by by Malcolm Burnley, Emily Gogolak & Erica Schwiegershausen

illustration by by Emily Martin


The Arab world was dealt yet another shock on Sunday, when Omar al-Bashir, President of Sudan, announced his impending retirement. “He has no will to be president again,” Rabie Abdelati, a senior government spokesman, told Reuters.
For anyone familiar with Bashir’s story, the announcement would have seemed impossible before revolt rocked the Arab world. Since winning power in a bloodless coup in 1989, Bashir has ruled Sudan with an iron fist. He is the only sitting head of state to be indicted by the International Criminal Court—for his perpetration of the ongoing genocide in Darfur—and is vilified by the US for hosting Al Qaeda in the 1990s. Human rights violations, corruption, and large-scale neglect have been prominent characteristics of the Bashir regime.
As the region is exploding with calls for justice and democracy, Bashir’s move is seen as a direct response to the flux. Unconvincingly, however, the President denies any correlation. The same spokesman that announced Bashir’s decision affirmed that its timing had “nothing, nothing at all” to do with the wave of revolution sweeping the region—which inspired a small series of protests in Sudan. “In Egypt, there was a gap between the rulers and the people, but not in our country,” Mr. Rabie said. “In Sudan,” he continued, “[the leaders] live with the people.” Most Sudanese would beg to differ. And most are now questioning Bashir’s real motives.
As Al-Tayeb Zein al-Abideen, a political science professor at the University of Khartoum, told the New York Times, “In the Arab world, we have become accustomed to rulers staying in power until they die.” That Bashir himself did not make the announcement is considered highly suspect, and many question if he seriously intends to abdicate power. The news could simply be a tool to pacify a nation in protest, to feign a move toward democracy, and to pretend to care for a people who feel forgotten and abused by their government.
What will happen now remains unclear. In 2010, Bashir took the last round of elections—which outside observers deemed illegitimate—in a landslide. The next elections are scheduled for 2015, but some think that the opposition may force Bashir from office before the official change of guard. This could throw Sudan into the same all-out chaos of its Arab neighbors, setting the stage for another extraordinary outcome in a region where the only guarantee is the unpredictable. –EG


In the aftermath of Ken Jennings’s defeat on Jeopardy to Watson, IBM’s supercomputer, Hasbro has introduced its own “computer overlord” into its signature brand, Monopoly. This fall, slap down fifty bucks and you’ll get Monopoly Live, an updated version of the classic board game, complete with a ten-inch computer tower at the center of the game board. Powered by 4 AA batteries, it threatens to displace, obliterate, and “make obsolete” all we love about Monopoly game-play: the multi-colored fake money, laundering that multi-colored fake money under the table, under-the-table deal-making with Grandma, fixing dice throws, and flat-out disobedience of the rulebook. In Monopoly Live, the infrared tower keeps a digital balance of each player’s funds, produces electronic dice throws, and speaks voice commands to ensure rules are adhered to.
Citing a 9 percent drop in 2010 sales of old-fashioned board games, Hasbro is trying to appeal to a new generation of adolescents, hoping the game will mesh with their chronic addictions of physical inactivity, energy drinks, and Xbox. Unfortunately, as a result of the computer tower, Monopoly Live will deprive players from acquiring important life lessons instilled through the classic version of the game. In a recent New York Times article, Mary Flanagan, Professor of Digital Humanities at Dartmouth University, and Joey Lee, Assistant Professor of Technology and Education at Teachers College at Columbia’s Teacher’s College, reviewed Monopoly Live’s wisdom, and deemed it essentially worthless. Flanagan claims the newest iteration is “less and less about financial awareness” while Lee believes it is a shame to eliminate cheating, which is better than the “blind adherence to following orders,” built into Hasbro’s newest creation.
What happened to those character-building board games that really made you work? Nobody ran the gauntlet in Hungry Hungry Hippos without working up a good lather or leaving without a palm blister. Then again, maybe Hasbro is on to something. Had the government developed Monopoly Live’s technology four decades ago to run our real-life banks, railroads, and derivative real estate markets, we probably could have avoided half-a-dozen bailouts and trillions in debt. But it’s a lot more fun to roll the dice right? Come on, double sixes! –MB


Bad news for overscheduled Catholics: it turns out it isn’t possible to absolve your sins at the touch of a touch-screen. In response to the overwhelming popularity of the recently released “Confession: A Roman Catholic App,” an iPhone application designed to aid Catholics with the sacrament of confession, the Vatican found it necessary to issue a clarification on the nature of absolution. Although there was understandably some confusion, the fact of the matter is that the iPhone cannot forgive sins.
The Confession App, released this December by Little iApps, is designed for “those who frequent the sacrament and those who wish to return,” said developer Patrick Leinen in a recent press release. The app aims to guide Catholics through the stresses of the Rite of Penance, all for the bargain price of $1.99. Though it has yet to reach Angry Birds’s status, the app has been highly successful, currently ranking in the top ten of iTunes’s Lifestyle apps.
The Confession App features a custom examination of conscience. Users sign in (logs of sin are password-protected of course) and are asked to enter their age, sex, and vocation. The app then takes you step-by-step through the Ten Commandments, providing questions designed to catch transgressions that may otherwise have been overlooked. Prompts vary according to user profile. A teenage girl is asked to consider the question, “Do I not treat my body or other people’s bodies with purity and respect?” under the Sixth Commandment, while a middle-aged married man reads “Have I been guilty of masturbation?”
Users can place a check mark next to standard offenses (lying, not praying, practicing superstitious activities) or choose to type in their own custom sins. Once this stage of confession has been completed, the app offers seven acts of contrition to choose from. However, the Vatican Radio quoted Father Federico Lombardi reminding Catholics that “it is essential to understand that the sacrament of penance requires a personal dialogue between the penitent and the confessor in order for absolution to be given. This cannot be replaced by a computer application.” So, fear not clergymen: while a computer takeover by Watson and Co. may seem increasingly imminent, the church is determined to remain a place of solace and job security. –ES