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The Whippet #133: Someone stubborn

McKinley Valentine — 10 min read

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I read an interesting idea that I want to share!

You might have heard the following quote by Samuel Johnson (recorded 1775):

Courage is reckoned the greatest of all virtues; because, unless a man has that virtue, he has no security for preserving any other.

or Maya Angelou’s more contemporary paraphrasing:

Courage is the most important of all the virtues, because without courage you can’t practice any other virtue consistently.

It’s an important and true idea: it doesn’t matter how much of a good person you are if you are too afraid of being judged, ostracised or fired to speak out when it matters. (And I here I will freely admit that I am probably too cowardly to run back into a burning building; thank god we have firefighters.)

Anyway, the interesting idea I read is that courage’s “dark counterpart” is lying: to borrow Maya Angelou’s wording, lying is the most important of the vices, because without lying you can’t practise any other vice consistently.

Like, you are not going to be able to cheat on your partner, embezzle funds from your company, or plot a successful terrorist attack if you don’t lie about it. (You might manage a one-off spur of the moment crime; hence the word ‘consistently’).

(This idea comes from Martha Beck’s The Way of Integrity. She references the fact that, in Dante’s Inferno, liars and falsifiers are in the second-deepest circle of hell (Lucifer is in the deepest), but from brief googling I don’t think he puts them there because all other sins depend on lies; he just thinks it’s a bad sin.)

Even dictators lie even though you’d think they wouldn’t have to, since they can just threaten to kill people. But they’re always staging false elections and claiming various purges are for the good of the people.

I was wondering why they bother to do this, and wrote up my thoughts in a Whippet Cetera, which you can read here or on patreon (paywalled, but send me an email if you really want to read it and have no money).

FYI, an extremely chill pigeon has walked into my (third-storey) apartment as I am writing this. I have made him into a gif so you can see:

Found: oldest known drawing of a ghost

A warm, idiosyncratic guy re-discovers 3500-year-old cuneiform tablet in British Library and realises it’s the earliest known depiction of a ghost:

It’s obviously a male ghost and he’s miserable. You can imagine a tall, thin, bearded ghost hanging about the house did get on people’s nerves. […]

It’s not fanciful to read this into it. It’s a kind of explicit message. There’s very high-quality writing there and immaculate draughtsmanship.

The text of the tablet is detailed instructions on how to exorcise ghosts, if that’s another service you need.

Food rituals make you enjoy the food more, even arbitrary ones

In an experiment by the University of Minnesota, one group was just given a chocolate bar to eat, while the other group was given specific instructions:

Without unwrapping the chocolate bar, break it in half. Unwrap half of the bar and eat it. Then, unwrap the other half and eat it.

The instructed group rated the taste of the chocolate bar higher, and said they would hypothetically pay more for it.

Another experiment involved knocking on a table before eating a raw carrot. Again, people enjoyed carrots more with the random little ritual before it.

This is like how kids in Australia often bite the limbs off Tiny Teddies in a set order before eating the torso. (Tiny teddies are little biscuits shaped like teddy bears; they’re a rip-off of the US’s teddy grahams, sorry patriots.) Cheers-ing is another obvious pre-consumption ritual.

They did another couple of experiments to rule out other possibilities: random actions before eating didn’t have a benefit; they had to be planned and focused. And watching someone else perform a ritual didn’t improve the taste — you have to participate in it yourself.

More info on the study.

Recommendation: if you have a food you eat semi-regularly, develop a brief ritual for eating it.

Also, please tell me about your little arbitrary food rituals! (inc. whether they’re a cultural thing or just a you/your family thing)

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(You can also click the ‘Leave a comment’ button just to go look at the comments.)

Dolphins’ memes

So there was a fairly low-key article in the Aus news a while back about a dolphin that got stuck in a river inlet west of Adelaide (South Australia). Apparently it happens pretty often, they chase a fish a little way up the river at high tide , and then by the time they decide to go back out to the ocean, it’s low tide, and they’re stuck for 12 hours (the water’s brackish, but it’s not a big deal if it’s only for half a day).

So it’s a really normal thing but people get excited because dolphin, and this dolphin was doing backflips and tailwalking (pictured below) and seemed to like the attention.

Dolphins in the wild don’t do tailwalking, it’s a Seaworld-type trick, but a wildlife guy in the article was just like “oh yeah, it probably knows some dolphins that met Billie.”

Which was such a weird thing to say so casually!

Apparently, Billie was a wild dolphin who, some time in the 80s, got trapped in a polluted creek. A local marine park called Marineland rescued her and kept her with their own captive dolphins for three weeks until she could be taken home. During that time, she learned to tailwalk from the captive dolphins, who had been taught to perform it in public shows.

And then when she was released, she taught other dolphins in her pod. And even though she died in 2009, there’s still dolphins now who tailwalk, who don’t live in the same area but have crossed paths with members of Billie’s pod.

Also this is not strictly related, but Billie was friends with some horses and would go to the same spot regularly to hang out near them and tailwalk.

[How Stuff Works on Billie]

Neat service! Tales will interview your loved one, record their stories, and turn it into a polished podcast ep

So to be clear, I will get $50 if you sign up, but I also genuinely think it’s a neat idea, which is why I feel okay writing about it.

So many people I know have the intention to write down or record the stories of their elderly parents/grandparents, but they don’t do it because in practice it’s a huge amount of work. It seems like something that is absolutely worth paying someone else to do. Especially since interviewing people is an actual skill — it’s one of those things that seems easy if you’ve never done it, because you know how to have a conversation, right? Not right, you will end up with a huge rambling mess that never even gets to the thing you wanted to talk about.

I can also tell you that if you have listened to a podcast where the person sounds smart and funny and completely natural, there’s a 95% chance it’s been edited, because all the ums and ahs and digressions and fragments that are invisible in conversation are VERY VERY visible and annoying in a recording, and editors cut and stitch things together in clever ways so you can’t see the gaps and it looks like it was meant to be that way all along.

So you’re paying for actually useful services, as well as the logistics (they do all the organising) and the basic impetus to get it done, and I feel like it would make a good Christmas present (if you know someone who’s always saying they want to record their mum’s stories).

It’s $150 for 30 minutes interview time, although that feels too short to me? That’s not me trying to put the hard sell on you, it’s more just trying to be realistic about how much you’d end up spending, which I think is honestly likely to be a full hour (which is $280). Then again, 30 minutes gets you a few solid family anecdotes, maybe it’s still nice to have.

Anyway they have given me a $20 off coupon to give to you: enter WHIPPET at the checkout.

Tales website, check it out

^ sidenote, when you see stuff like ‘utm_source=’ in a URL, it means the destination website is being given info about where the click came from — in this case it’s telling the Tales website that you got there via The Whippet. But it doesn’t know who ‘you’ are, it only knows that someone clicked through from The Whippet to Tales. utm tags monitor the link, not the person, so they are not the kind of tracking that follows you across the internet and delivers your browsing preferences to a data broker.


One last Calvino short story

The Man Who Shouted Teresa

by Italo Calvino

I stepped off the pavement, walked backwards a few paces looking up, and, from the middle of the street, brought my hands to my mouth to make a megaphone, and shouted toward the top stories of the block: “Teresa!”

My shadow took fright at the moon and huddled at my feet.

Someone walked by. Again I shouted: “Teresa!” The man came up to me and said: “If you do not shout louder she will not hear you. Let’s both try. So: count to three, on three we shout together.” And he said: “One, two, three.” And we both yelled, “Tereeeesaaa!”

A small group of friends passing by on their way back from the theater or the café saw us calling out. They said: “Come on, we will give you a shout too.” And they joined us in the middle of the street and the first man said one two three and then everybody together shouted, “Te-reee-saaa!”

Somebody else came by and joined us; a quarter of an hour later there were a whole bunch of us, twenty almost. And every now and then somebody new came along.

Organizing ourselves to give a good shout, all at the same time, was not easy. There was always someone who began before three or who went on too long, but in the end we were managing something fairly efficient. We agreed that the “Te” should be shouted low and long, the “re” high and long, the “sa” low and short. It sounded fine. Just a squabble every now and then when someone was off.

We were beginning to get it right when somebody, who, if his voice was anything to go by, must have had a very freckled face, asked: “But are you sure she is home?”

“No,” I said.

“That is bad,” another said. “Forgotten your key, have you?”

“Actually,” I said, “I have my key.”

“So,” they asked, “why don’t you go on up?”

“I don’t live here,” I answered. “I live on the other side of town.”

“Well, then, excuse my curiosity,” the one with the freckled voice asked, “but who lives here?”

“I really wouldn’t know,” I said.

People were a bit upset about this.

“So, could you please explain,” somebody with a very toothy voice asked, “why you are down here calling out Teresa.”

“As far as I am concerned,” I said, “we can call out another name, or try somewhere else if you like.”

The others were a bit annoyed.

“I hope you were not playing a trick on us,” the freckled one asked suspiciously.

“What,” I said, resentfully, and I turned to the others for confirmation of my good faith. The others said nothing.

There was a moment of embarrassment.

“Look,” someone said good-naturedly, “why don’t we call Teresa one more time, then we go home.”

So we did it one more time. “One two three Teresa!” but it did not come out very well. Then people headed off for home, some one way, some another.

I had already turned into the square when I thought I heard a voice still calling: “Tee-reee-sa!”

Someone must have stayed on to shout. Someone stubborn.

Unsolicited Advice: “Narcissists ruin self-love for the rest of us”

Visa says that people try so hard to avoid being seen as narcissistic, which ends up in this bad situation where only narcissists advocate for themselves at all, which is not a great system for selecting who has power and influence in society. If you are a good person and want to influence the world for good, you will need to be willing to promote yourself enough to risk being seen as narcissistic.

I liked this point too. He says that most people try to avoid saying things like “I love my writing” because it’s potentially so embarrassing if you’re terrible at it, which is of course one of the struggles of becoming an adult

A guy called Patrick McKenzie says he regular sees job applicants who have left major relevant achievements off their CV because they didn’t want to seem like they were bragging.

Can one potentially overdo it? Yes. But people who are worried about being self-promotional are, in my experience, not within astronomical units of the line, and people who are over the line have not worried for a single second in their lives about whether a line exists.

I really like this suggested framing for getting over the fear of seeming arrogant:

(by ‘self-modify’ he just means change your own beliefs/worldview so you’re no longer afraid).

Thread on this

Visa is an interesting twitter user. His feed is all connected loops of threads that refer back to each other like  a mindmap that’s constantly spiralling inward. It seems like how people in the early 2000s imagined we’d be using media, all hypertext and meta-fiction. He’s probably the person maximally using the space twitter has made.

Thanks for reading!

he’s still here by the way


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