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The Whippet #120: The mammoths are waiting to be dug up

McKinley Valentine — 6 min read

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Good morning!

I have this clipping saved from a UK newspaper about how Russia is mining the remains of long-extinct woolly mammoths, as a source of ethical ivory.

The specific sentence I saved is this:

“In fact, they believe there may be as many as 150 million dead mammoths frozen beneath the Siberian tundra just waiting to be dug up.”

Firstly because oh my god, 150 million dead mammoths frozen beneath the icy tundra, what a spooky image.

But also something about the framing — like, rather than saying “we want to dig them up”, they’re saying “the mammoths are waiting for us. They lived and died and froze because they hoped to one day be mined for their ivory.” It’s ascribing the desires of the ivory-miners onto the mammoths.

It reminds me of a great article called Thingifying The World.

The writer Larry McEnerney describes a sign they saw in a Chicago University bookstore:

‘Umbrellas are non-refundable.’

This is a super-ordinary sign, but it’s also kind of crazy. It’s turning a choice on the part of the shop owner — “I will not refund umbrellas” — into an inherent property of the umbrella. The umbrella is red, weighs 200 grams, and is non-refundable. Like it was manufactured that way. ‘The mammoths are waiting to be dug up’ is an action, but it’s still projecting the miners’ desire onto an inanimate object.

They’ve phrased it that way so customers won’t take personal offence and won’t think it’s a decision they can argue the owner out of. It’s a completely reasonable sign, and there a million others like it, and a million other examples where, what is actually happening is a relationship between people and/or things, but it’s framed like it’s an inherent property of an object.

If you subscribe to the idea that how we talk changes how we think, what does it do to continually hide relationships and actions behind objects, and imply they can’t be changed and are not the result of anyone’s choices?

The whole piece explores this idea in more detail and I recommend it. Read it here.

In the Victorian era, people wore false calves to look more muscular

When the only bit of your clothing that’s skintight is the lower half of your leggings/stockings, you’re gonna want that part looking pretty shapely.

Both photos from the Victoria & Albert Museum in London

Women wore them ice-skating and cycling, theatres bought dozens of pairs for their casts, and…

One reverend named Dabadie who was living in Berne at the time, ordered a pair of calves after the church returned to the fashion of looping gowns in the back. Apparently, he was just one among many priests who wanted to “show [his] legs to advantage.”

The wearing of false calves by the ecclesiastical ranks might not have surfaced if Dabadie had paid for them. But he didn’t, and he got sued in 1879 by the Paris hosier who sold them to him. When the case was heard, Dabadie insisted he paid for the calves with a bottle of claret, but the judge decided otherwise and ordered him “to pay cash for his fine legs.”

For more on false calves and also “the Grecian stoop” — a fashion for walking in a horribly uncomfortable tilted-forward way — see Geri Walton’s blog.

The Fuegian ‘dog’, a notoriously disloyal canid that humans domesticated (for a while)

Left: a modern culpeo. Right: Artist’s guess at a Fuegian dog

The Fuegian ‘dog’ is a domesticated culpeo. A culpeo is as different from a wolf as a wolf is from a fox — they’re a totally different genus (wolves, dogs, coyotes and jackals = canis, foxes = vulpes, culpeos = lycalopex).

Culpeos were domesticated by the Selk'nam and Yaghan people around Cape Horn and Tierra del Fuego (hence Fuegian dog) in South America.

A Romanian engineer (and, uh, war criminal, sorry) who encountered them around 1880 noted their complete lack of loyalty to their owners: “I never saw them, no matter how large their number, take an aggressive attitude or defend their masters when these were in danger.”

When a Prussian missionary visited Tierra del Fuego in 1919, only forty years later, the Fuegian dog was extinct (the culpeo is still going strong). The Yaghan people had given up on them, finding them to be a menace to both people and livestock.

(Source: Wikipedia)

Sick burn

This is just a great quote, but it requires a little context: a guy called Adam Saltsman made some art for a videogame. A guy called Jason Rohrer auctioned off the NFTs to Adam’s art. I am absolutely not going to get into NFTs in The Whippet ever, but basically Jason Rohrer made money off Adam’s art without his permission.

When Kotaku interviewed Adam, they asked if he was going to do anything about it. He wasn’t sure. He said he was in a lose-lose position:

“Either Jason does more gross public shit using my art, or else I have to to Jason, and spend some of my life doing that, which also sucks.”

The interview has some quotes from Jason as well, which you can read if you want to get mad about a guy. You can see why Adam doesn’t want to spend any amount of his life talking to him.

Sperm whales in the 19th century shared information on how to evade whaling ships

When sperm whales are attacked by orcas (which used to be their only predator), they form defensive circles, with their tails facing outwards ready to smack.

This does not work at all with whaling ships; it just makes you easier to harpoon.

Within a few years, sperm whales all over the Pacific stopped forming defensive circles when facing whaling ships, and started swimming upwind of the ships to get away from them (this works because ships cannot go fast against the wind, but whales can).

The change happened way faster than evolution would allow — it can only have happened through communication and learning.

(Source and more info)

Unsolicited Advice: Perfectionists don’t think they’re perfectionists, they think they’re good-enoughists

I only realised I was a perfectionist fairly recently, because I don’t — I swear to god — think I have to do everything perfectly. I just want it to be good enough that I don’t lose my job or get in trouble or have someone be mad at me.

The issue was that I thought “good enough” meant “no mistakes” — I mean, if something has a mistake then you haven’t finished doing your job, right? And you can’t hand in half-finished work.

From the outside, a perfectionist is obsessing about the tiniest detail that doesn’t matter, but from the inside, the perfectionist is trying to fix a huge glaring flaw. They’re just trying to do the bare minimum, and it’s killing them — because their conception of “the minimum” is badly skewed.

(This tends to be worse for neurodiverse people because they think all deadlines are hard deadlines. They don’t realise that neurotypical people quite often give deadlines that they fully expect will be delayed. But which ones are hard deadlines and which ones can you push back on? Hahaha I have no idea, tell me if you find out.)

It’s something to watch out for when you read checklists of psychological symptoms. A lot of the checklists were created for psychologists, not for patients, so they describe what it’s like to look at someone with that condition, not what it feels like to be one.

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