Category Archives: Opinion

Little Drummer Boys

Now that we’re mired in the Season of Christmas, I have a confession to make. Of late, I’ve become something of a Scrooge over Christmas music.

I haven’t always been this way. Since I’ve been married, my wife and I have made a tradition of buying one Christmas album a year, and we’ve amassed quite a collection during our marriage. And it’s quite eclectic – I tend to like the quirky stuff like Captain Sensible’s One Christmas Catalog, and my wife is more a traditionalist. Starting on Thanksgiving, I’d slowly start to incorporate Christmas songs into my iTunes playlists, until by the final week it was 100%.

Single_Harry_Simeone_Chorale-The_Little_Drummer_Boy_coverThen a few years ago somebody at Clear Channel got the idea to stunt a Cleveland radio station by going 100% Christmas music starting a couple of weeks before Thanksgiving. It was kind of cool… but then the next year, everybody was hopping on the bandwagon, the stuff was everywhere and the Halloween costumes were barely moved to the clearance rack. That’s when I began the arcane practice of banging my head on the steering wheel during trips across the FM dial.

I became more and more enscrooged about it until this year. Maybe it’s because I’m no longer working in advertising, and therefore have not been writing about Christmas since July. Or maybe it’s because I no longer have to wake up to the stuff. But I’m back in the mood of voluntarily listening to Christmas music.

Now there are a couple of songs I don’t care for that will have me reaching for the iPod and dialing up my Jandek playlist. The 12 Days of Christmas is the worst holiday song ever, in my opinion, being tedious, repetitious, boring and… I don’t care. Not far behind it is The Little Drummer Boy.

But there’s a big difference between the two. That is, while I have yet to hear a version of 12 Days I like, there are some Drummer Boys out there I have become friends with. Thanks to my unscroogeness this year, and to a friend who apparently adores this song and has been posting versions of it daily on his Facebook page, I decided to come clean and do a countdown of my favorite versions of The Little Drummer Boy.

So here they are. And be warned: These are the only ones!

5. Mannheim Steamroller
Because they made it sound like prog. And I loves me some prog.

4. Dandy Warhols
To paraphrase something from another friend of mine, the Dandy Warhols are my favorite band whenever I’m listening to them. And you know that even though they’re singing this one, they don’t mean it.

3. Michael Franti and The Blind Boys of Alabama
Makes the story what it should be: a narrative. And the Boys bring it with gospel.

2. Bing Crosby and David Bowie
Who would’ve thunk it? This odd couple really works. And ever a sucker for multiple vocal parts, I like the intertwining of the two songs.

1. Miracle Legion
I love the stripped down arrangement and the odd harmonies. Who were these guys? And were their originals as good as this cover?

Happy holidays, and may all of your Scrooges be slight!

Update 12/20/2012: So today I am reminded of my sins. I was wrong. There is one version of The Twelve Days of Christmas that I like. But ONLY this one:

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Handwriting is on the Wall

I have just heard the news that cursive writing will no longer be taught in Ohio schools, making it the third state to abandon the skill (behind Indiana and Hawaii). The keyboard is king now, the thinking goes, making unnecessary a discipline that teaches manual dexterity at the fine motor level. In these modern times we live in, cursive is slowly being traded as a youth-learned skill in favor of manipulation of a joystick.

That’s pretty sad. We’re slowly losing something useful, something that was a rite of passage in our schooling, and something that serves as a unique identifier and perhaps even a mirror of our personality.

I say this in spite of my never having really gotten the hang of cursive. My penmanship was wobbly and inconsistent, and I always had to labor at it. Printing worked better for me, probably since I did an unusual amount of writing as a kid before the cursive lessons started. I was actually faster at printing, and over the years, my printing evolved into it’s own kind of cursive, though it doesn’t look anything like when I try to write in cursive. It’s neither writing nor printing, but it is distinctive.

Quality cursive is a subjective thing anyway. Two of my oldest friends vary widely in the quality of their penmanship. One has a tight, elegant, kind of writing that resembles a city skyline. It’s amazing looking and could be a font. The other writes in broad, palsied, wavy lines that look like Charles Schulz’s lettering in the last few years of his life. Even his printing is sad looking. But both are enormously successful in their respective fields.

What always amazed me was how cursive seemed to cookie cutter the handwriting of girls. Our cursive system turned out millions of girls who wrote with broad, loopy writing, the kind that seemed to encourage the dotting of “i’s” with tiny hearts or flowers. Being a callow youth, I immediately judged girls on this kind of penmanship, and I never dated anyone whose writing looked like that.

In fact, my wife has the most amazing handwriting I’ve ever seen. It took me a couple of years to be able to read it on the first pass. Her letters are long and thin and slant off to the right like a field of wheat bending in a breeze. The loops she pens are gracefully thin and tight, with just enough space inside to distinguish one letter from another. It’s graceful and compact and is as unique as she is.

My children, on the other hand, were educated during the ascendancy of the keyboard, and interestingly enough, they both lean more toward printing than any brand of cursive. Further, what training they did get in cursive managed to generify their penmanship, and their styles of printwriting are remarkably similar. Both have a practiced signature, but it consists mostly of straight lines occasionally interrupted by a loop. But as their father, I can tell them apart.

Perhaps it’s time for cursive to go, given how keyboards now dominate our lives. But that’s not a good thing. It was a good discipline to learn. It gave you a unique marker beyond the fingerprint. From personal experience, I can say that writing by hand gives you a more intimate connection with the words in your head. For most of the novels I’m working on or have planned, I already have opening scenes written by hand (including the soon-to-be-released The Mushroom Shift, which was the first time I wrote a first chapter by hand).

Time and progress leave things behind, and for better or worse cursive is looking more and more like a dinosaur. However, being modern has its price. I can’t imagine Sullivan Ballou’s letter or the train station scene in Casablanca being improved by a laser printed missive in perfect 12-point Times New Roman.

Why I Don’t Do NaNoWriMo

Well, tomorrow it begins. All over the nation, nay, the world, word processors will fire up as literary aspirants everywhere prepare to do battle with themselves during NaNoWriMo – National Novel Writing Month – the solitaire sporting event in which folks try to complete a 50,000 word novel during the 30 days of November.

And every year before NaNoWriMo begins, someone drops me a line and says I ought to give it a try, usually implying that I would kick butt and take names at something like this. While I appreciate the confidence in my abilities, I’ve never had the urge to participate in the month-long write-a-thon. Maybe because I’ve done so many of my own – I tend to write the ends of my novels in one marathon burst, the record being 80 manuscript pages in one day at the end of The Company Man.

How’s about would I recommend it to someone wanting to write a novel of their own? My stance there is a little different. If you’re already thinking about it, if your mind is already made up, go for it. It has a lot of value as a motivator because it wields some really big weapons: a deadline, a community of people involved in the same trial, accountability (if you have a blog and put their progress widget on your blog), peer pressure (if you tell your friends what you’re doing – which technically you could do without NaNoWriMo). There is something to be said for doing what you can to cross the finish line.

On the other hand, I do have some concerns with what the program does in terms of writer’s habits. Those are just as important – a writer needs great work habits to sustain their careers if they’re serious about it. The publishing world doesn’t need a bunch of novelists who can only work 30 days a year. They’re looking for people who produce with regularity.

And that’s the thing. NaNoWriMo is largely a motivator that doesn’t, in my view, deal with a lot of the other aspects of writing that are important if you’re looking for a career beyond November. By focusing on getting the words on the page, it slights the actual work that goes into writing a book.

Here are some other reasons why I don’t participate, some practical, some not:

  1. It’s for Young Turks, not me. I’ve considered myself a writer for 29 years now, so I’m old and set in my literary ways (although my methods of writing do continue to evolve). This fancy stuff is for the new kids. NaNoWriMo is the loud, fast, and angry version of novel writing. It’s kind of like the year is 1977. I’m Yes or Emerson, Lake and Palmer and the new kids doing NaNoWriMo are the Sex Pistols and The Clash.
  2. It’s a Cheat. Really. You’re not writing a novel in 30 days. You’re doing the work of putting the story on paper in 30 days. By tomorrow you’re supposed to have done the work of outlining the book and working out the character arcs, all of that (unless you’re going to Jack Kerouac it and start writing without an idea). And then there’s all the work required on the back end – something called revisions. NaNoWriMo focuses on the romantic part of writing a book – the author alone in a room, struggling with a blank page.
  3. It’s Not the Way I Work. When I write a book, I usually know the opening scene and the ending of the book. I start with little else other than a sense of what the story is about, and I let the characters talk to me, developing the outline as I go. I take a more leisurely writing pace, about 1000 words a day as things develop. As a result, there’s an average of 100 “writing days” in one of my books, with many “non-writing days” in between spent making notes (hint: all of those are actually writing days).
  4. The Prep Required Would Make Me Not Want to Write the Novel. For me, part of the fun and magic of writing a novel is watching the plot fall together with all of the attendant unexpectedness that writers typically talk about. It’s about the creative journey. If I have to outline completely first, the mystery is gone because I know how the story unfolds. And I’ve never finished any story that I’ve completely outlined first.
  5. Their Format Does Not Fit the Kind of Novels I Write. Officially, the novel starts at 40,000 words. The typical novel sold on the shelves today, the kind most editors look for, is 100,000 words. NaNoWriMo runs 50,000. It’s a healthy length – probably the length of Shane or Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy, or some of those early Nicholas Sparks books. You can hit that length writing about 8 pages a day (depending on your font and type size). That’s close enough to my current writing pace that I could probably stretch it. But to get to the length of the typical Joe Clifford Faust novel, I’d have to write 16 pages a day. Um, don’t think so.
  6. I Already Know I Can Write a Novel. NaNoWriMO strikes me as a writer’s journey (well, in this case more of a forced march) for the novice to discover if “I have it in me” to write a novel. I already know I have it in me. I just started what will be my 13th (written) novel. (Yeah, that means that there are some that never made it to publication.)
  7. NaNoWriMo May Shoehorn You Into Things You Don’t Want To Do Later. I feel that part of the journey in writing a first novel is the all-important one of Discovering How You Work. You can read all the advice books by writers you want and try out their Guaranteed Methods of writing, but the only right method of writing a novel is the one that works for you. How are you going to stretch out and discover that if you’re grinding your fingers into bloody stubs during a 30 day marathon? I feel that NaNoWriMo shoehorns writers into the same kind of writer’s journey. It also shoehorns them into one way of writing – loud and fast.
  8. It’s a Brutal Schedule That Could Discourage As Much As It Helps. Like I said, I’m a marathon runner, not a sprinter. I know lots of people that NaNoWriMo has left in the dust. Some learned from their failure, some didn’t.
  9. If You Really Want To Be A Writer It Doesn’t Matter. If you’re determined to be a novelist, NaNoWriMo might give you a jump start – but in the long run you’ll find that it’s one of those tools that you use once or twice and end up leaving behind, because you will have discovered yourself as a writer.

Want to find out if you can write a book in 30 days? Be my guest! If I were young and unpublished and hadn’t written a novel yet, I would be all over this. But keep in mind that there’s a reason why most authors only do one book a year.

However, if you think you have a novel in you, you have the other 11 months of the year to work on it, too. If crossing the finish line is your goal, go for it. But if you have something in mind that’s more long term, you might want to stretch out, experiment, and find a more comfortable way of writing.

So that’s my NSHO. If you want to do it, don’t let me stop you. But it would be good of you not to ask me to read the results. After all, I’m busy slowpoking through one of my own projects. Besides, you might want to consider a revision first… more of that unglamorous part of writing…

Michael Jackson: Three Questions and Two Observations

I suppose every other blogger in the world is writing something about Michael Jackson right now, and why should I be any different. But I’d like to think that I’m taking a somewhat different approach. Rather than focusing on blah blah blah no matter what you thought he was an influential icon blah blah blah, I’d like to share some thoughts about what kind of impact that his death (note I didn’t say “tragic” or “early” or “unexpected”, as I suspect these all may be disproven in weeks to come) will have on our popular culture from this point forward.

Not that I’m an expert on popular culture. But in this case, I happen to have written a novel (okay, technically two, but in my mind and heart it will always be one) about celebrity and popular culture, and even though nobody read it, I still feel obligated to expound here. So bear with me. Or go top your coffee off, because this should be over quickly.

The Coffee Shop Observation. If you want to know what’s going on in America, where opinion’s at, what the populi is voxing, go into a coffee shop or doughnut shop early in the morning and listen to the bunches of older folks gathered around a table commenting on the previous night’s news. I’d have given up doughnuts long ago had I not discovered that there’s a lively crowd at the mom and pop chain that I stop at once every week or two.

However, this morning there was a crowd of populi at a Starbucks that I rarely go to – but my wife was driving this morning and goes her own way, as the song says, so that’s where I went for this morning’s Frappuccino. It surprised me to see a bunch of boomers in there conversing, but there they were, and as the conversation about Shaq coming to Cleveland petered out, someone said, “How about Michael Jackson?”

Someone else said. “Yeah. All that money sure didn’t help him, huh?”

Then they started in on a more interesting and long-lived subject: Farrah Fawcett.

Mood in America: Outside of Newscasters with ratings to earn and that ever-shrinking base of fans who believed that MJ was pure as the driven snow, MJ interest is tepid at best. “What? He died? He was young, wasn’t he? Hmmm. Now what did the Cavs give up to get Shaq?”

1. The Joke Question. I don’t know about other countries and their cultures, but part of the way Americans deal with tragedy is to laugh at it.

It’s true. I was in a blue collar job earning college money on the day Elvis died, and I remember when I head the news. It was the end of the day and I was sitting with rest of The Crew, as we were called, doing our traditional thing of spending the last 15 minutes of the day eating sunflower seeds and drinking Coke. The announcer on the local radio station came on and breathlessly annonced that the King of Rock and Roll had died. And most of the guys in the crew broke out laughing.

That was an odd, surreal moment. And it was my first close-up look at that cultural phenomenon. There’s something about the American psyche that requires humor to heal (“What kind of wood doesn’t float? Natalie Wood!” “What does NASA stand for? Need Another Seven Astronauts!”).

So my question is, when the jokes begin, will they be a rehash of the ones that surfaced when Jackson was in the middle of the child molestation imbroglio, or will they mine cruel new territory? Part of me doesn’t want to know the answer. Another part of me can’t wait to find out.

And there’s another part of the question: had Jackson not died, would we be getting Farrah jokes? And were she still around, would there have been Ed McMahon jokes? Or weren’t they high profile enough to earn that?1

2. The Elvis Question. Speaking of The King, I’m wondering how much of the remains of Jackson’s fan base will go into hardcore denial once the smoke has been cleared and the remains have been disposed of. Will we start hearing rumors that Michael wanted to get away from it all and start life anew somewhere else? Hey, we know he was no stranger to facial plastic surgery…

Will there be Michael Jackson sightings? Will there be rumors of a surprise comeback in, oh let’s say 2012 because that would give him two-and-a-half to recover, and according to the Mayan calendar the world is supposed to end then anyway2 – it would be an appropriate sign of the apocalypse3.

Note to the Jackson Family: If you know what’s good for you, don’t cremate. Make sure there is something left over for a future DNA test. And whatever you do, make sure that the name of the deceased is spelled correctly on the tombstone.

While I’m on the subject of Elvis. You know how it seems that Presley has put out more stuff dead than he did while he was alive? Look for that to happen with Michael Jackson. The reason is directly related to the next question…

3. The Survivors Question. My final question – or is it actually a third observation – deals with interesting times ahead (in the Chinese sense) for the Jackson family. And no, I’m not talking about the three children Michael leaves behind – although part of me says that, at this particular juncture, they may actually be the three luckiest children on the planet.

I’m talking about Michael’s sibs – LaToyah, Jermain, Marlon, Nip, Bink, Tuck, Hoover, and Frito – whatever their names were. All of them except perhaps Janet. What will happen to them in the wake of Michael’s death?

See, even though he was technically broke, people kept putting money into Michael’s coffers, largely because of his potential income – which was mostly an unrealized income given Michael’s latter-day record of putting together money-making projects and then busting out of them (his London comeback shows were shaping up to be that way big time – apparently MJ had attended only two of the 45 rehearsals that were held up to yesterday). This in mind, it’s sad to note that of all of Jackson’s “potential income”, the most lucrative thing in his possession is probably his ownership of the catalog of Beatles songs.

Anyway, Michael had a steady income from ill-advised investors that made him the big moneymaker in the Jackson family. Because of this position, rumors were always rife that Michael used money as a bludgeon to keep his sibs under his thumb, going so far as to put them on salary so their show-biz aspirations didn’t upstage his own.

Bizarre, if true. So don’t be surprised if the following months bring odd news from the ranks of the Jackson family. And if Bilbo and Frodo suddenly become famous again, then maybe there was something behind all of those weird rumors.

The Self-Proclaimed Title Observation This is just something I want to get off my chest. You might have noticed that not once in this entry have I referred to Jackson as “the King of Pop.” I will never refer to Jackson as the King of Pop. Ever. First of all, it sounds silly to my writer’s ear. It’s attaching an inflated title to something of little or no substance. Think about it. That title is about as substantive as saying that you’re the Shah of Cotton Candy.

Besides, I have no respect for that title because he didn’t earn it.

I’m serious. If you recall, he issued a press release bestowing the title upon himself. Apparently he couldn’t wait for his adoring fans to come up with a title for him like Elvis’ fans did for him. I mean, c’mon. The Beatles never held a press conference declaring themselves to be the Royal Family of Rock and Roll4, right?

In my book, you don’t write titles for yourself (something our elected officials might want to make note of). If someone else wants to dub you something, fine. You thank them, then you don’t mention it yourself. You don’t go giving yourself accolades just because you think somehow you deserve them. We don’t deserve anything in this life. Just this little thing I have with a concept called humility.

One Bonus Prediction. In days to come, Michael Jackson’s death will be revealed to be not all it was initially reported. Shocking or saddening revelations will follow, along with a lot of finger-pointing by various factions. And the press will eat it up, because they’ve got to have something to fill their time with, and they sure ain’t gonna comment on the President’s bumbling. No special insight here on my part. I’m just sayin’.

  1. As I go to post this, one has surfaced on Facebook this morning: “Michael Jackson and Farrah Fawcett. Two white women in one day!” I call that a twofer.
  2. I don’t know what allegedly gave the Mayans special insight as to when the world will end. Those who say they are “experts” say that it is because the Mayan calendar ends in 2012. Funny, I thought it ended then because that’s when they ran out of room on the rock they carved it in. Hey, my desk calendar ends in December. Does that mean there’s no 2010?
  3. Remember, the world was supposed to end as the calendar flipped from 1999 to 2000 (c.f. Prince) – and 2000 was supposed to be the year Elvis made his back-from-the-dead comeback (because his shows always began with the “Theme from 2001” – never mind that this was not actually the name of that particular piece of music).
  4. Although John apparently declared that Paul was the Walrus. Or something like that.

Obama Bobbles Oath of Office; Al Franken to Contest Inauguration Results

In related news, Oliver Stone announced that he will write and produce a new movie, “The Shadow President,” based on the faulty swearing-in. When reminded that President Obama was a Democrat, he suddenly announced that the film would be “something about Dick Cheney.”

If I Ran The Zoo

On the radio station I wake up to, the morning show team was talking about the practicality of holding the election on a weekday, when people had to work. They pondered the idea of holding the election on a weekend or making voting day a holiday (The Junior Senator from Illinois advocated taking election day off – but wouldn’t that actually bring out more Republicans?).

This made me think of all the things I’d do differently if I were to retool our way of electing officials. Here’s what I’ve come up with over the last few years…

States Must Continually Verify Voter Registrations
It’s ridiculous for Voter Registration Organizations (ACORN) to overwhelm states with new additions to the voter rolls (Ohio) so close to an election. The strategy is surely to let some questionable ballots slip through. We have the technology to make keeping voter rolls clean an ongoing process. Voter registration should also be an ongoing process. It’s foolish to wait until things are in full swing to try and clean house. It should be kept clean from the start.

A Short Season
Campaign 08 has managed to drag on for two years. Yeah, that’s right. It was 2006 when the Junior Senator and Miss Hillary started sparring with a handful of other Democrats for the nomination. This has caused a lot of burnout on both sides of the aisle, and it also keeps Senators, Congressmen, and Governors away from their duties.

So how about: no talk of running for office until October of the year before the election. Any potential candidates then have 90 days to debate and raise money. There’s a two-week primary period during which the respective candidates are chosen. Then another ninety days, and then the election. An election cycle with the end clearly in sight – talk about a way to keep voters motivated!

Polls Forbidden
Polling would be forbidden from the beginning of the Election Cycle until the new President took office. Why? Because they’re an inexact science no matter how careful the pollsters allegedly are with their sampling, making them utterly useless other than as propaganda for one side or the other. They also can instill overconfidence in one side and burn out voters, especially when the election cycle runs as long as this one has.

I’ve been watching election polls since Ford v. Carter, and even worked as an exit poller for ABC News one year. I can tell you how the polls will run every election year:

2 Years Before The Election:
Any Democratic candidate would beat any Republican candidate.

1 Year Before The Election:
Democratic frontrunners would beat any Republican candidate.

Six Months Before the Election:
The Democratic frontrunner would beat the Republican frontrunner.

After the Democratic Convention:
The Democratic candidate would beat the Republican frontrunner.

After the Republican Convention:
The Republican candidate would beat the Democratic candidate. But that’s what is called a “convention spike”.

Two weeks after Republican convention to Two weeks before the Election:
The Democratic candidate has experienced some slippage, but maintains a commanding lead.

One Week Before the Election:
The race has become close, very close, but the Democratic candidate maintains the lead.

Election Eve:
It’s a statistical dead heat! Who can call it?

After the election:
It’s a shocker! The Republican won! Who could have known?

By eliminating polling, you would also force media outlets to report on the candidates themselves rather than falling back on a stale old platitude (“A commanding lead in the polls”) to carry their reportage.

No More “Get The Vote Out”
Voting is a right, but it’s also a civic duty. It’s kind of like serving in the military in that respect. If someone doesn’t want to vote, let them not vote. They will surely get the government they deserve. And let’s face it, there are some people who shouldn’t be voting – and there’s something fundamentally dishonest about putting a pen in their hand and marking an X if they don’t understand what they’re doing. Likewise loading people on a bus and pointing them toward the polls.

This is not to say if someone cannot get to the polls they don’t deserve a ride. Let’s get people who want to vote out there. I just think it’s wrong to truck warm bodies to polling places and encouraging their votes with a hot coffee and a Baby Ruth bar. Doesn’t that smack of the Draft to you?

The Purple Finger This is my favorite thing to come out of the Iraq war – the pictures of people leaving the polls, proudly waving their ink-stained fingers. That, friends, is what we fought for. And we should do that here.

That’s right. Forget the red, white and blue stickers for your lapel. Dip your finger in a well and get a true symbol of your patriotism. Besides discouraging voter fraud at the point of contact, it gives you a chance to harass those who didn’t vote for the week it takes the ink to wear off of your finger.

New Voting Day: April 16th
This should be a no-brainer. Not a solid date, of course, since they move the date your income taxes are due if April 15th falls on a weekend. But the day after they are due should be the day we go to the polls. I told this idea to my wife and she said, “If we did that, nobody would ever be re-elected.” What a shame, right?

Wait Until the Fat Lady Sings
Without exit polls and projections, people on the left coast would be spared from vote-discouraging projections (this was supposed to be “fixed”, but projections have been creeping back in of late). Also, states would be free to count the votes without worrying about some reporter’s deadline. It could probably all be done in one night, but if it takes two weeks to get it counted right, hey…

Instant Transition
So you’ve won the election! Congratulations! Now you have to wait three months while you grab headlines with word of your “transition team” and speculation on your cabinet appointments. I like how the British do it. If you’re on the losing end of the election, your lease at Number 10 Downing Street pretty much ends the next day. Make the switch within a week to give the President a chance to sign his controversial pardons. This would also put an end to three months of miscellaneous lame duckery.

One 6-Year Term
The President shall serve only one six-year term. That way he or she can do the job without losing focus during the re-election process. Besides, shaving two years of lame duckery off the end of most Presidential second terms instantly improves their record. For example, Iran Contra happened in the last two years of Ronald Reagan, and Monica Lewinsky happened in the final two years of Bill Clinton. How would their respective records look without those stains? Even Nixon would have fared better – no re-election worries, no Committee to Re-Elect the President – which, besides being responsible for Watergate, was unfortunately acronymed as CREEP. Now you can look back on that whole China visit thing without wincing!

Also, there shall be no talk of changing the rules for a second term, just like it annoys me when people talk about third terms for popular Presidents. I was against it when they talked about doing it for Reagan, and I was really against it when the talk was the same for Clinton. And mark my words. If the Junior Senator wins and doesn’t get routed out of office in 2012, there will be talk in 2016 of pulling the plug on that messy constitutional restriction.

So that’s my take on election reform. Eight short months from the time the candidates announce to the time a new President takes office. That’s how it should be in a perfect world – well, my perfect world, anyway. There’s still lots of other things I need to work on, like that whole messy fundraising thing, the stuff that McCain-Feingold either compounded or didn’t seem to do anything about. But that’s something for another day. Or another election cycle.

Obamapoly

Barack Obama is promising to bring change if elected. Now you can experience Obama’s brand of change first-hand, before you vote, to see if you like his policies. All you need is a Monopoly game. It might not be easy or fun – but it will give you a real taste of things to come!

THE BANK

There is no banker in Obamapoly. Instead, the player who distributes the money to players is called The Government. The player who is the government does not play like the other players, but is still able to accumulate property and conduct business, as specified below.

THE RULES

Play proceeds mostly as normal, with the following exceptions.

1) Players should keep their money in three piles. The Old Money, which is what they have accumulated on previous turns; New Money, which are funds taken in since last passing Go; and Tax Money, which is 10% of the value of the player’s property, houses and hotels.

2) When players reach Go again, they may not pass it. Instead, they must stop on it and wait for other players to catch up.

THE GO PHASE (APRIL 15th)

Once all players are stopped on Go, the following things happen.

1) Players give their Tax Money to The Government. If they do not have tax money set aside, the government may collect 20% of any monies on hand or seize property to cover the debt.

2) Players must also give The Government 10% of their Old Money.

3) The Government then looks at the New Money collected by all the players. The player with the most New Money becomes “The Top 5%.”

Let’s say on April 15th, the situation looks like this:

Player 1: $150
Player 2: $200
Player 3: $70
Player 4: $50

Player 2 then becomes “The Top 5%.”

The Government then collects half of the New Money from all players. The amount due in our example would look like this:

Player 1: $75
Player 2: $100
Player 3: $35
Player 4: $25

Thus, the players are left with these amounts and The Government collects $235. The Government now “spreads the wealth around” and gives the remaining 95% of Americans a “Tax Cut.” The amount given to each player should leave them with the same amount of New Money that “The Top 5%” has left. Looking at our example:

Player 1: $75 + $25 = $100
Player 2: $100 + $0 = $100
Player 3: $35 + $65 = $100
Player 4: $25 + $75 = $100

The “Top 5%” of course, receives nothing.

If not all of the monies are redistributed, The Government keeps what is left over. In our example, having redistributed $165 of the $235 collected, The Government may now pocket the remaining $70.

Having completed the Go Phase, players may now collect $200 and continue play until reaching Go again. Begin with the player who was the poorest before April 15th.

MORE RULES

3) If a player does not have enough money to pay another player Rent, he or she may petition The Government to intervene. The Government may do this by a), dictating a fair price for rent that the player can afford, or b) subsidizing the player’s rent by paying it out of Government funds (formerly “The Bank”).

4) A player never leaves the game because of Bankruptcy. A player who has lost everything may petition The Government for a Bailout, after which The Government pays their rent for the remainder of the game.

ENDING THE GAME

Obamapoly ends when:

1) The Government runs out of money, or,

2) The Government owns all of the property on the board, or,

3) All Non-Government players quit in disgust.

DETERMINING THE WINNER

Everyone wins. It is more fair that way.

HOUSE RULES

Do not use any house rules when playing Obamapoly. They are not fair.