being overlooked by the rest of the media.

Foremost of those aspects is the fact that Imus (who Whitlock does not like) has sincerely and repeatedly apologized, and that the people to whom he has apologized and from whom he has sought forgiveness and reconciliation, two ministers, have denied him forgiveness. Further, they have made use of him for their own agenda.

You may not like Whitlock's take. There are parts of it that NPH is a little iffy about. But it's more nuanced than most of what's being thrown around, and we think there's some value to that.

posted by Not Prince Hamlet, 11:42 AM | link | 0 comments |

Imus and The Race Debate

NPH had a good conversation with a friend yesterday about what is actually at stake, culturally, in the Don Imus controversy (Imus was fired by CBS on Thursday). Our friend thoughtfully articulated the position that what Imus said was flat-out racist and exactly not the kind of thing that "just anybody" is likely to say at any given point. Our friend is right. Our friend is smart.

What NPH was playing with was the notion that Imus' crime was as much a crime of misappropriation as it was of mis-belief. It's not, NPH wants to suggest, that the shock jock was caught out in revealing something with his mouth about his inner character, something that is reprehensible and intolerable for anybody, least of all someone in Imus' profession. Instead, he took the liberty of appropriating a piece of cultural slang in an inappropriate way (read: he's white) and in a very inappropriate context.

There is racism behind that kind of misappropriation, no doubt. But it's a particular kind of racism, a sort of privileged, lazy, careless racism. That's not the same kind of thing as the neo-nazi brand of militant racism, racism that is full of hate and that seeks to destroy people of any race not their own. Racism is racism, and NPH thinks people are morally bound to oppose it in all its forms. Yet NPH also thinks that there's some room for nuance in a case like this, so that we don't paint a dopey loud-mouthed entertainer with the same brush as we paint The Klan.

This Week's On The Media has a great interview with Leon Wynter pursuing this very tack. Wynter, who blogs at The American Race, grants that Imus' misappropriated a piece of cultural slang, but also adds that more than "slang" is at stake. The phrase Imus used has a history, a history of crushing African American women beneath the weight of white European standards of beauty. NPH has to acknowledge that our "nuanced" position took no account of that.
posted by Not Prince Hamlet, 9:02 AM | link | 0 comments |

Ira Glass The Preacher

Thursday, April 12, 2007

Nancy Franklin of The New Yorker has a piece about This American Life's morphing into television. It's a favorable piece, by and large, except for her critique of Glass's voice, which she artfully dubs a "rushing staccato mumble."

Well said.

What NPH finds compelling about the piece is Franklin's candid admission of her annoyance with the sacrosanct radio show. It has to do, this annoyance, with TAL's sermonic character, a character best illustrated in Glass's own words: “It’s the structure, essentially, of a sermon; you hear a little story from the Bible, then the clergyperson tells you what it means.”

To which Franklin replies, "Well, no wonder my head is exploding—meaning is being forced into it. When it comes to meaning, I prefer to grow my own."

NPH thinks Glass has a bad understanding of preaching and that Franklin has a bad understanding of This American Life. No good sermon simply tells you what a "little story" from the Bible means; it brings you into the story, explicates it and unfolds the character of God within it. Further, only some of the Bible is story. A sermon's also got to deal with poetry and argument.

And This American Life hardly forces meaning into your head. It tells stories and suggests a common theme or topic. Oftentimes NPH listens to a piece and things, "Wait: that doesn't really fit the theme they say it does." And that's okay. It's a listener's prerogative to take or leave the meaning suggested by the narrator. I mean, can a radio show really "force" any kind of meaning into your head?
posted by Not Prince Hamlet, 7:13 PM | link | 0 comments |

Viable Third

Wednesday, April 11, 2007

(Hat tip: Kansas City Soil)

Check out this local project, Viable Third. The project is seeking to improve life in a blighted urban community by pledging to not spend any money outside of it.
posted by Not Prince Hamlet, 8:40 AM | link | 0 comments |

Commercials as Entertainment

NPH is on vacation this week, enabling him to indulge in such luxuries as American Idol. Incidentally, the real entertainment during Fox's broadcast last night was not the parade of magnificently mediocre Idol wannabees, but rather Oleg the Cab Driver, the star of Fox's innovative eight-second commercial pods.

Viewers were treated to Oleg talking to Rosie O'Donnell and Oleg ripping on Donald Trump's hair. The spots actually started the night before on Fox's broadcast of 24, and the network plans to continue through the rest of the week.

Read about it here.

And watch two clips here:



What NPH finds intriguing about the spots is that they're not attached to any advertiser. They are original programming content run during the commercial breaks with the sole objective of keeping viewers from changing the channel or skipping through the ads via their DVR. Of course, their launch runs strangely close to the start of the Nielson ratings blitz, which has some people calling it nothing more than a stunt.

But NPH is intrigued. We think there's a real possibility here for television advertising time to be changed into something else. Could it be that viewers habits (aided by new technology) of skipping out on ads has finally caught the attention of programmers, so that the 30 second ad spot will soon be a thing of the past?

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posted by Not Prince Hamlet, 8:05 AM | link | 1 comments |

Imus

Monday, April 09, 2007

It's a weighty matter, this Don Imus racial slur, and NPH thinks that neither the un-nuanced tarring and feathering nor the knee-jerk defensiveness is going to do any good. Here's what NPH thinks.

First, Imus said what he said. He called a basketball team full of African American women "nappy-headed hoes." Though the remark was made in the context of his shock comedy radio show, NPH doesn't think context explains the remark. It's inexcusable anywhere.

Second, Imus has profusely apologized (here on Friday and that here again today)for the remark, taking full responsibility and not bagging it with the standard issue "if I offended anyone" line. He's said it was wrong. He's said it was stupid. He's said it was inexcusable and he doesn't know why he said it. Further, he went on Al Sharpton's radio show (read the transcript here) knowing that Sharpton has called for Imus' firing. As far as public apologies go, especially public apologies for racist remarks, Imus is the best, most sincere NPH has ever seen.

Third, Sharpton and other African American figures who have called for Imus' firing have a good argument. These are men with daughters, and when Imus what he said they heard an insult to all African American women. Their calls for his firing are not over-the-top, and they're not opportunistic. They simply want some accountability.

So NPH (who listens to Imus whenever he can--though not last Wednesday) thinks that a firing (or at least a very serious suspension) is in order. No, Imus is not a racist, but, as a public figure with a massive popular following, he's got to be held to some kind of standard. You just can't say that kind of thing and walk away with a mea culpa, no matter how sincere or public it is.

At this point NPH would gain respect for him if he resigned.
posted by Not Prince Hamlet, 3:57 PM | link | 4 comments |

You Know What He Did?

One of the best reasons for the end of the Lenten blog hiatus. NPH has been struggling to not let this cat out of the bag.

posted by Not Prince Hamlet, 1:00 PM | link | 2 comments |

Acquire The What?

Jeff Sharlet's "The Revealer" is one of the best things out there for people interested in the interaction of culture and religion. Sharlet has written for a handful of major publications, and is regularly featured on programs like "On The Media."

He has a piece in the upcoming edition of Rolling Stone about the BattleCry campaign, a series of rallies enlisting teenagers in a fundamentalist "army" to do battle against "secularism" in all of its forms. If you've seen the documentary Jesus Camp, then this will seem like little more than an adolescent version of the same thing. But there's more going on here. They're both playing on the easily-stoked guilt of young people, but BattleCry involves teenagers in consciously pledging themselves to a puritannical "anti-secular" lifestyle that any reader will recognize as impossible to sustain (which is why, as the abstinence people have discovered, having kids take pledges just doesn't work).

NPH is interested in the phenomenon because we get material at the church for this kind of stuff all the time, most commonly for what are called "Acquire The Fire" rallies. As far as youth ministry goes, these people are the most enterprising and aggressive marketers out there. Which is interesting, because one of the genuine virtues of the BattleCry rhetoric seems to be its attention on the influence on media, marketing, and electronic culture on kids. Sharlett says on this week's On The Media that Luce's media critique is essentially the same as the one he got in his "Godless . . . leftless . . . media history course in college."

Consider this quote from Sharlet's piece:

When you enlist in the military, there's a code of honor," Luce preaches, "same as being a follower of Christ." His Christian code requires a "wartime mentality": a "survival orientation" and a readiness to face "real enemies." The queers and communists, feminists and Muslims, to be sure, but also the entire American cultural apparatus of marketing and merchandising, the "techno-terrorists" of mass media, doing to the morality of a generation what Osama bin Laden did to the Twin Towers. "Just as the events of September 11th, 2001, permanently changed our perspective on the world," Luce writes, "so we ought to be awakened to the alarming influence of today's culture terrorists. They are wealthy, they are smart, and they are real."

Yet kids who attend these rallies (drawn, first of all, by a glossy church mailer or the lure of a big headliner band) pass by tables full of merchandise they can buy, from cd's to T-shirts to hoodies to baseball caps.

The tension at the heart of it seems to be that it wants to shout down every form of "modern" and "secular" culture, yet in order to do that it has to depend on very modern and very secular techniques of marketing and publicity. I mean, what's more modern than a massive rally? Ever since the early revivals in America, evangelical Christians have depended heavily on the spectacle of the rally to coerce conversion and commitment. It's thoroughly modern. Furthermore, it doesn't work.

Which is why NPH is not all that worried about Ron Luce and his campaign to enlist teenagers in a "Holy War." Teenagers are more resistant to this kind of garbage than hucksters like Luce can recognize.

Note: hear Sharlett's interview with Bob Garfield of On The Media here.

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posted by Not Prince Hamlet, 8:49 AM | link | 2 comments |

It's Time To Come Back

Whew. That was a long time.

It was a good, long, time.

It was no too-busy-to-post stretch either. It was an intentional hiatus from blogland, both writing and reading, that lasted from Ash Wednesday to yesterday, Easter. It was a lenten discipline. And as far as those disciplines go, it was beneficial. With the time he had been spending cycling through blogs and looking for things to post about, NPH substituted a good deal more book and magazine reading. The Christian Century had some great pieces, as did the Presbyterian Outlook, including this one by San Francisco Theological Seminary President Phil Butin.

As far as book reading goes, NPH got stuck into an Emergent YS publication, "The Out of Bounds Church?" by Steve Taylor, as well as Stephen Fowl's "Engaging Scripture," Lewis Mumford's "Technics and Civilization," and Kenda Creasy Dean's "Practicing Passion." Did NPH finish any of those books yet? No. But we're squarely engaged in all of them.

Oh, and we re-watched, in about 20 minute increments, our favorite movie ever.

As we've found with other lenten abstentions (most notably coffee and car radio), staying away from blogs and blogging actually takes away the appetite for it. You get to where you don't miss it. And so when you start it up again you're quite conscious about it, and you tell yourself that you're not going to let it come to dominate your life and attention as it had before. All the while, you know that it probably will.

Perhaps it's a step in the right direction that NPH refused to get back on the blog this morning until he had left the house and gone to a nearby coffeeshop.

Or maybe that's just what we're telling ourselves. In any case, good to be back.
posted by Not Prince Hamlet, 7:27 AM | link | 1 comments |