I am the Count. I will count the votes.

My Polling Place

I voted first thing this morning. I got to my polling place before the polls even opened. There was already a long line there waiting, about a couple hundred people. I got in line right behind my neighbor. I had seen him pulling out of his driveway, when I was just starting my car. It was nice to have someone to speak with, for the 45 minutes it took to make it up to the first table, better than Angry Birds.

My neighbor chose the voting machine, but I elected to use paper instead. Paper ballots being like those multiple guess tests that I use to take in school. There was a line for the machines, but no wait for the paper ballots. When I fed my ballot into the optical scan machine though, my neighbor was long since gone. I guess that the machines are faster.

Anne voted in the afternoon, after school. She only had to wait 15 minutes. The very first voter in line this morning was a young black woman. I gave her a hat tip for being number one as I made my way to the end of the long line. She seemed to appreciate the acknowledgement.

There was a racial incident in our municipality, the night before last. Some dip-stick had tagged some houses and a few cars with KKK. When I saw the multitude of black faces in line before me in our well-integrated city, I had to feel some small measure of satisfaction and revenge.

As I write this post, I’m also waiting for the polls to close. As near as I can tell, both sides are convinced that they are going to win. Me and the Democrats, we have polling, numbers, data and statistics on our side. The Republicans, well they have their opinions, the polls are skewed, the media is biased and their man is going to win, win big.  

One way or the other, I hope and pray that it is over tonight. What I want least of all is a tie, like we had in Florida in 2000. What I want most of all is the reelection of both President Obama and Senator McCaskill. Tonight’s election coverage will definitely make for some must see TV.

Must See TV

Direct TV Blimp

Last night’s Cardinal game was horrible. The Cards played horribly and it was horrible for a Red Bird fan to watch. At the end of the first four games, the Cardinals were up 3-1 over the Giants. In each of the three subsequent games the Cardinal bats went eerily silent. Combine this with rather lackluster starting pitching and the Cards inevitably quickly fell far behind the Giants in each game. Last night’s game was the worse, ending with a final score of 9-0. The last out was fittingly recorded in a pouring rain. The sky was crying its eyes out. To add insult to injury, late in the game, the San Francisco pitcher chose to bean Matt Holliday in retribution for his too aggressive slide into second, earlier in this series, classy Giants, classy.

Simultaneous with last night’s ball game was the third and final presidential debate. As the Cards started their inexorable slide down to defeat, I started flipping over to the debate. At first I would only switch during a baseball commercial break, or when President Obama was speaking. Eventually though, I was even tuning in to hear Romney speak. Yup, it was that bad last night. 😉

I shouldn’t be so glum though, because the Cardinals have done so much better than expected. They had a grand ride this year. They were good, but they were also lucky. I’ve always said that I rather be lucky than good, and the Cards showed everyone just how good and lucky they are, or were. Last night it was clear that their luck had totally played out. Repeating in consecutive years has become almost unheard of in these modern times. For the Red Birds to have gotten as far as they did is a statement in and of itself. It is just that on Sunday afternoon, I saw the Direct TV blimp circling downtown Saint Louis, just like it would have tomorrow, on the first day of the World Series.

Foyle’s War

Yellow Flower

“Foyle’s War” is a British TV series. It is a murder mystery and like all good murder mysteries it has a good narrative hook. “Foyle’s” hook is Britain’s experience during World War II. Christopher Foyle, played by Michael Kitchen, is the title taciturn, police detective of the series. He works in the English Channel coastal town of Hastings. Hastings has not seen war since the year 1066, when the Normans came a calling and a kingdom was lost for lack of a horse. 1066 was the last time that England was successfully invaded, but the curtain of this TV series opens in 1940 and the Germans are only 30 miles away, just across the channel, in France.

The initial episode frames the title and introduces the principal characters. In this episode’s beginning we find Detective Foyle petitioning his superiors to be relieved of his law enforcement duties and then allowed to go off to war. The murder of a wealthy woman of German origin makes him realize that even in war and often because of the confusion generated by it, someone must uphold the law. He resigns himself to fight this war for law and order, the so-called “Foyle’s War”, for the duration.

The show features several other principal characters. Foyle’s son, Andrew (Julian Ovenden) is an RAF pilot. Aiding Foyle catch criminals that are taking advantage of the confusion of the war is his assistant, Sargent Paul Milner (Anthony Howell) and driver Samantha “Sam” Stewart (Honeysuckle Weeks). The character of Sam who is a WAF or Women in the Air Force was derived from the real life nanny of the show’s creator, Anthony Horowitz.

The show’s attention to period detail and the seamier side of the British war effort that each episode uncovers are the hooks that draw the viewer in. Individual plots hinge on the pilfering of bomb victim’s valuables and the black market selling of draft deferments and petrol. In every episode Detective Foyle is confronted with his fellow countrymen subjugating the war effort for their own person gain. The disgust Foyle feels at these affronts to King and Country, when facing criminals is clearly felt, but it is deftly played with only the most subtle of flaring nostrils on Kitchen’s face. The plot of these mysteries sits backseat to their stories settings. The mysteries are formulaic and predictable. Featured in every episode is a murder. It is not the story that holds the audience’s attention, but the telling.

The first six seasons are available on Amazon and are free to Prime members. Each season contains four episodes. The series was canceled, but fan involvement has cajoled ITV to restart the series. It is scheduled to continue with new episodes into 2013.

Print Is Dead

New York Public Library Lion

The NYC library, the Beaux Arts-style one on Manhattan’s 42nd Street, the one with the giant lions out front, the one featured in the opening sequences of the movie, “Ghost Busters”. This one is slated for demolishment or renovation, depending upon which side of the debate you come down on. I sorta heard this on NPR. This library’s seven stuffy stacks of books that once dripped with ectoplasm are slated to be closed and their as yet un-slimed volumes are to be shipped as far away as Princeton, NJ. Opponents of this move complain that this flagship Carnage library is being denigrated to an internet café. Proponents claim that these changes will actually save the books from their untimely demise. The crux of the question is what is more important, the collection or the vessel. Where the truth lies, maybe only our ghosts will know for sure.

Vernor Vinge’s “Rainbows End” is a Hugo Award Best Science Fiction Novel. Set in the year 2025 it postulates many near term scientific advances. One of which is the physical demise of the San Diego State University library. Some Google-like firm has been contracted to digitize the catalog. It proceeds to do this by grinding all of the books to chaff and then parsing the texts using some giant super computer. This is certainly a most dystopian view of the conjunction of the printed word with the digital age.

Not every book is a tome, no matter how old it might be. I am not arguing for the burning of books, but rather their dissemination through digital means. Slate has been disseminating their “lex•i•con VALLEY” podcast. Other than a few past gender related hits that turned out not to be about sex, most of their post have revolved around nit-noids of English grammar. Not so for lucky episode number 13.

In this episode the detective work of history grad student Ben Schmidt is used to determine the historical authenticity of the dialogue in the TV shows, “Downton Abbey” and “Mad Men”. In short, Schmidt is able to correlate the complete scripts of these TV shows with his historically contemporary databases of written words and ascertain any anachronisms within the scripts. Schmidt is not the first one to enjoy this sport. Almost from its first episode critics were picking out anachronistic slang from Lord Grantham’s speech. Through technology, Schmidt has raised what once was just a pursuit to that of an avocation.

Some of Schmidt’s discoveries speak to a fundamental shift in society’s mindset. For example the erroneous substitution of the more modern phrase, “I need to” for the more contemporarily accurate phrase, “I ought to”. One area where these TV shows do accurately capture contemporary speech is on the subject of technology. Schmidt postulates that the introduction of new technology is an easily remembered historical event and flows seamlessly into the collective consciousness. The one exception to this rule is the telephone. When Don Draper says, “You can’t put the Jaguar representative on hold”, it would have been more accurate to have had his secretary ask the Jaguar representative to “hold the wire”. Even though the phones then had hold buttons, no one spoke of being put on hold. That came later.

Janine Melnitz: You’re very handy, I can tell. I bet you like to read a lot, too.
Dr. Egon Spengler: Print is dead.
Janine Melnitz: Oh, that’s very fascinating to me. I read a lot myself. Some people think I’m too intellectual but I think it’s a fabulous way to spend your spare time. I also play racquetball. Do you have any hobbies?
Dr. Egon Spengler: I collect spores, molds, and fungus.


"That's What I Said, Bunny Bread" - Sometimes Hip Needs to Growup with You

“Portlandia” is an Independent Film Channel (IFC) television series that debuted last January. Its second season has begun this January on IFC and the first season is now available on Netflix online. Created by Fred Armisen of Saturday Night Live (SNL) fame (he most famously portrays Barack Obama on SNL), and Carrie Brownstein of Sleater-Kinney, the “seminal female rock band” (her quotes). “Portlandia” pokes fun at Portland, Oregon. It pokes fun, mostly gently, but sometimes with a bit of a bite. Portland seems to take its ribbing good-naturedly; the real life mayor of Portland (Sam Adams) plays the harried assistant to the show’s caricature of the mayor (Kyle MacLachlan). Also, Brownstein and her band once hailed from Portland, so she should be able to help keep it real.

“Portlandia” is structured as a series of comic sketches, as found on SNL. About half of the sketches string together the story for each episode, while the others feel like extemporaneous adlibs. Of the later, some are just one offs, while others are recurring, from episode to episode. All of the sketches involve Armisen and/or Brownstein. Like your typical SNL show, some sketches work and some don’t. One of the best spoofs pokes fun at the city’s obsession with provenance. While ordering in a restaurant, Nance (Brownstein) asks about the chicken’s organic roots, “Is that USDA organic, or Oregon organic, or Portland organic?” The answer of course is, “Yes”. One of my favorite sketches involves Armisen as a Portland hipster. He portrays an aggressive bicyclist sporting a “tribal look” and loudly proclaiming “bicycle rights”. “Coffeeland” is the title for a sketch, where Armisen and Brownstein play Japanese tourist school girls in a coffee shop. One of the more uncomfortable sketches was the gender bending Cacao Couple. A quote that has been taken by critics to epitomize the show, is made early in the first episode. In this scene, LA residents, Jason (Armisen) tells Donnie (Brownstein) that Portland is “a city where young people go to retire.”

At Blueberry Hill, Dan quoted that line, contending that “Portlandia” was really making fun of hipsters and not Portland. I thought about that for a night and a day and concluded that he was right, but only half right. “Portlandia” is a spoof of hipsters. It is a spoof of Left Coast hipsters by East Coast hipsters. What makes the show resonate for me though, is that there is a little bit of “Portlandia” everywhere, even in Saint Louis. We dined, au provenance, last week, at Local Harvest. We bicycled there, sporting our own brother (and sister) from another planet version of the tribal look. This post isn’t even half long enough to get me talking about coffee. At Blueberry Hill, over Dan’s shoulder, I spied a hipster artifact. Tucked away in a corner of this bar’s cluttered décor, was a poster announcing Woodstock. For one weekend in August of ’69 this was the hippest place on earth to be. Hip is an ephemeral quality, for most of us even more so than youth, but there are some that can maintain hipness into old age. I find that having hipster children doesn’t help with my preservation of cool.

I’ve only been to Portland once. It was thirty years ago. It was on the tail end of our bicycle ride around the country, our great adventure. We left our jobs, place and possessions and headed out to bicycle across America. Our bike ride ended in Seattle, with my old boss calling me back. We threw the bikes onto the train and rode with them as far as Portland. Sam greeted us at the train station. We were all excited to see each other. She drove us up to some promontory, to show off the town, but between weather and evergreens there was not much to see. It was the first time I had been in a car in over a month. Afterwards, we all relaxed and enjoyed the Portland scene together. When we visited Powell’s, I felt like a Russian in my first supermarket. We have been friends with Sammy a long time, before and since. She is a fellow blogger, linked here, Archaeofacts, and always on this page. She’s one cool lady.

Movie Mashup

I saw three Chinese coeds, all wearing brightly colored (red, yellow and lime green), plush animal faced, bomber hats. They looked different from the other shoppers, but somehow all the same. I saw a Muslim woman, dressed conservatively, piously, primarily in black, both headscarf and skirt that dusted the ground. An ornately patterned vest, decorated in emerald-green and burgundy, offered the only hint of color. She looked warm and sensibly dressed on this cold December day. I saw a big man, a fat man, with a bushy blond beard. He wore a construction worker’s well worn brown canvas coat, workmen’s boots and shorts. The Bard wrote, “all the world’s a stage, and all the men and women merely players.” These people combined to make an eclectic ensemble in the movie of my mind, costumed actors, going about their business, in my daily story.

I have immersed myself into the world of online streaming. I guess that it started first with YouTube. It was a realm with an endless stream of viral videos, vignettes and movie video clips. At one point you could watch many first run movies, serialized into ten minute clips. Copyright laws have reasserted themselves and as a source for movie watching, YouTube has pretty much played itself out.

Hulu came along next. Its content was primarily TV, but it offered shows from cable, along with a few movies. There were ads, but they were few in number and inconsequential in content. I could watch network TV and only had to endure a fraction of the ads that were originally broadcasted. This year, about the time Hulu started charging for its service, I stepped up to Netflix.

At $8 per month, it seemed the bargain. It was my constant companion last summer, after Anne fled north for the summer. Does that make her a sun bird? Its seemingly large catalog is difficult to search. After a while, one is only served up similar, but more poorly made knockoffs of what has already been seen. I find that auxiliary websites, like Hacking Netflix, make for better search tools. Six months have passed, and I have severely depleted Netflix’s desirable selections.

Moving up the food chain, I have become enamored of late, with Amazon’s Unbox service. The catalog is not as deep as Netflix’s, but it is of much better quality and it is regularly refreshed. The big problem with this product is its cost. It is pay per view. Titles range from a dollar to four.

This week, I have watched on Netflix, “Morning Glory” and “Ball of Fire”. On Unbox, I have also watched, “Larry Crowne”, “Conan the Barbarian”, “Miracle” and “Cowboys and Aliens”. “Conan” and “Crowne” were the most disappointing and “Ball of Fire” and “Miracle” were the most pleasing.