Playing a god: can religion and videogames mix?

Recently, a PlayStation 2 game has come under criticism – not for gratuitous violence or sex, but for religious reasons. Called Hanuman: Boy Warrior, the India-made and released game allows players to roleplay the adventures of Hanuman, a Hindu deity famous for defeating the villainous King Ravana.  At least one Hindu leader has taken offence:

“In a video game format, the player would control the destiny of Lord Hanuman while in reality, believers put their destinies in the hands of their deities, [Rajan Zed, president of the Universal Society of Hinduism] wrote.

“Controlling and manipulating Lord Hanuman with a joystick, button, keyboard, or mouse is ‘denigration'”, he added.

It should be noted that the game follows the ancient Hindu scriptures; one cannot make Hanuman steal cars or shoot bazookas. remarks that the real offence being perpetrated is that the game is pants.

I find this interesting. We’re going to see increased dialogue about these kind of topics as today’s interactive media is becoming more and more used as narrative devices. Is this truly different than tribal elders in ancient times, reenacting the great achievements of their gods in front of a raging bonfire?

Mind you, I’m sure Americans would be up in arms if you could roleplay Jesus in a video game – although no one raised an eyebrow when George Burns played you-know-who in the film Oh God!

Would the ancient Greeks have taken a dim view of God of War?

It will be a long road until videogaming is perceived from “callous pastime enjoyed by lazy youths” to a recognized genre of art. Until then, remember this – even the Gutenburg press was accused of the same, since people were busy using it to make pictures of naked people with it.

The death of the newspaper

Denver’s Rocky Mountain News closed its doors this month after 150 years. They blame the ascent of the Internet.

Ironically, they composed their farewell in the form of an Internet video:

Final Edition from Matthew Roberts on Vimeo.

Seriously though, the newspaper industry is being hit hard, having newer audiences moving on to Craigslist, blogs and online content. 3The last time I bought a newspaper was the copy of the Globe and Mail on the day my son was born. I’m starting to think the sheer novelty of reading news on thin tarp-like spreads of greyish paper will be enough for him.

Garbage in, garbage out

It doesn’t matter if your diet is low-carb or low-fat or “eat only white things”, according to a study by the National Heart, Lung, and Blood Institute published in the New England Journal of Medicine, all diets work if they cut calories.

The study may seem daft, yet unfailingly we humans will latch on any scheme or fads that comes along rather than acknowledge the fundamental facts.  Most diets work at least temporarily because they involve sustenance denial – that is, the forbidding of the consumption of a particular food or nutrient. Unfortunately, apathy and metabolism compensation means these diets eventually fail in the long run.  In the end, it’s all about portion control.

In politics, image is everything

Note to the Liberal Party: This is 2008. Video is serious business. Obama has his own YouTube Channel and pledges to release a video every week for crying out loud. Image is everything in politics, especially in controversial politics:

The Liberals have apologized for Liberal Leader Stephane Dion’s taped televised address, after it was delivered to Canadian networks almost an hour past deadline and in near-cellphone quality.

Second note: It’s not a good idea to stand up media – they will crucify you.

What a gas

Imagine you are a corporation that has been convicted by the Supreme Court of Canada of charging its customers illegal penalty fees. You’ve been penalized $22 million. How on earth are you going to pay for that?

Apparently if you’re Enbridge, Ontario’s primary natural gas provider, you charge your customers another fee:

Enbridge is set to charge its Ontario customers a new fee to help pay the costs of an out-of-court settlement. In 2004, the Supreme Court ruled against the gas company — for charging unfair fees.

How the TTC fought customer decency, and fortunately lost

The story begins with a public transit system and a lawyer. The story is interesting because the lawyer is the David to the transit’s Goliath. He’s David Lepofsky, a blind lawyer who in 1995 had a simple request for the Toronto Transit Commission (TTC): can you ask the drivers to call out the subway stops over the train’s PA system?

The TTC flatly refused, claiming calling stops would be “a hardship” and a “potential safety risk” to their drivers.

Lepofsky brought his case to the Ontario Human Rights Tribunal. So began two legal battles took twelve years.

The court discovered that the TTC rules and regulations already dictate drivers must call stops. And a few decent TTC employees always have. It’s even written in the TTC Ride Guide, a free pamphlet and transit map given to transit riders. Every transit vehicle is already equipped with mike and public announcement system. Some buses are even equipped with fancy flexible boom mikes for hands-free use.

In 2005, the tribunal ruled in favour of Lepofsky regarding subway stops. This Wednesday, the adjudicator ruled in favour of extending announcements to TTC streetcars and buses as well. Justice Alvin Rosenberg did not have happy thoughts about the TTC:

Rosenberg also ordered the TTC to pay Lepofsky $35,000, even though the lawyer did not request financial compensation. He says he will donate the money to charity.

“The TTC should have asked themselves many years ago, `What can we do to help? How can we accommodate these visually impaired patrons?’ Instead they resisted with all the means at their disposal…”

All total, the chronically cash-strapped TTC spent 12 years and $500,000 fighting the rulings. Let me rephrase this: the TTC spent half a million of Toronto taxpayers’ dollars fighting blind people.

But it appears the TTC will be able to stay mum. Instead of ordering drivers to do what they are already supposed to do (and that many already do), the TTC has spent an additional $2 million installing a computer voice into every subway train.

The Myanmar regime is pants

Protests against the recent crackdown on Buddhist monks in Burma by the military dictatorship have gone below the belt. Lanna Action for Burma has called for the women of the world to send their underwear to Myanmar embassies:

The group, Lanna Action for Burma, says the country’s superstitious generals, especially junta leader Gen. Than Shwe, also believe that contact with women’s underwear saps them of power…

Hilton said women in Thailand, Australia, Singapore, England and other European countries have started sending or delivering their underwear to Myanmar missions following informal coordination among activist organizations and individuals.

I can get behind that kind of action. 🙂

P.S. For the record, the country is called Burma. I don’t know why North American mainstream media keep calling it Myanmar. That’s the name the military junta simply made up. If North Korea suddenly and unilaterally changed its name to Super Awesome Land, would CNN follow their lead? Doubt it.

Poetry in sweet, sweet motion – quantified by math

Cambridge University has calculated the optimal waist-to-hips ratio of the sexy woman is 0.7. Notable real world examples include Marilyn Monroe, Jessica Alba and Venus de Milo.

This echoes preliminary findings made in the 1990s by Seattle scholar Sir Mix-a-Lot, who in his uniquely audio dissertation also pointed out optimal environment and lifestyle factors to obtaining your own “motor in the back of your behind”:

# Expand your fitness regime beyond sidesteps and sit-ups
# Refrain dining on red beans and rice
# Ignore beauty advice from Cosmopolitan Magazine