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Not Prince Hamlet

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

Walking to Work II

Sunday, March 30, 2008

When was the last time you saw a baby possum? Two baby possums?

Add these to the list of snails, dogs, cats, and rabbits I've encountered en route from home to work.
posted by Not Prince Hamlet, 6:04 AM | link | 0 comments |

Walking to Work

Friday, March 14, 2008

I walked to the church four times this week. I'd started to let myself go the first four weeks of my employment there, so walking to work is a finger in the fat dam.

But it's so much more. It's 25 minutes each way, nearly an hour every day to listen to great stuff. Like a couple of sermons preached by my friend (search the speakers for Joshua McPaul). And last week's This American Life. And the latest Cell Phone Junkie podcast. Seriously, it's been a great week just for the audio.

But I've been sticking my camera in my bag on the way out the door, so there's some things to see. Like this snail. He was waiting right outside my door yesterday morning.

And then there was this cat, who sat and watched me walk with hardly a thought.

And this dog that followed me half-way up the block.

And then, most odd, a pair of rabbits and a cat on someone's front lawn. The cat was astride one of the rabbits, gnawing playfully at its neck. The other rabbit hopped away, and the cat looked up at me and meowed.

To think you miss all the stuff when you drive.
posted by Not Prince Hamlet, 6:37 AM | link | 3 comments |

My Two Minutes and 30 Seconds of Fame

Thursday, March 13, 2008

They put my question on the podcast.

OMG, I'm never going to wash my computer again.

So, I've been on this cellphone kick for months now, researching not only phones, but service providers, plans, and the industry at large. I'm fascinated. And there's no better source for news, reviews, and commentary about the mobile phone industry than CNET, with its sturdy stable of experts Kent German, Bonnie Cha, and Nicole Lee. Seriously, watching Bonnie review the Nokia N95 almost warrants one of those family filters on my computer; it's dizzying.

A few weeks ago I started listening to their podcast. It's pure nerd candy, and it drives the wife nuts. I gleefully crossed that line between consumer and cook last week, when I actually emailed the podcast a question.

Today, the gods of cellphonia answered. Click this link and skip ahead to the 27:28 (roughly 3/4 of the way through) mark to hear it.

Here's the blurb from the podcast's shownotes:
Rocky from Pomona, CA wants to decide between a standalone point and shoot camera or a good-quality camera phone like the Nokia N91. However, it is very expensive, and Kent and Bonnie suggest to go with a cheap and portable point and shoot over an expensive camera phone.
Stop judging me!

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posted by Not Prince Hamlet, 10:52 PM | link | 0 comments |

Gone Baby Gone (Baby Gone)

Sunday, March 09, 2008

This week's writing experiment was a review: a personal response to some artwork.

I chose to write a reflection on "Gone Baby Gone," which I saw a few weeks ago (thanks to Redbox) and haven't stopped thinking about.

“You’ve got to stand for something, or you’ll fall for anything,” has been uttered by more than a few country singers, grandparents, and candidates for elected office. The saying is true, as far as it goes, but there is a shortsightedness in it that is often concealed by its popularity, and the masses seemed to have gone to great lengths to fall for it.

The aphorisms great defect is not that it wildly untrue, but, worse, that it is almost true. What is true is that some of the greatest human tragedies have been orchestrated by people standing for something. Abolitionists may have stood for the inherent equality of people, but slavery’s apologists also stood for something; they stood for states’ rights. And despite what history wishes to be true about them, the Nazis were not motivated by a lack of principle. They trampled an entire race with hardly a look because they were making such a show of standing for things, namely tribe and tradition.

If we were to tweak the line so as to make it more true, we might say that you’ve got to stand not for something but for the right things, else you might fall not for anything but for the wrong things.

“Gone Baby Gone,” the 2007 film written by Ben Affleck and Aaron Stockard, and based on the novel by Dennis Lehane, tells the story of a young private detective struggling to stand for the right things. Investigating the case of a disappeared little girl, he discovers the brutal difficulty of that struggle. For while he would fight for right, others would just as passionately fight for wrong; and you often can’t tell who’s fighting for what.

The movie is engrossing, with its cast balanced between the Ed Harris’s and Morgan Freeman’s of the dramatic establishment alongside vital new talents Casey Affleck and Michelle Monaghan. The actors work within a compelling range of expression and restraint to bring to life a screenplay that depends heavily on an economy of dialogue. Add to that the textured soundtrack and gritty cinematography, and the story’s Boston streets come alive as one of “Gone Baby Gone”’s most important characters.

But back to our aphorism. The world of “Gone Baby Gone” is one where the struggle between what is right and what is wrong courses through every move. But the plot is deepened by these little revelations along the way that “right” and “wrong” are somewhat simplistic ideas, and that to lean too heavily on them as clear-cut polar opposites is to put the people one seeks to protect is mortal danger.

In the end, the conflict at the heart of the film is not between right and wrong, but between right and less right. It is a struggle to discern between a menu of potential goods: family, security, innocence, and the rule of law. In the story, as in life, all the goods don’t go together, and to act in favor of one of them is to imperil the rest of them. And the great value of “Gone Baby Gone” is the ambivalence it inspires towards its characters’ decisions. The good guys may very well be getting it wrong, and the bad guys are not trying to be bad at all but good, which makes everyone either a hero or a criminal.

It’s a picture of everyone standing for something and the ongoing human confusion over what is good and what is less good. And to the victor go no spoils, only second guesses.
posted by Not Prince Hamlet, 9:59 PM | link | 1 comments |

Frontline Does It Again

Saturday, March 08, 2008

I've made no secret of my love for Frontline, the PBS public affairs program. One of its chief merits is that one can watch it without a tv; most of their reports are online.

Last night I watched one that aired in late January, a Rachel Dretzin-written piece called "Growing Up Online." It's a look at the adolescent engagement with the internet and the many, many issues that engagement has to raise. The trailer above lists those out pretty well.

One issue that really caught my attention is the one of schools shifting their modes of instruction to accommodate a generation of young people who have been raised with interactive technology. The producers visited a high school that has installed smart boards in all of its classrooms, and they talked to teachers and administrators who conceded a complete surrender of the curriculum to the agenda of interactive technology.

That strikes me as a mistake. That it is a mistake is, I think, illustrated by an interview with a student who admits to using Sparknotes to read all of his literature assignments. "I know it would be good for me to read all these books," he says (and I'm paraphrasing), "But there aren't enough hours in the day. If there were 27 hours in a day, I would. But there's not. There's only 24, so I don't."

The obvious reality that needs pointing out is that no, you wouldn't, not if there were 27 hours in a day or 97 hours in a day. The technological pattern that shapes our lives (the irony of this observation is not escaping this blogger, don't worry) takes everything. It leaves no room for anything else. Only by a willful act of disconnecting from it does one create space for other habits, be they the reading of Shakespeare or anything else, and that only with some time and effort. The technological pattern wears us out.

And the tragedy of an educational curriculum entirely handed over to the biases of interactive technology is that the teachers have ceded the methodology entirely to the predispositions of their students. They have failed to challenge those technologies. They have run from the fight over whether those technologies aid learning, and they have fallen for the classic myth of the separation of content from medium. But the medium is the message, so these teachers have handed over the message entirely to a technological agenda that compresses everything into manageable bodies of content.

Should education not, instead, model an alternative? Should teachers not make learning about engaging with material (be they literary texts, numbers, or points on a map) as directly as possible? Should classrooms not be spaces that are set aside, both physically and mentally, for learning to take place? And should learning not be distinguished in mode and method from entertainment?

Watch the full program, "Growing Up Online," here.
posted by Not Prince Hamlet, 5:52 PM | link | 2 comments |

Portrait of A Saint

Sunday, March 02, 2008

One of my first ventures as Associate Pastor is to lead a Lenten small group called, "Writing As A Spiritual Practice." We're doing writing exercises together on Sunday mornings, trying to write a little bit every day on our own, and experimenting every week with different "spiritual" compositions.

One such experiment is to write a description of a "saint."

Here is my crack at that testy little genre.

Portrait of a Saint
Rooms opened up with him in them, and there were no strangers. His broad, bearded smile swallowed centuries of fear. Owing to his religiosity, religion fell apart in his presence; his sturdy citizenship took in the world. And the world was never so divided as his own back yard.

He stood on a boundary line, forsaking a security that was rightfully his so that some larger purpose might have its way. He suffered for it, as Christ knows a saint must suffer. If all of heaven was in song when the Son emptied himself of divine vestments to be born in human likeness, the Falls was not singing when one of its own sons shed the Tricolour to be born among the prods. They threw rocks through his windows. They shot his daughter.

Still he stayed. His wife’s nerves gone to hell, and his daughter’s spine pierced by a riot-born bullet, and still the Irishman refuses to yield to the violence that is tearing his community apart. Not that the bullets and rocks miss the mark; his soul is pocked with dents and scuffs. His memory is thick with scar tissue. The lyrical Belfast brogue gives way, sometimes, to a heavy silence, and he stares for hours at the fibers in the carpet or a saucer.

He is impatient as the devil with the cheek of his countrymen. A fidgety, toothless neighbor from down Clonard way who hasn’t worked for years comes to his door every day to eat his bananas and yogurt. He speaks rudely to the company, then slams the door behind him as he leaves with nary a word of thanks. The saint runs his rigid hands over his face and moans at the reverberating door, then slumps to evening prayer.

The dogs on his street leave their droppings on the sidewalk in direct defiance of properly posted signs, and it is they who burden him with the heaviest cross. He stands on the side of his house hosing off the bottom of his shoe again. He looks in the kitchen window at me washing the evening dishes and shakes the exhibit in the air, dangerously close to his reddened face, and pronounces, “I’m sick to death with this!”

This, I think, is the hair shirt that will finally strip away his skin, the irritant to which he will abandon these streets to the devil’s own devices, the stigmata that will devour his faith. Fires and funerals have had their crack at the man and failed; they got in their shots, but they could not topple him. Strikes and protests, murders and threats, the spitting contempt of old ladies and the wide-eyed glee of wicked children: he has survived them all. Only, I fear, to be done in by the dog poop that peppers the Via Delarosa he has worn bare these many years with determined steps.

He punches his foot back into the dripping shoe, and I wonder through the window: was Moses ever tempted to abandon the wilderness over a goat apple? Did Jesus himself ever step in it, then pause a long, hard second before putting his foot back down and stepping one step closer to Jerusalem?

posted by Not Prince Hamlet, 6:44 AM | link | 2 comments |