Saturday, November 29, 2008

The 2008 Christmas Video Game Buying Guide!

The First Annual Christmas Video Game Buying Guide
(Why we have to suck it up and buy “Mario”)

It’s no super secret video games are expensive. At an average of fifty dollars a game, there is little wonder most parents are reluctant to part with their Santa savings on something they may know little about. Even those of us (myself included) who grew up staring into the arcade abyss cannot claim to have thorough knowledge of the genre (I grew up and had kids – it happens). I still find time to waste a few hours a week on a handful of top titles. I’ll race anyone on MarioKart Wii and completed Burnout Revenge a few months ago. Other than playing games which appeal to my kids, I’ve little knowledge of the outside gaming world of stripper-shooting-pimp-gangstas, futuristic war chiefs or chainsaw-wielding anti-heroes. Although I’ve bought a few of these games, I rarely find time to play them (kids, writing, life, the universe, etc). Like most parents, I don’t think my 11-year-old; my 3-year-old or my 21-month old is quite ready for "Grand Theft Auto" or "Gears of War." Why is it if so many parents do not want these games in their homes, kids as young as 7 demand them from St. Nick? It can’t be rebellion (little young). A desire to conform and belong? Maybe, but kids are independent these days. The best answer, I’m afraid, is as plain as the plastic machine gun sticking out of Santa’s bag of toys: the games are good.

Kid-focused games (rated E for Everyone for those keeping score) have been getting a bad wrap for quite some time – and with good reason. With the notable exception of Nintendo’s “Mario” franchise, they stink. Go ahead, parents, ask your kids. They’ll even spell it out for you: S-T-I-N-K. They’re lame, they blow chunks, and they’re just not that fun. This shoddiness has been known for some time (like 20 years) but most parents, even those who are still gamers, try to ignore it. We’d like to think our kids would enjoy jumping around as Curious George as much as we enjoy decapitating zombies in "Resident Evil" but they don’t. In fact, the “Curious George” video game epitomizes the majority of flaws in children’s titles.

In designing a kid’s video game, the software company has two principal goals in mind: recognizability/marketing ability and affordability/profitability. Software companies want to license characters that are recognizable to kids, making the titles easy sells for stores like Wal-Mart and Target. Kids (and parents) are more likely to buy something they know than something they don’t. This is why there are eight million products featuring Elmo and about three with Eloise, Olivia or Babar. Currently, there are games starring characters from the movies “Cars, “Madagascar” and “Wall-E” on the shelves. The basic reasoning for these tie-ins is that if the movies are fun, then the games must be fun also. I bought “Cars” for my son and me because the film was his favorite for the last year. We played it for approximately two hours. I would have played it longer but driving aimlessly around the virtual Radiator Springs left me needing a mental tune-up. I purchased “Curious George” for similar reasons and quit playing it after I couldn’t guide poor George out of a construction site I had no idea why he was in to begin with.

I also bought “Cars” and “Curious George” because they were cheap. There’s quite a few $19.99 “budget” kids titles on the Target shelves. They all start at $49.99 (the Mario price) but within two months, they’ve been discounted. Software companies take this pricing into account when they develop their games, spending significantly less on game design and testing, choosing to focus their energies on long-range titles like Grand Theft Auto and Halo. If you’ve ever asked yourself why many of these games make little sense and are hard to play, this is your chance to level up. Usually the first two levels of the kids’ games are fun and then the misery begins. The first levels are known in the industry as “demo” levels, designed to appeal to electronics buyers at Wal-Mart and Target. Usually the buyer will only get those stages and will be asked to make a bulk purchasing decision based upon them.

The first level for “Cars” is a race and a fun one. Lightning McQueen is easy to control and driving in the race would appeal to kids and adults who like racing games like the NASCAR series. It is after this race, that the player wants to drive McQueen off the cliff and hopes Mater is too busy harassing combines to find him. Similarly, “Curious George” begins with an appealing level in the jungle designed to highlight George’s abilities. The player jumps, climbs and swings his way in pursuit of the Man with the Yellow Hat. After this, however, George is inexplicably placed in locations such as a marketplace rooftop and the previously mentioned construction site and cannot perform half of the abilities showcased in the first level. Can you spell “lame”, George?

Software companies bank on the idea that economically conscious parents might not care how fun a game is if it’s cheap. It is twice as affordable as “Mario” and five times cheaper than the popular rhythm game, “Guitar Hero.” After all, if kids tell Mom and Dad they want “Wall-E” for Christmas, why not get it for them if it’s cheap? Incidentally, “Wall-E” is supposed to be worse than “Cars” or “George.” Most of us can remember a time when us or our children wanted a toy so bad, got it for Christmas and put it down soon after, never to be played with again, exiled to the infamous Island of Misfit Toys. The big problem with video games is the companies know this is going to happen. Kids games (with the exception of “Mario”) are rarely tested by companies for playability and overall “fun factor” in the same fashion as titles like “Grand Theft Auto.”

Testing is conducted by all software companies to ensure games play as their designers intended (no “glitches”) and to guarantee players do not become too frustrated for the wrong reasons such as wondering around aimlessly for hours looking for something they can’t see (like a gray door on a gray wall). Testing is performed extensively on titles like “Grand Theft Auto” because the company expects the game to sell millions of copies. Every aspect of the game has to work perfectly or the game (and possibly the franchise) will tank, costing the company millions of dollars. Sales of the “Grand Theft Auto”, “Halo” and “Gears of War” franchises eclipse 20 million whereas sales of “Curious George” might not even clear 50 thousand. Sadly, most software companies just don’t care about releasing quality kids’ games and do not allocate the same time to test the games in the same fashion as the best sellers. Their desire is to merely move product into a specific demographic without attempting to appeal to a broader audience. This lack of vision for the “everyone” market has resulted in a negative perception regarding most of these titles (kinda like Big Auto).

Parents do have viable alternatives, but they are not bargains. Nintendo’s “Mario” franchise, mentioned earlier, can always be counted on for hours of family fun. For the past 25 years, Nintendo has kept close watch on the quality of its games. The racing game, “Mario Kart Wii”, may look “cartooney”, but its physics and playability make it the best racing title available on any system. Players can even go online and challenge someone anywhere in the world. “Super Smash Brothers” appeals to button-mashers everywhere. A fighting game with no violence or gore, even the youngest players (such as my son, Shane), can pick it up immediately and have hours of fun. This game is also perfect for parents who hate playing games but are egged on to play with their kids. Little learning, lots of enjoyment. Nintendo’s current “flagship” title, “Super Mario Galaxy”, succeeds where games like “Cars” and “Curious George” fail. The controls are easy to learn, the storyline plausible and is challenging but not headache inducing. It is by far the best game available this year. However, these games are not cheap, sitting at that fifty-dollar price level with little hope of downward movement. That’s ok. With these games, you will get what you pay for: happy children around the T.V. while parents relax in an easy chair, sipping Christmas Eggnog.

Wednesday, November 26, 2008

Bailout III - Revenge of the Myth

“I don’t care about losing all the money. It’s losing all the stuff”
-Bernadette Peters (as Marie) in “The Jerk.”

Once upon a time, I went for a happy hour with a co-worker, Mike, and a friend of his whose name escapes me. His friend was from Finland (probably why I can’t remember the name) and made his living as a flower sales rep, pimping his wares to greenhouses and garden stores throughout Minnesota. He seemed to enjoy his job and definitely loved living in America. Mike had to leave early, leaving the two of us to engage in further libatious conversation. I was amazed by the Finlander’s frankness regarding American consumerism, listening to him count off all the expensive items he wanted to own. I politely asked him why he needed all these things. Giving me a confused and slightly offended look, he stated, “There are all these things out there and I just have to buy them.” Sometimes those who learned English as a second language are the ones who best utilize it.

Our government’s latest bailout, credit bank giant Citigroup, should come as no shock to those who have credit cards and enjoy the second Great American Pastime, shopping. Most of us have one credit card, perhaps several, maybe even a dozen. Full disclosure: I have three: Target, Sears and a Citicard. Check your wallets and purses, kiddies. Bet you have at least one of these, too. With the holiday spending frenzy quickly approaching, the cards will be processed more often and faster than an Alaskan turkey.

The never-ending quest for more stuff has ballooned into a true main street crisis. Many consumers possess more credit card debt than they could ever hope to pay back. Quick Adam Koeppe Simple Math: If your credit card balance is over $10,000 with an interest rate of 20 percent or more – THIS IS YOU. Some bank, such as Citigroup, is responsible for this lending and also for absorbing the outstanding balance. Even with their finances in disarray, Citi will still lend us more money so we can purchase Holiday necessities like ginormous Plasma TV’s, fake plastic rock n’ roll games and the all-new Antichrist Elmo (Elmo turns into the son of Satan with just one button – it’s so cute!). How can Citi, or any other credit bank, manage to do this even with the knowledge that some cardholders cannot pay them back? I talked to one of my trusted economic advisors, Mr. Wizard the Lizard, who transported me to the place with all the answers.

Imaginationland! Where everything is possible but nothing is real! A magical place where you can go to the mall and have it all! Lions, tigers and even man-bear-pigs, perch on the shelves, ready to fly – oh my! Your biggest wishes can come true, if you have a plastic, golden ticket ready to use. There’s no limit to what you can get: a purse, a socket set, a diamond – even your own personal jet. Trinkets, chocolates, booze or a cruise; if you sign that receipt, it’s yours to use. Don’t worry, it’s all covered under the plastic sun. Decorate your room anyway you please. Stock your refrigerator with imported Blue Cheese. The only limit is your personal desire. Roast marshmallows on a digital fire. It’s easy to keep up with the Joneses. Get a new car, a boat or even a goat. Fall asleep and dream in a bed filled with roses.

Drizzle drazzle, druzzle drome,
Time for reality to come home.

Imaginary money runs out. There is a limit to the amount of cash the banker can lend you in Monopoly. If you mortgage all your properties, you are done if you don’t make it past “Go!” Citigroup and potentially other credit lenders were unlikely to survive if they landed on “Boardwalk” or “Park Place.” Like many Americans, they became overextended. If the wizard behind the curtain has no money, he can grant no wishes. So we (taxpayers), are giving money to a credit bank so we (taxpayers), can buy more stuff we can’t afford. Welcome to Ironyland.

It’s time for us to channel our “inner Linus” and realize what life is all about. It isn’t about big trucks (even though they rock), videogames (I own hundreds), or the hottest trinket of the day (I pre-ordered it on Amazon). Life is about the things we cannot buy. Love, friendship and happiness cannot be rented. Either you have it or you don’t. Whether you have all the money in the world or not a dime to your name, if you have these things, they can never be taken away. It is a myth that we need all this extra stuff to survive. Sure, a personal plane would be awesome but nobody really needs it. If you can afford it – great. If you can’t – don’t pretend. If you can pay for sushi – eat up. If you can’t – chow at McDonalds. If that’s out of reach, there’s always cooking. People used to do it back in the Stone Age. Look around your home. What do you see that you really need? Personally, I can count four things: my kids, my wife, my friends and my memories. For a little while, let’s discard the myth of more stuff and focus on what’s real. Let’s be thankful. Let’s be brilliant. Let us all be loved.

Saturday, November 22, 2008

Retro-Review: Sesame Street - The Death of Mr. Hooper

Last night, I watched something that made me cry. Easily one of the most powerful pieces of television I’ve ever seen, it reached into my childhood and brought forth my latent four-year old self. This show deserved a “Best Drama” Emmy far more than any of the now-dated shows which were considered. Is anyone really watching “Hill Street Blues” box sets? “St. Elsewhere?” “Cagney and Lacey?” However, I’m pretty sure somebody somewhere is watching “Sesame Street” right now. Either on DVD, You Tube or in another country, “Sesame Street” has been a constant presence in our lives since its debut in 1969. “Sesame Street” has never been associated with gut-wrenching, heart-stopping moments like those regularly seen on cop, law and medical shows – except for one time. In 1982, Will Lee, the actor who played storeowner, Mr. Hooper, died of a heart attack.

The show’s creator, Jim Henson, never believed in talking down to children and chose to address Mr. Hooper’s death through the show’s eternal three year old, Big Bird. In a rare scene featuring all of “Sesame Street’s” human characters, they support Big Bird through the three stages of grief: denial, anger and acceptance. All of the actors gave strong performances in this segment with Sonia Marzano as “Maria” and Bob McGrath as “Bob” being particularly moving. Both actors were able to combine skill and actual emotions, unable to hold back tears as they delivered their lines. The result is a moving mediation on what death means without identifying with any specific culture or dogma.

My son, Shane, is 3 ½ years old, approximately the same age as Big Bird. He is discovering the concept of dying, picking up on its never-ending presence in the media and daily conversation. I guess that was inevitable. Like many boys, he makes little robots with his Legos and engages them in imaginary battle. As one of them is destroyed, he shouts, “They died!” My wife and I asked him not to say the phrase and Shane asked “Why? Why not die?” This was a much tougher question to answer than why the sun rises or why it gets cold in winter. It was clear Shane did not understand the meaning of his words or at least what the words mean to adults.

I was stumped. Maybe it’s the video games. They’re easy enough to blame for children’s problems. Shane had started to play a platform game based on the cartoon “Ben 10”, which resembled the classic Castlevania games on the old Nintendo. He’s so proud of himself when he completes a level: “Da-Da! Da-Da! I win! I got the bad guys!” When he loses, he sadly states, “I died.” It’s definitely a “Cat’s In the Cradle” situation. Shane has seen his Daddy play tons of video games in the basement. Too small to master the controls of an Xbox or Wii, he wanted to play a game he could be good at, too. I have been playing video games since I was his age, spending every quarter I had on “Pac-Man, “Space Invaders” and “Asteroids.”

As I struggled on how to explain death to Shane, I was watching my You Tube playlist of educational videos with my 23-month old, Romana. I named it “Romana’s Playlist” after my little girl who loves music and words. The playlist mostly consists of classic “Sesame Street” clips, ones my 34-year old brain still remembers. While Romana and I were watching the comedic exploits of Ernie, Grover and Cookie Monster, I noticed a “related video” link to the “Sesame Street” episode addressing the death of Mr. Hooper. I had never seen this clip. When it aired, I was nine years old and in the third grade. My PBS viewing habits had switched to afternoon viewings of “Doctor Who.” As I watched it, I felt like the TARDIS had taken me back in time to a place long forgotten in my subconscious. Unable to interfere, I watched the drama unfold and wept.

My mother probably remembers Mr. Hooper’s death better than I do. When we were unboxing my old toys for Shane and Romana to play with, we found the “Little People” figure of Mr. Hooper. While looking at it, Mom said, “There’s Mr. Hooper. He died.” Her voice was sad, yet reassuring. She knew Mr. Hooper better than I did. My mom stayed home and raised me until I started school. We watched countless episodes of “Sesame Street” together. She identified with the human characters as well as I did, if not better. Mr. Hooper, Bob, Maria, Luis, Olivia, Susan, Gordon, David and Linda shared an hour with us five days a week. They were not just your neighbors. They were your friends. They exemplified the good in us all. Possessing unending optimism, humor and compassion, these were people you wanted to live in your neighborhood. Losing Mr. Hooper felt like losing a close friend. My mom never watched soap operas. If she escaped into another world, it was the utopia created by Jim Henson: a place without prejudice or conflict.

Shane came home today from swimming lessons in one of his cute, goofy moods. My wife, Andrea, was trying to get his coat and shoes off while Shane made jokes. Making his fingers into play guns, he shouted “Psheww! Psheww! You died!” at Andrea. I chose this time to show what I learned from “Sesame Street”:

Yeah, Dad?
Do you want Mommy to go away?
Then you don’t want Mommy to die.

Shane didn’t mention dying for a while after that.

It was not just the sensitive empathy for Big Bird that made this episode of “Sesame Street” exceptional, but its reaffirming hope, trust and belief in the circle of life at the episode’s end. The juxtaposition of Big Bird hanging Mr. Hooper’s portrait in his room as he is introduced to a newborn child is as profound and affecting as any piece of literature ever created. With death, there is also life and when there’s life, there is hope. This hope is inherent in the human race and defies the specter of death. It is in the hearts of children everywhere: in their imaginations, on a street filled with friendship and in the memories of all us Big Birds.

Saturday, November 15, 2008

Blame Me For the Minnesota Senate Recount!

The 2008 Minnesota Senate Recount – Blame Me!

It’s embarrassing to be a Minnesotan these days. The past two months has been a pr nightmare for our state tourism department. Instead of the Land of 10,000 Lakes, you can travel to Lakeville, the infamous city where a crazy old lady called Barack Obama “an Arab.” Better yet, travel cross-country though Minnesota’s 6th District, the only congressional district in the entire county to vote a neo-McCarthyist back into office. A prospective visitor could also purchase the Vandalism Package and visit the residences of politicians that were tagged by anarchists during the election. A splendid time guaranteed for all. Seems we Minnesotans can’t catch a break. We can’t even elect a U.S. Senator without major complications. Accusations and lawsuits are flying back and forth between candidates Norm Coleman and Al Franken, making it obvious that whoever captures the senate seat, neither candidate deserved to get it. Journalists are looking everywhere for someone to blame for this mess. Look no further, true believers, for I have an exclusive scoop not found on Drudge, Huffington or in newsprint. Put those pens to paper, people, for I have a confession – it’s my fault.

I happen to be one of the estimated 437,377 Minnesotans who cast their vote for independent candidate Dean Barkley. Barkley, a former U.S. Senator (albeit for 2 months, replacing the late Paul Wellstone), had little money and no advertising budget but still managed to garner 15 percent of the vote. Like most voters, my decision was based on the issues. Barkley’s stance on the...umm…bailout…uhh…taxes…mmm…economy…uhh health care – actually, I have no idea what Senator Barkley’s positions on these issues are. However, despite being subjected to countless ads by candidates Coleman and Franken, I had no idea what their stances on these issues were either. I knew only one certain fact these two men stood for: attacking each other.

Coleman and Franken spent the last several months accusing each other of anything reprehensible except being a domestic terrorist, which was already being utilized by another campaign. Coleman’s ads accused Franken of being a pornographer, a tax-evader and committing unlawful use of electronic talking fish. Franken’s ads accused Coleman of being a lobbyist lapdog, a CEO comrade and hanging out with President George Bush on the White House swingset. Like I stated earlier, I voted on the issues. These two men ran disgraceful campaigns reminiscent of old-school AWA trash talking. The rants of Bobby “The Brain” Heenan, Mad Dog Vachon and Jesse “The Body” Ventura resembled honest rhetoric in comparison. By Election Day, my view of Coleman and Franken resembled the public’s perception of professional wrestling: a complete and total joke. So why did I vote for Senator Barkley? Why did I send the great state of Minnesota into political infamy? I had no choice. It was my duty as an American citizen to not vote for two major party douche bags.

Senator Norm Coleman used to be a Democrat until he thought he could achieve higher office easier as a Republican. The former mayor of St. Paul was instrumental in the construction of the Excel Energy Center, home to the Minnesota Wild and site of the 2008 Republican National Convention. But Coleman was a Democrat then…or was he? Coleman enjoyed palling around with Bush but also championed his ability to reach across the aisle to his former party. He was able to secure federal money to rebuild the collapsed 35W bridge because of his unique ability to raise his hand in the classroom first. It is highly unlikely any Minnesota politician would have been denied this request. Coleman has also taken documented trips overseas payed for by lobbyists. He is also being sued by a Texas businessman who claims he was forced to funnel money to Coleman’s campaign. The only facts I know for certain about Norm are ones I have seen personally. I lived in St. Paul when he was mayor and bumped into him twice. Norm Coleman is guilty of renting movies at Blockbuster Video and likes to browse vinyl records. Although the search for that one cool record you don’t have is an honorable and justifiable cause, it is not enough qualification for the United States Senate.

Although I’ve never met him, I’ve known about Al Franken for years, remembering his portrayal of Stuart Smalley on Saturday Night Live. Smalley was known for looking into the mirror and stating “I'm good enough, I'm smart enough, and doggone it, people like me." Franken must have hated this role with a passion, as he has done everything possible to smash this image. In 2003, Franken stated he was planning on moving back to his home state to run against Coleman. A complete carpetbagger who had not resided in Minnesota for decades, he must certainly have thought Senator Coleman would be vulnerable five years into the future. Who knew Stuart’s mirror was also a crystal ball? When Franken stared into the crystal ball in 2003, he believed his friend Hillary Clinton would become the Democratic Presidential nominee. If Clinton campaigned for him, there would be little chance of defeat. Truth be told, Hillary Clinton did stump for Franken, even going so far as to do a TV ad for him – but she was not the candidate for president. It must be noted the Democratic candidate for president, Barack Obama, never campaigned for Franken.

Unlike Senator Coleman and Mr. Franken, I take full and total responsibilty for the Minnesota Senate race. If you’re looking for someone to blame, look no further. I did it. It was my choice and I’m proud of my decision. I stand by my actions and am willing to suffer the consequences. Go ahead, America, lay the burden upon me. I can take it. Blame me! Blame my wife, Andrea! She voted for Barkley too! Blame my Dad who wanted to vote for Barkley but chose Franken because he hated Coleman! Blame the 15 percent of Minnesotans who were completely repulsed by this campaign! The recount is our fault. If the hundreds of attorneys representing both candidates are reading, I’m ready for you. Bring it on. I’d rather be free than a partisan tool any day.

P.S. If you would like to share the blame and take the world off my shoulders, send an email to:

Wednesday, November 12, 2008

Bailout II - The Wrath of Big Auto

Big Auto. The Big Three, Ford, General Motors and Chrysler, are bona-fide American icons. Icons that inspired such devotion that it if you bought one brand, it was assumed you hated the other two. An unlicensed decal of Bill Watterson’s “Calvin” urinating on the desired automaker is a common sight on the road. Pride in the American auto industry could best be summarized in a Ford commercial starring country star Toby Keith, who sings in the usual country-rock bravado, “I’m a Ford Truck Man! That’s all I drive!” Try contrasting this with heavy-metal icons Metallica rocking to their favorite HD TV manufacturer. The difference, obviously, is one is real and the other I just made up. Despite their continual assertion that the Big Three is an icon that cannot be allowed to fail, the future is burning a different trail in the road.

Several major commercial icons failed in the latter part of the 20th century. MaBell, Joe Camel, the Hamm’s Beer Bear, the Merrill Lynch Bull and Michael Jackson. We survived, moved on and accepted change. Jobs were lost but it is understood that any good worker picks themselves up and finds another line of work. Persistence, determination and the desire to better one’s self are qualities admired in any worker - or individual. These attributes are sorely lacking in the boardrooms of the Big Three. There is an argument out there, which states, in summary, that nobody forced Americans to buy these SUVs, ramblers and other mini monster trucks. The monopoly of Big Auto gave car buyers little choice; kinda like choosing between Marlboro and Camel cigarettes or Budweiser and Miller beer. They’re basically the same but different in their logo wear and what the consumer chooses to identify with.

Big Auto wants big money and it’s a big joke. My dreaded “Adam Koeppe Simple Math” proves this. The first 25 billion dollars dolled out to Big Auto is designated for transitional purposes only. This money is to be used for research and development, plant conversion and general preparation for the public’s desire for fuel-efficient vehicles. The second bailout request, however, is for general operating expenses; the day-to-day business activities that Big Auto says they no longer can afford which could range from CEO compensation all the way down to keeping car dealerships afloat. It will take 1-3 years for most of the manufacturing plants to convert to production of different models. Until that time, Big Auto wants to use government money (our money) to produce the same vehicles Americans no longer want to buy. This money would be spent in a vicious circle, with the corporate hand landing right back on the government bank.

This second bailout request could be utilized much more efficiently. Wouldn’t it be better for the bailout money to pay autoworkers to stay home until the retooling is done? I’m proposing a fully-paid layoff for up to two years with the incentive of a tax credit for individuals who find another job. This certainly has to be more viable that operating a pet rock factory. This could help the middle class whom this affects the most and also hold Big Auto accountable for redesigning their products.

Thus far, Big Auto has said big little about how exactly they will use any of the bailout money they already have. They have offered no comprehensive plan, no timetable and generally no direction. Sound familiar? These companies have given no reason why they should be trusted with this money. Further proof of this can be found in the film “Who Killed the Electric Car?” I could spoil the story but I’ll leave that up to Ed Begley Jr.

The downfall of the Big Three has been anticipated for some time. Consider the dealership ads claiming “No money? No credit? No problem!” Actually, no money and no credit is a big problem, which has directly contributed to our current credit crisis. The dealerships policy for defaulted car loans is to call up Emilio Estevez, have the vehicle repossessed and put it back on the car lot for sale. The “Repo Man” concept only works if anybody wants to buy these vehicles. Otherwise, they’re just stocking their stores with videotapes.

Big Auto has failed to realize Americans’ purchasing preferences have changed. People are far more interested in buying a gigantic flat screen TV than a truck with a kick-ass HEMI. The tradition of a family going to a dealership to pick out a new car has eroded; a 20th century relic. More people are turning to internet sites such as Carsoup and Vehix to make their decisions. This could be the end of corporate dealerships but – so what? Small dealers will easily replace these over time. Sometimes we have to accept change, whether we like it or not.

Big Auto’s big begging represents a comprehensive failure on the administrative level and they should be held accountable. Putting tens of thousands of American workers out of work is not acceptable but neither is funding a video store. Unless the Big Three state a comprehensive restructuring plan, our tax dollars will be spent on an aging giant that refuses to modernize, preferring to watch old videos of the 1970’s car crash classic “Gone in 60 Seconds.” Maybe they’ll learn before it’s too late.

Saturday, November 8, 2008

The Question The World Wants Answered

Our society is looking at the dawn of a new era. A time of imminent change and more than a little uncertainty. The universe is in chaos, with no clear direction in sight. Our enemies are making chess plays in anticipation of an unknown response. Families are huddled behind the sofa watching a black and white TV. Citizens of the world are paying attention, anticipating the information vital to the future of us all. What will happen next? We’re glued to the You Tube waiting for an answer. Just who will be the next “Doctor Who?”

Over its 45 year history, “Doctor Who: has been played by ten actors. The current lame-duck Doctor, David Tennant, has made an inspired decision to abdicate his position while the getting is good. His portrayal of the Doctor is widely viewed as successful; stimulating the “Who” economy into the stratosphere. However, Tennant’s departure leaves a void. Can Doctor Who be sustained or will it fall into science fiction recession like its counterpart “Star Trek?” Certainly a stimulus is needed, but of what kind and of what magnitude? The entire universe is at stake!

After an intense meeting with my Doctor Who transitional team, we have decided on several viable options. They may not be what you’re looking for. The road will not be easy, but we will get there. We need your support and a desire to reach across the Atlantic aisle. There is a need to provide immediate relief for the Whovian middle class. Those that like “Doctor Who” but can’t afford expanded cable coverage. Those who want a centrist Doctor; not too young, not too old, not a dandy nor a clown. We need to get someone from the middle, yet provide the bravado needed to propel the home state of Galifrey into a new prospective on its place in the universe. After close consultation, deliberation and standing around on the generic rock quarry, my transitional team has made the following recommendations.

Richard E Grant, Rowan Atkinson. Both actors have tasted the part in the parody film “The Curse of Fatal Death” and succeeded admirably. Grant, having also played the Doctor in an animated internet story, is positioned to have his foot stuck in the TARDIS door. Charming, suave and spindly, a Grant “Doctor” could succeed where many have failed. Given that the 8th Doctor, Paul McCann, was his costar in the cult film “Withnail and I”, a celebrated multi-doctor story would be fascinating. Grant and McGann defeat the Daleks by convincing their creator Davros to engage in an extended battle of wits through binge-drinking, causing him accidentally destroy the Daleks himself. Atkinson, on the other hand, brings his sarcastic “Blackadder” persona along with the antics of “Mr. Bean.” He could be the most schizophrenic of Doctors, relying on his earnest companion for the plan that cannot fail. His demise would be spectacular, considering the practice Atkinson has had already. The Doctor could regenerate through multiple time streams!

Sarah Jessica Parker. Since long-time favorite Doctor, Tom Baker, suggested in his departure that the new Doctor could be a woman, there has been speculation on what actress could assume the role. Parker would be absolutely fabulous, a sweetie-darling Joanna Lumley could be envious of. No longer will there be talks of a show run on a shoe-string budget. Parker’s wardrobe would rival that of Sarah Palin’s. The Doctor won’t have just one costume, but several in the same story. A chameleon of sorts, Parker would increase the love-story element injected in the new series and take it to a new level. “Mr. Big” is the new “Bad Wolf”: scattered throughout time for the Doctor to find clues which lead to her true love. This series would hearken back to 5th Doctor Peter Davison’s era of multiple companions. Bickering in the TARDIS would know no bounds. The fate of galaxies depends on just who is – or is not – “saveworthy.”

Tom Baker. Through the miracle of modern technology, Baker becomes the Doctor one more time, fulfilling desires of sci-fi geeks everywhere and absolutely no-one else. Baker distanced himself from the part for the past 25 years until David Tennant eclipsed him in popularity. Suddenly Baker began giving extensive DVD commentaries for stories he previously claimed he remembered nothing. Baker would love to regain the prominence he enjoyed for so long. Too bad he’s been voted out for someone younger, more dynamic and in touch with today’s audience.

Nicole Sullivan. An incredibly talented performer who gained a wide following after her years on “Mad TV”, Sullivan’s immense comedic talent has been wasted in drivel such as “The King of Queens” and “Rita Rocks.” Her agent must be one of the worst in Hollywood. She needs to find Ari Emmanuel right now. Sullivan would thrive as “Doctor Who.” Longtime fans of the series worship the 2nd Doctor, Patrick Troughton and a return to dark whimsy might be the change new head writer Steven Moffat is looking for.

Charles Barkley. Barkley, a Hall of Fame athlete, potential politician and part-time comedian could be just the right fit for the most challenging part on TV. It is rumored actor Patterson Joseph is on the short list but Barkley could be a dark horse in the running. If the series truly seeks change, what better time to have an African American star in a show previously ran by white guys? Seems to work pretty good these days. Barkley could also mark a return to the comedy era of Troughton.

Michael Chiklis/Keifer Sutherland. Chiklis’ current series, “The Shield” is ending its run shortly and would be available for the part. Similarly, Sutherland’s series, “24”, will be cancelled in the next few months after audiences tire of improbable plotlines that make “Doctor Who” look realistic in comparison. If Moffat wants a Doctor in the mold of 3rd Doctor Jon Pertwee, these actors surely must be at the top of the list. A true man of action, Chiklis would defeat the Daleks and Cybermen by kicking the living crap out of them. If you think choking the companion like 6th Doctor, Colin Baker, was extreme, wait till Vic Mackie gauges out the Master’s eye with the sonic screwdriver. Sutherland would be similar in the role, except for adding the word “Dammit” whenever the Doctor is angry.

Ted McGinley. The series killer! For all of those who hate “Doctor Who” and pray nightly for its cancellation, look no further. Your prayers will be answered if long-shot McGinley gets the part. Actually, if McGinley is offered the part of “3rd Cyberman from the left”, the same result would occur.

Senator John McCain. An inspired choice for fans of the original Doctor Who, William Hartnell, McCain’s similarities with the first incarnation are astounding. At times crotchety, absent-minded and confused, McCain could channel the spirit of the original series. His companion would resemble the first Doctor’s granddaughter, Susan Foreman. Despite being a Time Lord like the Doctor, Susan constantly tripped over her ankle and found herself in many compromising situations. McCain has extensive experience with this type of companion and could even be able to recommend a highly qualified candidate for the part.

I urge all readers to vet these candidates carefully and give one of them your support. Many of you are looking for something new to do these days, so get those phones a-goin’ and blogs a-typin’. Change is coming to “Doctor Who” and you can make it happen.

Thursday, November 6, 2008

Ewok Celebration!

Ewok Celebration!

The Return of the Jedi!

The rebels blew up the Death Star!

The day “the man” lost!

Ewoks danced. Old friends embraced a new peace. On the expanded, “special edition”, creator George Lucas added footage of civilizations all over the galaxy celebrating the destruction of the empire. These images parallel those shown from countries around the world after Barack Obama was elected President of the United States. Complete strangers cried in each others arms with joy. These moments captured the hearts and imaginations of the world. What’s so wrong with that?

The comparison between “Return of the Jedi” and Obama’s victory is far from superficial. “Jedi” was well-received on its release but is now considered the weakest of the original “Star Wars” trilogy, called by Dante in the Kevin Smith film “Clerks” as “a bunch of muppets”. Similarly, the euphoria surrounding Senator Obama could lessen after the initial honeymoon period. Should the Obama administration stumble in a way similar to the first Clinton administration, it would be easy to draw a comparison with Lucas’ prequel trilogy: an ill-fated attempt to create a future while stumbling into the past.

For a moment, let’s look at what Barack Obama and his millions of supporters have created. Instead of electing a president based on caricature (Reagan, Clinton, Bush II), the United States has elected a real person; a man who is almost excessively accessible to the media. A president we might not immediately identify with, but aspire to be in the vein of Lincoln, Roosevelt and Kennedy.

George Lucas has recently launched his latest “Star Wars” project, “The Clone Wars.” Universally panned by critics, “The Clone Wars” film was uninspiring and at times, quantifiably boring. My son, Shane (3 years old), reviewed it better than Roger Ebert ever could: “Robots and robots and robots!” The ensuing series on Cartoon Network, is a distinct improvement despite online rants by haters like Harry Knowles. More telling is the effect of the new series on kids. Just a few days ago, I watched two boys pretend to be “Commander Rex” and “Commander Cody” in a space fight against the droids. They’re excited. They’re involved. They believe. Who am I to take their butterfly?

Maybe us old guys have gotten too cynical. Like it or not, we have bias for a past which was never as shining as the one idealized in our minds. An overwhelming fear of being disappointed yet again. Every attempt to do so is doomed to fall short. However, there is a new generation who believes without skepticism. We all remember a time when “Star Wars” reeked of cool. The core message of Lucas’ films was of hope, redemption and unending faith in your friends. It is the same message sent by millions of American citizens on November 4th, 2008.

Some things are bigger than pessimism and doubt. Maybe, just once, all of us, should enjoy the moment for what it is: a vindication of belief; a legacy of unending faith. Let’s all be kids again and enjoy the experience that is life. Let the fantasy become reality – even if it’s only for a second; rekindle our hearts and imaginations. Citizens of the world, Ewoks, Wookies and Hutts – it’s your right. Celebrate tonight!

President Obama, may the force be with you.