July 26, 2014

Saturday Morning Essay: Where there is no solution, there is no problem

Brought to you by Peet's nuclear fusion strength dark roast...

An old friend from the neighborhood called yesterday afternoon, out of the blue, a fellow I hadn't talked to for years.  Because of the office and the requirements of a guild I belong to (the State Bar), I'm one of those increasingly rare people with a listed land line.  So you can always find me.  Ready or not, here you come.  Anyway, an interesting conversation ensued.  This guy (a little younger than your bloggerspondent), has always somewhat overrated my, what would you call it?, my insightfulness, but I had a tendency to do that myself with certain key people in my life, and not much harm comes of it.

We talked for about an hour.  This conversation followed on the heels of an e-mail I received recently from another friend with a "life calculator" attached that allowed you to figure out certain things about yourself based on your date of birth.  For example, I had never thought of this but I was conceived in 1947, with a guesstimate of the actual night of sperm-meets-ovum of May 25, 1947. I realize that what they're doing here is assuming a couple of things, that human gestation is 280 days from commencement of last menstruation to birth, and ovulation on the 14th day, and normal full term.  Recent research, I discovered after googling around a little, indicates that "normal term" varies a lot, and tends to get longer as mothers get older.  My mom was 30 when I was born.

But May 25, 1947 is okay.  The event of most note of that day (besides the parents' get-together on a balmy spring evening in upstate Alabama) was a coal dust explosion in New Mexico's Centralia mine which killed 111 miners.  Also, Karen Valentine was born May 25, 1947.  Two of my best friends from Berkeley days were born in 1947, one in April and one in July (as you may have gathered from a recent post).  With respect to April, of course, there was no overlap, but as to July it's interesting to consider that I was a work in progress even as he emerged to view the stars (cf. Dante).  But a birth on July 12, 1947, of course, implies coital origins in the latter part of 1946.

We've all been around, in other words, somewhat longer than perhaps we commonly think.  Whether you want to date yourself from the gleam in your father's eye or the water slide event itself 266 days later (thereabouts),  a fantastic amount has changed during the lifetimes of my contemporaries.  Consider that when I was born, there were 131 million people in the United States. I read yesterday that Lagos, Nigeria has a problem with the ebola virus and the CDC is worried about contagion because 21 million people live in Lagos, and the country has a population of 170 million, which is to say, many more people than the United States on the day I was born.

The old friend and I talked about the coming inundation of the old neighborhood where we grew up, which is constructed on bay fill.  The guess is that in 40 to 50 years, it will be under about 5 feet of water.  Well, San Francisco Bay is only about two-thirds the size it once enjoyed in pre-industrial times and I guess it's going to reclaim its former extent and glory.  I imagine the steeple of old St. Timothy's church, where so many of my neighborhood friends used to attend catechism, will still be visible above the dark waters of the Bay as it rises, so I will use that as an excuse to add Debussy's piano piece about an engulfed cathedral of legend, which was always one of my favorites of Debussy's strange creations.

The power of exponents.  I sometimes wish I had paid more attention to algebra and those silly graph functions we used to draw.  You know, parabolas and stuff.  That's the story of everything now.