About webnerbob

A Cleveland and Ohio State sports fan who lives in Columbus, Ohio

A Tale Of Two Markets (II)

As I’ve noted previously, the story of the real estate market in downtown Columbus is basically a tale of two markets. The residential market estate market seems to be very strong, with studies showing increased numbers of people living downtown and new units being built and coming on line. Three historic and long-vacant buildings at the corner of Gay and High Streets, for example, are in the process of being rehabbed, with the upper floors being converted into apartments. Those units will help to house the thousands of additional residents who are expected to make downtown Columbus their home over the next few years.

The commercial market, however, is a different story. In particular, ground-floor retail space seems to be abundant, with lots of apparent vacancies. And the commercial market also features some “white elephant”-type properties, like the old bank building right across from the Ohio Statehouse shown in the photo below. It’s in prime territory in the heart of downtown Columbus, but it’s been vacant and for lease for decades. There’s a similar empty bank building a few blocks away on High Street. There’s only so much you can do with an empty bank building, with its columns and vaulted ceilings and other architectural features designed to convey the message that money deposited with the bank will be safe and secure. And the downtown area already features one old bank space that has been converted into a restaurant (Mitchell’s) and another that has been turned into a fine cocktail lounge (the Citizens Trust).

Another problem seems to be a narrowing range of retail businesses that could reasonably expect to succeed in the downtown area. Businesses like shoe stores and department stores and hat shops that once occupied downtown retail space aren’t coming back; the experience of the failed Columbus City Center mall demonstrated that sad reality. And if anything, the shift in shopping patterns to on-line buying makes the market for first-floor retail space in the downtown area even more challenging. Restaurants and bars seem to be doing well, but there aren’t many other retail business models that appear to be well-suited to occupying downtown space.

The disconnect between the thriving downtown residential market and the struggling commercial market raises a central question for Columbus developers who are creating “mixed-use” space: who is going to lease those ground-floor storefronts? Until that question gets answered, we’ll continue to see “for lease” signs in the downtown area.

The Great Crypto Crash

I frankly don’t get the whole cryptocurrency concept. I don’t understand how it works, or how it can have value. It seems like the most volatile, unpredictable possible investment. And the fact that it is the preferred form of ransomware payment required by computer hackers doesn’t exactly give it a veneer of legitimacy, security, or credibility, either.

In short, I’ve never invested in a cryptocurrency, and I can’t believe that will ever change. After this past week, I’m glad I’ve taken that conservative stance. To be sure, the stock market has been taking a beating recently–the S&P 500 is now down 18 percent since the end of December, and the Dow is down 13 percent over that same time period–but that is chump change compared to what has just happened in the crypto world. MarketWatch described last week as a “bloodbath” for cryptocurrency, with multiple different crypto currencies losing huge chunks of their market value. One crypto trading firm said last week represents “the largest wealth destruction event in the short history of the crypto markets.”

The abrupt valuation changes for some of the crypto firms is truly shocking. MarketWatch reports that one cryptocurrency, LUNA, was trading at about $80 in early May, only to fall “nearly to zero.” Another cryptocurrency that had been pegged at one to one with the U.S. dollar fell to as low as six cents. In all, it is estimated that the crypto market lost $400 billion in value over just seven days. Those are sudden and catastrophic losses on the same scale as the stock market crash in 1929. Imagine being one of the people who bought a cryptocurrency at $80, only to see their investment vanish within a week!

The crypto market has had some tough times before, but has rebounded. Will it bounce back this time–or will people begin to wonder whether getting into crypto is just too risky? One of the reasons the American stock market keeps its value, even during difficult economic times like the present, is that millions of American workers have a portion of their paychecks invested in the market through their employers’ 401k plans. That constant infusion of money is a nice little support mechanism that the crypto market just doesn’t have. When the big players decide that it’s time to get out of crypto–as they apparently did this past week–there is no safety net to absorb the shock.

“Please Don’t Weigh Me” Cards

I happened to see a news article about these “please don’t weigh me” cards that some people apparently are using with their doctors. One of the cards is pictured above.

The cards are being offered by a group called more-love.org. Its website indicates that it has sent out thousands of the cards. The website explains the cards as follows:

“Because we live in a fatphobic society, being weighed and talking about weight causes feelings of stress and shame for many people. Many people feel anxious about seeing the doctor, and will avoid going to the doctor in order to avoid the scale.

We want to support you in requesting healthcare that is free of weight bias. Getting weighed is an informed choice that we get to make with our doctor. We don’t have to automatically step on the scale just because someone asks us to.

Our “Don’t Weigh Me” cards are a polite and respectful way to assert your preference at the doctor’s office and seek informed consent if weight is deemed necessary for care and treatment. It’s OK to not automatically step on the scale when asked.”

Perhaps I’m insensitive and “fatphobic,” but this concept seems strange to me. First, there’s a passive-aggressive element to it that doesn’t seem particularly well-suited to a positive doctor-patient relationship. Why do you need pre-printed cards, rather than having an honest conversation with your doctor, and his staff, about your feelings? If you can’t have candid communications with your doctor about your issues, you’re probably not going to get the best health care.

Second, what is this about “healthcare that is free of weight bias”? Numerous studies have shown that weight is directly related to health care, in that obesity increases the risk of conditions like diabetes, heart disease, joint problems, respiratory problems, and other significant health issues. Even if you don’t currently have one of these conditions, excessive weight is likely to cause you to develop such problems in the future–which means weight logically is a focus of any doctor who is interested in preventive health care. Asking your doctor not to weigh you is like asking him to not take your pulse, conduct a blood test, or perform a physical examination. You are depriving him of information that he can use in prescribing appropriate medication, treatment, or other activities that can produce better health and avoid future problems.

Third, isn’t it odd that people are concerned about living in a “fatphobic” society, and what really worries them is getting a metric from a scale, rather than how they look, or how they feel, or how their clothes fit? What is it about the act of getting on a scale that makes it, specifically, the focus of a pre-printed card?

These cards seem to be a new development, and it isn’t clearly how common their use is. It would be interesting to know how doctors are reacting to being handed one of these cards.

Ozark Snark

This week we binged the last part of the last season of Ozark. The lure of finding out what happened to the Byrde family and what train wrecks (and, in this case, car wrecks) lay in their path was irresistible. Now we’ve done it, so we’ll have to get a bit snarky about it.

Warning: Ozark Spoilers Ahead

The last part of the last season of Ozark suffered from two problems that are common in successful “seemingly normal people behaving badly” shows. First, you have already killed off many of the good characters to keep injecting shockers into the show, until you get to the point where you are looking around, most of the interesting characters are gone, and you’ve got to figure out who the few remaining characters are going to interact with. That often means injecting less familiar, and almost always less interesting, new characters into the last season of the show. Second, the main characters who have been behaving badly have already experienced all of the plausible bad behaviors, so you’ve got to push the envelope into implausibility territory–and the show becomes a bit ridiculous and suffers as a result.

Ozark experienced both of these problems. By the end of the last season Buddy and the original Langmore crew are long dead, Wendy’s brother is dead, Helen Pierce is dead, the Snells are dead, Wyatt is dead, and so are countless others. That left the Byrdes, Ruth, the cartel lords, and the pesky private investigator. There really wasn’t anyone left for Ruth to scheme with, which is why the long-departed Rachel character had to be lured back from Florida to promptly (and implausibly) become Ruth’s stalwart partner in sticking it to the Byrdes. That’s why Wendy’s Dad, the new necessary Wendy foil, suddenly became a key figure, too. And once nephew drug lord got killed, the show had to promptly introduce mother/sister drug lord and make her (implausibly) even more cold-blooded, murderous, and connected to the Mexican drug culture and assassination cult than her son. A key indicator that Ozark had killed off too many of the good characters was that Ruth ended up having daydreams about talking to Wyatt and seeing the other Langmores again.

And the last season of Ozark had the implausibility problem in spades. It wasn’t just the new and revived characters I’ve mentioned above, it was the plot lines. I’ve written before about how the Byrdes set new standards in crappy parenting, but the last few shows made even the Byrdes prior parenting efforts seem credible by comparison. We’re supposed to swallow Marty the ace accountant going down to Mexico to act as the head of the cartel, and all of the hardened criminal lieutenants are going to fall in line? Wendy’s Dad is going to get a custody hearing set in three days? The Byrdes and their string-pulling buddies are going to be able to change extradition status and get the FBI to do whatever they suggest whenever they make a phone call? The Byrdes get into a high speed, rollover car crash and everyone walks away without a scratch? And the high rollers and kingpins of the Midwest are all going to gladly contribute to a charity headed by people who’ve just been arrested for assault and have the sketchiest imaginable background? And, perhaps most implausibly of all, none of the countless criminals the Byrds had screwed would ever go over to their hopelessly insecure house and gun down the entire family, just to be done with them?

I accepted these issues and enjoyed watching Ozark through to the end, notwithstanding these issues, just to finally seeing what happened to the Byrdes. My only complaint is that the execrable Wendy, one of the most annoying and truly despicable characters in the history of television, wasn’t killed off in some extremely painful way that included impaling her through those dimples she always showed during one of her creepy charm offensives. Seeing her on her knees about losing her kids and checking herself into a mental institution wasn’t enough for me. I wanted Marty or one of the kids to slug her when she said, as she did again and again, “we are so close” and then have her gutted, drowned, set on fire, dropped from an airplane, dragged behind one of those boats on the Lake of the Ozarks, and experience any other ultra-painful demise the show’s writers could think of.

Unfortunately, that didn’t happen. Perhaps the creators of the show wanted to leave open the possibility of a sequel, realizing that a considerable portion of the Ozark viewing audience hates Wendy Byrde with a burning passion and would gladly watch a new show in hopes of seeing her get her final comeuppance.

Cutting The (Linguistic) Mustard

Recently I mentioned, with some asperity, that a particular effort didn’t “cut the mustard.” Two of my colleagues looked at me in bewilderment. They’d apparently never heard the phrase before, and had no idea that “cutting the mustard” meant meeting a desired standard of performance. To them, it was just another inexplicable saying that would have to be added to their growing list of quaint “Bobisms.”

Where does “cut the mustard” come from? Like many idioms, its lineage is disputed. Some sources contend it is British in origin and refers to the physical act of cutting down mustard plants, which requires sufficiently sharp tools; dull tools therefore would not “cut the mustard.” Others believe that it is an Americanism, perhaps originating in Texas, where a use of the phrase was found in a Galveston newspaper in the 1890s. O. Henry also used “cut the mustard” in some of his popular short stories in the early 1900s, which may have helped to spread the saying to the United States at large. One source argues that mustard has long been associated with being strong or sharp, and “cutting the mustard” relates to that notion.

I have a related, but slightly different, theory: I think that because mustard can be so powerfully flavored, the other ingredients of your sandwich or dinner must be sufficiently tasty to hold their own and make their presence known. I’m guessing that, out on the dusty plains of Texas, a cowboy took a bite into a sandwich and realized that the meat and other sandwich makings were so insubstantial and bland that they were overwhelmed by the pungent mustard. He then packed his saddlebags, spurred his horse, and ruefully concluded that the unsatisfying sandwich wouldn’t cut the mustard.

Can it really be that “cut the mustard” has passed totally out of usage by anyone under, say, 60? If so, that’s too bad. It’s one of those idioms that adds flavor — pun intended — to our language.

Unmetered

Earlier this spring, the blue sign shown above started appearing on parking meters in downtown Columbus. The sign notified parkers and passersby that Columbus was going to a meter-free parking world. Yesterday morning, as I walked to work down Gay Street, city workers were removing the coin-accepting tops of the parking meters from their metal stands and hurling them into the back of a pickup truck, where they landed with a clang. One of the employees at our firm noted that a parker had just put money into one of the meters before it was taken and unceremoniously tossed into the truck.

By the end of the day, a new parking kiosk and a new sign, shown below, had appeared in front of our firm. All of the parking meters were gone–with only their sad, lonely metal stumps remaining to remind us, probably forever, of where the meters once were.

Why is Columbus ditching the meters? The city’s Director of the Department of Public Service says it is part of an effort “to enhance the customer experience for on-street parking by adding greater convenience with better technology tools.” She adds: “A modernized system supports equitable access and turnover as our city—and curb lane demand—keep growing.” (I’m guessing that “curb lane demand” refers to desire for parking spaces.)

The city says that the new system will be simpler for parkers, who can identify their mobile pay zone using street signs where they parked, walk to the nearest kiosk, enter their license plate number and pay using a card or coins. I’m not sure why the city contends that this new approach is simpler than just dropping a few coins into a slot. And the new system will require people to remember their license plate number, which will predictably cause a number of people to double back to confirm their number, but there’s no fighting progress.

The article linked above quotes the city’s Assistant Director for Parking Services as saying: “For the City of Columbus, streamlining parking payment will require less maintenance, greater efficiency, and enable quick and accurate license plate recognition (LRP) enforcement to encourage access and turnover.” In short, it will be easier to ticket people who overstay their designated parking space period. If you’re parking in downtown Columbus, keep that in mind. And watch out for those sad metal stumps.

Pitiful Picard

I recently watched the second season of Star Trek: Picard. By the last episode I felt like Patrick Stewart looks in this photo from the show–slack-jawed, slightly befuddled, and dazed at just how crappy this show is.

The premise of the show was a little dubious to begin with. However old Jean-Luc Picard is, we know that Patrick Stewart is over 80. That means he’s not going to be out there duking it out with the Gorn or doing any of the other physical stunts and fistfights and dropkicks that Captain Kirk did in the original series. Picard’s advanced age wasn’t necessarily disqualifying, however, because he was the cerebral starship captain, the trained diplomat who understood that he couldn’t put his life and command at risk because he was curious about what might be found on an alien planet. Perhaps Picard would draw upon the diplomatic past, and give us a show about Jean-Luc negotiating a difficult treaty with a new alien species, or something that would be a little on the intellectual side?

Nah! The first season was a mess, and the second season was no better. And here is the problem: this is probably the most uncreative show in the Star Trek universe, and it is depressing, besides. It’s uncreative because the writers can’t resist bringing back characters from the past–like Data, and Riker, and counselor Troi and Seven of Nine in season one, and Q and the Borg and Guinan and a distant ancestor of Dr. Soong (Data) in season two. It makes you realize how liberating working on the original Star Trek must have been, where the writers and actors were working with a totally blank canvas and didn’t feel hamstrung by having to bring back tired old characters and plot lines.

And speaking of plot lines, Picard season two follows a too-traveled road of alternative history, where Picard and his band need to reverse some event that changed history. Of course, the new history is unrelentingly bleak, violent, and racist. But then, every plot line on Picard is pretty darned bleak. We learn of a terrible incident in Jean-Luc’s past that shaped his life that you’re likely to guess early on, but that takes forever to fully depict. (Silly me! I thought the Next Generation Picard was just a stiff-necked, duty bound, by the book captain who thought he would be better at his job if he didn’t pal around with the crew, and I kind of respected him for that.) But everyone on the show is struggling with some kind of depressing problem, whether it is Q, or Guinan, or Dr. Soong, or the astronaut who needs to get on her history-changing flight. It’s a downer, which is the exact opposite of what the Star Trek universe is supposed to be all about. The show is so grim that, when Picard is hit by a car at one point in season two, I kind of hoped that the poor old guy would be put out of his misery. Alas! It was just another excuse for a bit more psychoanalysis.

The original Star Trek promised to “go where no man has gone before.” How about living up to that promise for a change? How about forgetting the Borg, and Data, and Guinan, and trying to develop some totally new characters and concept, like Star Trek: Deep Space Nine once did? Regrettably, I’m not holding my breath.

This Year’s Down Yard Projects

I got a lot accomplished during my two-day Stonington gardening frenzy this past weekend. Mother Nature was a great help in the effort. It had rained for a few days before I arrived, so the ground was soft and perfect for weed extraction. During my visit, however, it was sunny and cool—ideal conditions for some heavy duty planting and general yard work.

Yard work and gardening have a sequence. The winter storms had knocked down a lot of branches, so the first step in the process was to pick up the debris and deposit it in our compost heap. That gathering effort also allowed me to survey the plants to see how they fared. I’m pleased to report that our major perennial plants all survived. I’m also pleased to report that the lupines and ferns I’ve been cultivating in the weedy, between the rocks areas of the down yard came through the winter in thriving fashion. You can see some of the lupines in the photo above and the photo below. The lupines and the ferns should minimize our weeding obligations and give us some pretty lupine blooms besides.

The next step was weeding. Last fall I had dug out and edged some new beds in the down yard, and the Borgish weeds had invaded in force. After removing them, I planted some orange and yellow marigolds and a nice flower I discovered last year called a verbena. The marigolds grew well here last summer, produce a lot of flowers, and also, according to local lore at least, have a smell that helps to repel deer. The red verbena are hardy, have a bold color, and should spread. I added a white geranium, shown in the photo at the top of this post, and a red geranium, shown in the photo below, for a bit of contrast.

The goal this year is to make the down yard for interesting, visually, and to use flower color to accent more of the rocks. It’s a risk, because the rocky soil is not great for planting. I used lots of potting soil while planting in a bid to compensate. I also repositioned many of the abundant rocks in the yard to better delineate planting areas. I’m pleased with the results so far, but we’ll get a better sense of how the experiment is working when I return later this summer for more weeding, watering, and mulching.

The Borg In Our Yard

Two very full days of gardening — more on that later — have convinced me of one thing: weeds are the Borg of the plant world. They are relentless in their quest to assimilate every tidy garden area and turn it into a snarled, disheveled, grotesque, tumbledown mess. And weeds, like the Borg, don’t care about you. They are oblivious to your aching back, your hamstrings that seem to be on fire, your muddy knees, or the knuckles that have been skinned on rocks. And while you may need sleep, the weeds never rest.

You can’t really get rid of weeds, either. Like the Borg, they will keep coming back. You might spend hours digging them out, carefully removing them from the footprints of the plants you want to keep, and tossing them into the compost area, but you know they will return. Spend hours turning a weedy area, above, into a neat, well-tended bed, below, and you may as well take a picture to remember it by, because when you return the weeds will have encroached again.

When I weed up here, I half expect to see a grim black cube hovering overhead. The weeds are ever on the march

A Serene Sunrise

This morning I awoke as the first glimmers of the coming dawn penetrated the heavy curtains of our bedroom (4:56 a.m. to be precise) and enjoyed my first Stonington sunrise of 2022. As always, I was struck by the absolute, unearthly, ears searching for any hint of a sound quiet you find up here. The lack of any—and I mean any—background noise makes for quite a contrast with life in Columbus. The beautiful colors and the silence are a wonderful way to start the day.

Coastal Colors

When Betty and I took our walk this morning we passed the Island Ad-Vantages building, which has a new paint job. It a pretty bold color scheme—which means it fits right in.

One of the things I like about Stonington is that people aren’t afraid to use bright paint on their houses. That is true in many seaside communities. To be sure, there are many houses that are white or coastal gray, but there also are vibrant yellows, blues, reds, and greens. It makes for a very pleasing palette. It also says “vacation.”

The new shades on the Island Ad-Vantages offices just add more hues to our multi-colored Stonington rainbow.

That First Whiff Of Salt Air

We’re up in Stonington this weekend to do so spring clean-up and planting. It is still very cool up here—the high today will be around 50—but it’s sunny and the weather app indicates that the below freezing temperatures are behind us.

This morning I took Betty for a walk and, as we ambled down the aptly named Sea Breeze Street I caught my first whiff of salt air. Its invigorating tang quickened my step, and when we reached the small harbor next to the mail boat dock, the sunlight was dazzling on the water. We completed the walk by trudging up Granite Street, looping back through town, then heading up the Pink Street walkway. When we crested the hill on Highland Avenue, we were rewarded with a bird’s eye view of the lobster boats in the harbor and the islands beyond.

It’s nice to be back on the coast, even if only for a short while.

Ohio — The Library State

The U.S. Senate and Ohio gubernatorial races got most of the attention in Tuesday’s Ohio primary election. But the election also featured a series of levies, bond issues, and other decisions to be made by Ohio voters. And when you drill down into the results, you find something striking: libraries kicked butt.

In fact, library issues went a perfect 6-0 in the election, and all of them passed resoundingly — garnering, on average, approval votes from 71 percent of voters. In contrast, many school levies and bond issues went down to defeat.

Why do Ohioans vote overwhelmingly for libraries? A representative of the Ohio Library Council says its because Ohioans like the services they offer, and she speculates that the free COVID test kits offered at Ohio libraries during the pandemic might have played a role. I don’t know about the test kits, but I do think that the pandemic helped to drive home how important it is to have a place where you can find books to read, videos to watch, and CDs to listen to while you are social distancing. More generally, I think people like the community element of libraries. In many parts of Ohio, libraries are a source of local pride, and also one of the connections that hold communities together and allow neighbors to see each other. And library issues typically aren’t breaking the bank in terms of what they are asking.

I’m a big library supporter, and we are big-time library users. I think libraries are an important part of the fabric of this country, and I’m glad to see that my fellow Ohioans agree with that sentiment.

JGI, Concourse C, 4:35 a.m.

I’m on the road this morning, with very early flights. Being the prototypical Uptight Traveler, I got to Columbus’ John Glenn International Airport early to make sure there were no snags, which meant I encountered a gleamingly clean and mostly vacant terminal when I headed to my gate. (And, for those who make fun of my U.T. tendencies, I should note that there were long lines to check in bags at many of the airline counters when I arrived, so I am firm in my view that getting to the airport early remains a good option.)

This is the first flight I’ve taken since the mask mandate was lifted and masks became optional. Some travelers are wearing masks, but the vast majority are unmasked. I’d say the ratio of unmasked to masked is about 9 to 1. It’s kind of weird to be in a mostly unmasked airport after two years of pandemic-fueled masking. It makes the two-year masking period seem like a strange, unsettling dream.

In Dangerous Times

Earlier this week Dave Chappelle was ending a show at the Hollywood Bowl when he was assaulted by a man who came up on stage and tried to tackle the comedian. The attacker, who was armed with a fake gun that contained a knife blade, was subdued by security as Chappelle finished his show. Ironically, during the show Chappelle had apparently just been joking about having increased security in the wake of the Will Smith-Chris Rock-Oscars incident, and Chris Rock–who was at Chappelle’s performance–came on stage and jokingly asked Chappelle whether the assailant was Will Smith.

We can tip our caps to Chappelle and Rock for their faithful adherence to “the show must go on” tradition in show business, but the attacks on performers obviously aren’t funny. The Hollywood Reporter has published a piece headlined “Nobody’s Safe: Dave Chappelle Attack Raises Concerns For Performers” that addresses the incidents that reflect the increasing risks involved in performing in public. The concern is that the invisible but previously respected barrier between the stage and the audience has been breached, and that performers now have to be wary of the possibility of being physically confronted by some lunatic every time they go before the public to do a show. While that is a risk for any live performer, the risk is greater for a comedian, who is up on stage, alone, and might just make a joke that some unbalanced person in the audience finds personally provoking. And the Chappelle incident, coming on the heels of the Will Smith-Chris Rock assault, raises heightened concern that copycats might be lurking out there, ready to charge the stage at any comedy venue.

Chappelle, who is a real pro, issued a statement after the attack saying that he “refuses to allow last night’s incident to overshadow the magic of this historic moment.”  I hope that turns out to be true, and that performers everywhere continue to perform before live audiences, albeit with enhanced security and greater attention to their safety. There is a certain magic in seeing a live performance that simply can’t be replicated in a Netflix special, and I would hate to see that lost. But if these kinds of incidents continue, I wouldn’t be surprised if some performers decide that live acts just aren’t worth it. In dangerous times like these, who could criticize them for being unwilling to take that risk?