It happens every four years: an event that saturates the media, dominates dinner conversation, polarizes families and turns otherwise mostly sensible people into yammering partisan bozos.
I refer, naturally, to the Summer Olympics.
However, since I know nothing about three-man synchronized freestyle underwater skeet shooting, let us dwell instead on a subject about which I know next to nothing the presidential race.
Yes, once again it's time to choose between a socialist busybody who wants to take most of your money and give it to poor people you don't know, while butting his nose into every aspect of your life; and a privileged rich guy who wants to take most of your money and give it to other rich people, while keeping his nose out of your life, except when it comes to how you worship, where you come from, what you smoke and who you sleep with.
Come Nov. 6, slightly more than half of America's voting-age population will cast their ballots for one of these choices. In case you're wondering, this is a significantly lower percentage than in Australia, Botswana or the Cook Islands, but not too much worse than Canada.
Now, we're going to get into a lot of numbers in the next few minutes, so you might want to tape a small pillow to your forehead lest you nod off and whack your noggin on the kitchen table.
Even though it seems like presidential elections occur about every three weeks, there have actually been only 56 since 1788. Of those, only six or seven could be reasonably said to have been what you would call "a real nail-biter," should you choose to use terms like "real nail-biter." But this year's contest, between incumbent Democrat Barack "the Kenya Kid" Obama and challenger Mitt "Seriously. Mitt, Not Willard" Romney promises to be close.
How close? Seven different polls taken in July by seven different news organizations found Obama was preferred by from 45 percent to 49 percent of those voters surveyed, while Romney was favored by a 41 percent to 47 percent slice of the electorate. From 6 percent to 8 percent responded by mugging the pollsters and stealing their watches. So, pretty close.
What does this mean to you? Well, it means your vote is vitally important, unless of course you live in California, New York, Hawaii, Mississippi, Idaho and Kansas. Or 35 other states. In that case, you might as well not bother voting. A majority of the voters in your state have already decided on a candidate.
How do I know this? Because these states are considered by political pundits to be "solid" or "pretty solid" "red" states or "blue" states. Political pundits are people who wear vests and bow ties, have names like J.J. Dribblemorton, and get paid to go on Sunday morning TV news/talk shows and predict how elections will turn out, and then come back later and analyze why they didn't turn out that way. "Red" states are Republican provinces and "blue" states are Democratic domains.
This color scheme has always seemed backward to me. Growing up during the Cold War, I always associated "red" with communists, and communists with liberal Democrats. I always associated Republicans with the little mustached top-hatted guy in the Monopoly game. But I digress.
Under our system of "indirect voting," which can also be referred to as "stupid," your vote doesn't directly help elect a presidential candidate. Instead, it helps elect "electors," who are vying for a place in the "Electoral College." It's not a real college, with a library and football team, or even the kind of college with TV commercials explaining how you can train to become a dental assistant or chef or astronaut. No, it's a group of 538 people, none of whom you could identify in a police lineup, who cast votes for president depending on how the majority of voters in their state voted. Except in Maine and Nebraska, but let's not get into that.
Anyway, under this system, which was apparently conceived as a practical joke in the late 18th century during an all-night card game at Alexander Hamilton's house, you need 270 electoral votes to win the presidency. And according to the aforementioned pundits, the electoral votes of only nine of the 50 states are considered "tossups," even though the election is still 93 days away.
This explains why the Obama and Romney campaigns are putting so much time and money and work into a state like Nevada, which has a population of 2.7 million people and a puny six electoral votes, and generally ignoring a state like California, which has 37.7 million people, and a hefty 55 electoral votes. Nevada is a "throwup" state, uh, "tossup" state, while California is a reliable "blue" state, and thus comfortably in the Obama electoral vote column already. Got it?
So, does this mean that if you live in California you can just tune out the next 93 days of endless attack ads; the pre-recorded telephone calls asking for campaign contributions; the mind-numbing debates in which the candidates will answer even the most specific and focused questions with vague and banal responses, and the interminable and excruciating dissections by the media of every minor flub, glitch, stumble and temper tantrum that occurs along the campaign trail?
Ha! You're not getting off that easy. Never mind that winning the votes of a majority of those Americans who cast ballots will not ensure that your candidate will win the White House. Never mind that states like Iowa and New Hampshire and I am rhetorically shuddering here Nevada are more important than the state with the eighth-largest economy and most major league baseball teams in the world. You still have to try to cast an informed vote. It's not only your right, but your responsibility. So pay attention.
And I already checked. It's pretty tough to be granted political asylum in Canada. I don't know about Botswana.