Just Say No

This Is Your Brain on Video Bedlam

Listen up, kiddies. Next time you want to buy a copy of Grand Theft Auto or Stubbs the Zombie, you might need Mom's permission. State Sen. Alex Diaz de la Portilla sponsored a bill in the Senate two weeks ago that would prohibit minors from buying or renting video games with violence and sexually explicit content.

Diaz de la Portilla, a Miami Republican whose great-grandfather once served as the Cuban minister of justice, has delved into the virtual world and come back with an alarming message: Video games will melt your brain!

Says the Senate bill Diaz de la Portilla drafted: "Minors who are exposed to depictions of violence in video games are most likely to experience feelings of aggression, to experience a reduction in activity in the frontal lobes of the brain, and to exhibit violent antisocial or aggressive behavior."

If Tailpipe had hair, it would exhibit, after listening to Diaz de la Portilla's frightening assessments, a jagged, lightning-bolt streak of white. But then, common sense started to butt into the 'Pipe's scarified stream of consciousness, prompting the mixed-up auto part to ponder the activity of Diaz de la Portilla's own frontal lobes. Hold on a cotton-pickin' minute. The science on damage to young minds is still inconclusive, isn't it? What's more, a federal appeals court threw out a similar law passed in St. Louis, ruling that restricting access to video games violates the First Amendment.

Still, this rusty tube respects the wisdom of elected officials. Besides, these infectious, mind-altering diseases known as video games seem to explain some of Diaz de la Portilla's own past indiscretions:

Problem: In 1983, Diaz de la Portilla was charged with threatening his girlfriend.

Explanation: Clearly, in the '80s, Diaz de la Portilla was playing too many hours of the classic video game Leisure Suit Larry, in which a player becomes the balding, sexually dissatisfied Larry Laffer as he navigates a misogynistic world of whores, thieves, and thugs.

Problem: In 1987, Diaz de la Portilla was charged with obstructing a police officer during a traffic stop.

Explanation: Eerily enough, that same year, the instant-classic video game Police Quest: In Pursuit of the Death Angel was released. Clearly, the hours Diaz de la Portilla spent in the character of policeman Sonny Bonds altered his cerebral chemicals, making him believe that the police officer he was obstructing was, in fact, his beloved partner.

Problem: From 1982 to 1994, Diaz de la Portilla received 23 traffic tickets and had his license suspended 16 times.

Explanation: Most of Diaz de la Portilla's license suspensions were due to missing court dates. Clearly, that occurred because he was too engrossed in playing Pole Position, the 1982 racing game that close aides say the senator still enjoys.

For their part, the insidious video game makers are against Diaz de la Portilla's proposed law. "We all know that parents are not well-served by the time and money spent on these quixotic battles," says Gail Markels, senior vice president and general counsel for the Entertainment Software Association, a video game trade group.

Diaz de la Portilla did not return calls for comment. He was reportedly too busy playing Halo 2.

Who's Got It Bad?

As 100,000 pounds of chopped sirloin went bad in South Florida refrigerators last week and the latest episode of Desperate Housewives went unwatched, Tailpipe was jolted out of his post-Wilma melancholy by Syed Ali Rahman, a technical analyst by day and a spokesman for the Sunrise-based Islamic Foundation of South Florida.

Rahman delicately reminded the 'Pipe that — while South Floridians were grumbling about the slow pace of the FPL repair campaign — hundreds of thousands were still suffering from the results of the 7.6-magnitude earthquake that jolted Pakistan, India, and Afghanistan on October 8. There's not a single FPL cherry picker there to string electric wires back onto utility poles.

Whereas Wilma killed 21 Americans and Katrina killed more than 1,350, at least 70,000 people have so far died in the earthquake destruction, which may eventually claim 100,000. Now Himalayan winter threatens to isolate and freeze many of the resulting homeless, who in Pakistan number around 3.3 million (roughly the population of Broward and Palm Beach counties, plus the city of Miami). Only five earthquakes in the 20th Century killed more than 100,000 people.

Money has been slow to come for earthquake relief. Three weeks after the earthquake, nations had funded only about a fifth of the $550 million the United Nations said a disaster response would require; donations to Oxfam were only about $5.4 million in the first two weeks.

"People are not as passionate about this earthquake because there have been so many disasters one after another," says Rahman, whose organization is dedicated primarily to establishing secular schools in Pakistan. "It's also very unfortunate in the sense that this was the third major disaster in less than a year, so it's suffered most in terms of getting the funds."

A week after the earthquake, the IFSF focused on raising money for medicine, blankets, and tents. The immediate response is critical, he says, but he fears that dedication to rebuilding will wane. So the organization is funneling donations to a not-for-profit called the Citizens Foundation, which seeks to build schools in Pakistan to replace the thousands lost.

Before Wilma, Rahman says, the IFSF had approached the Broward County School Board about helping the effort. "Now, you know, the School Board is in problems of its own, if you know what I mean," he says. These days, everyone does. But the 'Pipe wonders: When the drone of gas generators allows a moment to reflect, aren't some problems really more pressing than others? The organization can be reached at 954-741-8130 or through its website, www.ifsf.net.

Put a Roof on It

If you're among the legion of homeowners whose tile roof took a thrashing from Wilma, this might be a good time to take up ceramics as a hobby. It's probably the only way to ensure getting replacement tile before, say, the 2006 elections.

The small companies that replace leaky rooftops had been complaining about the shortage of cement tiles well before the latest storm. "They've decided that reroofers can go screw themselves," gripes one local roofer, who didn't want to be identified lest he not get any tile for the next decade. "If you're a single homeowner doing a roof, they don't care about you."

Barry Birenbaum, a sales rep with Bradco Supply, which distributes tiles and other building supplies, gets dozens of calls each day from frustrated homeowners and roofers. But Bradco has to wait like everyone else. "The major concrete manufacturers are committed to the contracts they have with the large new-home builders," he says. "The new-home construction is what's benefiting from this. But those houses are unoccupied. What about the small homes that are leaking that need to be reroofed?"

So have the major manufacturers shifted gears to get tiles to the folks who need 'em? The 'Pipe called Frank Toups, sales manager of Hanson Roof Tile in Deerfield Beach, who didn't care to talk about the subject. He assured this slowly rusting tube that Hanson was busily at work composing a news release and would issue it within 24 hours. As the days slipped by, the statement was as AWOL as the company's tiles. Toups wouldn't return phone calls, just as no one would call back from MonierLifetile, another major manufacturer. No way of checking their profits in the midst of want. They're privately held.

Birenbaum suggests that the manufacturers should alternate production each month between new construction and reroofing. "But you know what? The big builders have too much pull," he laments. "They're not going to let that happen."

So fire up that kiln. Or buy a new house.

Lines That Pay

As South Florida motorists found their patience strained on gas lines and fistfights were breaking out pumpside, the oil industry experienced one of the most profitable runs in a long history of wealth and monopoly. Two weeks ago, Exxon Mobile Corp. posted the largest quarterly profit for a U.S. company ever. It was also the first U.S. company to record more than $100 billion in quarterly sales. Happy day!

It wasn't alone. Analysts say that the gas pinch caused by this unusually active hurricane season has driven up prices across the industry. Of the 132 oil and oil-refining companies listed on a key stock index, only nine lost stock value between Hurricane Wilma's South Florida arrival and Friday, October 28.

Let's hear it for the vast sucking sound of our money draining into Big Oil's coffers.

— As told to Edmund Newton

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