Idol Chatter

Idol Chatter

Fighting Evil (Nonviolently), One Player at a Time

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It’s been blamed for sparking aggression and contributing to American kids’ obesity, but now the beleagured videogame is being given a higher purpose: Toppling dictatorships and spreading human rights through nonviolent struggle. No, “Doom” has not suddenly gone soft. This game is called “A Force More Powerful,” and you will not find it at your neighborhood arcade. AFMP is intended to help those on the frontlines of nonviolent political and social movements to hone their skills at planning strategy and pulling off effective actions that further their cause.

I got a glimpse of the game at a demonstration for representatives of the press and NGOs. Among those showing it off was Ivan Marovic, a leader of the Serbian resistance that toppled Slobodan Milosavic. These days he’s working with the International Center on Nonviolent Conflict, which produced the game.

Though AFMP seemed amazingly complicated, its worth at simulating real-life scenarios was obvious. The game offers several scenarios to choose from–such as “Corruption Is Stealing,” “Bringing Down a Dictator,” and “Eternal Vigilance” (preventing a democracy from sliding into dictatorship). Each takes place in a fictional country for which you are given all sorts of information, such as economic indicators, unemployment rates, and political realities. And if you’ve got a lot of data–and time and patience–you can set up your own scenario that more exactly reflects your own situation.

You, the player, control people (only “the good guys,” no choosing to be a villain here), groups, and an alliance of groups that makes up your movement. The game offers more than 65 actions you can take, from raising money and publishing a website to mass protests and civil disobedience. For each person and group you control, the game tells you at every point what their core competencies are, how high their enthusiasm for your cause is, and how high their fear level is. You can see maps of the country showing where your support is the highest and of each major city showing the street grid and major buildings.

Tempted to go directly for the jugular and halt traffic throughout the capital city today? Not so fast. If people’s fear level is too high, or their enthusiasm too low, no one will show up. Better to take actions to ease their fears or renew their commitment to the cause. Even if the masses do turn out, better hope they’re well trained: You can’t resort to violence, but the regime sure can. But if the plan does backfire, you can always send the organizer abroad to avoid arrest and publicize your cause there.

The demonstration I saw–like this description–only began to display all that AFMP had to offer. AFMP set up an online community area for players to share notes and learn from each other, and there are future improvements to the game planned. So if you know anyone looking to learn how to topple a dictator–or maybe you’re looking to learn how to topple a dictator–check out “A Force More Powerful” to hone your skills.

Burqa Chic?

posted by donna freitas

The most recent Paris Fashion Week has sparked controversy among fashion critics and feminists alike, not so much over what the models were wearing on their bodies, but instead, what they were wearing on–or over–their heads.

The burqa (the most extreme style of covering worn by Muslim women) and the hijab (veil) have apparently been inspiring couture designers to cover and even confine women’s heads, faces, and even entire bodies as they make their way down the catwalk. Some of these head coverings have prompted audiences to wonder if the models are even able to see.

Robin Givhan of “The Washington Post” reported about the show causing the most controversy of all that:

At the presentation of the presciently named Undercover collection Monday evening, models stepped into the spotlight with their heads wrapped tightly, unforgivingly and, one must admit, artfully in fabric with all the translucence of a pillowcase. Could the models in Undercover even see where they were walking? Several of them wandered just a bit off-track, bumping shoulders and even meandering into the audience seating area until redirected by a handler. Each model’s entire head was bound in fabric–black, brown or white–with only tiny pinholes for air. The fabric was knotted in back–or at what one assumed to be the back of the head–in the manner of a tight chignon. Sometimes the fabric was pierced with silver rings and charms, like those worn by a tribal warrior or some disaffected teen aspiring to lead a punk band.

The affect of this display on the audience watching?

There is a lot of anger… because the collection’s Japanese designer, Jun Takahashi– a man!–has decided that part of his aesthetic involved putting a woman’s head into, essentially, a sack. Under the best of circumstances, a model is little more than a vehicle for someone else’s creative expression. The most in-demand models are not the ones bursting with their own personality but rather those who allow themselves to be possessed by someone else’s. With their identical matchstick bodies, only their faces distinguish them as individuals. In one stylistic flourish, Takahashi took that away. With their heads covered, his women are silent and powerless. They look like victims: hostages, prisoners awaiting execution, the vulnerable.

The possibility of the new “burqa-chic” ever hitting the sidewalk even on the style-conscious streets of Paris and New York is highly unlikely. As everyone knows, couture design rarely makes it’s way into the real lives and onto the real bodies of people not regularly walking down the fashion runways. Regardless, while reserving judgment about the various traditional coverings for women within the Muslim faith, I find the explicitly violent edge and associations with female bondage among male desires of late extremely disturbing. What exactly are they trying to say to women?

Will Winnie the Pooh Testify Against Thomas Kinkade?

posted by kris rasmussen

Forget Enron exec Ken Lay’s trial or the latest phone company merger, the biggest business scandal in the news this week has been the L.A. Times expose on Thomas Kinkade, the kitsch painter best known for selling warm and fuzzy paintings of cottages and lighthouses in Christian bookstores and galleries everywhere. Seems the artist–who claims he has brought “God’s light” to the masses–is facing a slew of allegations, including heckling Sigfried and Roy, urinating on Winnie the Pooh at Disneyland as a way of “marking his territory,”–and, oh yeah, committing fraud against business partners and stockholders. And, believe it or not, he is not exactly denying all of the accusations.

According to he L.A. Times investigation, the American Arbitration Association last month awarded $860,000 to the owners of two out-of-business Kinkade’s Signature franchise galleries. The arbitrators ruled that Kinkade misrepresented and manipulated the gallery owners in his business dealings with them. Several other arbitration cases are also pending against Kincade, addressing questions about whether Kinkade, who has grossed roughly $50 million dollars in the last several years, deliberately set out to devalue his publicly traded company so he could buy it back for a fraction of its worth and turn his company into a private enterprise once again.

The more bizarre allegations came out in those same legal proceedings, when former employees and business associates recounted in very specfic detail such un-Christian-like behavior as visiting strip clubs, groping a woman’s breast at a signing party, and urinating in public places, including Disneyland (poor Pooh!) and a Las Vegas hotel elevator.

In a bizarre twist to this entire drama, it’s these allegations of lewd conduct that Kinkade is not denying. (He has denied the accusations of financial impropriety). In a deposition, the artist mentioned his practice of urinating outdoors, saying he “grew up in the country” where it was common. When asked specifically about the alleged Las Vegas elevator incident, Kinkade admitted it might have happened. “There may have been some ritual territory marking going on, but I don’t recall it,” he said. In the same deposition, Kinkade also said there was a lot of drinking and “rowdy talk” at the party in question, but he couldn’t quite remember what he did to the breasts of the woman who claims he harrassed her.

I guess this new information could give Kinkade a fresh perspective, perhaps inspiring a new series of paintings such as “Watering Pooh,” “Ode to A White Tiger,” or “Sunset on Stripper Lane.” But I hope this scandal also reminds Kinkade, as well as the rest of us, that whatever evil is done in the darkness, will sooner or later be brought into light.

Pass the (Prayer-bead) Remote?

posted by donna freitas

Soon we will all be able to pray while we channel surf!

Zemlyanoj Val ul, a man from Russia, has trademarked something called “Remobeads,” a ring of beads you can hold, pray over, meditate on, and use to see what’s on VH1–all at the same time. You can even customize the beads to your favorite channels. (See the illustration below.)

Val ul’s website advertises the following:

“Nowadays the TV set is no longer accepted as a mere receiver. It has transformed into a cult object, the thing we can watch and interact with for hours, the source of our knowledge and inspiration. Now you can shift between channels effortlessly–just slightly pressing the beads. The beads are glowing, so you can easily see them in the darkness. As an option you can add a sound–enjoy listening to your favorite mantras while switching the channels.”

The source of our knowledge and inspiration? Listening to our favorite mantras while switching channels? Hmmm. Even as an Idol Chatterer, I don’t know if I’d go that far.

Interested? He’s looking for buyers….

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