Sunday, 27 September 2015

Neighbourhood fruit banditry and a supermoon

We picked the last of the apples on the bear tree this evening, before the crows could peck holes in the rest of them. (Jesse helped by crouching under the porch watching and yowling at me to come pet him. I obliged. He’s currently sprawled on my lap purring while I pet him with one hand and type  with my other hand).

Every time my brother opened the upstairs window, a huge flock of crows took flight from the tree; the sound of deer chomping on apples in the middle of the night was creeping out his girlfriend; and the fruit was attracting bears. My brother saw a bear wander around the yard and then climb the poor tree again. They're eventually going to totally break it.

The crows sit in the tree and peck at the apples.  They got pretty much all of them, but they're still edible.
My brother had to pick most of the apples, me and his girlfriend are both too short.
I thought the guys had borrowed a ladder and picked the other trees last month, but it turns out the next door neighbour called my brother and asked if he could come over with his kids and pick some fruit. My brother went out the next day, and all four full sized apple and pear trees and the old crabapple tree were completely stripped, the neighbour must have gotten a 30 foot fruit picking ladder from somewhere and spent a lot of time at it. He even picked up every single windfall from the ground and took them, too. Rude.

What is he even going to do with all that fruit? Maybe he’s extremely fond of applesauce, I have no idea. We're not even mad, that's the sort of thing the guy does. Too bad about all that fruit though, we were looking forward to that.

The tree after we picked it.  We left some apples on the ground for the deer.  That furry black blob on the right hand edge under the porch is Jesse.

So the only fruit we got this year was the few crow-pecked apples from the bear tree that the wildlife didn’t completely eat. My brother and his girlfriend are going to cut them up and make a crumble. She’s trying to convince him that it’ll be fine without butter or much sugar, but he’s not buying it.

The apples on September 16th, untouched by crows.  We should have picked them then.  Oh well.
Tonight was the harvest moon and also a combination supermoon (when the moon is full and at its closest point to the earth, so it appears much larger than usual), and lunar eclipse, which colours the moon red.  (Watch the NASA video explaining it).  That coincidence hasn't happened since 1982, and won't happen again until 2033.  But we are as far west as it gets, so the moon didn't make it over the horizon before the eclipse ended, much less over the trees.  That's okay though, I have seen supermoons and lunar eclipses before, and there are lots of great photos of the event on the internet.

A flock of birds fly by as the supermoon rises in Mir, Belarus, 95 kilometers west of capital Minsk (Telegraph)
I imagine the moon would have looked like this in Canada. It was a clear, sunny day today and there were a lot of birds flying around.

The supermoon rises near the minaret of a mosque in Wadi El-Rayan Lake in Fayoum Governorate, southwest of Cairo (Sources: O Globo; Telegraph).
Muslims see eclipses as a reminder of the Day of Judgement, when the sun, moon, and stars will all lose their light.

  فَإِذَا بَرِقَ الْبَصَرُ ﴿٧ وَخَسَفَ الْقَمَرُ ﴿٨ وَجُمِعَ الشَّمْسُ وَالْقَمَرُ ﴿٩ يَقُولُ الْإِنسَانُ يَوْمَئِذٍ أَيْنَ الْمَفَرُّ

So when vision is dazzled, and the moon darkens, and the sun and moon are joined together: Man will say on that Day, "Where is the [place of] escape?" (Al-Qiyamah 75:7-10)

 The pre-Islamic Arabs believed that celestial bodies had power over events and people's fates, and sometimes worshipped them or associated them with their gods, but this is not part of Islamic belief.
  وَمِنْ آياتِهِ اللَّيْلُ وَالنَّهارُ وَالشَّمْسُ وَالْقَمَرُ لا تَسْجُدُوا لِلشَّمْسِ وَلا لِلْقَمَرِ وَاسْجُدُوا لِلَّهِ الَّذِي خَلَقَهُنَّ إِنْ كُنْتُمْ إِيَّاهُ تَعْبُدُونَ

Among His signs are the night and the day and the sun and moon. Do not prostrate yourselves before the sun or the moon; rather prostrate yourselves before Allah, Who created them both, if you truly are His worshippers. (Fussilat 41:37)
On the day the Prophet Muhammad's infant son Ibrahim died in the year 10 AH/632 AD, there was a solar eclipse and people thought the sun was eclipsed in sadness over the death Ibrahim's death, but the Prophet said:

«إنَّ الشمسَ والقمرَ من آيات اللهِ، وإنهما لا يَنخسفان لموتِ أحدٍ ولا لحياتِه، فإذا رأيتُموهما فكبِّروا، وادعو اللهَ وصلُّوا وتصدَّقوا»
Sahih Muslim, narrated by A'ishah bint Abu Bakr, no. 901 (Wikipedia)

“The sun and the moon do not eclipse because of the death or life (i.e. birth) of someone. When you see the eclipse praise Allah, make dua and pray and give charity."

There was an eclipse when I was in college in Jordan, and the students in the dorm prayed salaat al-kusoof (the eclipse prayer) in congregation, although it can be prayed individually.

Salaat al-kusoof is two raka'at with long recitations of the Quran in each, prayed after a solar or lunar eclipse starts and lasting no longer than the eclipse does (although it doesn't have to be that long).  If it's a total eclipse, surat al-baqarah is often read in the first raka'ah.  There are a number of hadith describing how to pray it, including two well-known ones narrated by Aishah.  It's mostly considered a confirmed sunnah (instructions on how to pray it here).  The Imam ash-Shafi'i and two of the other four sunni imams (not Hanafi) recommend that a khutbah (sermon) be given after salaat al-kusoof, but at school or at home there was no one to give one.

(Sorry about the allcaps on that one Quran verse in English, I didn't mean to shout.  Some of the formatting is weird here, but I couldn't fix it.  Getting html to work when you're pasting in both English and Arabic quotes is such a pain, and my favourite Quran site no longer uses images of the verses in Arabic so I can't just put those in and avoid the formatting problems).

Thursday, 24 September 2015

Mafra Palace Library

Mafra Palace Library, Portugal

From The Telegraph:
Since its opening in 1771, the Mafra Palace Library has been home to a colony of tiny bats; they roost behind the cases in winter, and in the orchard outside in the summer, swooping in during the night to eat insects which would otherwise damage the books.
More about the library and the colonial history behind its creation under the cut.

also topped with yellow peaches

Some of this is a little inappropriate, but we could all use a laugh and it involves cats, an interesting woman from history, and a Japanese folktale.

So there are pictures circulating of Japanese internet sensation Shironeko and a cat friend doing...something with...something:

(Images from Shironeko's blog, in Japanese.  I also ran the post through Google Translate).
Those are real peaches; they're yellow peaches and they really are as big as they look.  I'm not the only one who thinks they look like butts:

(From the comments on the original blog post.  I took screenshots of the Google translation of the page).
About five other commenters said the same thing.  Butts!  Whomever took those photos does have really great photography "put skills" (I can't think how else to phrase that), and very cooperative cats.

Someone in the comments wrote a little story about the cats and their peaches, but I have no idea what's going on:

"Bugger also topped with yellow peaches."  Indeed.  Thank you, Google Translate.  I have no idea what word it's translating as "bugger"; it doesn't look like it's any better at translating Japanese into English than it is at translating Arabic into English.

Low-acid, fragile clingstone peaches are popular in Japan, different from the varieties popular in North America and the Middle East:
Momo (Peach)
Japanese peaches are generally larger, softer and more expensive than Western peaches, and their flesh is usually white rather than yellow. Peaches are commonly eaten raw after being peeled. Japanese peaches are in season during the summer.
Peaches were introduced from China as early as the Yayoi Period (300 BC- 300 AD). Peach production in the prefectures of Yamanashi and Fukushima make up the majority of the country's total output. The peach features prominently in the Japanese folklore tale of Momotaro (The Peach Boy), which is set in Okayama Prefecture.

(From Japan Guide)

A summary of the story of Momotaro, from Wikipedia:

According to the present form of the tale (dating to the Edo period), Momotarō came to Earth inside a giant peach, which was found floating down a river by an old, childless woman who was washing clothes there. The woman and her husband discovered the child when they tried to open the peach to eat it. The child explained that he had been sent by Heaven to be their son. The couple named him Momotarō, from momo (peach) and tarō (eldest son in the family).[1]

Years later, Momotarō left his parents to fight a band of marauding oni (demons or ogres) on a distant island. En route, Momotarō met and befriended a talking dog, monkey, and pheasant, who agreed to help him in his quest. At the island, Momotarō and his animal friends penetrated the demons' fort and beat the band of demons into surrendering. Momotarō and his new friends returned home with the demons' plundered treasure and the demon chief as a captive. Momotarō and his family lived comfortably from then on.[1]
The whole story is in The Japanese Fairy Book (1908), written by Iwaya Sazanami, illustrated by Kakuzo Fujiyama, and translated by Yei Theodora Ozaki.  It's not very long.

Momotaro emerging from the giant peach (illustration from The Japanese Fairy Book).

Wikipedia gives a little bit of information on Yei Theodora Ozaki's life, but it's all from an introduction to one of her books:

Yei Theodora Ozaki (英子セオドラ尾崎 Eiko Seodora Ozaki?, 1871 – December 28, 1932) was an early 20th-century translator of Japanese short stories and fairy tales. Her translations were fairly liberal but have been popular, and were reprinted several times after her death.

According to "A Biographical Sketch" by Mrs. Hugh Fraser, included in the introductory material to Warriors of old Japan, and other stories, Ozaki came from an unusual background. She was the daughter of Baron Ozaki, one of the first Japanese men to study in the West, and Bathia Catherine Morrison, daughter of William Morrison, one of their teachers. Her parents separated after five years of marriage, and her mother retained custody of their three daughters until they became teenagers. At that time, Yei was sent to live in Japan with her father, which she enjoyed. Later she refused an arranged marriage, left her father's house, and became a teacher and secretary to earn money. Over the years, she traveled back and forth between Japan and Europe, as her employment and family duties took her, and lived in places as diverse as Italy and the drafty upper floor of a Buddhist temple.

All this time, her letters were frequently misdelivered to the unrelated Japanese politician Yukio Ozaki, and his to her. In 1904, they finally met, and soon married.
Cabinet des Fées has a very thorough article about Ms. Ozaki's life and environment and their influence on her work.  It mentions Ms. Ozaki's desire to change contemporary Western ideas of Japanese culture, and particularly of Japanese women as oppressed and passive:
Ms Ozaki’s biographer Mrs Fraser tells us that one of O-Yei’s motivations for writing was to dispel misconceptions of Japan that she found in the West, and to show the “good old ideals and sentiments”[6] of Japanese culture portrayed in the old stories. We are told that one of O-Yei’s particular concerns was the perception of Japanese women in the West. She wanted to put an end to the notion of the Japanese woman as an oppressed, passive Madame Butterfly figure. Mrs Fraser records her as saying: “When I was last in England and Europe… very mistaken notions about Japan and especially about its women existed generally. I determined if possible to write so as to dispel these wrong conceptions.”[7] In this way, she was very much a woman of her time. The Meiji Period (1868-1912) was a time of great social and political change in Japan, as the country was keen to show itself as equal to the Western powers. Women led the way in this as much as men; and O-Yei herself belonged to several educational, charitable and patriotic ladies’ societies. At the same time, things were changing for women in England too. The suffragettes were to riot in 1911 and the Women’s Institute was to be founded in 1915. As a well-connected, bi-cultural woman, Yei Theodora Ozaki stood in a good position to address these contemporary issues, at the same time as she looked back to the past for inspiration.
(Elizabeth Hopkinson, 'East Meets West: Yei Theodora Ozaki’s Japanese Fairy Tales,' May 2011)

Ozaki's Wikipedia page has links to online copies of her books; they're in the public domain.

 I couldn't find a whole lot of information on Japanese yellow peaches in English, but the Wall Street Journal has an article on Chinese water honey peaches, which are related:

Thai bananas are long-lived compared with China's honey peaches. Picked in the morning, the peaches are flown to Beijing or trucked to Shanghai in the afternoon; in many cases, they are selling in stores the same evening. On a recent Saturday afternoon in Yangshan's wholesale peach market, I asked a grower to find me a carton of peaches that I could take home with me to Bangkok on Monday. No peach in the market would last that long, he replied; I'd have to go with him to his orchard so he could pick me hard, green ones. He warned me that I'd be sacrificing some taste because they would be picked too early. By Tuesday, the green peaches I ended up taking home with me were so soft that I had to put them all in the refrigerator. They were still delicious.

Tang Haijun, a big honey peach grower and an industry spokesman, says another problem with Chinese peaches is that they are extraordinarily fragile. "They're so tender, if you press on one, in an hour there will be a black spot," he says. Over a lunch of local specialties (snails, pigs feet, pumpkin stems, his peaches for dessert), Mr. Tang explained that to keep away insects, he has every peach in his orchard individually wrapped with newspaper while it is ripening on the tree. All this special handling comes at a price: A honey peach sells for as much as $3 in a Shanghai or Beijing grocery store.

In the U.S., peach technology produces a very different product. "It's unfortunate that many of our peaches are bred to have superior shelf life and exterior color," says Karen Caplan, chief executive of Frieda's Inc., a Los Alamitos, Calif., high-end distributor of imported and domestic produce. "The growers don't focus on flavor. They refrigerate them in transit, put them on the shelf, and they go mealy." [...]

The best bet, then, is to eat honey peaches in China, and that's what I did with wild abandon, consuming 10 peaches, averaging half a pound each, in a single day in Yangshan. Under the tutelage of Mr. Tang, I learned that Chinese peach-eating is a very different process. First, you should gently massage the peach for several minutes, releasing the juice. When it starts feeling like a sponge, it's ready to be peeled; the skin slips off like a glove. Then you just pick it up whole and slurp away; cutting it would result in waste of the delicious juice. (The Best Peach on Earth, August 21, 2009)
 There is a bit more information on Japanese and Chinese (and other) peach cultivars and breeding programs in The Peach: Botany, Production, and Uses (Layne and Bassi, 2008, pg 168-9).  The ebook is over two hundred dollars, so hopefully nobody wants to read the redacted sections very badly.

Thursday, 3 September 2015

On Aylan Kurdi's Death

I don’t know if publishing the photos of three year old Aylan Kurdi’s body washed up on the beach was necessary or not. It may have been necessary to move the Harper government to let more Syrian refugees into Canada (which hasn’t happened yet, but it looks likely, since Kurdi’s family was refused entry to Canada in June. Our culpability here is obvious), but I don’t know if it was necessary in Europe. The tide of public opinion was already shifting there. #refugeesarewelcome was trending on Twitter, and Angela Merkel was all over the news and frequently being praised and supported. I think reports of more refugees dying, after the many this week, and especially children found dead on the beach, may have been enough to sway political opinion there.  There's no way to know.

But it doesn’t matter now, the images have already been released and gone viral. I’m not sure there’s any point in second-guessing that in retrospect, or if the question of whether it was necessary is even the point here.

What I do know is that the people who are the farthest from Syria and those least affected by this issue share those images the most freely and the most lightly, and are least aware of the human costs to doing so. White non-Muslims especially, but Muslims in the West are sharing them a lot too, and the Muslim community has this contentious discussion about whether it should be done every time something like this happens.

If Aylan Kurdi was a white Western child, the image of his corpse would not be plastered all over the newspapers and tweeted and shared by millions on Facebook.  It wouldn’t be ethical or even imaginable to do so. If he was a white child, it would not have been necessary to share that very personal evidence of the tragedy to make anyone sympathise with or help his family and others like them. And now everyone scrolls past the image of his corpse countless times a day. It’s dehumanising, in more ways than one, and it doesn’t help people not to dehumanise Kurds or Syrians or Muslim refugees. This shouldn’t have to keep happening.  Haven’t enough people died?

People in the West are already very used to seeing images of foreign brown and non-Christian dead, and desensitized to it. There was a lot of very heated debate over whether the picture of Alison Parker (one of the Virginia news anchors who was murdered last week) with the gun being pointed at her, much less her death, should have been shown. Because it was disrespectful of her and her family, and sensationalist, and giving her killer the publicity he wanted, and unnecessary. But not nearly so much so for Kurdish or other Syrian refugees, or Rohingya, or black Africans, or non-white victims of ISIS.  It’s much more acceptable and normalised then, for obvious reasons.

Kurds and Syrians and other Arabs, especially nations people are fleeing, or even just Muslims, are going to have to see those images of Aylan hundreds of times in the next days. It’s easier to see Aylan as your child and his death as your tragedy when you are part of one of those groups. He’s not just another foreign body in a faraway place you know little about and feel little for. Seeing the image of him dead is painful, and brings home how much you are dehumanised and how little the rest of the world cares about or would even notice your death and remember you as a person and not just another mangled corpse in the news.

Many of Aylan’s family are still alive.  His five year old brother Ghalib and mother Rehan and at least eight other refugees died in the same boat today, but his father Abdullah survived.  The family told the National Post today that “[Abdullah’s] only wish now is to return to Kobane with his dead wife and children, bury them, and be buried alongside them.”  They are going to have to live with all this publicity.  And hope it actually helps.

It’s often a lot less clear to people directly affected by this that sharing those images was the appropriate or humane thing to do. It’s certainly much harder to watch happen, and the cost is a lot clearer. Many of us were already grieving.

Rest in peace Aylan and Ghalib and Rihan Kurdi, and everyone else who has died. There are too many to name or to count accurately. To Allah we belong, and to him we are returning. I hope this isn’t necessary next time. I hope people realise the cost and the inhumanity of it.

Tuesday, 1 September 2015

Torrential rain; hay bale theft; deer teeth dentures

The Canadian news continues to be really odd.  I have no idea if this is normal, since I didn't pay attention to it for nearly a decade, and before that I just read one local newspaper.  That was before I had internet, so I didn't see anywhere near as much news.  A lot of the Canadian news is boring or sad, but some of it is just plain weird. 

There was a really unusual windstorm (for August) in southern BC, centred on Vancouver and starting on Saturday afternoon.  We just caught the edge of it, but there were high winds, trees whipping, rain and hail pelting down, constant power flickering.  It hadn't rained in months, so the ground was really dry and couldn't absorb all that water.  The trees are brittle from drought and covered in leaves which make them act like sails, so there are a lot of downed trees, causing power outages, blocking streets, and damaging vehicles and houses.

It wasn't a big problem here, but there was flooding elsewhere, and 710,000 people in Vancouver were without power for at least a day.  Some of them are still without power, three days later.  It's not that cold, but they haven't been able to cook, or flush the toilet, or possibly run water at all for three days.  BC Hydro is saying that it's the single largest power outage event in their history.

Hundreds of trees were uprooted during Saturday's windstorm, including this one that lifted a Vancouver sidewalk. (Darryl Dyck/Canadian Press)
Add caption
Lots of people were posting pics of the damage on Twitter.

One woman in Vancouver was hit by a tree while out walking with her daughter and is in hospital with life-threatening injuries.
At least two people were killed in Washington State. One man was driving when a tree came crashing down on top of his car. A 10-year-old girl was playing outside at a friend's house when she was struck and killed by a fallen tree branch.

Vancouver's Stanley Park was closed to the public. The east side of the park has since been reopened as crews work to clear the remaining trees and debris caused by the storm.

A number of ferry crossings were cancelled or delayed due to rough seas, and the Vancouver SkyTrain was temporarily delayed after a tree fell across the tracks, smashing the front of an oncoming train. (Weather Network)

We got more rain in four days than we have the whole summer and the winds were up to 90km/hr.  While it's slowed down, it's still raining and it's expected to keep raining.  I'm used to it raining only once or twice a year in January, so this much rain and wind and cold weather in August and early September is pretty strange to me.  It was just starting to be warm for a little while, and now it's winter again.  Thanks, Canada.

The hay bale theft and deer teeth dentures stories are under the cut.