Sunday, December 22, 2013

Quote of the Day: Kierkegaard's Calling

"So I sat there and smoked my cigar until I fell into a reverie. Among others I recall these thoughts. You are getting on, I said to myself, and are becoming an old man without being anything, and without really taking on anything. Wherever you look about you on the other hand, in literature or in life, you see the names and figures of the celebrities, the prized and acclaimed making their appearances or being talked about, the many benefactors of the age who know how to do favours to mankind by making life more and more easy, some with railways, others with omnibuses and steamships, others with the telegraph, others through easily grasped surveys and brief reports on everything worth knowing, and finally the true benefactors of the age, who by virtue of thought make spiritual existence systematically easier and yet more and more important. And what are you doing?

Here my soliloquy was interrupted, for my cigar was finished and a new one had to be lit. So I smoked again, and then suddenly this thought flashed through my mind: You must do something, but since with your limited abilities it will be impossible to make anything easier than it has become, you must, with the same humanitarian enthusiasm as the others, take it upon yourself to make something more difficult. This notion pleased me immensely, and at the same time it flattered me to think that I would be loved and esteemed for this effort by the whole community, as well as any. For when all join together in making everything easier in every way, there remains only one possible danger, namely, that the ease becomes so great that it becomes altogether too easy; then there will be only one lack remaining, if not yet felt, when people come to miss the difficulty. Out of love for humankind, and from despair over my embarrassing situation, having accomplished nothing, and being unable to make anything easier than it had already been made, and out of a genuine interest in those who make everything easy, I conceived it as my task everywhere to create difficulties."

- Søren Kierkegaard, writing as Johannes Climacus, in Concluding Unscientific Postscript, as translated by Alastair Hannay. (2009). Cambridge University Press. 156-157.

Wednesday, December 11, 2013

Quote of the Day: Nelson Mandela on Consensus Leadership

"Letters advising these chiefs and headmen of a meeting were dispatched from the regent, and soon the Great Place became alive with important visitors and travelers from all over Thembuland. The guests would gather in the courtyard in front of the regent's house and he would open the meeting by thanking everyone for coming and explaining why he had summoned them. From that point on, he would not utter another word until the meeting was nearing its end.

Everyone who wanted to speak did so. It was democracy in its purest form. There may have been a hierarchy of importance among the speakers, but everyone was heard, chief and subject, warrior and medicine man, shopkeeper and farmer, landowner and laborer. People spoke without interruption and the meetings lasted for many hours. The foundation of self-government was that all men were free to voice their opinions and equal in their value as citizens. (Women, I'm afraid, were deemed second-class citizens.)

A great banquet was served during the day, and I often gave myself a bellyache by eating too much while listening to speaker after speaker. I noticed how some speakers rambled and never seemed to get to the point. I grasped how others came to the matter at hand directly, and who made a set of arguments succinctly and cogently. I observed how some speakers used emotion and dramatic language, and tried to move the audience with such techniques, while other speakers were sober and even, and shunned emotion.

At first, I was astonished by the vehemenceand candorwith which people criticized the regent. He was not above criticismin fact, he was often the principal target of it. But no matter how flagrant the charge, the regent simply listened, not defending himself, showing no emotion at all.

The meetings would continue until some kind of consensus was reached. They ended in unanimity or not at all. Unanimity, however, might be an agreement to disagree, to wait for a more propitious time to propose a solution. Democracy meant all men were to be heard, and a decision was taken together as a people. Majority rule was a foreign notion. A minority was not to be crushed by a majority.

Only at the end of the meeting, as the sun was setting, would the regent speak. His purpose was to sum up what had been said and form some consensus among the diverse opinions. But no conclusion was forced on people who disagreed. If no agreement could be reached, another meeting would be held. At the very end of the council, a praise-singer or poet would deliver a panegyric to ancient kings, and a mixture of compliments to and satire on the present chiefs, and the audience, led by the regent, would roar with laughter.

As a leader, I have always followed the principles I first saw demonstrated by the regent at the Great Place. I have always endeavored to listen to what each and every person in a discussion had to say before venturing my own opinion. Oftentimes, my own opinion will simply represent a consensus of what I heard in the discussion. I will always remember the regent's axiom: a leader, he said, is like a shepherd. He stays behind his flock, letting the most nimble go out ahead, whereupon the others follow, not realize that all along they are being directed from behind."

— from Chapter Three of Long Walk to Freedom, Nelson Mandela's autobiography

Monday, December 9, 2013

Recipe: Orange Anise Wheels

Tonight's recipe comes from Baking Artisan Bread by Ciril Hitz. These orange-tastic rolls are always a big hit!

Special Ingredients

You'll need two things that might not be carried by your grocer: candied orange peels and orange blossom water. These are magical ingredients you can't leave out! For the candied peels, I recommend making your own a day or three ahead of time:

http://www.closetcooking.com/2011/02/candied-orange-peel.html

Check grocers (Ideal Grocery has it, for my local friends) or world market stores for "orange blossom water" or "orange flower water." One bottle can last a long time, since it works in small amounts much like a spice.

Sponge

172g bread flour [1 1/3 cups]
110g water (75F) [1/2 cup]
11g instant yeast [4 tsp]

Combine the above, but don't knead past that. Let it rest for half an hour or until roughly doubled.

Full Dough

518g bread flour [3 2/3 cups]
78g sugar [1/3 cup]
41g honey [2 tbsp]
64g vegetable oil [1/3 cup]
14g salt [2 1/2 tsp]
30g water (70F) [3 tbsp]
150g eggs [3 eggs]
50g egg yolks [2 yolks]
+ the sponge.

Knead until dough window.

Magic Ingredients

29g orange blossom water [2 tbsp]
82g candied orange peel [1/2 cup]
7g anise seeds [2 tsp]

Slowly add these to the kneaded dough. If you feel like you must have made some kind of terrible mistake at this point, keep going. It's always like that.

Once the special ingredients are well incorporated, let it rest for an hour or until roughly doubled.

Shape

Divide the dough into 100g balls, then let these rest for twenty minutes. Put parchment paper in a baking sheet, then smoosh down half of the dough balls on the sheet and cut five slits in each one from the outside to halfway toward the center. (Repeat for a second baking sheet if you have one, or just do this again after the first batch finishes.)

Cover with plastic wrap and let rise for 45 minutes. Preheat oven to 360F.

Bake & Finish

Bake until internal temperature reaches 200F. Outsides will be golden brown. This takes about twelve minutes. Brush tops with melted butter and roll in sugar. Enjoy!


Monday, December 2, 2013

Quote of the Day: Barack Obama on Special Interests

"I've never been entirely comfortable with the term 'special-interests,' which lumps together ExxonMobil and bricklayers, the pharmaceutical lobby and the parents of special-ed kids. Most political scientists would probably disagree with me, but to my mind, there's a difference between a corporate lobby whose clout is based on money alone, and a group of like-minded individualswhether they be textile workers, gun aficionados, veterans, or family farmerscoming together to promote their interests; between those who use their economic power to magnify their political influence far beyond what their numbers might justify, and those who are simply seeking to pool their votes to sway their representatives. The former subvert the very idea of democracy. The latter are its essence."

— Barack Obama, The Audacity of Hope: Thoughts on Reclaiming the American Dream, 2006, p. 116.