Wednesday, December 30, 2015

A Warm Rain from Louisiana

If you've ever been in Louisiana during a hot, humid tropical rainstorm, you know something of the richness and sticky sensuality of the deep south. The sweetness comes from the fruit, which thrives in the rich black marl of the delta country, and is expressed in the sugar of her bounty. 

Life slows in the wet heat.

Slowness, as Ezra Pound said, is beauty. And sweetness on the tongue is a languorous pleasure that makes most effort and striving seem superfluous. Were we put upon earth to labor and sweat, or to savor the luxury and sumptuous elegance of the good life? 

Sweetness seems it own justification, against the flintier attractions of denial and sacrifice. It may be simply a matter of mood, but even the most stubborn of ascetics cannot measure the extent of their own resignation without a taste of the nut. 

I recently purchased a bottle of a new dark rum, marketed as "Papa's Pilar". The Pilar, as Hemingway fans will recall, was the name the novelist gave to his fishing boat, harbored in the local port adjacent to his finca in Cuba. And, it was also the name given to the female Spanish heroine in his most ambitious novel, For Whom the Bell Tolls. Pilar. 

Imagine it as the inspiration for the spirit of the liquor, and you have some notion of the intention behind its flavor. It's a rich dark molasses taste, with notes of chocolate, coffee, cane, and any tropical fruit you could name (coconut, banana, pineapple, orange, etc.). 

The recipe below captures the essence of the rum's dominant quality, without distracting.  The banana and coconut enhance the rum's dark sugary heart. I guarantee it will knock your socks off. (I've always wondered how that saying came into use. According to an account I found on the internet, "kick your socks off" originated in the American South, where people liked to go barefoot, and the Coca-Cola company used the phrase to promote their soft-drink brand Mountain Dew, in ads which claimed the drink would "knock your socks off.") 

3 parts Papa's Pilar dark rum
1 part sweet French vermouth
1/2 part banana liqueur
1/2 part coconut syrup

1 part fresh lemon juice

Shaken and served up. 

I don't know whether Hemingway enjoyed going shoeless, but it was his habit to take a dip in his swimming pool each afternoon, before drinks and dinner (often with guests). 

Anyway, socks on or socks off, this drink should satisfy the most discriminating of tastes, unless of course you're the sort of person who likes their drinks very dry, and prefers to meditate on an entirely more sophisticated plane, where the pleasures of the body are regarded from a point above and beyond temptation and indulgence.   

Sunday, December 13, 2015

The Still Point of the Turning World

As I was looking at the clock on the wall of my office this week a thought occurred to me.

I was never a whiz at math, so most of my meditations in the area of physics tend towards the metaphysical, rather than the scientific. 

As I watched the second hand sweep silently, inexorably clockwise around the circular face of the clock, it occurred to me that the second hand wasn't really moving at all. Why I thought this is unclear, but the more I thought about it, the more peculiar my sense of orientation became.

T.S. Eliot, in one of his Four Quartets--Burnt Norton [1935]--says this--

Time past and time future
What might have been and what has been
Point to one end, which is always present.

At the still point of the turning world.

Eliot goes on in the poem to discuss the human consciousness of time, and how our sense of an immersion in time defines our place in eternity. 

Supposing that the second hand is not moving at all. That would mean that rather than the second hand moving around, the clock itself was moving around the second-hand. If that were true, we'd expect the shelf the clock is sitting on, and the wall behind it, the building within which the clock sits, and the ground beneath, the earth, the solar system, and everything existing in the universe which we can detect would be moving precisely around the second hand. The second hand might be thus considered the "still point of the turning world".

The solar system, and the galaxy, are often portrayed visually as gyroscopes, as spinning circular or parabolic systems of rotation. Our consciousness of the complexity of movement which this involves is muted by the inertia of its constancy--which is to say we don't think of the earth as spinning, because gravity holds everything down securely enough that it isn't spun off into space. It's possible to be spinning inside one rotation, while inside another (contrary) rotation. It's possible to think of ourselves, each one of us, as being in the cradle of a succession of nested gyroscopic rotations, unaware of our complex travel through space and time.   

Our sense of the movement of any object can only occur in relation to another object. An object, say an asteroid, may be tumbling through space, but we can only say that it is moving at all by being able to see it in relation to our own movement, or the placement of another object in space, which is not moving in exactly the same trajectory. This is a riddle. 

In the mind, we can conceive of the notion of a still point without our actually being able to say with certainty that such a thing exists. To say that to think of a thing is to suggest its existence is the very essence of metaphysical thought. If I posit the stillness of the second-hand on the clock, the possibility that it is not moving may seem logically consistent with what I know about the simplest principles of the physics of phenomena. But I'm not so naive as to think it is actually true. I think that Eliot probably would agree here, that his use of the "still point of the turning world" was nothing more than a small device to demonstrate his sense of the mystery of the interaction between time and consciousness. 

There is no consciousness of time outside of time, so we lack the perspective and objectivity to describe it accurately. Accuracy implies an established increment, and all increments are by their nature relational, that is, scaled to the correspondence of segments, or duration. Without such increments, all duration is fluid. Ultimately, we can't measure time without reference to our experience of the universe, and the vaster that seems, the more limited our own experience of it seems. 

Is it possible that the second-hand is the still point of the turning world? Would anyone be able to prove to me that it isn't? It might take a theoretical physicist some fancy foot-work to do it, and in that event I doubt I'd be able to comprehend the language he'd employ to do so. Definitions and proofs in higher physics may require a consciousness of concepts that are beyond the quotidian apprehension. Oddly, I don't find this frustrating. All that's required of this meditation is that it occurred. Understanding is denied to those who are not standing on the frontier of comprehension. I envy those who can follow the argument, though. They're our true pioneers.

Tuesday, December 1, 2015

My Letter to the Editor of the San Francisco Chronicle published this date December 1st 2015

Traditional San Francisco Victorian Row-Houses

We hear a great deal these days about the need for more "affordable"  housing in San Francisco and the greater Bay Area. Supposedly, increased high density zoning and new construction will relieve this pressure and moderate demand, bringing down prices. 

This is a fallacy. Lower prices always stimulate demand, which already far exceeds the potential capacity of the whole region, having reached a critical mass of population.   

Higher prices and shrinking supply are simply expressions of this fact. The market is behaving rationally. We can't "build" our way out of the crisis, except by creating a teeming beehive on the Chinese or Indian model. 

The period of unprecedented Bay Area growth is over.  We can choose quality of life, or keep inventing ways to bring in more people. Which is the best choice? 

New "Luxury Condos" in San Francisco