The Whippet #36: There is love even in the smallest of things

Good morning helmed honey-eaters,

I’ve been talking to a friend who lives in Perth, and is agonising about whether to move back to Melbourne or not. He has friends there. He has friends here. How do you choose?

Almost everyone reading this has probably made a choice like that at some point. It is super hard, I don’t have an answer. I used to move cities a lot, like every year or two, and it does get draining, but then I’m so glad to know a bunch of cities pretty well. I’d like to live overseas again, but the thought of leaving the people I have here is very hard. And then once you’ve been there awhile, if you want to come back, you have a whole new group of people you don’t want to leave. I know I’m saying really obvious things here: it’s just this huge big fraught part of life that I don’t quite know what to do about.

In Oscar Wilde’s The Ballad of Reading Gaol he writes:

For he who lives more lives than one
More deaths than one must die.

And I guess that’s the answer. It’s not really any more complicated than that. If you want to live more than one life (and I definitely do) then you have to accept more than one death. But it’s still hard to do.

Two more quotes I think about a lot, Bruce Springsteen and the Alcoholics Anonymous handbook:

You can’t start a fire
worrying about your little world falling apart


You don’t have a problem, you have a solution you don’t like.

Disclaimer for worried people: I'm not moving planning any drastic moves in the near future. I'm also not an alcoholic I just enjoy AA literature. Last disclaimer, Wilde was probably talking about having both a public life and a secret private life (which he got arrested for having).

The Fukang Meteorite

Ahhh it's just super pretty, you guys. It's basically shiny metal honeycombed with gemstones (specifically, peridot). It is 4.5 billion years old, and originally weighed over a tonne (or 2,200 pounds), but has since been sliced up and distributed to museums and gem traders. Fukang is the name of the place it fell - in north-west China, up near Mongolia.

You get sick from talking to sick people, not shaking their sick hands or being coughed on

So the inclination when someone has a cold or the flu is to avoid touching them, and that's not wrong, but it's a relatively minor risk compared to just breathing in the same air as them - that is, being in a 6-foot radius of them. And it's worse if they're talking, and even moreso if they're yelling.

"All the good studies for how influenza virus transmits suggests (that) you have to inhale the virus through your nose or mouth,” says John Swartzberg, clinical professor emeritus in the school of public health at the University of California at Berkeley. "There isn't much evidence at all" that the influenza virus is commonly transmitted by hand, he adds. (No, this is not a free pass to stop hand-washing, Swartzberg says.)"

"A 2013 study found that these fine droplets [from breathing] actually contain around 8.8 times more flu viruses than the coarse droplets you can see when someone sneezes." And yelling (like you might to be heard over the music in a bar) provides 50 times the number of viruses.

So how do you really avoid getting sick this season? "Avoid people who are sick," he says. "Especially kids … I call them germbags. Don't be a schoolteacher, don't be a pediatrician, don't be a grandparent."

Source: Smithsonian Mag

The forgotten Ethiopian philosophers who pre-empted the Enlightenment

Zera Yacob (1599-1692) developed a new, rationalist philosophy, founded on "the supremacy of reason, and that all humans – male and female – are created equal. He argued against slavery, critiqued all established religions and doctrines, and combined these views with a personal belief in a theistic Creator, reasoning that the world’s order makes that the most rational option."

"In short: many of the highest ideals of the later European Enlightenment had been conceived and summarised by one man, working in an Ethiopian cave from 1630 to 1632."

He was also far more tolerant of atheists and much nicer to women.

"For example, Yacob points out that the Creator in His wisdom has made blood flow monthly from the womb of women, in order for them to bear children. Thus, he concludes that the law of Moses, which states that menstruating women are impure, is against nature and the Creator, since it ‘impedes marriage and the entire life of a woman, and it spoils the law of mutual help, prevents the bringing up of children and destroys love’." (I won't put in comparisons, but Enlightenment dudes were often not heaps enlightened about ladies using their brains or having human bodies.)

It's a long article, discussing the philosophies of Yacob and Anton Amo (from what is now Ghana), and comparing them with Descartes, Kant, Locke and Hume, who came after them. But if you're interested in a broader scope on philosophy than just the Western canon, it's worth a read: The African Enlightenment.

The Blackbird: a playable violin made out of igneous rock

When Swedish artist Lars Widenfalk's grandfather's tombstone was removed to make way for a larger family tombstone, he decided to do something with the piece of rock. Diabase is a dark, dense crystalline rock - you can probably picture headstones made out of it, they're very common, and modern and shiny. Wikipedia says "each rock has a unique composition so they vibrate in different manners, producing a sound characteristic to that type of rock" but I think that's true of wood, as well.

He worked from designs by Stradivarius and the bridge is made of mammoth ivory. [Wikipedia]

The Bee Box

In this small box, my love,
you’ll not find a ring,
but instead, a brave, little bee.
He’ll be dead by morn, having given his life
defending his flowers against me.
I felt his sting
while picking the small, purple pansies
growing wild along the roadside,
in hopes of an afternoon bouquet for you.
And I grieved the sting,
more for him than me,
knowing full well the price he paid
for my small pain.
And I allowed him his victory,
leaving his flowers as a memory,
and brought you instead
this brave, little bee,
who proves there is love
even in the smallest
of things.

-- Lowell Parker (only female bees have stingers but just go with it Neil deGrasse Tyson, it's okay to feel something)


Week 10 Finalist for National Geographic's Photographer of the Year, Wanling Tang

Unsolicited Advice

How to be considerate: three factors

I was at a friend's house the other day and was struck by the fact that he's way more considerate than me. He re-filled people's water glasses without asking when they were empty, handed me a box of tissues when I sneezed - nothing huge, just a series of small, helpful gestures that I probably wouldn't do unless prompted.

The obvious element of being considerate-ness is nice-ness - wanting to make someone's day a bit easier and being willing to do it. But watching this friend, I realised there are two other elements that don't get talked about much.

2. Energy levels - I think some people's bar for standing up and doing a tiny task is just lower than others. Some people save up all their tiny tasks till they can't avoid it, then go rinse their plate, get a drink of water and recycle the junkmail all at once. Other people jump and do what needs to be done as soon as it occurs to them to do it. I think a lot of that has to do with energy levels (obviously people with chronic fatigue, or just temporary fatigue, are not gonna jump up every few seconds), but I think also some people have an irrational optimising tendency which makes it seem 'wasteful' to get up only to do one thing.

3. Situational awareness - you can't refill someone's water glass if you don't notice it's empty. Or, say, notice when someone is clearly failing to find the cupboard they need in your kitchen, so you can tell them where the sugar is stored. I think this is the big one I'm missing. I drop and break stuff moderately often, and I'm not actually that clumsy, I just don't really look where I'm putting stuff, I stack things in unstable ways because I'm not paying attention.

So yeah, being considerate is not just about having the desire to do nice things - you also need to be aware of your surroundings and picking up on people's cues, and have the energy to act on the urge to help.

If you want solicited advice, send questions to or just reply to this email.

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