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The Whippet #135: “That’s not very sentinel chicken of you”

McKinley Valentine — 7 min read

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So, I have never got as many replies to The Whippet as I did to the last issue, and it is not something I expected to draw so much attention! Turned out to be the ultimate clickbait!

A lot of you emailed to tell me that ‘gauche’ means ‘left’ in French. (Prize for elegant density goes to T— D——* with “Gauche is also French for Left, which, as a southpaw myself, I’ve always thought a bit sinister.”)

Like all newsletter feedback, it is impossible to know what to do differently in response to this:

  • I should have included it, because clearly a lot of people find it interesting
  • I should not have included it, because clearly a lot of people already know it

(No one actually asked me to do anything differently but I like to improve if I can.)

Anyway, I’m putting it in this intro for those who didn’t know and might be interested.

Please continue reading for a variety of facts that have been included and facts that have been left out, thus hopefully meeting everybody’s needs.

* The problem with writing these at the last minute is that it’s always too late for me to email people and ask if they want to be named or not. [Explanation: sinister is Latin etc. for left, southpaw is boxing for left, left is English for left]

Literature Clock

It’s a website that tells you the time via a sentence from a book in which that time is written:

Literature Clock website (it’s very addictive, please come back)

The site is made by Johs Enevoldsen, based off a project done by The Guardian for the Edinburgh International Book Festival, which was then taken by Jaap Meijers, who filled in a lot of the missing times and wired up an e-reader so it was an actual clock:

Literary Clock Made From E-reader

(Instructions for how to do that here.)

It’s less accurate in the middle of the night, because there are more missing minutes — when that happens, Meijers fills it in with vaguer quotes like “it was nearly four in the morning”, or lets the previous minute stay on a while.

…I can’t stop checking the time.

Australia’s sentinel chickens stood down after 50 years

Flocks of chickens along the banks of the Murray River [border between Victoria and New South Wales] are… well… they don’t so much stand guard as get put in the firing line of mosquito-born diseases like West Nile Virus and Ross River Fever. And then scientists test the chickens, and then we have an early warning system for diseases drifting south.

But now scientists have developed a way to test mosquitos directly, so the chickens are being re-homed. Apparently they make chill pets because they’re used to being picked up all the time for blood tests. (Two of the nine flocks are tested each week, so each individual chook is not getting too many blood tests. It was described as a ‘wing prick’ like people with diabetes use to test their glucose — apart from that they had good lives. I know you worry.) [via ABC]

Retired sentinel chickens Henny Penny, Chickaletta and Tude

Did you know there are way more kinds of discharge than just Honourable/Dishonourable? I did not!

Probably skip this section if you did know, there aren’t gonna be a tonne of surprises here for you.

Obviously it’s gonna be different in every country and service so don’t @me — for example, in the UK you can be “dismissed with disgrace” — but roughly speaking, from best to worst:

Honourable Discharge
You’re great, we love you, you’re a credit to the force, come back any time. You’ve been an outstanding sentinel chicken.

Discharge Under Honourable Circumstances
You didn’t do any crimes but ehhh you were not so good, a bit useless or a bad fit. I think the white collar equivalent is: You weren’t fired, but they’re not gonna renew your contract.

Other Than Honourable Discharge
This is you actually being fired, white-collar jobwise. You’re fired and you might well have broken the law, but they’re not bringing the police into it.

“Security violations, trouble with civilian authorities, assault, drug possession or various degrees of drug violations or other problems could all potentially motivate an Other Than Honorable Discharge”.

[I just remembered in some places you can be fired “at will” i.e. just because the boss doesn’t like your dress sense or thinks you have bad vibes. I don’t mean that kind of firing]

Bad Conduct Charge
This is the level at which you’re getting court martialled and probably prison time.

Dishonourable Discharge
We’re finally there! So, given how serious Other Than Honourable and Bad Conduct discharges are, that Dishonourable Discharge is a way bigger deal than I’d realised.

From films and Catch 22 and so on, I thought there were only two kinds of discharge, and you got a dishonourable one if you left the military for any other reason than serving out your time.

But no, it’s only for things like murder and being an enemy spy ...and desertion, which sounds very “one of these things is not like the other” to a civilian ear. I mean, desertion basically consists of “not being in the army”, a thing I am doing even as we speak.

Re: desertion
In reading about this I found out that, in World War 1, Australia had a higher rate of desertion than any other force on the Western Front *proud tear*

[For the sake of completion, there’s also medical discharge, “Reduction in Force” discharge (redundancy) and some other obviously neutral ones]


The Hungry Tiger, from a Wizard of Oz sequel

Frank L. Baum wrote a tonne of follow-up books to the Wizard of Oz, and one of them has this scene in it, which for some reason I have been thinking about semi-regularly for the last ten years:

[Cowardly Lion talking]: “Let me introduce to you a new friend of mine, the Hungry Tiger.”

“Oh! Are you hungry?” Dorothy asked, turning to the other beast, who was just then yawning so widely that he displayed two rows of terrible teeth and a mouth big enough to startle anyone.

“Dreadfully hungry,” answered the Tiger, snapping his jaws together with a fierce click.

“Then why don’t you eat something?” she asked.

“It’s no use,” said the Tiger sadly. “I’ve tried that, but I always get hungry again.”

“Why, it is the same with me,” said Dorothy. “Yet I keep on eating.”

“But you eat harmless things, so it doesn’t matter,” replied the Tiger. “For my part, I’m a savage beast, and have an appetite for all sorts of poor little living creatures, from a chipmunk to fat babies.

“How dreadful!” said Dorothy.

“Isn’t it, though?” returned the Hungry Tiger, licking his lips with his long red tongue. “Fat babies! Don't they sound delicious? But I’ve never eaten any, because my conscience tells me it is wrong. If I had no conscience I would probably eat the babies and then get hungry again, which would mean that I had sacrificed the poor babies for nothing. No; hungry I was born, and hungry I shall die. But I’ll not have any cruel deeds on my conscience to be sorry for.”

— Frank L. Baum, Ozma of Oz

I mean, he does make them sound pretty good.

“Vulnerability hangover”

This is just a term I heard that perfectly, perfectly captures an experience I haven’t had a shorthand for before. It’s the jolt of fear/shame/angst that you get when you do something that exposes yourself a little — which can be anything from telling a loved one a long-hidden secret, to tweeting something very slightly more honest than usual.

I used to get it every single Thursday after I publish The Whippet, like clockwork. You might not think it’s that personal or revealing, but it’s me saying “hey, I think this is worth your time” and welp, that was enough to make me feel exposed.

I heard the term on Tim Clare’s Death of 1000 Cuts, which is a podcast about writing craft for anxious people (great but not tightly edited, so you have to be unbothered by digressions) but apparently it’s a Brene Brown thing.

Anyway, I found it really valuable to have this term for it, which reminds you just saying it that it’s just one of those things that happens after you do anything revealing or put yourself forward just an inch. You feel vulnerable and exposed for a while — but it doesn’t really mean anything, it’s just an unpleasant side-effect.

Thank you for reading!

Asking for money would make you feel vulnerable, you would think, but I guess it’s habit now and feels normal? I hope that hasn’t done any harm to my psychological development and also hope you will consider supporting The Whippet by becoming a paying subscriber!

Subscribe now

He got his own spin-off

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