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The Whippet #51: Perhaps you would be satisfied with a chrysanthemum instead?

McKinley Valentine — 8 min read

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Hello! I’m writing this from Budapest airport. Airports always seem to suck the life out of my brain, even if I didn’t have to get up early to be there. Extremely problem of privilege, I realise.

Normally I go through life feeling like a floating screen (or “brain on a stick” as my mother creepily calls it), not really aware I have a body, just looking and thinking. Yoga and such are meant to bring you back into your body, but I don’t like them much. Focusing on my breath makes breathing suddenly feel like an effort. I become aware of the tightness of my ribcage.

Some combination of my gender, chronic illness and a tendency to intellectualise mean I don’t much like being reminded that I have a body (our culture, and capitalism/advertising etc, are big on constantly reminding women that they have a body and that having one makes you vulnerable because it doesn’t fully belong to you). Also, I hate that anyone has organs. I prefer to imagine myself as a casing filled with maple syrup.

I like to go places where I’m invisible. It’s a nice thing about McDonalds and Starbucks (by which I mean: shitty fast-food chain coffee. Please translate into your local equivalent). People look past you. (Past me. The right to be invisible in public travels along traditional lines of privelege.) Travelling with my husband has been hard in some ways because being seen by him reminds me I exist in a body, and so temporarily living with him is like being forced to exist all the time. (He’s not like… staring, he’s just being in the same room. I’m used to being alone a lot and only re-embodying myself when I see him.)

Sometimes I fantasise about being a ghost or a statue, still existing but without a body. Or menopause, when I’m told women become invisible.

Although I also fear that I’m wasting my youth and relatively healthy body wishing I didn’t have one, and I’ll regret it when I’m older. (Nora Ephron on looking back at her self-consciousness in her 20s and how ridiculous it was, because everyone in their 20s looks intrinsically gorgeous: “Oh, how I regret not having worn a bikini for the entire year I was twenty-six. If anyone young is reading this, go, right this minute, put on a bikini, and don't take it off until you're thirty-four.” – although this isn’t really about the regular kind of bikini/attractiveness-self-consciousness, it’s more of a general physicality issue).

I hope that you are doing better with the general problem of existing in a body <3

Street network orientations

Visualisation of how 'griddy' a city is - with the clear crosses being easier to navigate and more boring (that is, if you're looking for somewhere with a more ramshackle layout, look for a blobbier shape).

View the rest of the cities and explanation here (it has a heavy focus on the US, but global cities are represented).

Haast's eagle, the largest to have ever existed

Artists' rendition of a Haast's eagle attacking a moa, huge flightless bird native to New Zealand. Haast's eagle became extinct around 1400 AD, shortly after its main food source, the moa, were hunted to extinction by early Māori people.

"The Haast's eagle's size and weight indicate a bodily striking force equivalent to a concrete block falling from the top of an eight-story building." [Wikipedia]

But here's what I didn't know about New Zealand! A whole ecosystem of birds! That's some scifi world-building!

"Until recent human colonisation that introduced rodents and cats, the only placental land mammals found on the islands of New Zealand were three species of bat. Birds occupied or dominated all major niches in the New Zealand animal ecology. Moa were grazers, functionally similar to deer or cattle in other habitats, and Haast's eagles were the hunters who filled the same niche as top-niche mammalian predators, such as tigers or lions."

On the subject of extinction: keep your cat indoors, sorry, this is no longer really up for debate. The domestic cat has so far made 33 species of bird extinct, including the Stephens Island Wren, endemic to a small island off the coast of NZ, which was hunted to extinction by a single domestic cat called Tibbles.

In theory, this will be New Zealand in a few more millennia.

All ecological niches occupied by birds, including lawyers and florists. (This is a screenshot from Aviary Attorney, a courtroom drama game that uses public domain bird art as graphics.)

12-course degustation in a can

  1. A selection of local cheeses with sourdough bread
  2. Pickled kobe beef with charred strawberry
  3. Ricotta ravioli with a soft egg yolk
  4. Shiitake mushroom topped with filled peppers
  5. Halibut poached in truffle butter in a coconut crepe
  6. Risotto with foraged ramps, prosciutto, and fresh Parmesan
  7. French onion soup with fresh thyme and gruyère
  8. Roast pork belly and celeriac root puree
  9. A palate cleanser of pear ginger juice
  10. Rib eye steak with grilled mustard greens
  11. Crack pie with milk ice cream on a vanilla tuile
  12. French canele with a malt barley and hazelnut latte

This is both completely real and an artwork by Chris Godfrey.

P.S. It looks US English uses 'tasting menu' not 'degustation'? Honestly I'm for it, degustation is an ugly word.)

All the diseases you can catch in a cave

Now for something topical! (read: a month out of date). When those Thai boys were rescued from the cave, they had to go into IMMEDIATE QUARANTINE because there are so many diseases you can catch in a cave. Just like there are weird blind spiders and such, there are creepy diseases unknown on the face of the earth.

Graphene aerogel is seven times lighter than air

But it doesn't float away because it's an aerated gel that's almost 100% air, and air weighs the same as air. It doesn't currently seem to have an application, although aerogels in general are an amazing substance used on spacecraft(including the Mars Rover) because they are incredibly light and incredibly insulating. Note how the crayons aren't melting:

Sidenote: now that we have a solid that weighs less than air, surely we can invent an eagle bigger than the Haast's eagle? Give it aerogel bones! Sometimes it feels like science isn't even trying.

Ghost Knife

Unsettling, true story of a woman's intrusive thought/hallucination and her reasoned attempt to understand it better via various professionals both science-based and alternative. It's a great piece of writing, esp. for mental health nerds, but does involve a repeated, violent image.

"Most nights before I fall asleep, and sometimes during a quiet moment in the day, I can feel a knife floating above my right shoulder. It’s a distinctive knife, with a broad blade and a generous handle. A good knife for cutting up a pumpkin."


"Conventional psychiatric wisdom, and plenty of religious interpretation, say that such thoughts are involuntary: a minor misfiring in the brain rather than a reflection of who you are. The wisdom insists that if a sinister thought is frequent, it might point to some underlying problem, but it doesn’t mean that at heart you’re bad or unhinged.

I can believe this, utterly, of other people and their thoughts. But when it comes to my knife, I’m not convinced. Surely the knife means I’m at least slightly evil or slightly crazy." Read the rest

Unsolicited Advice

"Don't ask a question if the answer won't change your behaviour"

Unfortunately I've forgotten where I read this, but I think it's an interesting/good piece of advice. Obviously not in general (if you didn't like knowledge for knowledge's sake you wouldn't be reading The Whippet) but for advicey stuff.

I think it's also a sign your circling and seeking more information to put off making a decision. Like if I'm tying to decide whether to go to a party or not (a decision I find constantly paralysing) I will say things like "who's going to be there?" when really, it's the same-ish group of people every time. I'm just procrastinating on the decision.

Or I'm secretly hoping they'll answer "oh, that serial killer who's also a tedious conversationalist" so I can stay home without any FOMO.

Another angle is that if you're going to go into a confrontation with someone, you should go in knowing what you want them to do. (Weirdly this is like being a writer and giving yourself a brief, which I do a lot.) As in: "I want them to apologise for x" or "I want them to stop checking their phone when we're on dates" or whatever. It can be "I want them to understand that x makes me feel sad" but honestly that's a 50/50 chance at best. People can't always understand, even when they really try, because they're different to you. Going in with a behavioural change you want them to make will get better results. (You cannot go into a conversation with the proposed outcome of "I want them to know they're a bad person and feel bad about it", That is both pointlessly cruel and unlikely to end up fixing anything.)

That said, sometimes I get so caught up in needing to have a proposed action item that I don't tell my husband things I'm sad about because I can't think of a solution. This is no good because a) it withers the connection, you need to know where each others' head is at, and b) sometimes he has solutions that haven't occurred to me.

So I guess grain of salt on that one.

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