Atop Lookout Mountain

This week I had a quick trip to Denver for work.  It gave me the opportunity to have dinner in the Mile High City with the Second Secretary, who moved west about 20 years ago to escape Columbus’ winter dreariness — Denver, she cheerfully pointed out, gets sunshine 320 days out of the year — and loves it.

After I was finished with my meeting in one of Denver’s suburbs today, I asked my host if he had a recommendation for something to do before I had to catch my plane.  He gave me two options:  check out Golden, Colorado, an “Old West” town that is home of the Coors’ Brewery, or a drive up neighboring Lookout Mountain, where Buffalo Bill Cody is buried and where that old Indian scout claimed you can see four states.  I chose the latter option, and in this case, at least, the old huckster and Wild West Show promoter probably spoke the truth.  Lookout Mountain offers an amazing and commanding view due east, over the beginning of the Great Plains, where in the picture below you can just see the Denver skyscrapers hard up against the line of the horizon.  If you were scouting for marauding bands of Sioux, or for that matter blue-coated cavalry, you could have worse vantage points.  Lookout Mountain is aptly named.

Be forewarned:  if you drive up Lookout Mountain from the 19th Street turnoff, be prepared for some white knuckling motoring, with lots of hairpin turns, sheer falloffs that make you dizzy just to look at, and cyclists huffing and puffing up the steep inclines on their way to the top.  I felt like applauding them for their efforts, but they were a pain in the butt at the same time.  Every time you would draw up behind a cyclist approaching one of the hairpin turns, you’d wonder whether you should swing around the cyclist standing on her pedals to keep going — and whether by doing so you’d be moving in the path of a white-knuckled driver coming down the mountain in the opposite direction.  Of course, I decided to pass, and I didn’t have any problem.  And when I met a cyclist at the summit, after I relaxed my hands and stopped thinking about the drive up, I offered my congratulations to him.  In the photo below, you can see a bit of the road heading up to Lookout Mountain.


Interestingly, the internet sources describe Lookout Mountain as one of the “foothills” of the American Rockies.  Foothill?  Seriously?  If there was a summit like this in the glacier scrubbed rolling hills of Ohio, people would drive from miles around to check it out.  But when you’re just one of the easternmost parts of the majestic Rockies, perhaps “foothill” is a fair description.  After all, Lookout Mountain is part of the front range of the Rockies, and the summit, where Buffalo Bill’s grave is found, is only a measly 7400 feet or so about sea level.  Never mind that that is about 7000 feet taller than pretty much everything we’ve got in Ohio!

Buffalo Bill’s gravesite is a simple stone marker in a grove of coniferous trees that have a delectable, spicy smell.  I’m not sure why people pitch coins onto the gravesite, but they do.  Being a bit of a huckster himself, Buffalo Bill would probably like that.

Considering “Universal Basic Income”

Mark Zuckerberg is the latest of the Silicon Valley quadzillionaires to espouse the concept of “universal basic income.”

mark-zuckerberg-harvard-speech-01-480x270In a commencement speech at Harvard last week, the founder of Facebook called for the creation of “a new social contract.”  “We should have a society that measures progress not by economic metrics like GDP but by how many of us have a role we find meaningful. We should explore ideas like universal basic income to make sure everyone has a cushion to try new ideas,” Zuckerberg said.  Zuckerberg noted that, because he personally had a safety net to fall back on, he had the confidence to try projects like Facebook, and he thinks everyone should have the same financial wherewithal.

For some, like Zuckerberg, universal basic income has become the Great White Whale.  It’s not fair, they think, that only people who come from families that have financial resources can experiment in pursuit of their dreams.  Proponents of UBI believe that, if only everyone had guaranteed funding irrespective of whether they worked or not, all people would have the freedom to follow their dreams, invent new things, and experience personal fulfillment.  Why, the outpouring of creativity and innovation would promote the flourishing of art, literature, music, technological development, and human interaction that undoubtedly would lead to a new Renaissance!

Or, people who got the money would sit around in their place of residence all day, watching TV and enjoying the recreational drug or adult beverage of their choice.

Look, who am I to disagree with Mark Zuckerberg?  But let’s lay aside the gnarly issue of how we could possibly pay for a basic stipend sufficient for every American to live on without working.  (Taxpayers, hang on to your wallets!)  My experience teaches that having a job is a good thing.  Working brings structure to lives.  It allows people to become self-sufficient and to learn the value of a dollar.  It promotes the development of responsibility, punctuality, responsiveness, planning, and other positive personal attributes.  And the labor of every worker also helps to fund things like national defense, Social Security, health care, national parks, and a bunch of other things that might not be as amply supported if the funds are going to pay basic living expenses for a bunch of people who are happily contemplating their navels.  And, if you really think your job sucks, maybe that will motivate you to go out on your own, become an entrepreneur, and follow your dream with the benefit of the real-life experience you’ve acquired.

And don’t call it “universal basic income,” either.  In my book, “income” should be reserved for something that you earn, through work or investment, not something that is handed to you.

So let me respectfully disagree with Mr. Zuckerberg.  If he wants to really help to create a “new social contract,” let him and the other mega-tycoons enter into some actual contracts — with employees working for the new ventures that Zuckerberg and the other filthy rich are in a position to establish and fund with their wealth.  Let’s help more people learn the value of actual work.

A True Clockwork Expert

More than two hundred and fifty years ago — so long ago that America was still a collection of diverse, squabbling colonies — a British carpenter and clockmaker named John Harrison made an outlandish claim.  He contended that he had designed a pendulum clock that, if wound properly and in timely fashion, would keep time so accurately that it would lose only one second of time over a 100-day period.

clock_3272964b.jpgYou would think that Harrison’s claim would have had some credibility, because he had just invented a device that had solved one of the knottiest problems confronting the British Empire of that day — namely, allowing sailors to figure out their longitude on long sea voyages.  Latitude could be determined by looking at star charts and comparing constellations to the horizon, but longitude posed a seemingly impossible problem.  Harrison solved it by creating the chronometer, a device that kept remarkably precise time calculated from Greenwich, England.  By determining the local time, such as high noon, and then comparing it to the Greenwich time kept by Harrison’s clock, sailors could calculate how far away they were and determine their longitude.

But even though Harrison had solved the longitude problem, and won a large prize from the British government for his ingenuity, his claim to be able to build such an accurate pendulum clock was met with churlish derision.  Harrison was ridiculed, his claims were said to involve “an incoherence and absurdity that was little short of the symptoms of insanity,” and his clock design was forgotten for centuries.  But Harrison’s achievements became the subject of interest again in the 1970s, and a clockmaker attempted to decipher Harrison’s plans for the clock and build a replica.

Harrison’s design, called simply “Clock B,” then was tested, and the test results confirmed that Harrison was right all along.  During its carefully controlled 100-day trial, Clock B lost only 5/8 of a second when measured against official Greenwich time, and it was declared by Guinness World Records to be the “most accurate mechanical clock with a pendulum swinging in free air.”  Centuries after his death, Harrison was vindicated:  he was right, his critics were wrong, the design of Clock B was an amazing accomplishment for a clockmaker who lived during the mid-18th century,

It just goes to show you — sometimes the conventional wisdom isn’t wisdom at all.

Holiday Burger

As every citizen knows, the Cheeseburger Consumption Act of 1987 made it a federal law that every red-blooded American must consume at least one cheeseburger during the extended Memorial Day weekend, in order to properly welcome in summer and also support the American beef industry.  Today Kish and I did our patriotic duty by heading to the Thurman Cafe, a legendary burger joint in south German Village.  All of their burgers weigh in at 3/4 of a pound of beef, and I got this beauty with bacon, mozzarella cheese, and a slice of raw onion.

Now that I’ve made it back home, I plan on complying with my civic obligations pursuant to the Memorial Day Napping Act of 1956.

Grand Canyon Time Lapse

I’ve been thinking about America on this Memorial Day, and when I think about America I often think about our national parks — because they are a big part of what makes America such a special, beautiful place.  I’ve had the pleasure of visiting many national parks, and I aspire to visit many more, but in my view it’s hard to top the Grand Canyon for sheer spectacular views.  It’s just an incredible, gorgeous feast for the senses.

I found this nifty YouTube time lapse video of a rain storm approaching the Grand Canyon.  It reminded me of what it was like to stand on the rim, hearing the wind whistle past the rock formations below and feeling almost swallowed up by the extraordinary vastness.

Happy Memorial Day!

The east side of the Ohio Statehouse features the Ohio veterans plaza.  It consists of two curved stone walls that face each other from opposite ends of the plaza, two fountains, and two grassy rectangles with room for flowers and plenty of Ohio flags that can be put in place for a holiday weekend.

The stone walls are adorned with snippets from letters written by Ohioans who were serving in the different wars in which America has fought.  It’s a simple yet elegant reminder of one unifying reality for all of the soldiers and sailors, regardless of when or where they fought:  they left home in service of their country, and as they put themselves in harm’s way they wanted to let the family back home that they were okay, that they accepted the cost of their service, and that they hoped to make it back home when their service was done.

This weekend they’ve also put up a simple wreath at the northern end of the plaza.  It’s a good place to reflect on the sacrifices of those who have served and to inwardly express our appreciation to them for making our current lives possible.

Profound thanks to all of our veterans, and happy Memorial Day to everyone!

Making Old Buildings Look Cool

I’ve written about the enormous boom in new building construction in downtown Columbus, but there’s another trend underway that also is helping to make the downtown core cooler:  taking old buildings and sprucing them up.  Interesting signage on the walls, flags draped down the front, neon signs, bunting — they all can take an older structure and give it a fresh new look.

The latest example of this phenomenon is the Yerke Mortgage Company building, now called 145 Rich.  I love the construction company sign that’s just been painted on the side of the building, which has a nifty retro element to it.  Touches like these help to make the downtown area a more visually appealing place.