Two-Step Voting

Our election on Tuesday involved a very limited ballot; we voted for Mayor (where the incumbent was running unopposed, which tells you something about the low-key politics in Columbus), City Council seats, a few judges, and a tax levy.  Not surprisingly, turnout was low — which made it a good election to roll out a new, two-step voting system.

3002712465_fa843110d0_zAs an old codger who cut his voting teeth on old metal machines where you moved a bar in one direction to close the curtain, depressed levers to expose a mark next to the candidate of your choice, and then moved the bar back to register your vote with a thunk and open the curtains again, I’m used to changes in the voting process.  I’ve probably voted using about 10 different systems over the years.

The new process involves multiple steps.  After first going to the registration people, showing your driver’s license and signing in, you get a piece of paper that you then present to one of the voting volunteers.  They lead you to a machine, explain the new process, and scan you in.  After you vote on the machine, a paper ballot is printed out, and you walk over to a different area to deposit your completed ballot into a secure box.  The last step is new.  Apparently the new system was introduced to enhance voting security and also to better comply with federal law on accommodating people with disabilities.

The new process worked just fine . . . in an election where the turnout was low and there were no lines to speak of.  But I wonder what it will be like in 2020, where there is likely to be a huge, perhaps even historic, turnout — which is probably one of the few things people at every point on the political spectrum can agree on.  There will be a line to get to the registration table, and then a line to wait for a voting official to walk you to a machine and scan you in, and then presumably wait, again, to deposit your ballot into the secure box.

It’s probably going to be a zoo, which makes me wonder whether I should just plan on doing early voting when the 2020 election rolls around.  It probably would be less of a hassle, but I’m resisting that because I like gathering with my fellow citizens, waiting patiently and solemnly and thinking about what I’m doing, and then exercising my franchise and getting my voting sticker.  It makes me feel good about myself and my country, and I’m not sure that I’m ready to give up that uplifting, shared experience.  At the same time, I’m not sure I’m ready for a three-hour wait in an election where passions will be running at their highest, either.

Mouthers Versus Talkers

On this morning’s walk, I passed a couple walking in the opposite direction on Third Street. We made eye contact and I greeted them with a cheerful “Good morning!” In response, the female member of the couple mouthed “hello,” without actually making an audible sound, and then they walked by.

Frankly, this encounter irritated me.

I’ve noticed a lot more of rampant mouthing behavior lately, and I don’t know why. Obviously, mouthing a greeting is acceptable if, for example, you see a friend sitting down the church pew at a funeral service, or in some other quiet, somber place where an audible statement would be inappropriate.  Or if you don’t want your six-year-old to know that you and your spouse are considering heading off to Chuck E. Cheese’s.  But now mouthing has moved out of the church and funeral parlor to everyday encounters on public streets, where an oral communication is perfectly fine — indeed, expected, polite behavior.

What’s caused the mouthing boom? Do people just think they’re being sophisticated, or is it because they can’t condescend to give a verbal greeting to a member of the unwashed masses? Either way, I think it’s rude, and it kind of ticks me off.

Leaf Stripes

Most of the trees at Schiller Park have long since lost their leaves, but these two little trees on the south side of the park held on to their brightly colored companions until the bitter (cold) end. Then they coordinated their leaf falls so the leaves would form neat parallel yellow stripes on the grass and sidewalk that we saw as Betty and I walked by this morning.

The leaf falls must have been sudden and recent, because the leaves haven’t yet been scattered by the cold breeze, by frolicking dogs, or by little kids who just can’t resist shuffling and kicking their way through the pile. For now, though, it’s a pretty little scene in our beautiful neighborhood park.

The Peaky Blinders Way

Kish and I have been enjoying the current Golden Age of Television by gradually working our way through the strong crop of binge-worthy shows that are available on Netflix, Amazon, and other sources.  It’s amazing how many high-quality productions are out there, just waiting to be discovered.  But how do you decide what to watch?  We tend to take suggestions from friends — which is how we started on Peaky Blinders.  Once we started, we couldn’t stop.

all_2Peaky Blinders tells the story of the Shelby clan, a crime family in England.  The show begins in 1919, when the Shelby brothers — haunted and jaded by their nightmarish experience as part of a tunneling crew in World War I — have just returned from the fighting.  At that time, the family runs a small-time bookie shop in the poor, rugged neighborhood of Small Heath in Birmingham, a blue-collar manufacturing town in central England.  The Shelbys run a razor gang called the Peaky Blinders — so-called because they store razors along on the edges of their peaked cloth caps and use them to cut their foes, who are blinded by the flowing blood.  Thanks to the brilliant maneuvering of Tommy Shelby and the efforts of his brothers Arthur (my favorite character) and John, their Aunt Polly, and their Romani relatives, as the show progresses through five seasons the clan thrives, knocks off opposing crime bosses and syndicates, and expands their operations.  I won’t spoil the show for those who haven’t watched it, so let’s just say that while the Shelbys achieve great success, the deep underlying troubles and threats always remain and are sometimes realized.

The show draws upon a rich vein of plot lines in post-war England.  It deals with the ever-present English class system, the interesting Romani culture and language, criminal turf wars and police corruption, violent gangs like the murderous Billy Boys, the Italian mob and later the American Mafia, and lots of ongoing political turmoil and intrigue thanks to the rise of the Communist Party, the Irish Republican Army, socialism, and ultimately British fascism.  The Shelbys somehow manage to navigate through it all.  The show’s recreation of the post-war world is totally believable, and the acting is uniformly terrific — from Cillian Murphy as Tommy, whose split personality is always torn between good impulses and extreme criminal conduct, Paul Anderson as Arthur, mentally crippled by the war and subject to fits of deranged, murderous rage, and Helen McCrory as the mystical, level-headed Aunt Polly.

The culture depicted on the show is so powerful and compelling that a viewer has to consciously resist the temptation to adopt the Peaky Blinders way, and start emulating the Shelbys, by saying “eh” or “hmm” at the end of every sentence and turning every declaration into a question, walking in slow motion with arms slightly bowed out from the body, wearing pants at flood height, getting radical bowl haircuts, and reciting the lyrics to In the Bleak Midwinter whenever something bad happens.

Peaky Blinders just completed season 5, and apparently two more seasons are planned.  We can’t wait.

Instant Recall

Let’s say that Key to the Highway by Derek and the Dominos is one of your favorite songs, as it is one of mine.  How long would it take you to hear the first few notes and recognize that it’s being played on the radio?

According to some recent research, the answer is exactly 0.1 to 0.3 seconds.  That’s virtually instantaneous.

anim_homepageThe research focused on pupil dilation and certain brain activity that was triggered by hearing a favorite, familiar song and compared it to the reaction to listening to unfamiliar tunes. The study determined that hearing even a fraction of a second of a favorite song caused pupil dilation and brain activity related to memory retrieval — which would then cause you to immediately remember every note and every lyric.  One of the researchers noted that “[t]hese findings point to very fast temporal circuitry and are consistent with the deep hold that highly familiar pieces of music have on our memory.”

Why do researchers care about the brain’s reaction to familiar music?  Because the deeply engrained neural pathways that are associated with music might be a way to reach, and ultimately treat, dementia patients who are losing other forms of brain function.

The human brain is a pretty amazing thing, and its immediate recall of music is one compelling aspect of its functioning.  But here’s the thing the researchers didn’t consider:  immediate recall isn’t limited to favorite music.  In fact, it’s provoked by familiar music, whether it’s a tune you’d happily binge listen to or whether its a piece of music that you wish you could carve out of your synapses.  If I mention the Green Acres theme song, and you then think of the first few guitar notes for that song, I guarantee that every bit of the song will promptly come to mind, whether you want it to or not.  (Sorry about that!)  And isn’t it a bit disturbing to think that, if you eventually lose your marbles some day far in the future, one of the last things to go will be the tale of the Douglases and their “land, spreading out so far and wide”?

Eau De Wet Dog

Earlier this week, it was raining when Betty and I took our morning walk.  It was pelting down pretty hard outside as we circled Schiller Park, and by the time we got home Betty was soaked.  She did a few of the familiar dog shakes to try to fling off as much moisture as possible, and I did my best to towel her off, but when I finally let her off the leash and she scampered upstairs, the damage was already done:

2019097024-780x0Our house was filled, to every remote nook and cranny, with the distinctive aroma of eau de wet dog.

The bouquet of wet dog is one of those highly distinctive smells.  It doesn’t seem to vary much from dog to dog, or from long hair breed to short hair breed.  To paraphrase former Supreme Court Justice Potter Stewart’s statement about pornography, you might not be able to accurately describe eau de wet dog, but you sure as heck know it when you smell it.  And once you smell it, you will remember the pungent, musty odor of wet fur and canine sweat and be able to immediately identify it for the rest of your life.

It’s not like one of those phony, instantly forgettable fragrances that people spray in their bathrooms.  No, the heady tang of canine cologne is clearly one of the most memorable smells in the olfactory catalog.  In the indelible odor category, it’s up there with wood smoke, a salty, algae-laden whiff of oceanfront air, or the inside of a brand-new car.

Not that you want eau de wet dog around your house, of course, but when you’ve got a dog in the house there’s not much you can do about it.

The Random Restaurant Tour (XXXII)

When a new place opens up downtown, you’ve got to try it.  But the first time I stopped by Nosh on High for lunch, it had a 20-minute wait and I was in a hurry, so we went to a nearby establishment instead.  A 20-minute wait, for lunch!  Is that because it’s getting the new restaurant rush, or because the food is really good?  I had to find out, so yesterday we tried again — and persistence paid off.  There was a 15-minute wait for tables, but there was room at the bar, so I finally got to sample what this new joint has to offer.

Nosh on High is located in the space formerly occupied by Cup O Joe, in the old Lazarus building on High Street.  Its website emphasizes its tapas, which look tasty and quite elegant, besides, but the lunch menu has a more basic orientation — including sandwiches that Nosh calls “handhelds.”  

I asked our friendly bartender for a recommendation, and she suggested the Philly dip or the duck BLT.  I flipped a mental coin and went for the Philly, pictured above.  It’s a terrific, hearty sandwich, with plenty of shaved beef on a crunchy french roll, covered in a delectable moray sauce that is cheesy and bursting with all kinds of flavor.  And if you want even more kick for your sandwich (and who doesn’t?) you can dip it in the mini-soup bowl of sauce that Nosh generously provides.  The sauce has a delectable, subtle flavor that works well with the sandwich — because when you’re eating a dip, the wetter the better — but also with the spicy Nosh potatoes that are part of the meal.  In all, you get a lot of high-quality chow for $12.  

The Philly dip is only one of several enticing lunch-time options, the dinner menu looks very strong, and they’ve done a good job of kitting out the old Cup O Joe space to look like a kind of upscale Manhattan bistro.  So Nosh is posh, to be sure, but it hits the spot with its food fare.  I’ll be adding Nosh on High to the lunchtime rotation.