Night, Fog, and One Hell of a Bang

IF I HAD KNOWN THAT our galleon would collide with a freighter, I would have worn a life jacket.

The time was February 1988. Through a curious series of circumstances, I had signed aboard the replica galleon Golden Hinde II a few months earlier as a deckhand and docent, sailing around the Bay Area and down the California coast giving tours of our fine ship. Our plan that night was to motor (yes, we had a small engine) from San Francisco to the Farallon Islands, then sail down to Half Moon Bay. We left San Francisco well after midnight in order to take advantage of the outgoing tide, and were soon past the Golden Gate Bridge and into the open sea.

A cold and foggy 3 a. m. found me atop the foredeck on bow-watch (front lookout) with a couple of other chilly souls.

And Now, A Moment of Science

SWIMMING AGAINST THE ANTI-INTELLECTUAL TIDE that these days governs too much of mediated public discourse is a modest little one-minute radio programlet called StarDate. It’s “the longest-running national radio science feature in the country,” according to the description on the StarDate website, and airs daily on more than 300 stations around the United States. A production of the University of Texas’ McDonald Observatory, each episode features something about astronomy (both historical and observable), planetary or space science, exploration, or even stellar mythology. (Everything stops in our house at 9:50 every morning so we can hear the broadcast on San Francisco’s KCBS.) You can catch it on the unstreamed local airwaves, or also listen online at http://stardate.org. Tune in, turn on and look up!

Wee Little Me

I HAVE ALWAYS LOVED LANDSCAPES that make me feel small. Deserts, mountains, beaches, redwood forests, prairies — anything requiring a wide perspective with which to take it all in, and which likewise reminds me of my true place in the Universe.

Part of the reason is that I have lived in a valley of one sort or another for most of my life. Valleys can’t help but breed insularity; when you can see the borders of your world, you can get the idea that the world is a small one and that the people inside it are the only people there are.

Praying for Strength, and Other Sure Things

IS G?D GRANTING FAVORS, OR am I just fooling my brain into higher functioning?

That’s the question I ask myself every time I pray for either greater strength (read: endurance) or greater understanding. That’s about all I ever pray for[1], and either way, those prayers always get answered (so far). But the question is also a loaded one: as a Religious Agnostic, I am somewhat prejudiced against the idea of the nameless, genderless Man Upstairs (if It is a man, and if It is upstairs) making dreams come true for me when they have so tragically gone wrong for others (e.g., and canonically, the Six Million, but also any refugees/terminal patients/soldiers/etc anywhere/anywhen). That’s also an argument against Divine Intervention: that people who have “miraculously” survived illness and disaster must necessarily be more holy than those who didn’t. I don’t think that’s fair, or accurate.

But praying for something that expands you in some way —

Behind the Avocado Curve

AS AVOCADO TOAST CEASES TO be a Thing (I understand the new Thing is “tomato toast”), I am unembarrassed to say I only tried this delectability for the first time last week, for dinner.

Verdict: Impressed enough to make the leftovers into lunch the next day. The crunch and earthiness of the toast (I used Safeway’s “Signature Brand 15-Grain Bread” as a base) perfectly balances the cool richness of the avocado. I didn’t even salt or pepper it at first (as the standard recipe advises), but when I did the flavors popped like a rose in bloom. The next day was even better with gomasio (a sesame/sea salt/seaweed blend) sprinkled over it.

I rarely follow food fads (in fact I am quite defiant about it), but this time the Hive Mind (or at least one guy in Australia) has devised something truly happifying. Mash avocado, salt and pepper to taste, spread thickly on good toasted bread, eat with knife and fork. As the man said, “Go thou and do likewise” — if you haven’t already.

365 Names of God: The Force

THE FORCE is a non-anthropomorphic term, but to a purist like me, so is “God.” It could be argued that since the Force is created by all living beings, rather than the reverse (at least, the reverse from a mythic perspective) that it should not be included here. But according to dialog from the Star Wars films, the Force does have a particular will and is vital (puntended) for sustaining life. I think The Force is certainly Godlike to the degree that it warrants inclusion.

Words to Bring Back: “Civics”

– Definition: n. pl. (construed as sing.) The division of political science dealing with citizenship and civic affairs.

– Used in a sentence: “My old high school stopped teaching civics years ago.”

– Why: It’s needed. Boy, is it needed.

Adventures of a Lidded Yid

“ARE YOU A PRIEST?” ASKED the workman as I passed through a local condoplex.

“No, just a Jew,” I answered, smiling.

“That’s good,” he said, also smiling, and went back to his repairs.

He was not the first person who asked me about my yarmulke (in Hebrew, “kippa”), but he was one of the most affable. I have been wearing a small, knitted skullcap pretty much full-time since 2000, when my increasing religious observance (and a local anti-Semitic incident) seemed to call for it. It has sparked many conversations between myself and various onlookers, including a Muslim attorney interested in how kosher food differed from its halal counterpart;

Why I Love: Cooking

Fig. 1.

IT’S THE QUIET ALCHEMY OF watching ingredients turn into something delicious and nourishing. It’s the knowledge of where my food comes from. It’s the simple pleasure of browsing a well-stocked and -stacked produce display. It’s the adrenaline rush of following an unfamiliar recipe. It’s the guided meditation of following a familiar recipe. It’s the anticipatory process of scrawling ingredients on a shopping list, buying them, unpacking them, staging them. It’s the ritual of interacting with the guy at the butcher/fish/cheese counters. It’s the self-esteem that comes from self-reliance. And it’s a great way to pass the time before dinner!