Thursday, January 15, 2009

News Roundup IV

Welcome to the fourth news roundup. Wasn't sure when I was going to do another after a slow night Sunday night in the news, but one of the first articles I saw Monday night just jumped right out at me, so I thought I'd tackle it.

I'd like to note first, though, the slight change in format. At first I'd quote an article, summarize it, and then comment. Recently though, I've been linking to the story and just belting out the comments. I'm going to stick with that, because it seemed a little rough to sum up an article I thought was incredibly stupid.

Idiots: Handsfree cellphone chat while driving is just as dangerous

Clearly you don't have to be bright to write for the New York Times or to be a quoted source in a Times article. So much for me tending to think news from them was a cut above others.

In many places, including here in NC, it's illegal to talk on a cell phone while driving if you have to hold the cell phone in your hand. The solution, aside from not doing it at all, is to use a handsfree kit, either a wired one or a Bluetooth wireless earpiece.

I've tried driving and talking on a cell phone while driving without handsfree. It's not hard to do, but it does create a distraction. But then, I was raised on video games and I use computers a lot. I'm used to things coming at me fast. I can do a few things at once. Like anybody, though, I've seen the effects cell phones can have on bad drivers.

I don't think a Bluetooth or wired handsfree kit can make a bad driver on a cell phone better, but I'd rather see a bad driver have both hands on the wheel and be looking at the road rather than having one hand on the phone and looking cockeyed between the road and somewhere else only they can see.

The article does claim that handsfree cell phone chatter is not the same as talking to a person in the passenger seat because if you're looking for a specific exit on the freeway, the passenger can help you while the person on the phone cannot. This is a good point, but it only works for someone who's lost. If I know where I'm going, what's the difference?

The article claims that a driver listening to an educational tape while driving is safer than a cellphone driver with handsfree, and on top of that the driver can pass a test on the materials later. Maybe that's true, but the more you learn from the tape, the less attention you paid to the road, increasing your chances of winding up in an accident. The article specifically states that the drivers were paying attention to the programs - if the same source is saying cell phones are distracting, what it's saying by virtue of omission is that those test subjects were not paying attention to the road.

What about kids in the back seat? The article doesn't even touch that. Kids in the back seat can be arguing, fighting, or actively trying to distract the driver. So how can they say that they support banning handsfree cell phones with no mention of a far more dangerous driving habit?

Some countries will actually... miss Bush?

While most of America is counting down the days until Dubya goes back to his Texas ranch to make way for a new administration, the BBC reports that the dislike for Bush is not entirely universal, and to the surprise of many, myself included, some folks actually appreciate what he's done over the last 8 years. Countries in Africa he's increased aid to since the Clinton administration, countries he hasn't bombed back to the Stone Age.

And let's not forget America itself. Well, John McCain's America, where everybody's rich. I'm pretty sure that anyone who would have financially gained from a McCain presidency will miss Bush. Those who weren't hurt by the quadrupling of gas prices, and who profited from the exploitations of the working class. How these "people" slept at night for the past eight years eludes me, but I take a small amount of comfort in knowing that over the next four years, they'll be feeling the fear the rest of us have, that their time could come at any time, that they could be left without a job, without a means to provide for their families. Not something I'd wish on anybody, but I could make an exception for those who heartlessly wished the same fate on thousands of Americans and then sat down to a steak dinner in their houses on the hills.

Of course Israel will miss Bush. It's always been seen as a big no-no to have less than a glowing opinion of Israel. As I understand it, the UN gave the area to the Jews following World War II and the Muslims were there first. Why we couldn't just give them a part of South Dakota or something is what I'll probably never understand. I guess we (the powers that be) really don't want them here, and more to the point thought they would just fight it out over there and leave us alone. Well, 9/11 proved that wrong. And I'm not sure who's right and who's wrong or what the solution is over there, but supporting one side exclusively isn't going to make the other side happy, and if 9/11 was indeed the tragedy so many of us call it, I think we need to look at what led up to it and work towards preventing a repeat incident. Military action is the obvious and easy way, but it hasn't worked. All we did was give Bush the diversion he needed to finish what his daddy started. (Not that I'll mourn Saddam's passing for a second, or his child-molesting son, Uday.) President-elect Obama has the right idea wanting to talk and seek a diplomatic solution. We've tried looking the other way and we've tried bombs, the worst that could happen is it doesn't work, either. And maybe Israel will not appreciate a President who isn't in their back pocket, but maybe they'll appreciate peace, less killing, if there's a chance it can be attained. Maybe not, I don't know.

GTA Chinatown Wars (DS) sparks controversy
Grand Theft Auto games get a lot of crap from the conservative right, and often unjustly so. Though a little dated, GTA San Andreas (PlayStation 2, Xbox, PC) was a wonderful story of redemption set amidst the rise of "West coast" gangsta rap in and around Los Angeles in the early 1990s. We followed once-troublemaker Carl "CJ" Johnson, who returned home to Los Santos (what the GTA world calls Los Angeles) from Liberty City (fake New York City) where he returns to bury his mother and reconnect with his family. His brothers try to draw him into the all-too-familiar world of crime, but while dodging a corrupt cop, he ends up going into exile, starting a business (albeit one of questionable legality), and returning home to clean up his neighborhood of police corruption and gang violence. Of course, this is a heavily biased way of looking at the game, but it does have the virtue of being true, from an optimistic point of view. Also, it's assuming the player plays CJ as straight as possible - it's entirely possible, and from certain characters encouraged, to commit all kinds of crimes while completing the game. You can even go on unsanctioned killing sprees, killing civilians left and right and running from the police until you're killed or can reach a safehouse. And it's even fun. But the point is, San Andreas gave the player what he or she put into it. A little more perhaps, but no less.

The problem with San Andreas wasn't that it was a GTA game, but rather that Rockstar, the developer of the game, snuck adult content into the game past the censors. As it was, the game was released with an "M" rating, but once the included sex scenes were accounted for, it was rebranded with the sales-killing "AO" rating. (No amount of violence or gore can fetch an "AO" rating; however, explicit sex calls for the higher rating implicitly.) In the game, as released, CJ can date a half-dozen girls at various points in the game (mostly, as a side plot). All the date is, is you take her to a bar or restaurant, or a dance hall, and utilize adapted controller games of skill to impress your girl, for example dancing by pressing various buttons in a timed sequence. After you take her home, she thanks you, and that's the end of it. However, in the original build of the game, after a few dates, after you take the girl home, she'll invite you in for coffee. Choosing yes shows her first performing oral sex on CJ, and then they go to the bedroom and begin intercourse. Pressing two buttons in rhythm (at increasing speeds) controls the rhythm of the lovemaking, and another button changes positions (there are four, I believe). The point is to raise the girl's "pleasure meter" up to a certain point in a certain amount of time in order to make the date a "success" and further the relationship. The coffee request was removed from the first retail build, but the code was not, and a simple hack restored the coffee question and therefore the entire X-rated element. Rockstar initially denied involvement, claiming that the hack added the explicit scenes, and in the ensuing confusion, the next two GTA games were never released for the PC and a "Second Edition" of San Andreas was released, with the sex scenes completely removed.

Rockstar has, with GTA, a chance to make history, but they're afraid to take it. The ESRB (Entertainment Software Rating Board, they rate the games in the US) has no authority to stop Rockstar from making a game with explicit sex scenes, or even the tame ones in San Andreas (the characters were clothed during the sex, unless you used a nude patch, but that changes the game). All they can do is put the AO rating on it. And Rockstar is afraid that if a GTA game is rated AO, it will not sell well. Why? Well, Walmart will not carry a game rated AO, and neither will many other retailers. This would only be their initial reactions, however, as demand for the game would push consumers to and other less-restrictive sellers. There is no way the entire retail industry is going to boycott a GTA game. There are various porn games which are boycotted by most retailers, and as such, they cost a heck of a lot more money. Retailers have nothing to lose by not selling a game made by Hustler or Penthouse, but they have everything to lose if they choose not to stock a GTA game. Because a high-profile game like a GTA game doesn't just generate title sales. It brings people to the stores. They come for GTA, maybe they buy the strategy guide, maybe they buy another controller. Maybe they buy a couple DVDs, as Walmart and Gamestop keep their DVDs very close to their games, and both sell them cheap (Gamestop's because they're used, Walmart's because... it's Walmart). So you know you're gonna spend $60 on the GTA game, but you're gonna spend more. Refuse to carry the GTA game, and that's not just $60 you're losing. Then there's brand loyalty. "Hey, I couldn't get GTA 5 at Walmart, but I was able to get it on Amazon, the shipping was free (shipping's free on orders of $25 or more, that's not made up), and it came inside a week." Maybe the consumer goes back to Amazon for their next game without checking to see if Walmart has it or not.

Gray wolves no longer endangered. Environmentalists have a cow.
Environmentalists are some of the biggest hypocrites in the world, after evangelical religious fanatics. Not only do you have the folks over at PETA fighting animal cruelty when animals themselves are cruel to each other, and even some domestic terrorist activities (like handing out flyers at elementary schools calling kids' mothers murderers for not going vegan). And now that the gray wolf is no longer endangered and the Bush administration is taking them off the endangered species list, these nuts are having a fit?

Do they really think they can have it both ways? Jeez, if you want them to stay endangered, go kill a few? As opposed to, I don't know, patting yourselves on the back for a job well done? You'd think animals being no longer endangered would be their goal. I guess not.

Now granted, wolves are beautiful creatures, and I don't think they should be killed for fur. I wouldn't throw paint on someone for wearing fur (wolf or otherwise) but I think it's a stupid reason to kill an animal. I have a leather jacket, but cows aren't endangered, and it was my father's. I wouldn't buy a leather jacket, though my reasons aren't politically motivated. I just don't care for the feel of leather. Too rough and doesn't look that great. I'll take a warmer jacket made with the regular stuff, and for less.

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