Sapiens

Sapiens coverSapiens: A Brief History of Humankind
Yuval Noah Harari
narrated by Derek Perkins
HarperAudio, 2017
$23.07 for Audible members, more for non-members
purchased with an Audible credit

The author of this book got his PhD at Oxford and teaches history at Hebrew University in Jerusalem. He has the hubris in this volume to attempt to provide a complete history of the human race. Surprisingly, he pretty much succeeds.

Harari starts with the story of early man, and points out that Homo sapiens was not the only human species. He explains that sapiens competed against other human species, such as Homo erectus and Homo neanderthalensis. It was not inevitable that Homo sapiens would be the successful species, but it became so for a variety of reasons.

He describes the success of the hunter-gatherers and discusses how that group had a healthier, more varied diet than the wheat farmers. Harari explains how wheat domesticated humankind, and not the other way around because in growing wheat a community could feed more people in a smaller area than its hunter-gatherer counterparts.

The author lays out how empire, for all its faults, was required for culture and that there would be no culture without empire. He goes on to describe the interrelationship between war and capitalism.

In the modern era, Harari discusses factory farming in painful detail and how the system has no respect for the natural needs and desires of the animals involved. That section may make you rethink drinking milk and eating meat.

As he nears the close of the book the author discusses genetic engineering and the cyborg elements of science: combining the organic with the non-organic.

The book is well-narrated by Derek Perkins, and his inflections are in sync with the text. His engaging and authoritative British accent kept my interest throughout.

This is good stuff, though not always easy to listen to.


that’s not how the game is played

(…except that it is)

As I’ve noted before, I have loved and followed baseball since I was five years old. And like many, I have a purist streak. I can tolerate the designated hitter in the American League, but please do not ever bring it to the National League.

baseballSo there are some recent trends that annoy me. One is position players pitching an inning near the end of a game where the outcome has been deemed to be not consequential. It’s bad enough to see other teams do it, but to have catcher Russell Martin of the Dodgers pitch an inning is aggravating. I’m not a big football fan, but I know enough about it to follow a game when I choose to watch (which is not often). I know that only certain players are eligible to receive a pass, and that their uniform number must be within a certain range. Baseball needs a similar rule.

Then there’s the “opener,” as opposed to starting pitcher. The opener only pitches an inning or two before being replaced by a pitcher in long relief. A team may announce that a certain left-handed pitcher is starting a game so as to influence the opposing team’s starting lineup. Except the opposing manager is frequently on to this ruse so it is often ineffective. The Angels did this the other day. Again, aggravating.

Then there’s the fact that intentional walks are now signaled by the manager, rather than having the pitcher throw four pitches off the plate. Not’s not how the game should be played.

OK. End of rant. Back to enjoying baseball.


The Prodigal Tongue

Prodigal Tongue coverThe Prodigal Tongue: The Love-Hate Relationship Between American and British English
Lynne Murphy
Penguin Books (April 10, 2018), 368 pages
Kindle edition $8.99, Amazon paperback $11.55

Lynne Murphy is an expatriate American who lives and teaches in England. As such, she is acutely aware of the differences between British and American English. She makes very clear at the outset that she is not, however, interested in the superficial differences between the two forms of English, such as the difference in meaning of phrases like, “Shall I knock you up in the morning?” or of words such as truck vs. lorry.

Murphy really gets into the subtleties of the differences between the two forms of English, delving, for example, into whether the use of the subjunctive is more British or American. She points out that many words and phrases that the English consider Americanisms in fact have their origins in British English.

While there are many interesting passages in this book, such as her discussion of Noah Webster and his (highly successful) quest to Americanize English, some of the material is so arcane as to be downright boring, even to an avowed word nerd such as myself.

While much of the information is fascinating, to my mind had the book been cut by twenty-five percent it would have been far more readable and engaging.


how did I miss that?

It occurred to me that I had not seen a copy of our favorite cooking magazine, Cooking Light, for a while. I did some checking online and I discovered that the magazine published its final issue in December of last year.

Say what?

Cooking Light final coverTime Inc. sold its magazine business to Meredith Corporation (think Better Homes and Gardens) and Meredith started cutting back. The fine folks there decided that readers of Cooking Light would do just fine with their own Eating Well.

The thing is that Terry and I, though subscribers, never received that farewell issue of Cooking Light. We would have noticed. Big Time. For sure. It would have struck me like a lightning bolt had I actually pulled that issue out of our mailbox. I checked with Terry just in case I had missed something . She agreed that I hadn’t .

Nor did Meredith even have the courtesy to ask us if we’d like to complete our subscription term with issues of Eating Well.

There aren’t that many good cooking magazines out there, and we’ve lost one of the best.


goodbye to all that

Thursday was my final Toastmasters meeting. I had planned this for a while.

ToastmastersI joined Menifee Toastmasters in October 2015 after having moved here in May. I really enjoyed it. I liked the way the program was structured and the progression involved. The program was based on a series of print manuals with a nice range of variety. After I finished the Competent Communication manual and got my Competent Communicator award a whole new world opened up with a selection of fifteen advanced manuals on a wide variety of topics. Through those I got my Advanced Communicator Bronze and Advanced Communicator Silver awards. In amongst all that I got my Competent Leader award through the Competent Leadership manual.

And then Toastmasters International had to go and change it all. They replaced the previous program with a new one called Pathways. It is all web-based and focused on corporate-sponsored clubs, as opposed to the community clubs. It has a distinct career-based bias, neglecting the wider range of experience. I was not happy with the new program.

Thursday’s meeting marked the end of my tenure as president of the club, so it seemed time to make the break. There are other things I can do on those Thursdays. There is the Farmers Market, there is the local interfaith council on the second Thursday, and always the noon Eucharist at Good Shepherd Episcopal.

In counting my ribbons I found I had twelve best speaker awards, thirteen best evaluator, and nine best table topics, the impromptu segment. The count is not exact, as there were ties and sometimes I got the ribbon and other times not. So I feel good about my accomplishments.

Nonetheless, it is time to move on.


regrets and KitchenAid stand mixers

quoteNo, absolutely nothing
No, I regret nothing
—Édith Piaf

quoteRegrets, I’ve had a few
But then again, too few to mention
—Paul Anka as sung by Frank Sinatra

Several weeks ago I gave a speech at Toastmasters about regrets. At the end of the speech I made clear that I was very happy with most aspects of my life and my varied career choices. I said I was certainly very happy with my life and marriage today. But in the body of the speech I wanted to make clear that while my complaints are few, I am not of the “I have no regrets” philosophy. I listed several.

One regret that I did not mention, but which I should have, is giving my KitchenAid tilt-head stand mixer to my sister-in-law Julie, Terry’s sister. I had owned the mixer since 1977, when my parents bought it for me before I headed off to open up the new B. Dalton Bookseller in Laredo, Texas. It was about 2003 or 2004, I suppose, when I saw the larger capacity KitchenAid bowl-lift mixer on sale at our new Lowe’s in Gilroy and decided that I had to have it.

KitchenAid stand mixerWhat I failed to take into account was the fact that in 1986 Hobart Corporation, those folks that make the industrial-grade mixers for pizzerias and bakeries, sold KitchenAid to Whirlpool. The mixer I bought was not nearly as well made or sturdy as the one I gave to Julie.

The bowl-lift mixer has performed well over the years, nonetheless. However, last week it came to the end of its useful life. It still mixes, but no longer kneads dough. It just sits there making a high-pitched squeaking noise that sends Tasha outside. With our new oven and the bread baking I am doing once again, kneading dough is a central mission for my KitchenAid.

I ought not complain given that the mixer has lasted fifteen-plus years. But the KitchenAid I gave Julie is still going strong, as far as I know, and she makes good use of it. She would not be willing, nor would I even consider asking her, to give it back. So Terry and I had to begin the quest for a replacement.

We went to our local Bed Bath & Beyond, but they didn’t have want we wanted. We came home and pulled up Amazon (of course). We settled on a 5-quart tilt-head Artisan model. It is not without reason, after all, that that is the model you often see on Food Network.

It is scheduled to arrive today. I am looking forward to a long and productive relationship. And I will, of course, keep you updated.


another new appliance

It wasn’t our intent to go on an appliance buying binge. Really it wasn’t.

Our oven gave out. The cost to repair it was fully one-third the cost of getting a new stove. So we got a new stove and we have been delighted.

The refrigerator that came with the house was nine years old and gave out six months after our arrival in 2015. The thermostat quit, which meant it was running all the time. Replacement part not available. So we bought a new side-by side.

The new refrigerator was a pain in the rear from the beginning. The bracket that held one of the baskets in the freezer came out from the refrigerator wall, so whenever we tried to pull it out it would fall off of its rails. One of the two crisper drawers on the refrigerator side never opened smoothly. The ice dispenser misbehaved from the very beginning and replacing the control panel did nothing to fix that. Then, finally, the ice maker got out of whack. Either it was leaking, or, as my brother suggested, the valve was not shutting off in time and it was overflowing.

refrigeratorEnough, we said.

We went to our locally-owned appliance shop and explained our plight. The only side-by-sides were Frigidaire, same as what we had. So we checked out the top-bottom models and decided we liked the Whirlpool version. It had more storage space. In the freezer we can stack our frozen lunches horizontally rather than vertically, making it much easier to make a selection at lunch time. The ice maker is well behaved. And we can see what we have in the deli drawer without even having to open it.

It was more money than we planned to spend, but it was worth it. We haven’t done a kitchen remodel, but with our new stove and new refrigerator we don’t need one. We’re pleased with what we have.