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The Whippet #42: specific natural cats

McKinley Valentine — 6 min read

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Hello, today I want to talk about

margins of error.

Specifically: it is safe to ignore any theory that hasn't thought carefully about which side their margin of error will fall on, because it is not a serious theory.

What I mean is that you have to assume you are never going to get something perfectly. I mean obviously. So, for example, when you decide how trusting to be of people who ask for money on the street, you have to accept that you are either occasionally get scammed, or occasionally be unfair and cynical to a deserving person. And then when you find out you got scammed, instead of saying "my whole policy is wrong! I will never trust again!" you have to say "welp, that was the margin of error. I already accepted that cost."

A lot of people, when you ask which way their margin is going to fall, just repeat the intention to be perfect - "I give money to people who deserve it." Okay but what about when you don't get it right? "I can always tell." So that's a plan based around perfect judgement and no mistakes ever, that is a terrible plan.

(Obvious example: you might get cheated on, and it sucks, but the only way to make yourself totally safe against it is to be a jealous spy who puts tracking software on your partner's computer. No one healthy does this - we let the margin of error fall on the cheating side not the stalking side)

I'm avoiding mentioning political policies (the justice system, welfare payments, refugees) but it obviously applies. If a person refuses to answer whether they prefer the government to be too profligate or too callous, and own the consequences of what they're advocating, they are ridiculous and you don't have to listen to them.

This is related to the resulting fallacy: If you do something with a 90% chance of success, and you still fail, that doesn't mean your strategy is bad and you should beat yourself up. It's just the margin of error. 90% is good odds.

If you gamble your life savings and you happen to become a billionaire from it, you still made a bad choice and you shouldn't be congratulated. (For real, don't congratulate people for gambling wins: gambling is a horrific addiction and they are probably not telling you about all the times they lost. Don't be an enabler.)

A weird cliff in China regularly "lays eggs"

"Near the village of Gulu in China's Guizhou province, there's a cliff face that looks like it was bedazzled by some primeval interior decorator. Smooth, colorful, egg-shaped stones jut out from the craggy rock, leading locals to call this cliff Chan Dan Ya, or "egg-producing cliff."

"Each smooth, round stone takes about 30 years to edge its way out and tumble onto the rocks below."

This is so upsetting, but it's also fine.

This cliff face is all sedimentary rock. "Concretions form when minerals gather around some sort of impurity, like a leaf, a shell, or even a soon-to-be-fossilized animal, and create a rounded mass of minerals. That often happens after the sedimentary rock has been laid down, so the minerals are usually different than the surrounding sedimentary rock.

If those concretions are harder than the rock around them (as they often are), they'll eventually wear down the surrounding rock and break free."
Full article

Mystery pt. 1

Shame-faced crab

is called that because it goes around covering its face with its pincers.

It also has super-specialised claws: the one on the right has a tooth that it uses to stab into molluscs and then leverage like an oldschool can-opener and the other has more of a tweezer-y situation going on so it can take the flesh out. [Australian Geographic]

I've always loved the old-timey expression "Where can I put my face?" for when you've done something mildly embarrassing, and that is what I imagine the crab is saying here.

"When I became a man I put away childish things, including the fear of childishness and the desire to be very grown up.” — CS Lewis

“Critics who treat 'adult' as a term of approval, instead of as a merely descriptive term, cannot be adult themselves. To be concerned about being grown up, to admire the grown up because it is grown up, to blush at the suspicion of being childish; these things are the marks of childhood and adolescence. And in childhood and adolescence they are, in moderation, healthy symptoms. Young things ought to want to grow. But to carry on into middle life or even into early manhood this concern about being adult is a mark of really arrested development. When I was ten, I read fairy tales in secret and would have been ashamed if I had been found doing so. Now that I am fifty I read them openly."

Sartre you wanker

He named his cat "Nothing". As in the title of his most famous book, Being and Nothingness. Unbearable.

From Wikipedia's excellent List of specific natural cats (as opposed its List of fictional cats, which I have also read in full).

I wish I knew whether he was deliberately being obnoxious for fun, or just actually obnoxious.

Mystery p. 2

Unsolicited Advice

Is it cowardly to break up with someone via text?

Hi this is a PSA

If someone has ever been emotionally or physically abusive towards you, they’ve abdicated the right to an in-person break up.

If you have ever been emotionally or physically abusive towards your partner, you’ve abdicated the right to an in-person break up.

It doesn’t even have to be aggressive as such. For example, if, whenever you try to bring up an issue with them, it somehow gets twisted back around so you’re defending yourself or placating them? If you know they will try and guilt you and manipulate you and doubt your own feelings?

Then you have every reason to avoid a conversation, because you might find yourself somehow still in the relationship at the end of it.

A text break-up is a sign that one person did not trust the other (good reason to break up, hey). So, okay – why would you automatically assume that mistrust was irrational? Maybe be at least open to the possibility that the mistrust was well grounded?

So if you hear someone – a friend even – say “they broke up with me by TEXT”, don’t immediately jump to the assumption that the break-upper is a disrespectful coward. It’s for sure possible!

But a very real possibility is that the break-uppee has given signs that it would not be safe to have a proper conversation with them. Hell, maybe they have even tried to do it in person, and been talked out of it.

If someone breaks up with you via text, check in with yourself or a trusted friend to make sure you haven’t acted in emotionally unsafe ways. THEN you can use it as an excuse for why they’re a terrible person and you’ve dodged a bullet.

Other, more benign possibilities:

  • They thought it would be cruel to make their partner get all dressed up and taken to a restaurant just for a break-up.
  • Through no fault of the other person, they did not think they would be able to go through with it face-to-face.

Obviously some people are just callous assholes but it's weird and hurtful to assume that on no other info when the other possibility is they've been emotionally abused!

For what it’s worth, I would prefer to be broken up with over text just so I can ugly-cry on my own and then talk to them later with some dignity and hauteur. Ideally they would text me but be like “we can meet up to talk about it if/when you want”.

(All couples should have a conversation where they discuss their preferred break-up method – like on the fifth date or something, as standard practice.)

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

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