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The Whippet #33: Ways of sparkling are separate to ways of shining

McKinley Valentine — 9 min read

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Good morning my saccharide friends,

This week's Whippet ended up collecting a couple of different articles on allergies/intolerances. I have a bunch of these, which is mostly annoying but gives me two superpowers. These are superpowers that you, who can eat anything, can easily grab for yourself, so I present them here:

1. Bring your own food to events, it's fine. This is a superpower that leads to never being hungry or impatient, and it feels very weird at first but you get used to it and now you don't have to wait for a group of 11 people to decide they don't want Italian after all, we should just go back to that Thai place near the venue, will they even have space for 11? "I'll run back and check" (friend decides to just go home instead of messaging you to tell you whether the Thai place has room for 11 or is even still open).

2. I read the ingredients on everything. I thought everyone did this, but it turns out no, people who aren't allergic to anything also just don't care what ingredients go in their mouth, it is so weird. Which Tomato & Basil pasta sauce contains 0.5% basil and which contains 6% basil? I know the answer, but you don't because you don't read labels. You have to settle for basil-less basil pasta and avocado-less avocado dip and fruit juice that's just six different kinds of sugar (they do this because ingredients have to be in order by weight: if it was all Sugar it would be the #1 ingredient on the list after water, by splitting into honey and fructose and brown rice syrup and molasses, you can keep all six lower on the list than the homeopathic proportion of raspberries. You can tell which potato chips will be the oiliest and which corn chips will be too salty. Which brands of pesto still uses pine nuts (as they should) and doesn't cut them with cashews (the lesser tree nut).

Plus, how can you learn how foods affect your energy levels and mood if you don't even know what foods you're eating? I feel very sure that a universal practice of reading the ingredients on every item you buy would just tend to bring up the general quality of all groceries.

Mammalian Meat Allergy (MMA)

The world is so strange! The Lone Star Tick (named because it has a marking on its back that looks a little like the shape of Texas. Uh, which is known as the Lone Star state) - the Lone Star Tick carries a sugar molecule called galactose-alpha-1, 3-galactose, or Alpha-Gal. Alpha-Gal is a normal part of meat, and exists in all mammals except Old World monkeys and apes (including humans).

When the Lone Star tick bites you though, you develop antibodies to its Alpha-Gal, and from then on you have an allergic reaction every time you eat meat. Except Old World monkey and ape (including human) meat, I suppose. The antibody is called Anti-Gal. [Source: Nat Geo / Wikipedia]

There is no allergy too strange to be real. My fiance is allergic to oak - and therefore whiskey, dark rums, and red wine. Being in IKEA too long makes his face tingle, all that unvarnished wood. So, consider just never scoffing at anyone's allergy, ever. There is so little to be gained from it, it's hard to see what the point could be. And I mean, while I have you, the body text of any headline that "gluten intolerance isn't real" is "people who think they're gluten intolerant are actually intolerant to fructans, a different part of the wheat" which is important to medical professionals and sufferers, but in terms of whether the intolerance is fundamentally fake or not, it's clearly not? Also why are you so worked up about this, who cares even if it was fake. Why does that get you so incensed. Look me in the eye and tell me your reaction is proportional.

a poem interlude! read it while drinking coffee and generally preparing your bedself to become your dayself

Waking from Sleep

Inside the veins there are navies setting forth,
Tiny explosions at the waterlines,
And seagulls weaving in the wind of the salty blood.

It is the morning. The country has slept the whole winter.
Window seats were covered with fur skins, the yard was full
Of stiff dogs, and hands that clumsily held heavy books.

Now we wake, and rise from bed, and eat breakfast!
Shouts rise from the harbor of the blood,
Mist, and masts rising, the knock of wooden tackle in the sunlight.

Now we sing, and do tiny dances on the kitchen floor.
Our whole body is like a harbor at dawn;
We know that our master has left us for the day.

by Robert Bly, 1962, via

Etymology - gems - light

Intimidate means to make someone feel timid.

Dilapidated means to have fallen into disrepair or ruin, but it literally means to be scatter stones. A lapidary is someone who cuts and shapes gemstones; lapis lazuli means a stone from a certain place in Persia ('azure' comes from the colour of the stone, not the other way around).

The kind of lustre or shine that lapis lazuli has is: greasy and vitreous (glassy).

Gems are classified using some excellently archaic terminology (for example, the term for the highest quality ruby is "pigeon's blood"). Types of lustre include metallic pearly, resinous, waxy.

Ways of sparkling are separate to ways of shining, and include asterism (a star shape), aventurescence (like glitter), chatoyancy (luminous bands, like a tigers-eye), and schiller (German for "twinkle", iridescence).

These words are soothing just to know and read.

(Next thing if you also find this soothing is crystal habit, the shape in which they tend to grow.)

Answers to kids' great, legit science questions

The Conversation (academic news website...?) has started running a column answering kids' science questions, and they are some damn good questions. The answers tend to be pretty far-ranging (like the huntsman/vacuum one below goes into testing NASA has done on spiders in space, to see if they can still build webs without gravity).

If a huge huntsman spider is sucked into a vacuum cleaner, can it crawl out later?
Maybe/depends. They consulted both an arachnologist and a vacuum cleaner designer for this one. Best part:
"Spiders have an exoskeleton (their skeleton is on the outside of their body). Spider movement depends on them being able to inflate and deflate their legs, so if they lose a leg sometimes there isn’t enough pressure for them to move their legs." I DID NOT KNOW THAT.

Do sharks sneeze?
No, because their nostrils don't link to their respiratory system. If stuff gets caught there they have to just shake it out.
Best part:
"Sharks can actually make their stomach stick out of their mouth for brief moments to get rid of things they have eaten that they don’t like, such as tyres, licence plates, fish bones and fish hooks. This is called gastric eversion and it’s a very cool trick." I DID NOT KNOW THAT AND I DID NOT WISH TO.

Do bees ever accidentally sting other bees?
Not accidentally-accidentally, when they're just tumbling around. But sometimes the guard-bees at the entrances mistake a sister-bee for a bee from a rival hive, and sting them. I WILL PRETEND NOT TO KNOW THAT AT MY SISTER'S TRIAL.

Science communicator and comedian Tom Lang posted the following anecdote from one of the workshops he runs for kids:

Follow Tom Lang on Twitter!

Woman who can't eat dessert makes desserts nobody can eat

Glassblower and sculptor Shayna Leib has severe dietary restrictions due to allergies to histamines, salicylates and copper. She describes herself as a "taxidermist of french pastries".

"No food is as powerful as dessert or gets as tied up in our issues of guilt, longing, abstinence, and attraction. We celebrate birthdays with it. Grandparents spoil children with it. It’s the first to get cut from a diet and the first some flock to for comfort. And yet for me, it represents the unattainable."

"This body of work started as a therapeutic exercise in deconstruction and a re-training of the mind to look at dessert as form rather than food."

It's hard to overstate how much I relate to all of that. Full photoset.

clockwise from top-left: Millefeuille, Tarte aux framboises, The "Bourgie", Gâteau aux amandes.

Unsolicited Advice

Forgive yourself for responding imperfectly

(Forgive others, too, but it's usually harder to forgive yourself.)

This is a little bit about not victim-blaming, but it's not just about harassment, but any situation where someone has been rude or aggressive or crossed a boundary, and you didn't respond the way you would like to have. Maybe you went along with something instead of shutting it down, or you shut it down too forcefully or in an unhelpful way and the situation escalated instead of improving.

We are all getting better at forgiving ourselves for being victims, I think, I hope, but it's harder when we actually did handle a situation poorly, or at least suboptimally. Because, well, I should have done x instead of y, that's just true, it's an undeniable fact. So here are some things to remember:

1. You generally try not to breach social etiquette, and having to do so makes you stressed and uncomfortable. Usually these imperfect responses happen in a situation when the other person has breached normal social rules first, and it leaves you no way to respond that's back within bounds. It's weird and rude to ask a housemate if they stole something from you, for example - so maybe you don't ask, when you should have, because it feels like such a weird thing to ask? Being forced to breach etiquette (to make a scene, to make a big deal about nothing, to be be petty about money, to take jokes too seriously) is one of the things that sucks about being transgressed against. Putting you in that position - where you might not know how to respond - is part of the transgression.

2. You probably have very little practice at responding to whatever situation it was you didn't respond perfectly to. How often does that happen to you? Once or twice before at most? So, okay, you are a beginner at this. Beginners are not supposed to be good at things. It is normal for beginners to make mistakes. Beginners who make mistakes aren't idiots, they're just... beginners.

3. If there was an 60/40 chance of whatever you did making things better, but it made things worse, you still did the right thing. You couldn't have known, then, what the consequences would be, and you made a guess about what to do to improve the situation. The fact that you turned out to be wrong doesn't mean it was a bad guess, or that it was bad to make a guess at all. (Similarly: if you make a 100 to 1 gamble and you win, it was still a stupid gamble and you get no credit for the fact that you lucked out.)

4. Did you fuck up 100% or like, 4%, and you're really obsessively fixated on that 4?

Note: frankly some people could stand to forgive themselves a little less, but they don't need convincing to let themselves off the hook so i don't think there's any harm in saying: go easier on yourself. And of course, none of this means don't learn from it so you'll have a better shot next time (I'm typing that solely as a disclaimer to anyone thinking "but if you forgive yourself, how will you learn? isn't this encouraging laziness and continued bad responses?" no it's not, don't be a doofus)

If you want solicited advice, send questions to or just reply to this email.

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