Thursday, July 31, 2014

Entropy Key West Style

"Entropy,"  what a strange word ent-rope-eee. I think of it as meaning a process whereby a complex system reverts to its  component parts. Imagine a car  rusting away to nothing like the old truck on Tarpon Belly Key...a pile of  rust vaguely shaped like a transmission or an engine block.  Scientists have all sorts of complex explanations about heat and energy in a closed system or some such stuff.
 To me the former Finnegan's Wake Irish pub is lurching into a state of entropy. The Irish flag is washed out such that it appears to be more a symbol of surrender than a connection to the "motherland." Never a particularly shiny  bright building, these days Finnegan's seems to be held together more by dirt particles than building materials. 
I miss it. I am surprised how much I sill miss the place, dark corners, draught beers and weird Irish food.
There is an architect's  sign in the window so one day I shall ride by and find construction under way and some new horror  will replace the familiar. However I've heard on the grapevine that current plans may call for an Irish pub in similar form to be restored at this location as an experiment to see how well it goes. I can hardly believe it. Entropy will likely  be reversed.
I struggle to picture myself dismantling a toilet in my house and then plonking the object on the sidewalk. Some people seem to do it all the time. I'd venture a guess hardly a week goes by in key West that something like this isn't parked on the sidewalk. I try to see it as a blow against gentrification, but all I see in fact is inconsiderate neighbors making the town look shabby. Cheyenne thoroughly approved of the sidewalk trash. I was tempted to put a "Free To A Good Home" sign on the commode, but we kept walking as soon as she lost interest. 
If you can ever gain some altitude on Key West and you look down on Old Town you will see a lot of greenery. On the ground it can look as shaded as Elgin Lane. another form of entropy trying to restore the natural order of things:
Commodes aside, this is how  a properly antique Old Town is supposed to loo to attract  visitors. No entropy here:

A  Land Rover in Key West. With gas prices hovering around four  dollars a gallon, one US dollar per liter, one might imagine allowing an old four wheel drive gas guzzler like this to return to kits natural decomposing state.   The beauty of Key West is that you don't usually have to drive very far and even if  four wheel drive is unnecessary and the old Land Rovers are  a handful to drive, so what? Its not my cup of tea but someone obviously cherishes this rather fine example of the worlds most  rugged vehicle.Good luck finding a local mechanic though. I generally dont recommend exotic cars for people who want to live in the Lower Keys. And then my wife gets a Fiat, and loves it!
 Stump Lane looking properly key West, with everyone's ideal of a Conch cottage and a cruiser bicycle, proper wheels for this little town.
 This is actually an old Florida louvered window  painted to look like wood. Very witty:
 These too are lovely old fashioned louvered windows with frosted glass:
 And here, behind the entropic vegetation we see a classic Bahama shutter:
 It has been hot lately as measured by my car at dusk one recent day:
 90 degrees is a bit on the hot side  for a night in Key West but I'll take it with joy compared to a place  where 70 degrees represents a hot summer day.

Wednesday, July 30, 2014

We Climbed A Keys Mountain

Robert was on a nostalgia  kick yesterday, so despite some setbacks we had a great time buzzing around the back country in our little boats, each meditating and ruminating as we sped across the water individually, talking when our paths reconnected on land. Robert and Salty Dog at 23mph crossing Cudjoe Bay: 
The stilt houses, typical of the shorelines around here. What you can't see is the massive influx of people in the Keys this week for the Great Lobster Kill today and tomorrow, known as mini season.
 Niles Channel Bridge arcing gracefully 40 feet above the water. I used to come out here quite often when I lived on Ramrod as this is a wide, deep, and direct path to Tarpon Belly Key.
Once under the bridge we turned west and aimed for the buildings which on land line Highway One. We had to get fuel...after a fashion. 
Robert had proposed  a pause in the proceedings to take lunch, I seconded the  motion so we stopped at The Wharf on Summerland Key for lunch.
 
The Wharf offers an organic menu of food and drink and while I stepped out and tried the tamales, well worth while, Robert took his default position and went with the cheeseburger, which seemed to hit the spot:
Salty Dog was perfectly behaved lounging in the shade with a giant bowl of iced water. We lounged, it was hot. Yes,. I know I enjoy heat but it was hot. Robert was in charge of navigation, only until I explained I used to do this trip quite a bit up Niles Channel. 
 The bridge was looking good. I love that arch plus you get  some excellent sunrises from the top.
We resumed our separate paths running smoothly  across the dark blue waters. I have the more comfortable boat with a center console on my Dusky and  a wheel to steer by, while Robert was giving himself a Popeye arm as he put it working his tiller steering at speed. I took the time to meditate a bit as we drove in a long straight line up the channel and I started to wonder, as one does, why Homer called his seas "wine dark," a phrase that has become as famous as it is puzzling. I have never sailed a sea that I could have confused for a glass of wine but scholars have discussed this subject at some intricate length Lapham's Quarterly.
 The image Homer hoped to conjure with his winelike sea greatly depended upon what wine meant to his audience. While the Greeks likely knew of white wine, most ancient wine was red, and in the Homeric epics, red wine is the only wine specifically described. Drunk at feasts, poured onto the earth in sacred rituals, or onto the ashes around funeral pyres, Homeric wine is often mélas, “dark,” or even “black,” a term with broad application, used of a brooding spirit, anger, death, ships, blood, night, and the sea. It is also eruthrós, meaning “red” or the tawny-red hue of bronze; and aíthops, “bright,” “gleaming,” a term also used of bronze and of smoke in firelight. While these terms notably have more to do with light, and the play of light, than with color proper, Homeric wine was clearly dark and red and would have appeared especially so when seen in the terracotta containers in which it was transported. “Winelike sea” cannot mean clear seawater, nor the white splash of sea foam, nor the pale color of a clear sea lapping the shallows of a sandy shore.
 Enough of this existential rubbish, we arrived at Tarpon Belly Key, but this time from behind. I got to see part of this island (technically three islands as it is cut across by two canals) I had not seen before. I usually land on the west facing  pebbly beach but this time we draped our anchors over the horizontal cement bridge support still solid, still in place across the mouth of the easternmost channel. The interior of the middle island was as wooded as any trail I've walked in the Keys:
With a big smile Robert found the rusty remnants of an axle and an engine block of a truck used to shuttle supplies across Tarpon Belly when the island was operating as a shrimp farm decades ago. Robert knew a guy who once drove this:
 Today ios opening day of lobster mini season, a two day slaughter designed to allow recreational anglers a chance to score some Florida lobster before official commercial lobster season starts next month (and continues into the Spring). Commercial lobster season is a pain from a navigational point of view as lobster pot floats sprout like toadstools in all near shore waters and commercial trappers maneuver their boats like un-muffled tractors at all hours, backing and forthing to check their traps, but mini season is torture for local residents.
Mini season is a boost for local businesses so as much as residents moan its never going away but it attracts a huge proportion of yahoos, people who have forgotten any manners they may have had before they were lured here  by lobster. There are rules (no hunting in canals or near shore) and the body of the lobster must be at least three inches long and not a female carrying eggs. Astonishingly enough law enforcement find numerous violators. Mini season is chaos. I don't think their laundry lines enhanced Tarpon Belly, frankly.
Our side of the island was silent and empty as we strolled around in the appalling heat following frisky young Salty Dog on his explorations. Our anchorage was perfect as the current was flowing south out of the canal holding our boats away from the cement. 
 Looking west, we crossed the bridge and walked on the easternmost island, a place rich with other memories for Robert.
"I last walked here 35 years ago" he had remarked as we landed. Now he eagerly led me through the undergrowth to another spot he hadn't seen since he was last here in his twenties with two buddies. We had fun, Robert said with a  twinkle in his eye as he told me about their exploits at a time when few people came and hung out here.
Yes we climbed the mountain of rock and gravel, we estimated it easily at 15 feet high, as high as the tallest point in key West, Solares Hill.  Above we see Robert descending, rather inelegantly like a skier on one ski, while I stayed on top in the rarefied atmosphere of the death zone because I discovered my Verizon phone got two bars here at the summit and I could send my wife in California an actual picture of the view across Tarpon Belly Key. 
You decide if the view was worth the effort. The Himalayas weren't in it. And there we see Fat Albert the blimp keeping an eye on things in the Florida Straits. I was slightly surprised I still had to look up and tjhat the blimp wasn't  flying at my eye level.
After I scrambled down, wishing someone made crampons for Crocs, I noticed I could still see fat Albert from our improvised dock. Honestly I think the view is slightly better from here. Which detracts nothing from our mountaineering achievement. Salty Dog went up and down twice, without I should note, the assistance of supplemental oxygen.
We dropped our mountaineering identities and got back in the boats. Robert did Important Things with the waterproof charts while I stared vacantly back at the island trying to discern, in vain, the location of the mountain amongst the foliage.
I am tempted to draw a discreet veil over the rest of yesterday's activities but I have to confess that at a point not too far from Robert's place my engine conked out. Again! Grr! We towed a bit and sometimes it ran for a bit so we planed a while too, so we got back to Robert's dock in good order if quite a  bit late.
We fiddled with it for a while in the appalling heat, and I left it ultimately at Robert's with plans maybe to give in and taker it to a rather good Yamaha mechanic I have used previously. "Something electrical" Robert opined, so we shall see.
I ended up  on Robert's power  cat getting a  ride home - again - but it was in all respects an excellent day of exploration. I barely got a nap before I had to go to work.  But that was another adventure.

Tuesday, July 29, 2014

Love They Neighbor

I irritated a friend of mine with a recent comment in this blog when I remarked that the Mayor's Christian neighbors did not step up and support his plan for the homeless center he had proposed and that had sunk under a citywide barrage of opposition to helping "those people." Leaving aside the merits of the mayor's plan which I count numerous, I need to apologize to Gary in the same public place I offended.
In many respects Key West  goes out of its way to help the less well off. I find myself vacillating between irritation and admiration when these issues come to the surface, of how to deal with the house-less. I see a lot of good being done; St Mary's Soup Kitchen also operates a food collection program and a and pantry on Stock Island. Wesley House is just one of several shelters for assorted unfortunates, battered wives and families on the street and so forth. Key West has a constant fundraisers for assorted people in distress, too often for medical bills and people laid off through illness. It's all worthy stuff and it's easy to give money to these organizations as they are transparent and effective.

Yet I  remain dissatisfied when the mayor proposes an active  program to house and rehabilitate people on the streets and it  goes nowhere; indeed the proposal to re-purpose the Easter Seals building on College Road was attacked so violently any such proposal is now a type of third rail for any political ambition. So I ask myself where are the city leaders, not the politicians but civic leaders, business leaders and  why not religious leaders, those people who get stuff done? Thanks to a lawsuit by some condo owners on College Road the homeless overnight shelter called KOTS will have to close. Thanks to a Florida Supreme Court ruling no jurisdiction may arrest people for sleeping in public unless they first provide a safe place for the dispossessed to sleep. Thus after the Keys Overnight Temporary Shelter is closed something else will have to replace it one would think. The mayor wanted to operate a full service facility to reintegrate the working poor into society. that lead balloon collapsed under the weight of its own expectations. Not a peep from a pulpit did we hear. So I got annoyed and I vented in an ill mannered way.
It seems to me that the city needs to set an example with some adult dialogue about what to do in the future. This town is a desirable destination for those with money and those without as well, and it needs to differentiate between the professional bums who spend winter on the streets and people who need a helping hand, people who desire security, a roof, a place at the table in this banquet of life in Key West. To me this is a dialogue that should take place at the upper echelons across the city but I don't see it happening.  Why, I ask myself has  a city with so many church buildings so few outspoken church leaders? Rev Steve Braddock gave up in despair and no one else has stepped up.
Frankly I get tired of hearing people's religious beliefs touted as good public policy as a general rule. We have pointless endless debates about mores sexual but when the Pope himself speaks up remarkably in favor of dealing with wealth inequality, unemployment and poverty he gets branded as a communist. When I used to be a Catholic I wondered why the church never spoke up, in imitation of the man himself in support of the least among us. In fact the  church in those days attacked Central American  priests who did just that under the umbrella of  "revolutionary theology." It was the Cold War and Marxism was the enemy of all things religious, including fighting poverty. 
So  when I find myself listening to how the United States is a Christian country, Judeo-Christian whatever that is, and at the same time we seem to have not much interest in helping the poor, the disabled, the needy I ask myself who is fooling who? Being a Christian is a full time job if you are going to take the theory seriously, yet cherry picking seems to be the modern way, and to me if you want to be a member of the club you have to abide by the rules. I am very fond of the Catholic writer G.K Chesterton's oft-quoted remark that "Christianity has not been tried and found wanting; rather it has been found hard and not tried." I tried it and found I couldn't keep up, I have no faith, I believe we came from primordial darkness and that is to what we shall return. No regrets as far as I'm concerned, I listen to my conscience and let other people worry about the minutiae of baffling rules. 
So I screwed up and Gary put me straight and I apologize. Generalizing is not right and I was guilty of it. I hope this sets the record straight for anyone offended and for Gary certainly, who is a thoroughly decent and humane man.
I remain committed to my belief that separation of church and state is good for religion, politics messes everything up after all, and  public policy in this country needs to be seen to be fair if we are ever to make any progress. The other unfortunate part of religious belief is that it is uncompromising and unarguable which in a political situation is impossible because compromise is how politics  gets  done. 
It disheartens me that in this country of endless wealth and a  solid history of things going well when everyone does better that in this period of appalling wealth inequality there is not an outcry in support of decency. I find it  grotesque that Americans, Christian and non, think its okay for working people to have full time jobs that pay $15,000 a year and no benefits. I am astonished that I live in a state that has refused to expand Medicare for the indigent and it is   a matter of no moment. Obamacare is not my first choice for universal care but it has done some good, aside from helping the insurance companies, but political opponents, the Christian Right, try to make political capital on the backs of the suffering poor. Is that Christian?
 I know there is a lot of fear of Muslims nowadays, these strange foreign fanatics who have replaced godless Communists as the enemies of the state. The unfortunate fact is that we have given them the space they need to grow and expand. We armed the Taliban to fight the Soviets in Afghanistan and they turned those skills and weapons on us.  Personally I though the war on the Taliban should have been prosecuted full steam ahead but instead our leaders chose to trash Iraq instead and failed to eliminate the Muslim fanatics in one country while laying waste the oil fields of Iraq and opening up a political space that the weirdos of ISIS are now occupying. The answer to all these fiascos is for Americans to gird up their religious loins and turn this war over cheap energy into a religious struggle quoting the Crusades. So we have to get down and dirty like the fanatics in Syria and Iraq? Really?
The human condition seems to require ambiguity and lack of consistency in our actions, that said a lot of modern religious life baffles me. I find the insistence on no sex education, no contraceptives, no abortion as religious dogma is fair enough, but as public policy it seems insane especially when those same anti tax right wingers argue that the state has no business helping young mothers to day care, pre-natal care or post natal care. How does that make any sense? Abortion is murder but botched executions are appropriate revenge, never mind the Lord prefers to keep revenge to himself. The sermon on the mount has been through a few revisions since I was a kid. Blessed are the poor is now lengthened to read "...the poor in spirit." One of the great oddities of Christianity in the US is the notion that wealth is a sign of God's blessing. The New Testament is packed with Awful Warnings on the unattainability of heaven to the rich. This particular one, so powerful and direct has now been watered down. Catholics routinely use contraception and the old prohibition of meat on Fridays is now said to have been nothing more than a health precaution. Beats me. 
And I am banned from heaven because I haven't been saved. Well, bugger. Consistency as they say is the hobgoblin of mediocre minds and I guess I qualify. I want public policy free of religious intrusion, but I would like religious leaders to step up when public policy leads us away from decency and humanity. Go figure.
I should like to have been born a Jew, what little I know of that religion I get from my wife who is a Reform Jew and thus rather looked down upon by the hardcore Orthodox. I like that Judaism eschews missionary work, I like that the dogma is rather vague about all the particulars of life after death that seem to fascinate Muslims and Christians. But in the end I'm not a Jew so that's that. But there again the Israel lobby in Congress is a machine that none dare oppose despite the obvious need for some sort of restraint on a nation that cheerfully subjugates its neighbor and speaks of Palestinians as animals who hate Israel. True or not inflammatory language won't lead to peace, and for all my life the Middle East has been the source of conflict with no end in sight.
It is said that yellow fever has caused more human deaths than any other single cause in history with religion a distant second. I want no part of either thanks, nor ebola which seems set to make some inroads. Recognizing that good comes of religion too, I understand, vaguely that some people enjoy the fellowship of gathering in one place on a  Sunday, and that for others fear of the dark requires belief in something, but I wonder why it becomes necessary to force this stuff on bystanders? I'm glad you have found new purpose in life but for someone like me who lives a mediocre life without extremes I don't feel motivated to take a twelve step program to get my life back on track. Thanks but no thanks.
So I shall try not to let my irritation at religion in public debate spill over into my own feelings about consistency but when I read the Bible which I do from time to time I wonder how it is that I hear people express their devotion to Christ and their total lack of devotion to his desire that we be kind to each other. It seems  to be clear enough:

And one of them, a doctor of the Law, putting him to the test, asked him, "Master, which is the great commandment in the Law?" Jesus said to him, "'Thou shalt love the Lord thy God with thy whole heart, and with thy whole soul, and with thy whole mind.' This is the greatest and the first commandment. And the second is like it, 'Thou shalt love thy neighbor as thyself.' On these two commandments depend the whole Law and the Prophets." (Matthew 22:35-40)