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July 2006 - Posts

July 10, 2006 2:19 PM

I heart Darfur

"Darfur is Dying" is a video game designed to make you learn and to make you care. You live in a refugee camp, and your first task is to get water.

Is this just too darned earnest to be a good game? Another question: "We must not be afraid of putting people in the shoes of groups or people or individuals that are not comfortable, that we don't like, or think we don't like," says video game critic Ian Bogost.

"It's very easy to look at any one side in this conflict, and say these are the good guys and these are bad guys, but if we've learned anything in the 21st century already, it's that maybe there are no good guys and bad guys anymore."

So villagers who join a murderous militia might do so to avoid starvation.I'm sure that's absolutely true for many. Heck, we all hope that's the reason for everybody who's toting a gun, eh? But they might be killing people because, well, they like to kill people. Which is, much as we might hate to admit it, sometimes true. Evil exists, and we need to be able to see all realities, not just hope for the best one.

July 4, 2006 6:07 PM

Stuck on you

Vaclav Havel is a poet and playwright whose resistance to tyranny in Czechoslovakia helped destroy it. Then he became a politician.

All go boom. "Václav Havel, great dissident political intellectual, he goes into politics and finds that he can't -- to use his own phrase -- live in truth.

"You have to make compromises in what you say, you have to censor yourself, you have to tell half-truths, and above all you have to go on endlessly repeating yourself," states a recent interview that takes Havel's name in vain. "I think that at different stages in your life it may be possible to be a critical intellectual and to be an engaged politician, but you certainly can't do both at the same time."

This reminds me of Al Gore, the former "next president of the United States," defeated by George W. Bush. Gore notes in his enviro-scare movie, "An Inconvenient Truth," that the near death of his son forced him to set priorities in life, helped him separate the small stuff from the big. But it was the (probable) end of his political career that allowed him to focus fully on one issue. To live his truth, I guess you could say.

Gore's obsession is the pollution being poured out into air and water and soil by humans. Gore believes it's going to destroy the Earth, and us along with it.

It's all very earnest and nice (in a terrible way, of course), but I doubt this would have happened if Gore had become U.S. president. The environment would just have become one of the 40 million thingies he had to worry about. And single-issue people are bad anyway, right? When they have to run the whole shebang, I mean. There's just so much more out there.

And yet.... I'm beginning to wonder if the problem with politics is that we don't have enough single-issue people elected to office. At least that's what I got out of a recent interview with Allan Rock, Canada's outgoing ambassador to the United Nations.

The UN is a nightmarish mess of opposing opinions poised to stymie any change at all. Rock said that he was forced to become obsessed with one or two things, focussing on them at the expense of all others, in order to extract any change, even as small as it was.

"There cannot ever have been a place where more and better use was made of committees and studies and commissions to slow things down. It's extremely frustrating," said Rock.

"But if you choose your spots, if you pick your issues, and focus like a laser on those issues, build coalitions, work with NGOs [non-governmental organizations] and are persistent, you can use the process to make, albeit modest, progress on some of these issues."

Obsession, it turns out, might be good for us.