The Pit And The Pendulum

THE PIT AND THE PENDULUM....I have a gift today for my two or three conservative readers. It's a story of government regulation gone wild.

On Wednesday I went up to LA to visit the new and improved Griffith Observatory following its four-year, $93 million renovation. The first thing you see when you walk into the main hall is a Foucault Pendulum, and yesterday it was swinging away. You've probably seen one, but for those who haven't it's basically just a gigantic pendulum that demonstrates the rotation of the earth. As the pendulum swings freely and the earth rotates under it, the plane of the pendulum appears to move in a slow circle. (Nice cartoon explanation here.) At the latitude of Los Angeles it takes 42 hours to complete a circle, and it's traditional that at each hour mark you place a little wooden peg that gets knocked over when the pendulum hits it. It's fun for the whole family.

But yesterday, no pegs. What's the deal? The docent/explainer person explained: the Foucault Pendulum at the Griffith Observatory is down in a shallow pit. One day a health inspector came by and asked how the pegs got reset after they'd all been knocked down. So they told him: someone jumps down into the pit, stands up the pegs, and jumps out.

The health inspector was horrified. That's dangerous! You can't have a city employee leaping into a 3-foot pit and then resetting pegs while a giant pendulum is swinging! Shades of Edgar Allen Poe!

So they contracted with someone to build a peg-setter-upper that could manipulate the pegs from outside the pit. But during the remodeling, they lost the doohickey, and the guy who made it is retired (or dead; I forget which). So: no pegs. Sorry.

And that's your story of bureaucracy run wild. We will return shortly to normal blogging.

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