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Takei launches funny new political app

by Tony Taylor

George Takei tries out his new augmented reality political app, House of Cats. Photo: Brad Takei
George Takei tries out his new augmented reality political app, House of Cats. Photo: Brad Takei  

This week, after President Donald Trump sided with Russian President Vladimir Putin and against U.S. intelligence officials who said Russia interfered in the 2016 election, gay actor and political activist George Takei was outraged.

During a phone interview with the Bay Area Reporter, Takei, who first shot to fame as Hikaru Sulu in the 1960s "Star Trek" TV series, was set to discuss House of Cats, his new app that uses Pokemón GO-style augmented reality features. Given the weight of recent political news, however, the conversation's scope couldn't have been any further from fiction.

(As criticism mounted Tuesday, Trump claimed that he misspoke, and now says he accepts U.S. intelligence on Russian interference in the election.)

Launching July 19, Takei said he wants to shout out about House of Cats from "many mountaintops." House of Cats is the first political app that puts users in the center of the action so they can interact with world leaders and the latest news by creating funny short videos.

"Combining politics and cats," Takei, 81, said, calling from Los Angeles, "[this app is] a wonderful way of commenting on the absurdity of this fake president. We are in both critical times as well as totally absurd times. He's pretending to be a president; a counterfeit president."

Since reinventing himself through social media in 2011, Takei's followers react in droves to his daily postings, which include memes and photos that often latch onto current events. His outspoken commentary earned him a Shorty Award in 2013 for distinguished achievement in internet culture.

Now, through his distaste for Trump's antics, the icon has found a way to laugh through his frustration.

According to a news release, House of Cats users can create, record, and share videos of themselves and their friends with "Trumpy Cat." The app will also keep users "giggling with funny zingers and short skits," the release stated.

When asked what some of his LOL, or laugh out loud, moments were while using the app, Takei sounded unsmiling.

"Did you see the press conference with Putin?" he asked. "My blood was boiling."

CNN reported that the president's summit with Putin in Helsinki, Finland Monday, July 16, is already one of the most notorious moments in the tortured relations between Washington and Moscow.

Trump's acceptance of Putin's denial of election interference accusations leveled by the U.S. intelligence community was not just the most abject display given by any president overseas, it may be the moment that finally validated claims that Trump prizes his own interests above those of America, CNN reported.

"We have proof on Putin and there [Trump] was standing shoulder to shoulder saying, 'I'm with Putin.' It was outrageous!" Takei said. "This is not a laughing matter."

The key to getting through these dark times, Takei said, is "resilience." He referenced the Japanese term "Gaman" of Zen Buddhist origin, which means "enduring the seemingly unbearable with patience and dignity," according to Wikipedia.

"It's not just bullet-biting, teeth-gritting strength, but also strength to find beauty and joy under harsh conditions," Takei added.

As a child, Takei was sent to a Japanese-American internment camp during World War II and last month, he wrote a scathing op-ed for http://www.foreignpolicy.com condemning the Trump administration's policy to separate migrant families at the U.S. border.

"We were imprisoned behind barbed wire fences because we looked like the people who bombed Pearl Harbor," Takei told the B.A.R. "And for half a century, I was closeted behind invisible barbed-wire fences by being gay and desperately, passionately, wanting to be an actor. I could not pursue that career if it were known that I was gay."

In 2005, Takei began publicly identifying as a gay man, but when his career began in the 1960s he had a difficult time navigating how to interact socially in public.

"I saw the gay bars as a sanctuary where I could put my guard down, enjoy a few hours with a bottle of beer and people I was comfortable with," he said. "But even in a gay bar I had to be cautious because police raided the place, took [some of] us down to the police station, fingerprinted, and took their photos. Gays were criminalized as we were criminalized, [but] had nothing to do with Pearl Harbor."

Takei added that life is "full of challenges," and what's important is "facing up to those challenges by actively participating in the community, society, or nation you are in and try to make it a better world."

"In that society, that invisible barbed wire fence and that driving passion to pursue an acting career," Takei said, "that combination shaped who I ultimately became."

Taking a break from world events, Takei was asked what he thought of the recent San Francisco mayoral election. Takei came to San Francisco during the campaign to stump for gay former state senator Mark Leno, who ultimately lost to London Breed.

"He would've been such a great mayor," Takei said. "Homelessness is such a miserable, painful challenge for San Francisco, and as state senator, he was preparing for his job as mayor. He was going to deal with the homeless challenge in San Francisco, and I was profoundly disappointed; I really thought he would win."

Takei said he does not know Breed, who was sworn in last week as the city's 45th mayor.

House of Cats is available to download from the Apple App Store and Google Play for .99. A percentage of the net profits will be donated to Refugees International. For more details, visit http://www.houseofcats.com.

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