Hike Ohio: Conkle’s Hollow

The autumnal equinox has come and gone, the weather has cooled off, and the feel of fall is all around us. That means it’s time to don the thick socks, lace up the Oboz hiking shoes, and head out to one of the cool hiking trails you can find in and around central Ohio. Our destination yesterday was Conkle’s Hollow, a state nature preserve located in the Hocking Hills near Logan, Ohio.

The Hocking Hills region is a sprawling and beautiful area of woodlands and interesting rock formations that is home to many camps and hiking areas. Located about an hour and a half south of Columbus off Route 33, Conkle’s Hollow is one of the many potential destinations in the area for someone looking to get outdoors, enjoy some scenery, and breathe in some big gulps of fresh autumnal air. Not surprisingly, we weren’t the only ones who decided to visit Conkle’s Hollow yesterday.

When you arrive at Conkle’s Hollow, you’ve got a choice–you can take the gorge trail, which runs along the bottom of the hollow, beneath the canopy of the towering trees, or you can take the longer rim trail, which takes you up to the top of the rock walls that make up the gorge. The rim trail is apparently more rugged and also requires more care, as it winds past some spots where there are sheer falls in the event of a misstep. We decided to take the gorge trail to kick off our hiking season, and leave the rim trail for a later trip.

The gorge trail is an easy hike, and some of our fellow visitors were families with young kids. There is lots to see on the gorge trail, too. Almost immediately, you notice the sheer rock cliffs to each side, towering hundreds of feet overhead. The photo directly above, with the trail and the trail sign, gives you a sense of the immense scale of the rocky walls. Many of the trees growing from the bottom of the gorge were dwarfed by the cliff faces.

After a half a mile or so, the paved trail ends, and a dirt path takes you farther back into the gorge, where you see many of the most interesting rock formations. The air is decidedly cooler in the gorge, and you don’t get much direct sunlight in view of the towering rock outcroppings and tree cover. The filtered sunlight almost makes you feel like you are underwater as you follow the trail, and makes the green shades of the tree leaves, moss, and plant life seem a lot greener.

At many points along the trail there are small caves and grottos, as well as areas where water from above is falling to join the small stream running along the floor of the hollow. In the past, you apparently could explore more of these formations, but the damage done by hikers (and, sadly, some people who can’t resist carving their initials into rocks, as shown in the photo above) has caused the preserve to limit hikers to the trails. That’s okay with me: I’m willing to forgo an up close and personal look if it means that the pristine state of this beautiful area will be preserved for future generations to enjoy.

As you approach the end of the trail, the walls to each side close in, bringing you to the end point of the gorge. The middle of the floor features a small winding stream, with lots of rocks to hop on and felled trees. The kids in the family groups that were with us in this area had a riot leaping from rock to rock and balancing on the logs.

On this part of the trail, the contrast presented by dark shadows of the caverns make the green tree leaves and plants seem even brighter and greener. Whether you look forward, as in the picture above, or backward, as in the picture below, this part of Conkle’s Hollow was a study in black and different shades of green. Chartreuse, emerald, lime, fern, olive, seafoam, juniper–an artist would need a pretty loaded palette to do it justice.

The end of the trail takes you to the last cleft in the gorge, shown below. Water drips down from above into the pool that has accumulated below the cleft, and the dripping sound echoes against the rocky walls. A small ray of refracted sunlight illuminated the point at which the falling water hits the pool. It’s a beautiful scene, and it made us glad to choose the gorge trail for our first visit to Conkle’s Hollow. We wouldn’t have wanted to miss this serene little scene on a crisp early autumn day.

Hike Ohio: Clifton Gorge State Nature Preserve

Hike Ohio: Kokosing Gap Trail

Hike Ohio: Dripping Rock Trail

Uptown Columbus Friday Night

Yesterday was a beautiful day, with cooler temperatures and a crisp, decidedly autumnal feel to the air. Last night we decided to stroll up High Street and do some random rambling through the Short North, perhaps to have a drink and dinner if the fates were kind. We weren’t alone in our thinking: there were a lot of people out and about, enjoying the weather and the many streetfront taverns and restaurants.

One stop on our ramble was the Lincoln Social Rooftop Lounge. I’ve walked past it many times, and last night we decided to pay a visit. Regrettably, the place was jammed, with every table and seat taken and not even much room to stand, so we couldn’t stay–but we were there long enough for us to enjoy an overhead view of Columbus, including this interesting perspective looking north up High Street, toward the Ohio State campus. The view of the downtown area in the other direction is even better, but the crush of people was such that there literally was no way to squeeze in to take a photo. We decided we will have to visit the Lincoln rooftop again one of these days and get there earlier so we can enjoy the view, a drink–and a seat.

Although we had to leave the Lincoln rooftop behind, we found another place to dine outside along High Street, which allowed us enjoy an excellent meal and adult beverage while watching the world walk by and hearing some deafening blasts of bass notes from some cruising cars. It was one of those nights that shows off Columbus, and the fine fall weather, to very good advantage, .

Bang, Or No Bang?

Science can be great. The world of science, in most cases, allows for vigorous debate, even about the most fundamental, basic, long considered to be settled concepts–and as new data comes in, the process happens over and over again. Sometimes the novel theory actually topples the old assumptions–as when Copernicus argued that the Earth revolves around the Sun, or Einstein’s thought experiments and calculations dislodged Newtonian theories about gravity. At other times, the new theory is shown to be a bunch of hooey, and the product of shoddy science and cherry-picked data.

There’s a vigorous argument along those lines going on now in the world of astronomy and cosmology. The issue is whether the incredible photographs being produced by the James Webb Space Telescope are inconsistent with the “Big Bang” theory–the widely accepted concept that the universe started billions of years ago with an enormous explosion that occurred everywhere at once and has been expanding in all directions ever since.

An article published in early August argued that the Webb telescope photos are inconsistent with the Big Bang theory because the distant galaxies shown in the photos look different than what the Big Bang theory predicts. Other scientists reject that argument as science denialism; they note that while the Webb telescope images of faraway galaxies show structures that are more evolved and coherent than was expected, that result does not undercut the Big Bang and in fact is consistent with the theory. As one article published earlier this month on space.com puts it: “The surprising finding that galaxies in the early universe are more plentiful, and a little more massive and structured than expected, doesn’t mean that the Big Bang is wrong. It just means that some of the cosmology that follows the Big Bang requires a little bit of tweaking.” 

The constant revisiting and revision of theories as new data comes in is what makes science so cool. The Webb telescope, the data it is gathering, and the discussion it is generating, are doing exactly what the process of science contemplates.

Vlad’s Big Bad

Sometimes people make good decisions, sometimes they make bad decisions, and sometimes they make decisions that are so catastrophically ill-conceived it’s hard to imagine they were the product of rational thought. It’s been looking for some time now like Vladimir Putin’s decision to invade Ukraine falls into the last category, and the consequences of his bad judgment seem to be getting worse and worse–for him personally, and for Russia.

It’s safe to say that the Russian invasion of Ukraine didn’t go as Putin thought it would. The Ukrainians fought valiantly in defense of their country, and the invasion was universally condemned by other nations. Even worse, as the Russian forces quickly became bogged down and began suffering devastating casualties, it also became clear that the vaunted Russian military wasn’t performing as anticipated due to planning, logistics, operational, and soldier morale issues. If American sports fans had been watching the Russian army’s performance in a stadium, you would undoubtedly have heard the “over-rated” chant.

After being mired in a fighting stalemate for months, things got worse for Russia recently, when a Ukrainian offensive caught the Russians off guard, drove Russian forces back, and captured huge amounts of Russian armaments and supplies. The Russian retreat created a decision point for Putin–and yesterday, he decided to double down, calling for a “partial mobilization” and even raising the chilling prospect of using nuclear weapons if he deemed the “territorial integrity” of Russia to be at stake. It is the first mobilization order in Russia since World War II. The order means that 300,000 Russians in the reserve or with military experience could be subject to conscription and sent to fight in the Ukraine, where thousands of Russian soldiers have already been killed, wounded, or captured.

Putin’s mobilization decision wasn’t well received by at least some Russians, who took to the streets to protest what they see as a pointless, unnecessary conflict. A human rights group reports that 1,200 Russians were arrested in anti-war demonstrations in major cities like Moscow and St. Petersburg. Other Russians voted with their feet, trying to take one-way plane flights out of the country, causing some flights to sell out, and there are reports that roads from Russia to neighboring Finland were jammed with cars trying to cross the border. The protests and departures, coupled with other internal criticisms, raise the question of whether Putin’s grip on the country may be loosening.

Putting aside the reaction of the Russian people, it’s hard to see how throwing more hastily conscripted soldiers into the fight with Ukraine is going to turn the tide, when the trained professional soldiers Russia initially used in its invasion weren’t successful. And rounding up more soldiers doesn’t solve the tactical, logistical, and morale issues that have dogged the Russian forces since the invasion began.

Unlike most people, Vladimir Putin apparently can’t own up to making a mistake. Time will tell, but his mobilization decision may ultimately be seen as moving an initial error farther along the spectrum toward ultimate disaster.

20 Quadrillion Ants

How many ants are there in the world? It’s the kind of dreamy question you might have briefly asked yourself as a kid on a lazy summer day as you were checking out an anthill that was teeming with the busy little creatures, just in one corner of your backyard. Sometimes, though, the subject of a child’s idle wonder becomes a scientist’s challenge–and Nature has published an article that tries to answer that question.

The first step in the challenge is trying to come up with a mechanism that would allow you to approximate the number of ants on Earth, because you obviously couldn’t count them, one by one, even if all of those notoriously active insects would oblige you by holding still. To give you a sense of scale, there are 15,700 named species and subspecies of ants. They are found in and on virtually every piece of dry land in the world and in the widest possible range of habitats, including cities, deserts, woodlands, grasslands, and especially rain forests. The National Wildlife Federation website states that the only land areas that don’t have ants are Antarctica, Greenland, Iceland, and a handful of islands.

So how can the Nature researchers hope to count them? By piecing together the findings of 489 independent studies that have attempted to count ant populations on every continent and in every habitats where they are found, using standard ant-counting methods. By extrapolating from this direct data, the researchers estimate that there are 20 quadrillion–that’s 20,000,000,000,000,000–ants in the world. That’s a lot of ants. But that finding admittedly doesn’t give a complete picture, because there are no studies of how many ants live underground or in trees. 20 quadrillion therefore could easily be an undercount.

But the Nature researchers didn’t stop there. They wondered how much all of those ants would weigh, did the math, and concluded that the 20 quadrillion ants would have a biomass of 12 million tons of carbon, which is more than all of the world’s birds and animals combined. (Carbon accounts for about half the weight of ants.) And, as the researchers point out, we should be glad there are so many ants around, because they play a crucial role in the ecosystem in multiple ways, including serving as food for many species.

Ants are also kind of fascinating to watch on a lazy summer afternoon, too.

Understanding Mr. Green Jeans

When I was a kid, I enjoyed watching Captain Kangaroo. I liked the Captain, of course, and Dancing Bear and Mr. Moose and Bunny Rabbit, but my real favorite was Mr. Green Jeans. He would come on the show, wearing his trademark green jeans and usually a straw hat and flannel shirt, perhaps play a guitar or sing a song with the Captain, and maybe show you a plant or animal and talk about it. But Mr. Green Jeans was at his best in helping Mr. Moose and Bunny Rabbit play a gentle prank on the Captain–one that usually involved the Captain getting showered with dropped ping pong balls. It was a gentle prank for a gentle show.

I was thinking about Mr. Green Jeans the other day in connection with the gradually dawning concept of people having jobs. As adults, we’ve lived with the concept of work for so long that we’ve forgotten that the notion of people getting paid to do something isn’t necessarily intuitive, and has to be learned like other lessons of the world. For me, at least, Mr. Green Jeans and Captain Kangaroo were part of that process.

At first, a very young watcher would take a show like Captain Kangaroo at face value, as if the broadcast somehow gave you a brief peek into the actual life of the Captain, Mr. Green Jeans, and their friends. At some later point, you come to understand, perhaps because your Mom patiently explained it to you, that the show wasn’t “real,” in the same way life in your home was real, and that Mr. Moose and Bunny Rabbit were just puppets, and that Captain Kangaroo was a show put on for kids like you to watch and enjoy.

Later still came the realization that Captain Kangaroo and Mr. Green Jeans were actors, that being on the show was their job–hey, just like your Dad left every day to go to his job!–and that the Captain and Mr. Green Jeans were getting paid to be on the show. That last step in the understanding process was a big one, because it required you to get the concept of money, too, and why people needed to work, so they could eat and have a house and clothes and a car–and the fact that you would undoubtedly need to work, too, at some point. It was part of a bigger realization that the world was a complicated place, and there was a lot more to it than the Captain reading stories and pranks involving ping pong balls.

By then, as you watched Captain Kangaroo with your younger siblings, you thought that being Mr. Green Jeans would be fun. But by then your sights had changed a bit, and your friends were talking about being firemen or astronauts when they grew up.

A Five-Pound Cell Phone

The other day I had a doctor’s appointment. As the nurse led me down the hallway to my assigned exam room, she weighed me on the doctor’s scale, which is located along one of the hallway walls. I obediently stepped up onto the platform, wearing my suit and tie and shoes, as I always do. After the nurse registered my poundage, I headed to the exam room.

When I mentioned this incident later, I was told that my approach to the doctor’s scale is all wrong: you are supposed to at least remove your jacket and shoes and, ideally, strip down to your skivvies. I wasn’t going to do that, obviously, because the scale is in an open hallway, rather than in the exam room itself. I also figure that so long as I am consistent, and always am officially weighed when fully clothed, the doctor’s office will get a sense of whether my weight is dramatically up or down, which should be sufficient.

The clad approach to the doctor’s scale has another advantage: it leaves an open field for rationalization. When I stepped onto the scale, my pockets were full, with cell phone, wallet, and keys. I’ve never weighed these items, independently–meaning it is at least possible that my cell phone weighs five pounds. I haven’t weighed my shoes, either, but I’m pretty sure that I was wearing an especially heavy pair that day. My jacket and tie were feeling pretty hefty, too. All told, my accoutrements easily could have accounted for a sizeable percentage of the weight registered by the nurse.

If I’d shed my garments and shoes, we would know for sure–but that didn’t happen, did it? Thanks to my five-pound cell phone, ponderous keys, and Frankenstein-like shoes, the precise dimensions of my physical self remain shrouded in mystery and the subject of vigorous internal debate. .

The Long, Dark Night Of The Soul

If you are a Cleveland Browns fan, you know how I feel. If you are not a Cleveland Browns fan, imagine every happy thought, every sunny day, every warm, decent feeling you’ve ever experienced, ripped painfully away as you are thrown headlong into the blackest pits of unending despair.

The Browns continue to find new, unimaginable, impossible ways to lose. Today was, perhaps, the most ridiculous yet. And each time they do, their cadre of loyal, ever-hopeful fans go with them, thrust into hellish depths of failure. Even armored with the most resolute pessimism, Browns fans allow themselves to experience a glimmer of hope and a brief taste of potential victory, and inevitably, again, and again, and again, find their hopes crushed.

What can you say? It’s the Browns. The Browns are the dark side of sports fandom.

A Long, Long Line

Something pretty extraordinary–by modern standards, at least–is happening in the U.K. Thousands of Brits, from sports stars like David Beckham to the common folk, are lining up to wait for hours to file past the casket of Queen Elizabeth as she lies in state.

The lines are so tremendous that the BBC is writing articles about them, and the British government has established a live “queue tracker” on YouTube so that people can keep tabs on the line as it snakes past landmarks like the Tower Bridge and the Houses of Parliament to Westminster Hall. The maximum length of the line is 10 miles, and the government is warning people who would join the line that they will have to wait, and stand, for hours, without a chance to sit down. People are flocking to join the line, anyway.

We’re used to seeing people leave flowers and notes at places when a well-known person dies, but this situation is different. The people waiting in this colossal line are spending their precious time and voluntarily inconveniencing themselves to pay their personal respects to the Queen. Those of us who don’t quite get the British monarchy have to admit that, in the modern era of frequent self-absorption, this demonstration of devotion sends a powerful message. The British people are voting with their feet, with their hearts, and with their time. It’s an impressive testament to their love for someone who sat on the throne for 70 years.

It makes you wonder: would the death of any American figure provoke this kind of showing? I can’t think of one, can you?

77

Ohio State played the Toledo Rockets, one of the best teams in the Mid-American Conference, last night. The Buckeyes were a heavy favorite, but this season many college football favorites have gone down to ignominious defeat at the hands of an underdog–and for a time, shifty and speedy Toledo quarterback Dequan Finn gave the Buckeyes’ defense fits. In a normal game, his playmaking ability would have been a cause of concern.

But this was no normal game. Finn’s heroics didn’t really matter, because the Ohio State offense played about as close to perfection as human beings can get. They scored 77 points against a pretty good team, and their offensive metrics were unbelievably gaudy. The team racked up more than 760 yards in total offense, including 482 yards passing and 281 yards rushing. The Buckeyes scored at least two touchdowns in every quarter–including four touchdowns in the first quarter and 42 points in the first half–and responded to every great play by the Rockets quarterback with another score.

If I recall correctly, the Men of the Scarlet and Gray scored on 10 of 12 possessions, with the 12th possession focused on running out the clock at the end of the game. None of the touchdowns were on fluke plays or short fields; the team repeatedly put together long drives and chunk plays that shredded the Toledo defenders. The offensive line opened big holes for Ohio State running backs, protected their quarterbacks, and had only a few modest penalties. The Buckeye starters looked great, the back-ups looked great, and the back-ups to the back-ups–including freshman running back TC Caffey, pictured above, who kept his legs moving, escaped the pile, and took a 49-yard carry to the house–looked great. Coaches always find some flaw, less-than-stellar blocking technique, or missed assignment to coach up, and I’m sure the Ohio State offensive coaches will, too–but they are going to have to truly scour the game film to find much to discuss.

The Wisconsin Badgers come to town next Saturday, and with that game the Big Ten season will begin. Playing sound defense will be a lot more important, touchdowns will no doubt be much harder to come by, and last night’s performance against Toledo will fade into the background. But while the memory is fresh, I hope Buckeye Nation pauses for a moment and appreciates just how amazing last night’s offensive performance was. It truly was a game for the record books.

Battery Quest

The other day we needed AAA batteries for one of our TV remotes (we’ve got three of them, which raises its own set of questions). Could our household actually have two fully charged AAA batteries that we could use? There was only one way to tell. I set my jaw, adopted a look of grim determination, and moved cautiously yet deliberately to the “messy drawer” in our kitchen–which also could be called the battery graveyard.

Yes, there are batteries in the messy drawer. Unfortunately, they are the kind that are not used to power any known modern devices. Helpfully, we’ve got a pristine pack of four C batteries that were copyrighted in 2007, or an unopened 9-volt battery, copyright 2013. Those dates mean we’ve lugged them from place to place as we’ve moved, for no rational reason other than the feeling that you shouldn’t throw out an unused pack of batteries, even if you have no earthly idea how they might be used or whether you will ever, for the remainder of your natural life, own something that might conceivably be powered by them.

Then there are the rogue batteries that are rolling around in the kitchen messy drawer. Typically, they are AA batteries, which are the most used type in our household. Are they good or are they bad? That is the question. The only certainty about a battery charge comes if the battery remains in its original packaging. Once a AA battery starts roaming free in the drawer, you just don’t know for sure. And the impulse to not throw away batteries until you are certain they are bad–typically, when they’ve exploded and start leaking that white, powdery crud–means that some of the rogue batteries might be bad. As a result, you’ll be doing the battery shuffle, using your fingernails as functional tools and putting in and removing random batteries until you find a combination that actually powers the device.

Of course, my search for working AAA batteries came up empty, and I ended up going to the nearby convenience store for a pack of 5 AAA batteries to add to the collection in the messy drawer. That’s the seemingly inevitable result of any battery quest.

When (And How) Is A Candidate’s Health Fair Game?

There is a very interesting Senate race underway in Pennsylvania. The race promised to be unconventional from the beginning, with tall, bald, goateed, tattooed, sweatshirt-wearing Lieutenant Governor John Fetterman taking on TV celebrity and political neophyte Mehmet Oz. But the race really took a turn when Fetterman suffered a stroke in May–an apparently severe stroke that Fetterman now says almost killed him–causing “Dr. Oz” to go on the attack about whether his opponent is healthy enough to do the job.

There are lots of issues that candidates for a Pennsylvania Senate seat would logically address, but Fetterman’s health became a focus after his campaign limited his appearances and he has had obvious problems with halting speech when he has participated in rallies. The Oz campaign, which has been trailing in the polls, has tried to capitalize on the issue by pressing for a debate. And, because modern politics can’t resist the gutter, the Oz campaign has done so in cheap and mean-spirited ways–such as by promising that it would pay for any medical personnel Fetterman might need to have on standby during a debate.

The Oz campaign tactics have been sharply criticized, but the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette and others have increasingly recognized that Fetterman’s fitness to serve is a legitimate issue. As the PPG editorial put it: “If Mr. Fetterman’s communication skills have not yet recovered sufficiently to effectively debate his opponent, many voters will have concerns about his ability to represent them effectively in Washington.” The editorial also noted that the Fetterman campaign was unduly optimistic about his condition and his prognosis, and that recovery in the aftermath of a stroke is “notoriously unpredictable.”

Yesterday the press reported that the Fetterman campaign has agreed to a debate on October 25–two weeks before Election Day. The parties are still wrangling about details, but one of the conditions that has been agreed upon is that Fetterman will be able to watch a closed captioning device during the debate to deal with his acknowledged auditory processing issues, and that debate viewers will be told about that. With a debate now on the schedule, the PPG has called upon the Oz campaign to stop the attacks that, in the newspaper’s words, has turned the race into “an exercise in insult comedy rather than a serious contest on the merits of the candidates as potential U.S. Senators.”

Anyone who has known a stroke victim, as many of us have, will recoil at a political system in which an opponent thinks it is appropriate to disrespect and make fun of someone struggling with post-stroke limitations. Even by modern political standards, that’s low. At the same time, strokes clearly can be debilitating, and it is reasonable to question, with decency and respect, whether someone recovering from a stroke and experiencing impaired auditory processing can actually perform the duties required of a U.S. Senator. I expect that many curious Pennsylvania voters will tune in on October 25, wondering what they might see.

The Elf, Himself

I was on the road yesterday and happened to catch some sports talk radio hosts making fun of the Cleveland Browns’ new midfield logo, shown above. They were laughing at the idea that a football team would feature a giant elf on the field. They compared Brownie the Elf unfavorably to one of the old Rice Krispies elves, arguing that he looks angrier and somewhat disturbed. And they professed not to understand why an elf would be associated with the Cleveland Browns, arguing that a logo of a dog–due to the Dawg Pound section of fans in the stadium–would be a much better logo. .

The sports radio hosts are not alone in dissing Brownie the Elf and the Browns’ field. One article even suggests that the Browns specifically picked the elf logo to gin up controversy and distract from the team’s on-field problems last year and its dubious off-season decision to go all in for Deshaun Watson, the quarterback who was obviously facing a long suspension due to multiple claims of sexual misconduct.

I’m a supporter of Brownie the Elf, and evidently so are lots of other Browns fans–which is why the running elf won the poll the Browns ran to select their new midfield logo. And while I wouldn’t expect sports radio hosts or sportswriters to actually do any research before voicing their ill-informed opinions, I think Brownie is a great choice. Why an elf? It’s obvious: the team has long been known to fans as the Brownies, and a brownie is a synonym for an elf–just like pixie and sprite. The elf has been associated with the franchise for decades, much longer than the Dawg Pound, which didn’t really start until the 1980s. And the elf is showing fierce determination because he’s running the football and getting ready to give a devastating elfin stiff-arm to a would-be tackler.

I also like the elf choice because it says a lot about Cleveland, which has always gone its own way and marched to the beat of a different drummer. Lots of people have disparaged Cleveland over the years, but in reality it’s a great city with a lot of heart, a blue-collar mentality, and a quirky sense of humor, besides. Picking an elf for the field is just another way for Cleveland to show those qualities for all to see and reaffirm that the Best Location in the Nation isn’t worried about the tender sensibilities of sports talk show hosts or the conventional, boring, market-driven decisions of other NFL teams. And the fact that the running elf goes back to the days when the Browns were regularly competing for, and frequently winning, the NFL championship, doesn’t hurt, either. Given the Browns’ struggles since they came back to the league in 1999, why not pick a logo that harkens back to the team’s glory days?

I’m glad the Browns picked Brownie the Elf to grace the field. Now let’s just hope that this season we can celebrate what happens on the field, too.

Hot, Then Not

The classic real estate saying is “location, location, location.” The 2022 supplement to that adage might be “timing, timing, timing.”

For the last few years, we’ve been hearing about how hot the housing market has been in many places. Now there are many signs that the hot markets across the globe are abruptly cooling off, according to a Bloomberg article. It reports that increasing costs of borrowing, with central banks raising interest rates sharply to try to deal with inflationary pressures, are causing potential borrowers to think twice about paying big bucks for houses. As a result, houses in the formerly hot markets are looking at double-digit percentage declines in asking prices, and economists are forecasting a significant housing market downturn in 2023 and 2024. That’s a real problem for those people who have a significant chunk of their assets tied up in their houses–especially if they’ve paid “hot market” prices for them.

Yesterday’s consumer price index report in the U.S., which showed inflation is still far above targets, won’t help matters. The higher-than-forecast inflation numbers, notwithstanding recent declines in fuel prices, not only caused the stock indexes to tumble dramatically, it also is expected to convince the Federal Reserve to ratchet up interest rates again next week to try to wring the inflation out of the economy. That move would increase borrowing costs still farther and put even more pressure on potential buyers who would need to finance any home purchase. As interest rates rise, those potential buyers become more and more likely to stay put in their current housing and stay out of the housing market.

History teaches us that hot sellers’ markets don’t stay hot forever, and yet when such hot markets are here, some people expect them to continue indefinitely. It doesn’t take much for a sellers’ market to turn into a buyers’ market–especially if you are a buyer with ready cash who doesn’t need to take out a mortgage to make a purchase. It looks like that is the process that is underway right now, and as long as inflation remains high, that shift is likely to accelerate.

Skin Story

Many of us have spent significant chunks of time this summer dabbing and smearing lotion on ourselves and our family members. It used to be called suntan lotion; now it’s called sunscreen or even sunblock. Some worried people search constantly for ever-higher SPF numbers due to fear of sunburns and dermatologist cautions about sun-related skin cancers.

The sunscreen issue is interesting when you think about it. Our ancient ancestors obviously spent a lot of time outdoors, hunting and gathering, and they didn’t have ready access to drugstores that provided rows of 50 SPF lotions. So how did they deal with the sun?

I ran across an interesting article by an anthropologist that tries to answer that question. He notes that the early humans didn’t fear the sun, thanks to their skin–specifically, the crucial protection provided by the epidermis, the outer layer of skin that adds new cells and thickens with increasing exposure to sunshine in the spring and summer, and eumelanin, a molecule that absorbs visible light and ultraviolet light and causes skin to darken due to sunshine. Because early humans didn’t radically shift their sun exposure by, say, hopping on a jet to Costa Rica in the dead of winter, their skin could adjust to their local conditions and provide all the sun protection they needed. In effect, their skin became well adapted to providing the protection needed in their local area. (Of course, they may have looked a bit leathery by modern standards, but they weren’t worried about such things in their desperate bid for survival in an unpredictable and unforgiving world.)

The article posits that the change in the relationship between humans, skin, and sunshine occurred about 10,000 years ago, when home sapiens began to develop more of an indoor life and exposure to the sun began to distinguish the lower class from the upper class. People became more mobile, too. The disconnect was exacerbated when people started to take vacations to warmer climates that abruptly changed sun conditions without a ramp-up period allowing their skin to adapt. In short, the trappings of civilization and class removed the previous balance between skin and local conditions and deprived our skin of the time needed to adjust to gradually increasing sunshine.

Does that mean you should try to recreate the former balance by staying in the same place, spending as much time as possible outdoors, and accepting the wrinkles and leathery look that are the likely result? The article says no, because your skin probably isn’t matched to your current location, and your indoor time is going to interfere with the process. That means we all need to keep dabbing and smearing to prevent sunburns and skin damage.

Incidentally, the highest-level sunscreen that is available now is 100 SPF, which is supposed to block 99 percent of ultraviolet rays. The ancients would shake their heads in wonder,