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The Whippet #49: the Patron Saint of Kitsch

McKinley Valentine — 7 min read

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Good morning sage leafs!

Having a cat has made me realise I made a good call on not having kids. I find Tuffy pretty needy - I get up in the morning and he's like, mow mow mow, and I think "just let me have my coffee first! then I will pay attention to you!" I think if you find a cat too needy, definitely don't have kids.

Also I worry about him. Tuffy I mean. He seems fine and happy and he gets attention and food and fresh water and playtime, but he still fundamentally does nothing all day, and I would get very bored! That would not be a fulfilling life for me! But I'm not sure what to do about it, it's not like I can encourage him to write a memoir or set up a small business.

I can't say it to anyone because it's hard to think of a more obnoxious sentence than I'm worried my cat isn't self-actualised.

It's such an over-the-top rich people problem but it turns out you can just worry about ridiculous things even while also worrying about very sane and real things. And you can see how that would only be more obnoxious if he was a three-year-old child. No three-year-old should have to justify the meaningfulness of their existence.

I did have a tiny glimpse of how existentially terrifying it would be to have a child, in that I was thinking how much I love my partner, and how the idea of him dying is in that unthinkable space that you're like, it's just... no, too horrifying, it must never happen. And I'm sure you have people in your life like that, a partner or best friend or sibling or parent. (Obviously those people do die, and somehow we carry on, but that doesn't make me any more calm about the prospect.)

But I don't really spend any time worrying about what if Tom dies because he's a sensible guy who doesn't drink drive or do unlicensed electrical repairs.

And then the realisation hit me that having a child means loving someone as much as I love Tom, but if Tom just constantly made bad decisions and ran into traffic and left stoves on. AND YOU HAVE TO LET THEM. I mean, not let them run into traffic, but you have to give them gradual, age-appropriate freedom, even while knowing full well they'll make some bad decisions. You can't just lock them up inside for literally their entire lives sorry Tuffy.

So how parents are not just having one 15-year-long panic attack I do not know. Maybe your glands just run out of cortisol eventually.

Journal of Experimental Botany less exciting than I hoped

Ah, so, some Melbourne Uni scientists have figured out how tree stem cells work, which surprisingly wasn't actually known already.

"Called the vascular cambium, these cells produce wood (xylem) towards the inside of a growing stem, and bark (phloem) towards the outside. As the tree grows and the branches thicken, this cylinder of cells expands and produces much of the planet’s forest biomass in the form of wood."

And that's, you know, fine, but it was published in the Journal of Experimental Botany, and that really gets your hopes up. You want them to be working on self-popping corncobs, or hypercolour lawns, or something.

Foosball invented by anti-fascist

This is Alejandro Finisterre (1919-2007), a poet, publisher and Republican (the good guys in the Spanish Civil War).

He was injured in Franco's bombing of Madrid and was sad that he and other Republicans would never be able to play football again so he invented a table version. Weirdly, people have since invented life-size human foosball. I can only assume this is an attempt to exclude the few surviving heroes of the Spanish Civil War, and so you're within your rights to condemn any small child playing it as a fascist.*

I love table soccer but I also get very tense and stressed because it's so fast-paced and reaction-timey, same as air hockey and klask. (Klask is the only small, cheap game that actually re-creates the feeling of playing air hockey, way better than buying one of those mini-tables. I just bought a copy and I get tense just looking at the box, that's how well it re-creates the feeling.)

* This is an agenda-less silly joke. PS Omg:

Medieval war altar

That's some Warhammer art, right? Or like, ye olde Fury Road? You would be astonished by how much stuff in fantasy books is taken straight up from the real world. (Side note: I recently found out that the most cartoonishly evil speech from the villain of Fargo season 3 - the one that Fargo can only get away with because it's already set up as being a bit mythic and hyper-stylistic - is an almost verbatim quote from an influential contemporary political figure).

Anyway the 13th century war altar of Milan was drawn by six oxen and carried a gold cross so big it took four men to stand it up. [Wikipedia page on war altars]

Tawdry = St. Audrey

The word 'tawdry' (meaning tacky, cheap and gaudy) is a shortening of St. Audrey's lace. See the lace she's wearing to cover up her neck? It originally was just a type of necklace (neck_lace) but they fell out of fashion and so it came to mean cheap, unfashionable lace.

So she's kind of a patron saint of kitsch.

The emails you get when your address is

Read the full (very sweet) post

Unsolicited Advice

Technically parenting advice but mainly intended as insight into your own childhoods

I don't think people without kids should give parenting advice they just thought up, but passing on research done by scientists is surely fine?

Anyway, this is about 'behavioural control' vs 'psychological control'. Behavioural control is telling your kids what to do; psychological control is telling them what to feel. The first is necessary and good, the second is destructive and you should avoid it as much as you possibly can.

In other words:
Don't yell ✔️
Don't be angry ❌

At least try one piece of pineapple ✔️
You love pineapple! ❌

Kids are learning emotional literacy, and mislabelling emotions is confusing and makes it harder to process them. Think of all the adults you know who are bad at recognising their own emotions! This is not stuff we are currently nailing, as a culture.

A tenet of healthy adult psychology is that there's no such thing as a wrong emotion, only wrong actions. Feeling jealous of your girlfriend, while unpleasant, is perfectly ethical. Texting your girlfriend 40 times while she's out with male friends is not fine. But the thing is, that will be so much harder to avoid doing if you don't admit to yourself that you're feeling jealous, because jealousy is a wrong emotion. You might say you're just worried about her, an acceptable emotion.

So, telling kids what they do, or should, feel, is setting them up for that type of adult disaster. (Plus, they might end up with the quite false idea that whether it's okay to text your girlfriend 40 times to check up on her depends on whether you're feeling jealous or worried - that it's the motivation/emotion not the action/effect that determines moral behaviour.)

Also, psychological control leads to kids with depression, anxiety and low self-esteem.

I'm pretty sure all our parents did this to some extent, but I'm also pretty sure all of us had to (or should) work to undo the effects of it.

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

A correction: Last issue I accidentally used the wrong pronoun for Daniel Ortberg, a trans man - I make typos in The Whippet all the time but the broader context of the world makes some of them harmful, so I'm apologising for this one.

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