Wherefore art thou, Eggnog?

I like to make real eggnog. Every year during the holidays, I scour the Internet looking for interesting recipes.

This year, I'm down to two. What's your vote?

George Washington's Eggnog

Adapted from Recipe Zaar

SERVES 8-12, 3 quarts

Ingredients

  • 1 pint brandy
  • 1/2 pint rye whiskey
  • 1/2 pint jamaican rum
  • 1/4 pint sherry wine
  • 12 eggs, separated
  • 12 tablespoons sugar
  • 1 quart milk
  • 1 quart heavy cream

Directions

  1. MIX LIQUOR FIRST.
  2. Separate yolks and whites of the eggs.
  3. Add sugar to beaten yolks and mix well.
  4. Add combined liquors to the yolk and sugar mixture, drop by drop at first, slowly beating it all the while.
  5. Beat the egg whites* until stiff and gently fold these into the egg/liquor mixture.
  6. Add the milk and then the cream, always beating slowly.
  7. Let this sit in the refrigerator for several days.
  8. Taste frequently.

Eggnog to Die For

Adapted from Susie Bright's Journal

Ingredients:

  • 12 eggs, separated
  • 1 1/2 c. powdered sugar
  • 1 qt. milk (regular, not lowfat or nonfat!)
  • 1 c. cognac (optional)
  • 1 c. dark rum (optional)
  • 1 large orange
  • 1 lemon
  • 1 quart whipping cream
  • grated nutmeg

Special Things Needed:

  • A very sharp butcher knife
  • electric mixer
  • grater
  • potato peeler
  • extra eggs in case you screw up the separations (easy to do)
  • two big bowls to make it with
  • one nice bowl to serve it in, and a ladle

Method

  • Beat the egg yolks and sugar until thick, then stir in the milk, cognac, and rum.
  • Beat the egg whites until they just hold a peak, and then fold them in. Put this mixture away to chill for at least 3 hours. (Overnight is fine, just put plastic wrap over bowl).
  • Use a potato peeler to peel the very outside of the orange skin, so you have barely any white pulp on the back of the skin. You just want the pure orange rind. Cut this skin into matchsticks, as thin as possible and about 1 1/2 inches long. Yes, you need a sharp knife for this.
  • Grate the fresh lemon rind.
  • Whip the cream until it only just begins to thicken, not so much that it actually holds peaks. Stir his half-whipped cream into the mil and egg mixture, and beat a few more strokes with the whisk. Stir in the lemon rind and half the orange matchsticks.
  • Pour the eggnog into a serving bowl. Over the top of it, sprinkle the remaining orange rind and plenty of grated nutmeg.

Serves 25 reasonable people, but only a dozen or so fanatics.

The Road to Serfdom vs. the People Principle

I am a co-founder of a business. Started it in 1995. It didn't last this long because we were foolish with money, clients or our reputation. We are an example of the famous American entrepreneurial spirit.

Something interesting has happened to my view of that entrepreneurial spirit as I watched the entire economic landscape alter itself before my eyes over the past few months. It has become clear that, contrary to popular American opinion, focusing on business success to the exclusion of everything else is very, very costly. What is excluded is not some principle or theory, but people with names and faces.

Many people I run into seem to be afraid that a Democratic President and Congress will turn this country into a Socialist state overnight. After dealing with the surface overreaction, something of substance emerges. An article by John Stossel called The Road to Serfdom describes this fear relatively well, even though it's a little heavy on the fear side.

The big point seems to be that bigger government equals less freedom for the individual. Putting aside the obvious fact that the last 8 years of a Republican administration have seen the largest growth in government and deficit and the greatest erosion of freedom in the history of this nation, what is a response to Stossel's fear?

It seems relatively clear: unchecked freedom results in catastrophe, such as the economic crisis we have right now. But how to prove the point? Michael Lewis' article called The End is a good place to start.

The behavior described in The End is something Mr. Average Joe like me sees as the downside of the unregulated entrepreneurial American spirit. No, I don't want to be regulated. Yes, I care about my business and about its (my) ability to do with it what I want. No, I don't want higher taxes for me personally or for my business. But I think the one thing that mitigates against the type of selfish excess exhibited in The End -- a real sense of patriotism that binds us together, protecting against squashing one's neighbor in the name of profit -- no longer exists in this country. I'd much rather have (slightly) higher taxes than the current economic crisis.

When you have people, lots of them, who not only don't understand what they're really doing with these financial vehicles but, through some blind faith in Capitalism-as-God, don't care what happens to other people as a result, it's clear to me that some fundamental changes are in order. I don't think Republicans as a whole understand just how cold-hearted and ruthless they've become, and I definitely don't think they're willing to even look at the problem squarely, let alone do something about it. And no, I don't think Obama will descend from the clouds to fix everything. I'm not happy that he's considering bailing out the auto industry. What's next, the utilities? Fast food?

To answer Stossel: in my view, the laws of economics state that selfish, myopic behavior is the road to serfdom. Gordon Gecko was absolutely right: greed is good, if only in a Darwinian sense, but laser focus on that principle alone results in exactly what we have right now.

Us humans seem to need some sort of personal suffering to begin to see each other beyond our precious economic principles. The Great Depression was just such an event. One that Mr. Greenspan was directly affected by. I have no proof of this, but I suspect that the net result of his experience is unquestioned, deep-seated faith that Americans will self-regulate. This economic crisis has proven him wrong, and he admitted it.

I don't think the necessary changes are blind to the laws of economics. I think it's clear that post-Depression generations are unflinchingly selfish, in the worst possible meaning of the word. Talk about entitlement and redistribution of wealth that people like Stossel like to talk about has already happened, on a larger scale than they're willing to admit.

As always, issues like these require balance. The principles the Republican party espouses -- the original principles, not recent ones -- need to be balanced by those of the Democratic party. Economic and personal freedom balanced with the need to live together and to treat each other, whether rich or poor, with dignity.

I hope Obama has the charisma and guts to go after such a balance.

Constructive discussions: establishing truth

This Information Age thing is difficult to deal with. It's like trying to drink from a firehose. It's hard to remember, but it wasn't always like this. Think back to how you dealt with life in 1990 without being able to find information on a whim. I remember hating to drive somewhere new because I'm blessed with a terrible sense of direction. With Google Maps on my Treo and then on my iPhone, I don't have to worry.

But all this information carries responsibility with it. In the "old" days, we paid people to sift through information and to present it to us. They were called Journalists. News itself was The Source, and it was a big deal when one news source disagreed with another on facts or interpretation. Constant availability of information has shifted that responsibility to each of us.

So what does that responsibility look like?

Training

Journalists are trained to triangulate various news sources, to judge the bias of each and to sense when there might be more to the story. They are also trained to communicate their findings in a clear and unbiased way. For more on journalism as it relates to each of us now, see the Professional and ethical standards section on Wikipedia.

There is obviously a lot of depth to journalism, but the above section demonstrates the type of training journalists are supposed to receive.

Peer Review

Once a journalist has collected sources, synthesized them into a coherent whole and written a piece, he/she brings it to the news organization for comment. This is an incredibly important step, and is an important reason why major news organizations still exist. People trained in the profession, and able to gauge the accuracy or bias of a piece, provide oversight, guiding it toward further objectivity.

Response

Once the piece is published, it's open for comment from all sides. If it was reasoned, clear and unbiased, it tends to generate discussion rather than mudslinging. If errors are exposed, the new organization can respond, publish updates or edits and continue the discussion or move on.

Watching people attempt to express themselves during this campaign has highlighted the enormous problem most of us have in understanding all this information, and especially of gauging the truth of it. Innuendo, unsubstantiated rumors and intentional slander under the guise of "truth" rule the day. And at the bottom of it all is the plaintive cry "how can I know it's true?"

So what's the answer? How do we know it's true?

Understand Your Own Goal

Do you want a better America, or are you simply angry? Are you willing to listen as much as talk? This is hard work. It means being aware of your own biases before responding in anger. As in life, the goal should be to understand the people you're living with, not to convince them how stupid they are.

Talk to People, not Words

It's very easy to fire off a response in email or a blog comment; the consequences of being impolite or even obnoxious are far lower online than in the real world. Try to visualize the person behind the words, and your may find that you begin to see things you hadn't noticed before.

Look for the Human Situation

Some people are not talented writers. Give them the benefit of the doubt. Ask for clarification. Some people are genuinely angry for very good reason but may have valid points behind the anger. Showing interest might be exactly what the person was looking for in the first place.

However, some people really are hateful. Call it for what it is, but if you do, be prepared to be vilified. In some cases, it's better to ignore.

Triangulate Sources

Major human issues are complex. Just because a particular article is clear, has sources and looks 100% true does not make it so, even if it's coming from a high-profile, trusted news source like the NY Times. Review other pieces written by the author: is he/she always balanced? is he/she willing to listen and grow over time? This process is also difficult and takes time. But stick with it, and you'll discover it takes less time as you get better and you'll also learn about the biases of various news sources. Again, remember your goal.

Look for Original Sources

Read the Professional and ethical standards section again. The first point is the most important: use original sources of people who were there. In this economic downturn, find sources that interview the architects. Read the actual laws in question yourself -- it's okay, they're written in English.

Decide What You're Going to Do

From the original sources, find opinion pieces and compare the opinions to the facts you now know. How accurate are they really? Does the opinion open new doors you hadn't considered? Or is it clearly not worth listening to? If it's clearly biased and full of venom, DON'T SEND IT TO ANYONE. Ignore it. Please do not contribute further to the clutter.

Yes, this is hard work. Yes, we all have less time than we used to, despite the promise of technology. However, the risks of continuing our slide into incoherence are nothing short of the loss of our nation.

Oh, and one more thing. Ask yourself what I personally know about journalism. Ask me if I went to journalism school. Draw your own conclusions.

Bridging the trust gap

There is obviously a lot of nastiness flying back and forth in this election. I think both sides have flung dung, but from where I sit, the right is so far and away worse that there's no contest.

As evidence, here are three articles worth the read:

After watching this whole thing go down, I consider the current administration and the current Republican ticket to be Evil. And I don't use that word lightly. Knowingly lying with intent to incite violence and possibly murder is evil, plain and simple. It's impossible that they don't realize what they're doing; there's just too much evidence, and if they don't mean it, then they sin by omission. Right now, it doesn't seem too far-fetched for Obama to be assassinated the day he's sworn in, or for us to turn into Nazi Germany over night.

This particular post started from my realization that the purpose of an election -- to find the person most likely to help the nation as a whole -- is not a priority for anyone, though I get the feeling it is for Obama, and that he has to fight every day to stick with that goal.

Although I have to say that even though I am very upset by all this, remembering Obama's unstoppably-upbeat demeanor throughout this whole ordeal has helped me keep my bearings. And that in itself is enough to secure my vote.

In an effort to bridge the gap, and to convince myself I'm not being pulled into reactionary-land myself, I'm working on a personal project. I've heard a lot of crap flying from both the left and the right. I want to organize it into a page, the point of which is to say "yes, they both suck; now get it out of your system and make up your own mind". So if you have any favorite examples of either the left or the right behaving badly, post them here. Not jokes; real stuff with sources. Like Palin not stopping "he's a nigger" or "kill him" screams at her rallies (right behaving badly) or the Palin effigy or inflated and condescending word manipulation (left behaving badly).

Breakthrough Teaching Method Improves English Language Skills

I recently created a new, trend-setting, patent-pending process that smooths the rough spots in the English language, and in the process helps kids learn to spell better.

Comprised of the simplest of rules, this approach greatly boosts the child's self-esteem, resulting in faster start-to-finish homework times and more opportunity to play Mario Carts Double Dash.

To prove its effectiveness, I reviewed the process with each of my children. These are the results we expect at school:

  • Teacher: Karis, spell "vehicle"
  • Karis: m-u-d-b-u-t-t
  • Teacher: Kyle, spell "hello"
  • Kyle: m-u-d-b-u-t-t
  • Teacher: Kiana, spell "boo"
  • Kiana: m-u-d-b-u-t-t

I feel that this new approach will contribute greatly to the now-lagging No Child Left Behind Act, boosting literacy scores wherever it's deployed.

Detailed instructions on this new method, along with generous licensing terms, are available on request.

It's hard work to participate

Boing Boing just ran a review of a new book called True Enough: Learning to Live in a Post-Fact Society, by Farhad Manjoo. The author discusses how we filter news, assigning bias based on our own preconceptions or beliefs: show two groups of partisans footage of a political debate and both will swear it was biased for the other side; show the same footage to someone who doesn't care and they won't see bias for either side. Add to this tendency the Internet's capacity to split people into more groups, and we have a bunch of people stubbornly clinging to inaccurate viewpoints and backing each other up into further extreme beliefs.

The book's author goes on to discuss our "limitless capacity for self-deception and selective reasoning", but what caught my eye is the discussion about bias as it relates to my career in commercial art and advertising.

When working on a project, it's very easy to be swept up in a particular viewpoint, and therefore to lose the value one brings to the table as an experienced, capable guide. It takes a great deal of effort, along with the courage to examine one's own hidden agendas, to do the right thing for the project and the client. I've found that the way out of the hidden agenda is to discuss hopes, feelings and goals with the client, bringing to the table a willingness to examine any and all angles. People tend to respond positively to this approach, as long as they feel progress is being made.

The effort is almost always worth it (with two massive caveats*). The primary benefit of the approach is that it builds trust with the client, who comes to believe you're not trying to manipulate him/her, and that results in further (and better) work with less friction.

This is a discipline, however. It requires a commitment to improve one's self over time, and it's not easy. This exact same discipline is the necessary antidote to the problems Manjoo describes. Since competing "truths" are trumpeted by countless sources, we humans need the discipline to work together to discern which "truths" benefits us as human beings. The discipline that, oddly, those whose task it is to create these "truths" -- advertising execs -- have to develop in order to be successful.


*Caveats: 1) Money. This discipline requires an investment of time, and lots of it. 2) Sanity. Clients with disorders or who are incapable of confronting their own hidden agendas cannot participate. In this case, it's best to just let go and complete the project as quickly as possible.

Oh, and one more thing. I've only read the Boing Boing post about the book; I haven't read the book itself.

Leaving Tracks on the World

I'm a dinosaur. The 'net was made for sharing, and people do, especially those younger than me. So I'm gradually forcing myself to become comfortable with being visible online.

For further thought about this concept, here's a fantastically controversial point of view: Clay Shirky's synopsis of his latest book

Go ahead, read it. I'll wait.

OK.

He takes a while to get to the point with relevance to this post, but eventually, he says it: "media includes consuming, producing and sharing". Meaning that to participate, we'll all need online versions of ourselves. I now have all kinds of accounts on all kinds of online services. Some are useful, others not so much. But I'm slowly coming around to wanting all that info to line up with everything else, to have a type of online integrity. Because of my early desire for secrecy, I released my blog under the name "Jubal Herring". Now I want it to be "Brad Brizendine", and it's actually pretty hard to change all the parts of the Internet that have me tagged as Jubal. And that damages the consistent view I want to portray to the world.

So, long winded way of saying "I have no idea, I'm just feeling my way along here, but it seems like sharing media with the world is where it's headed".

The question I'm still working to resolve for myself is about sharing responsibly. Regarding that, and especially the safety angle, here's another little piece of food for thought: Why I let my 9-year-old ride the subway alone.

Go ahead, read it. I'll wait.

OK.

So what does that mean? Yes, releasing pictures of my family on the public Internet increases our visibility. Yes, even if there's no actual address visible in the photos or descriptions, it's possible that someone with ill intent might see them and figure out where we are. But this is where letting your 9-year-old ride the subway alone comes in. She asked herself how likely it would be that her son would ask some stranger for directions and the stranger would spontaneously change plans from getting home to kidnapping and killing her son. And I think it's conceptually the same for sharing family media on the Internet.

Having said that, I really don't think it's a good idea to share identifiable information such as addresses or phone numbers. And I'm not planning on ever releasing photos containing people other than my own family without permission. But I'm seriously considering making our family media public.

As a final point, consider world population. Given the unbelievable avalanche of personal media already happening, the possibility of bad people finding my personal media and harming my children is becoming more remote every day. Besides the harm issue, the likeliest outcome is that my family's media will be doomed to pure obscurity. Strangely enough, making them public is probably the best way to hide them forever.

On Being Seen

I recently decided to make my favorite pieces in my portfolio available to the Internet at large.

It was a deceptively difficult decision. Some of it was a no-brainer: just technique stuff, done at Art Center. But some were from my journal or were recent paintings that mean something to me. Those were the hardest to "part" with.

Anyway, without further adieu, I give you: my portfolio.