On the edge of summer

We have had a chilly summer. Of course, summer doesn’t really come to the Bay area until September; that’s when we get our hot days. But summer this year has been cool even by Bay area standards, with below normal high temperatures for June, July, and August.

This past week has been the first week that has felt like real summer. We still haven’t had any really hot days, but at least the high morning fog blowing in off the Pacific has burned off early enough to allow the days to warm up a little bit.

And just in time for summer, some of the trees are starting to turn. Some of the leaves on the trees across the street from us are beginning to curl up and turn yellow and brown. I drove by a sweet gum tree in Berkeley early this week that was completely red. And the trees around the parking lot at the church are beginning to be tinged with red.

“The day that changed the world”

With the tenth anniversary of the attacks of September 11, 2001, coming up, it made sense that the exercise for our monthly writing group at church would be on some related topic. But of course not everyone was affected by the September 11 attacks in the same way, and for some people other events had a bigger impact on their lives than did the September 11th attacks. So the writing exercise for the month was to write something about the day that changed the world — as in, the day that changed the world for you, the day that changed your world.

To start us off, I read a passage about Pearl Harbor day from Desert Exile: The Uprooting of a Japanese American Family by Yoshiko Uchida (Seattle: University of Washington, 1982, 2000):

It was one of those rare Sunday when we had no guests for dinner. My parents, sister, and I had just come home from church and were having a quiet lunch when we heard a frenzied voice on the radio break in on the program. The Japanese had attacked Pearl harbor.

“Oh no,” Mama cried out. “It can’t be true.”

“Of course not,” Papa reassured her. “And if it is, it’s only the work of a fanatic.”

We all agreed with him. Of course it could only be an aberrant act of some crazy irresponsible fool. It never for a moment occurred to any of us that this meant war. As a matter of fact I was more concerned with my approaching finals at the university [of California at Berkeley] than I was with this bizarre news and went to the library to study. When I got there, I found clusters of Nisei students anxiously discussing the shocking event. But we all agreed it was only a freak incident and turned our attention to our books. I stayed at the library until 5:00 p.m. giving no further thought to the attack on Pearl Harbor.

When I got home, the house was filled with an uneasy quiet. A strange man sat in our living room and my father was gone. The FBI had come to pick him up, as they had dozens of other Japanese men. Executives of Japanese business firms, shipping lines, and banks, men active in local Japanese associations, teachers of Japanese language schools, virtually every leader of the Japanese American community along the West Coast had been seized almost immediately.

Actually the FBI had come to our house twice, once in the absence of my parents and sister who, still not realizing the serious nature of the attack, had gone out to visit friends. Their absence, I suppose, had been cause for suspicion and the FBI or police had broken in to search our house without a warrant. On returning, my father, believing that we had been burglarized, immediately called the police. Two policemen appeared promptly with three FBI men and suggested that my father check to see if his valuables were missing. They were, of course, undisturbed, but their location was thereby revealed. Two of the FBI men requested that my father accompany them “for a short while” to be questioned, and my father went willingly. The other FBI man remained with my mother and sister to intercept all phone calls and to inform anyone who called that they were indisposed.

One policeman stationed himself at the front door and the other at the rear. When two of our white friends came to see how we were, they were not permitted to enter or speak to my mother and sister, who, for all practical purposes, were prisoners in our home.

By the time I came home, only one FBI man remained but I was alarmed at the startling turn of events during my absence. In spite of her own anxiety, Mama in her usual thoughtful way was serving tea to the FBI agent. He tried to be friendly and courteous, reassuring me that my father would return safely in due time. But I couldn’t share my mother’s gracious attitude toward him. Papa was gone, and his abrupt custody into the hands of the FBI seemed an ominous portent of worse things to come I had no inclination to have tea with one of its agents, and went abruptly to my room, slamming the door shut. [pp. 46-47]

Then each of us talked about the day that changed our worlds. I and one or two others spoke about our experiences on September 11, 2001; someone else spoke about Pearl Harbor Day; another about the Kennedy assassination; still another about a personal experience that was life-changing, even life-shattering. For each of us, it was the intersection of an exterior and catastrophic event, combined with a life-altering personal experience, that led to a “day the changed the world.” And then we spent an hour writing about our “day that changed the world.”

The varied experiences of our writing group made me curious about how other people define the “day that changed the world. So here’s a question for you, the reader of this blog: What was your “day that changed the world”? Was it 9/11, or Pearl Harbor Day, or JFK’s assassination, or MLK’s assassination — or something else? What happened on that day — both the world events, and your own personal events?

Pangu and the beginning of the universe

Another story for liberal religious kids; this time, from Chinese mythology.

At the beginning, there was little difference between heaven and earth. All was chaos, and heaven and earth had no distinct forms, like the inside of a chicken’s egg. Within this chaos, the god Pangu was born inside the egg.

Pangu grew and grew inside the egg. After 18,000 years, the egg somehow opened up. Some say that Pangu stretched himself inside the egg, and shattered the egg’s shell into pieces.

Once the egg had shattered open, the lightest part of it, the part that was like the white of a chicken’s egg, rose upwards, and became the heavens. The heavier part of the egg, like the yolk of a chicken’s egg, sank downwards and became the earth. Pangu took a hammer and an adze, and cut the connections between earth and the heavens. Then to keep earth and the heavens from merging together once again, Pangu stood between them, serving as the pillar that kept them apart.

Pangu lived within earth and the heavens, standing between them. And one day he began to transform. He became more sacred than the earth, and he became more divine than the heavens. The heavens began to rise, going up one zhang, or about ten feet, each day. The earth began to grow thicker, thickening by one zhang each day. And as the heavens rose, so too Pangu grew; he grew one zhang taller each day. And this continued for 18,000 years: each day, the earth grew thicker, and the heavens rose higher, and Pangu grew taller. Continue reading “Pangu and the beginning of the universe”

The DIY chronicles: Fortified Altoids

Once upon a time, Altoids brand peppermints were strong. That ended when the brand was bought by Wrigley. In 2006, Wrigley closed the old Altoid manufacturing plant in Wales, and began producing the candy in the United States. They first adulterated it with artificial flavor; when they removed the artificial flavor, they reduced the amount of peppermint oil until Altoids tasted bland and boring. So I stopped buying Altoids.

But I still miss the old Altoids: when you were preaching (or singing) for an extended period and needed to soothe your throat, the old Altoids had enough peppermint to do the trick. So I decided to try an experiment: I would buy some Altoids and add peppermint extract to them to try to recreate the old strong peppermint flavor.

I purchased a tin of Altoids for 2.99, and a one ounce bottle of peppermint extract (alcohol 89%, peppermint oil, and water) for 5.99. Altoids have a rough side and a smooth side, and I found the rough side absorbs peppermint extract more easily, so I laid out the Altoids rough side up on a dinner plate. I then dropped peppermint extract on them one drop at a time, starting at one side of the plate and working across to the other side, allowing each drop to soak in before starting the process again. After about seven or eight drops, each mint looked like it had absorbed about all it could hold. I turned them over, and added additional drops to those mints which still looked dry. Then I let them dry.

When I was done, Carol and I each tried one. Carol said: “Not as strong as the old Altoids.” I agreed. She crunched hers up, and then said, “But you can feel it in the back of your throat.” And she was right.

Verdict: The fortified Altoids were much better than un-fortified Altoids, but still not as good as the old ones.
Total cost: 2.99 + 1.50 (a quarter of a bottle or peppermint extract) = $4.49; plus 15 minutes. Probably not worth it.
Next steps: Try essential oil of peppermint instead of peppermint extract.

In the museum of modern art

There were hordes of people in the San Francisco Museum of Modern Art. Not only is it a holiday weekend, but the show on the art collections of Gertrude Stein and her siblings closes on Tuesday. In a couple of the galleries of the Stein family’s paintings, it got so crowded that gallery-going felt like a contact sport. I took this photo in the lobby near the elevators.

An incident unrelated to the photograph:

A young woman stood by the elevator doors checking tickets: “Tickets please. Tickets? Thank you. Tickets please.” A white man in his sixties brushed by her and went to squeeze in the elevator. “Ticket, sir?” she said, politely but firmly. He exploded at her, and I thought he was a street crazy: talking loudly and incoherently, he gesticulated at her and made it clear that he was going to go up without showing her a ticker. She took a step back, and held up her radio. “I’m going to call security, sir.” He calmed down quite a bit at that. “If I knew where my ticket was,” he spluttered, “I’d — I left it — it’s with my credit card, and I left my credit card….” His voice dropped down to a normal volume. The elevator went up without him, as he apparently explained to the woman checking tickets what he was doing. Next time I looked over, he was getting on the elevator, and she was talking into her radio. A few minutes later, a man in a plaid shirt stood next to her, and she was telling him what had happened. I heard her saying: “All I did was ask if he had his ticket.”

N.B.: The only adjustments I made on the photograph were to adjust the exposure, and to reduce pixel noise.

The Moon and the hare

Another in a series of stories for liberal religious kids. This story, from an extinct language group in Southern Africa, offers an explanation for the beginnings of death.

The original language this story was told in was the |Xam language, which is now extinct. The people who spoke this language are part of a larger ethnic group commonly referred to as “Bushmen”; in academic circles, the term “San” is used. Both names may have pejorative connotations for the people to whom they refer; I have chosen to use the academic term.


When the San people first saw the new moon, they would look towards it, and put their hands over their eyes, and say this:

“Star, O Star, yonder in the sky!
Take my face there. You shall give me my face there.
When you have died, Moon, you return, alive again;
We no longer saw you, and then you came again.
Take my face that I may resemble you.
You always return, alive again, after we lose sight of you.
It was the hare that told you that you should do this.
It used to be that you told us that we also should return,
Alive again, after we had died.”

Having said this prayer, once a man of the San people named Dia!kwain followed the prayer by telling this story:

In the beginning, the hares looked much like a human beings. And when they died, they did not die forever, for after a time they would return to living once again. Continue reading “The Moon and the hare”