The Whippet: Issue #12 - From hell’s heart I stab at thee!


My adventurous violet snails,

I want to talk about the idea of “living in a bubble”, and I’m going to have to, just fleetingly, acknowledge that contemporary politics does exist, but we won’t get into specifics.

The theory goes that if you’re left-wing, and all your friends are left-wing, and you only read the Guardian and watch ABC, you’re never exposed to the views of intelligent conservatives, only strawman versions of them, and so your opinions and viewpoints are never meaningfully challenged. I disagree with this for a lot of reasons that I won’t go into because I’ll get all het up.

The reason I want to talk about is the idea that the definition of a bubble is purely political, and if you’re not getting the viewpoint of someone who thinks a different person should be prime minister, you’re not getting exposed to anything that could change the way you think.

A lot of stuff matters that isn’t politics, a lot of ways of seeing the world come from other experiences.
Waitresses and bartenders see restaurants totally differently to customers. I mean that literally, visually: their sense of the layout is reversed, centred around the kitchen, the table numbering system, the stairs to the basement, etc.

Performers see things completely differently to punters. A comedian explained to me that when you’re doing a show, and something distracting happens (someone smashes a glass, there’s police sirens in the street), it’s crucial that you make a joke about it. It doesn’t have to be a good joke. It can be an incredibly boring cliché. But you have to acknowledge the distraction, incorporate into the event, and bring focus back to you. Otherwise the audience will be thinking about it and fidgeting.

So as an audience member, you’re thinking “that wasn’t funny, why bother saying that.” But the purpose wasn’t to make you laugh, even though it sounded like it was meant to. The purpose was to keep the energy of the whole show on track.

I’m not a performer of any kind, and I’ve learnt so much from talking to comedians, musicians etc., about some surprisingly analytical and technical aspects of stagecraft that you would never realise was done so carefully. It’s changed the way I view performances – including the “performances” of bartenders, teachers and people holding forth at parties.

And I mean – The Whippet has no Left or Right, so is it in a bubble? The life of a Trappist Monk is almost entirely different from my own, but they don’t mention supporting Trump, so somehow that doesn’t count as “getting outside your bubble”? Learning how a deaf person sees hearing culture doesn’t count? Or what it’s like to be a bodyguard for Saudi princes? Or a South African ghost miner?

What I’m saying is: narrow politics is this tiny sliver of human experience, and you can exclude it from your bubble while still talking to hundreds of different types of people and having your perspective expanded or challenged or turned on its head. And I would argue that the bubble of people who argue about the political situation in Western countries with both liberals and conservatives, but without exposure to any other kinds of thinking, is much smaller and more homogeneous than people who keep within their own political spectrum but talk to rodeo clowns and deep-sea divers and soldiers and janitors and public servants and former cult members and people with quadriplegia.

Assemblage artists of the deep!

Marine snails of the genus Xenophora collect shells, rocks, coral and other debris from their environment, and cement it to their own shells. [Xenophora = 'carrier of strangers']

"Once an object is selected, it is cleaned (as is the site of intended attachment), and then the object is rotated and fitted to the attachment site. This may take up to 1 1/2 hours. The piece is then held in place with the mollusc's foot, snout, and tentacle bases and glued into place [they make their own glue - McK]. The Xenophora may then lay motionless for up to 10 hours, only rocking in place now and then, seemingly a check on the strength of its new attachment."

"When the snail is younger and smaller, it sticks to proportionately smaller items. As it gets larger, though, it can handle bigger ones. Because mollusk shells grow in a spiral, the shell of a mature Xenophora serves as a miniature timeline of its life, with tiny souvenirs in the middle of its shell, and big ones on its outer whorls." Full article

More photos on the Zymoglyphic Museum website

The Custom of the Sea


Historical fact: (source: anecdotal not data - I read a lot of books about shipwrecks and lost people, but don't have stats)

When stranded people are starving and reduced to the point of killing each other for survival, it's relatively rare for someone to just go into a frenzy and do it. Most of the accounts I've read have involved a vote to decide whether to do it at all, and then drawing lots to decide who.

But here's the thing: The Custom of the Sea is to put TWO short straws (or equivalent) in the mix. The first determines who will be eaten, and the second determines who will do the killing. The latter has generally been considered (by survivors) as just as heavy a burden as the former. It wasn't necessarily kept a secret afterwards, and the public were generally understanding.

In plenty of accounts, the drawer of the second straw has refused to do it. The drawer of the first straw almost never refuses. This is an important thing to understand about humans.

(If you want an astoundingly well-written account of shipwreck, I can't over-recommend In the Heart of the Sea by Nathanial Philbrick, about the real-life event that inspired Moby Dick.

Nantucket in the 1800s sounds like a town from a videogame or fantasy novel


"The good citizens of [Nantucket] do not seem to pride themselves upon the regularity of their streets [or] the neatness of their sidewalks," observed a visiting Quaker. The streets were narrow and sandy, the houses were shingled and unpretentious and, as often as not, included items scavenged from ships. "H]atchways make very convenient bridges for gutters; a plank from the stern of a ship—having the name on it—answers the double purpose of making a fence—and informing the stranger if he can be at a loss—in what town he is."
[...]
"Nantucket was a town of roof dwellers. Nearly every house, its shingles painted red or left to weather into gray, had a roof-mounted platform known as a walk. While its intended use was to facilitate putting out chimney fires with buckets of sand, the walk was also an excellent place to look out to sea with a spyglass, to search for the sails of returning ships."
[...]
"Where a person lived in Nantucket depended on his station in the whaling trade. If he was a shipowner or merchant, he more than likely lived on Pleasant Street, set back on the hill, farthest from the clamour and stench of the wharves. Captains, in contrast, tended to choose the thoroughfare with the best view of the harbor: Orange Street. With a house on the east side of Orange, a captain could watch his ship being outfitted at the wharf and keep track of activity in the harbor.
[...]
There was rumored to exist a secret society of young women on the island whose members vowed to wed only men who had already killed a whale. To help these young women identify them as hunters, boatsteerers wore chockpins (small oak pins used to secure the harpoon line in the bow groove of a whaleboat) on their lapels.

(Excerpts from In the Heart of the Sea by Nathaniel Philbrick, mentioned above.)

And because the whalemen were away for three years at a time and only home for a few months in between, women had an enormous amount of independence and power, being fully responsible for managing households, trade, politicking, etc.

Nantucket Girls Song (1855)


I have made up my mind now to be a Sailor's wife,
To have a purse full of money and a very easy life,
For a clever sailor husband is so seldom at his home,
That his wife can spend the dollars with a will that's all her own,
Then I'll haste to wed a sailor, and send him off to sea,
For a life of independence is the pleasant life for me.

But every now and then I shall like to see his face,
For it always seems to me to beam with manly grace,
With his brow so nobly open, and his dark and kindly eye,
Oh my heart beats fondly towards him whenever he is nigh,
But when he says "Goodbye my love, I'm off across the sea"
First I cry for his departure, then laugh because I'm free.

Small Sea Fact #1: Dolphins

You can't tranquillise dolphins because they breathe consciously, rather than automatically. You can heavily sedate them, but if you knock them out, they stop breathing and die.

Small Sea Fact #2: Octopuses

It's extremely hard to test the (very high) intelligence of octopuses because they are just not real interested in our tests. They refuse to participate in mazes, you can't put sensors on their heads because they take them off, they unplug drains, disconnect wires, pull lab equipment into their tanks, can escape through any gap the size of their beak, figure out how to switch off lights and generally cause a massive, non-cooperative ruckus.

(Photo of sticker taken by @mcccclean in Melbourne CBD)

A strange voyage

This twitter bot keeps the record of a long, strange ocean voyage and the community who were forced to take it for mysterious reasons. I love having it in my timeline; it's a little breathing space between the hectic news and the jokes, a window into somewhere both peaceful and eerie.

Follow a strange voyage on twitter

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Unsolicited Advice

Getting interested but nervous people to try something new


I've noticed that if someone wants you to try badminton or a party game or trivia or whatever, and you tell them "I'm not good at sports/boardgames/improv" or whatever it is, 9 times out of 10 they will respond, "Nah don't worry, it's easy, you'll pick it up."

And if you insist, "No, seriously, I'm REALLY clumsy / bad at thinking on my feet" or whatever, they'll double-down: "It's basically impossible to fuck up, you'll be fine."

THIS IS THE WORST THING YOU CAN SAY TO A NERVOUS PERSON TRYING SOMETHING NEW.

The more you sell how easy it is, the stronger you're sending the message "you will look like an idiot if you fail at this. I am incapable of imagining how someone could find this difficult. They would have to be some sort of clueless baby."
The way to encourage someone is to say "yeah, you probably will fuck up, everyone does at first, it's normal."

Don't try to convince them they'll be good at it (they won't believe you). Try to convince them it's normal to be bad at it and no one will judge them for it.

(If they're not interested, the way to not be rude is to ask them with the specific context that trying it would be doing you a favour, because it would. Don't wheedle, or try to convince them they'll love it, or phrase it in any way like you are trying to do them a favour because you just know they'll love it so much if they give it a go. You're allowed to ask people favours! especially friends! but you're not allowed to act like it's for their benefit not yours.)

Send questions to me by replying to this email: thewhippet@mckinleyvalentine.com and there's a pretty good chance I'll answer them.