This Week #4

Bread, bread, bread, bread, breaaaaaaaad

After years of drooling at Virginia’s bread-making output I’ve started getting into the baking game of late. Dave Shea was kind enough to share all his knowledge about bread, and so I started with the yeast-based recipes he uses. It turns out that baking really quite good bread isn’t all that hard. While it takes a bit of time and forethought — you have to be around to keep an eye on it — but it’s not much actual work.

I’ve now levelled up to making sourdough loaves, thanks to a starter from my workmate Jasmin, and most weeks now I’ll prep a couple of loaves over while I’m noodling around at home on a no-work Friday, and then bake them on Saturday morning. Freshly baked bread wafting through the house is a highly recommended way to start your weekend.

“One of history’s few iron laws is that luxuries tend to become necessities and to spawn new obligations.”

My friend Jim posted this snippet from Yuval Noah Harari’s Sapiens, noting that it, “… may have convinced Jess and I to not buy a house this week.” It reminded me of a discussion we had at the last Farmlab where Mikey schooled us all on Fitness Landscapes. They’re a great mental model for understanding how your obligations, financial or otherwise, can limit ability to get where you really want to be. It essentially boils down to this: if you want to move to a new peak, you need to be able to survive the trough in the terrain on the way there.

I am lucky enough to be a home owner and when we were considering forking out the vast, vast, vaaaaast quantity of money required to enter the housing market in Australia, I really wanted to ensure that the level of debt we incurred was something we could handle in lots of different scenarios: changing jobs, losing job, travel aspirations, a kid showing up. I realise I’m talking from a position of upper-middle-class privilege, but being able to make life-decisions without significant obligation is a luxury worth hanging on to.

In a city where so many have so much, he had practically nothing. Yet it was enough, always enough. And inside him beat a heart bigger than a mountain. He seemed unrelievedly happy. That happiness bounced off him and settled on others.

If you need evidence that you don’t need things to make you happy, you should read this profile of Bernhardt Wichmann III. Your eyes may be a little sweaty after you’ve read it.

Tobias Stone thinks we’re at the beginning of inevitable disaster and it’s hard not to feel he’s onto something. His conclusions aren’t particularly optimistic either:

What can we do? Well, again, looking back, probably not much. The liberal intellectuals are always in the minority. … The people who see that open societies, being nice to other people, not being racist, not fighting wars, is a better way to live, they generally end up losing these fights. They don’t fight dirty. They are terrible at appealing to the populace. They are less violent, so end up in prisons, camps, and graves. … we need to avoid getting lost in arguing through facts and logic, and counter the populist messages of passion and anger with our own similar messages. … We need to find a way to bridge from our closed groups to other closed groups, try to cross the ever widening social divides.

At least the Democrats seem to have learned some of these lessons. I’ve been worried that Hilary’s campaign would focus on trying to out-negative Trump rather than create a message of optimism. Australians learned, rather painfully, at the 2013 Federal Election that you can’t out-arsehole an arsehole and that you can’t fight a campaign that clearly doesn’t care about the truth with facts alone. The Democrats need to be the party of hope if they’re going to combat the anger that the Republican’s are cultivating (though perhaps they could keep things a little more sober than in 1994).

While watching the Democratic Convention this week I was struck by how, in general, American politicians are vastly better at public speaking than their Australian equivalents. Does the arrogance that accompanies American exceptionalism give them some sort of superpower? Or am I just primed for American-style patriotic rhetoric after watching too many episodes of The West Wing?

If US election nerdery is in your sphere of interests you might want to check out the Keepin’ it 1600 podcast which features Jon Favreau and Dan Pfeiffer, President Obama’s former speech writers, discussing various bits and pieces about the current election. Slate’s Working podcast is also in the midst of a series discussing various White House-related topics, including with Favreau’s successor Cody Keenan.

The ANZ Championship Grand Final saw the Queensland Firebirds edge out the NSW Swifts in a double-extra time epic. It was also, predictably, the very last sport story reported on ABC News that evening, behind a bunch of very boring AFL games and some Olympics non-news. Womens’ sport is sadly still a second-class citizen. Sharni Layton is my spirit animal.