Skip to content

The Whippet #6: Ghost miners, moss, knife-theft and kitchen dogs

McKinley Valentine — 7 min read

On this page

Elegant tigers,

This week I came across the exact same concept expressed by a Buddhist and a Christian thinker, which was startling enough to seem worth exploring.

Tara Brach: “The problem isn’t that we have desires, but that our desires are too small.” She says that we wish to connect with, say, our ex-boyfriend, when we should be wishing for the much deeper, more whole connection to Buddha-nature, the quiet, vast expanse that lies inside us.

C.S. Lewis: “If we consider the staggering nature of the rewards promised in the Gospels, it would seem that Our Lord finds our desires not too strong, but too weak. We are half-hearted creatures, fooling about with drink and sex and ambition when infinite joy is offered us, like an ignorant child who wants to go on making mud pies in a slum because he cannot imagine what is meant by the offer of a holiday at the sea. We are far too easily pleased.

I think this is super insightful and you don’t need to be religious to apply it to your life. I’ve been thinking of examples all week.

‘I want a flat stomach’ vs. ‘I want to feel like I belong in my body and it’s okay to be here’.

‘I want my kids to get me Christmas presents’ vs ‘I want to know my family loves me and thinks of me’.

‘I want to move in together’ vs ‘I want to know that you’re serious about this relationship’.
(I don’t live with my partner and prefer it that way, but not having that milestone of seriousness meant I had to explicitly seek reassurance of it. Separating out what I wanted symbolically and what I wanted literally, physically, for my life to be like, has been really tricky at times.)

For the next week, when you really want something, try and see if you can want something bigger. You don’t have to tell anyone – I think there’s nothing more terrifying than saying what you want. “I’m poor” = no big deal. “I want to be rich” = terrifying, can you imagine really saying that to someone, and meaning it earnestly with your open heart? “I want to be famous.” “I want more friends.” I’m cringeing just typing these things and they’re not even my own personal deep wishes.

But at least if you know yourself, you can go more directly to the source, and be more strategic in pursuing the secondary things you hope will lead to it.

(I have another example: We don't need more employment, we need certain tasks to be done, and we need food, shelter, etc. etc. Employment is one way of getting those tasks done and distributing those resources, but it's not the only way, and if we look at it as a problem of unemployment instead of a problem of tasks and resources, then we're a step abstracted and unnecessarily limiting ourselves. So that's what I'm trying to avoid in my personal life.)

PS individual sections should be share-able right now, bit of an experiment though

Shoemaker, not beyond the shoe

Subtitle: Things that haven't changed in 2000 years.

Today: armchair quarterback or back-seat driver
78 AD: Sutor, ne ultra crepidam.

The story:
A shoemaker (sutor) approaches the renowned painter Appelles of Kos to point out an error in the way he's painted a sandal (crepida). Appeles is grateful and fixes the mistake.

The shoemaker, encouraged, starts pointing out other areas for improvement that he sees in the painting. Appelles is less grateful. Sutor, ne ultra crepidam he says. Shoemaker, not beyond the shoe.

And from there we get ultracrepidarian – beyond-shoeish – to describe someone who gives advice outside their area of expertise.

The ghost miners of South Africa

South Africa's Mponeng mine produces about a billion dollars worth of gold a year. It's one of the deepest mines in the world, basically an underground city, and the whole massive, byzantine structure exists to mine a seam of ore less than a metre thick. That's how valuable gold is.

The temperature inside the mine is a loathsome 60° Celsius, so to cool it there's an ice-making plant on the surface that produces 6,000 tonnes of ice a day. "They mix it with salt and it becomes this kind of slushy slurry, and they pump it down into these pipes into a deep reservoir that sits there. Giant fans blow air over it, and the cold air descends down these registers into the deepest mining levels and reduces the temperature to a bearable 30°C."

Along with the official miners are so-called "ghost" miners - illegal miners who have broken in and been down there so long they've developed an ashy pallour from lack of sunlight. SInce the entrances are the focus of security, once they're in there's no easy way out.

"They steal ore from there; they refine it inside the tunnel, usually using very, very toxic methods, like mercury, which no doubt poison them. Security isn't very keen to go looking for these people because, in a mine, you can hear someone coming a long way off, and these people are armed and they wouldn't hesitate to shoot security and get into gunfights."

The legal miners have no incentive to get rid of them because they run a black market trade in basic overworld items that the ghost miners can't access. "A loaf of bread that costs less than $1 on the surface costs $12 underground. Making a couple of extra sandwiches and putting them in your lunch bucket, you can make some serious extra money."

There are so many ways that people are living in this world that you would not know about, would never occur to you (even if it's obvious someone must be in retrospect).

Interview with the author of Gold: The Race for the World's Most Seductive Metal on NPR.

Addendum from Wikipedia: "Tunnel walls are secured by flexible shotcrete reinforced with steel fibers, which is further held in place by diamond-mesh netting." Diamond-mesh netting! I bet it doesn't look like I'm imagining.

Saihō-ji, the overgrown zen garden

In the 14th Century this was raked white sand and 'islands' of rock, but when the monastery could no longer afford its upkeep, it became overgrown with moss. It's hard to say which would have been lovelier: insert your own symbolism here.

The best kitchen gadget of the 1600s was a small, short-legged dog

For hundreds of years the now-extinct turnspit dog, also called Canis Vertigus (“dizzy dog”), vernepator cur, kitchen dog and turn-tyke, was specially bred just to turn a roasting mechanism for meat. "They were short enough to fit into a wooden wheel contraption that was connected to ropes or chains, which turned the giant turkey or ham on a spit for the master of the house."

"It seems weird to bring an animal into the cooking process, let alone create a breed to fit a piece of kitchen equipment. But when the turnspit dog was first documented in the 15th century, cooks were desperate to relieve themselves of what was smoky, sweaty, tiring work. Large and royal houses in particular tended to impress guests with elaborate feasts of multiple types of game. Hunks of meat were either boiled or roasted over an open fire" and needed to be turned constantly to avoid cooking unevenly.

A contemporary account: “They were long-bodied, crooked-legged, and ugly dogs, with a suspicious, unhappy look about them, as if they were weary of the task they had to do, and expected every moment to be seized upon to perform it."
Full article

Crow steals knife from crime scene

"Canuck the crow, Vancouver's most notorious bird, is being accused of flying away with a knife from a crime scene." The crow is 'known to police' and has been seen with knives before.

"The crow was persistent, but the knife was eventually gathered as evidence," Const. Brian Montague said in an email.

News report.
Canuck's Facebook page.

"If you could own anything in the world, and no one would try to hurt you for owning it or take it away from you or be upset that you were its new owner, what would you own?"

My first thought was a castle with working electricity and plumbing, this last being the reason I'm not trying that hard to own a castle even though they're relatively cheap (castles for sale). But nah, what I really want is an EU passport. I cannot think of anything in the world more valuable than freedom of movement (that comes in the form of a tangible object you can own, I mean). And you can't even necessarily buy it with money.

Living in Australia makes you feel very isolated and disconnected from the rest of the world, and I'm always afraid peak oil will happen and plane travel will be priced out of my reach and I'll be stuck here forever. A note about privilege before anyone brings it up (although you'll struggle to without breaking the One Rule of The Whippet): it is possible to be very lucky and still wish for something so badly your heart hurts.

PS I've thought about it and I'm pretty sure this is already the source-wish.

Ask me a question on any topic except contemporary politics. You can ask by replying to this email: make sure to include how/if you want to be named/linked.


Sign in or become a Whippet subscriber (free or paid) to add your thoughts.
Just enter your email below to get a log in link.