The Whippet #47: It's always 3am somewhere


Good morning!

Last week I spoke to the current crop of students taking the Professional Writing & Editing course I took x years ago; it was a lot of fun to be presented as a Success Story but still be able to say "here is all the ways in which I could improve, so don't stress if you also do not have everything totally together, you are still allowed to do this." I got really excited and showed them The Whippet (as well as talking about more rent-paying copywriting/editing work, I'm not a psychopath) because I think we're living in the Golden Age of the Newsletter.

The blog is more or less dead, Facebook killed it (instead of going to funnywriter.blogspot.com you just see links to individual articles social media - there's no loyalty to a particular voice or writer, and most of the great ones have died off, Vale The Toast).

But newsletters give back what social media took, and they don't really have any way to mediate the interaction. Rebel newsletters! I subscribe to so many - Book Riot, BookSlut (actually about tarot), Jack Druce, Future Crunch, Farnham St, Hughsletter, Austin Kleon, Charles Chu, Corina Dross, the delightful new Small Town Grievances - and I love that they come via my inbox and have personality.

It reminds me of the time when we all sent long, proper emails to each other - often copy-pasting the same central chunk to each friend - around 2002?

And what I'm saying is: start your own newsletter. It doesn't have to be regular (it could be twice one year, three times the next) or take nearly as long as The Whippet takes, it doesn't have to be trying to reach a big audience - it's just a good way to connect with people.

Unless you're one of those people with 500 unread emails, then it is probably a bad way to connect to you.

I use MailChimp, TinyLetter is very good if you're just sending a straightforward letter (without images etc). Both are free if you're under 2000 and 5000 subscribers respectively.

Also, I'd love to see fictional in-world newspapers (the equivalent of Welcome to Night Vale but any setting, etc etc). Get on it so I can subscribe!

exfiltrate

I just learned this word and it's great - meaning the opposite of infiltrate, to withdraw covertly. Also, it's a non-sketchy alternative to 'the [ethnic] goodbye'. (I'm not censoring that, it's just that I've heard it used with half a dozen different ethnicities.)

It's always 3am somewhere

"I love listening to radio, but sometimes I don’t want to listen to a particular station, genre, or category. Sometimes I want to listen to a time of day.

"Which is, of course, entirely possible thanks to the rise of online streaming at the expense of older analogue broadcast methods. If I am feeling afternoony in the morning, I can leave the world that is “governed by time” and join whichever community of radio listeners—in Mumbai, Perth, or Hong Kong—is currently experiencing three P.M. The optimism of a morning show somewhere to my west offers a fresh beginning to a day that’s become lousy by midafternoon, whereas the broadcasts of early evening, burbling across the towns and cities to my east, can turn my morning shower into a kind of short-haul time machine past those hours in which I’m expected to be productive. But for the loosest and strangest of broadcast atmospheres, I am drawn most often to the dead of night, to the so-called graveyard shift." Full article

I know podcasts don't care about time, but there's something about very late night talk radio that's a bit magical. Make pancakes and black coffee and pretend you're at a truckstop.

See also: Global Breakfast Radio for a streaming station where it's always 9am.

Conspiracy walls

I love a good conspiracy wall, or even a mediocre one, and so I'm so delighted there's now a tumblr dedicated to them.

I have an unrealised dream of making one for my home as piece of art. EVERYTHING IS CONNECTED. But I'm too lazy.

I do have a pamphlet with the title "What would you do if you were accused of a crime you didn't commit?" It was the running sheet for a forensic psychology lecture I went to a few years back, but I like to keep it around so houseguests won't get too comfortable.

You can generate your own conspiracy wall here, it's pretty great. I reactivated my facebook account just to use it, so I mean.

Sloth moths

A sloth is an ecosystem!

Sloths have a symbiotic relationship with the algae that grows on them and gives them protective camouflage. Also, they eat it - the algae is more nutritious than the leaves which is the only other food going for a sloth. The sloth moths (which have no other habitat) feed on the sloth's skin secretions. When they die, they decompose in the sloth's fur and provide nutrients to the algae.

Once a week, sloths make their way down to the forest floor to poop - this was kind of a mystery because it's risky and they don't need to. It turns out that at this time, female sloth moths lay their eggs in the sloth's dung; once the larvae have grown into adult moths, they fly back up to the canopy to find a host sloth.

So they do it (whether they know it or not) to keep their algae farm fertilised. [full article]

Satirical algorithm: the best joke of 2016

From Slate's megathread, The Best Jokes of 2016. Also a good example of how the idea art can't be explained, only experienced, is some nonsense. Explain me that art!

"If you talked to anyone in the last year who hopes to make some money in tech, you probably heard the term “machine learning.” It refers to the subfield of computer science in which programmers teach machines to recognize patterns independently, including patterns of human behavior. Those patterns can then be fed to algorithms that set the price of an Uber, the interest rate on a mortgage, or the length of a jail sentence.

This summer, with Dada flair, the digital artist Sam Lavigne made the worst possible machine-learning-powered algorithm and used it on himself. Lavigne “trained” an algorithm to recognize two—and only two—possible brain states: thinking about death and shopping online. Lavigne then went to bed wearing the EEG and let it execute his desires. Whenever the program recognized a “shopping” brain state, it put a random item in Lavigne’s Amazon shopping cart. After a few nights, the cart was filled with used guitars, crappy toys, and clothing for all genders and sizes of people. He filmed the whole thing.

Lavigne’s piece is an act of satire, and its brilliance has several facets. First, it is always satisfying to see a complicated and pointless machine, like those imagined and built by Rube Goldberg and Jean Tinguely. Second, the piece clearly demonstrates that, though an engineer can teach a machine to sort empirical data into categories, nothing guarantees that those categories will be remotely appropriate. The categories Lavigne chose (thinking about death and shopping) are woefully insufficient, reflecting not the versatility of an actual brain but the monotony of a capitalist dystopia. Third, the program does intentionally what a bad algorithm does unintentionally: It shapes reality to meet its assumptions. When Lavigne is sleeping, he is manifestly not shopping—but because his brain looks like it once did when he was shopping, the program makes him shop.

This delusional, obsequious machine—a robot clown—was my favorite joke of 2016."
Kahn

An anti-consumerism mantra to steal from Jeff Goldblum

Solicited Advice

"How can I become a better person when I feel a callous disregard and apathy all the time, like a sinkhole lurking in the background?"


I've drastically cut the Advice Solicitor's question, but they also mention a 'brainwashed' Christian upbringing that's twisted their emotional reactions to things all around, so their conscience is not operating properly, they feel guilty for things they shouldn't, etc etc.

There's a scene in Huckleberry Finn where he feels huge pangs of conscience because he's helped his guardian's slave, Jim, to escape, even though she's been nothing but kind to him. Mark Twain described it as "a book of mine where a sound heart and a deformed conscience come into collision and conscience suffers defeat."

Basically I think your conscience - whether you feel bad - can be useful, but it's often shaped by your upbringing and dead wrong. For a start, most people's only work well face to face, and are useless for preventing us from doing harm to the environment, sweatshop workers, online strangers, etc etc. It's a child's guide to ethical behaviour. As adults we need to think further and deeper about what right actions are. So: you ended up with a defective child's ethics guide, but now that you're an adult, it doesn't really matter that it doesn't work properly.

I also don't think you're actually apathetic because you wrote to me. You might not feel the emotion of caring about being a good person, but intellectually you must have because you took the time to write to me. I would argue that, especially when it comes to ethics, decisions and concrete steps are a more valid form of caring than experiencing an emotion towards something.

On that note: I also think the feeling that you ... have callous disregard... might also be just an emotional state rather than a truth about yourself. A common OCD symptom is believing that you, yourself, have bad intentions and are going to cheat/lie/steal/hurt. I'm not saying you have OCD, but these things are on a spectrum. Having intrusive thoughts about not being a good person are a common brain blip and they don't necessarily mean anything (they are bad mostly just because they cause you distress).

You also might just be someone who doesn't feel as intensely as some other people. I know I don't! There's been a bit of a backlash against stiff-upper-lipism, where everyone (and especially women) has been talking really openly and honestly about the intensity of their emotions, anger, tears, etc - which I agree they should not have to press down and pretend aren't real for fear of being called 'too emotional'. But it's a bit alienating when you are like... ahh I do not feel anything as strongly as that! Sometimes emotionally intense people seem like a thin cover over an abyss of emotions and I get vertigo thinking about them.

Or you could have depression, that often causes flat emotions rather than sadness. I'm not equipped to advise on that, but it's a possibility.

In conclusion I think this is a case for... feeling or not feeling whatever you feel, and just getting on with the job of trying to be a good person through theoretical and intellectual means. I recommend Bertrand Russell's Why I Am Not a Christian and Other Essays. Not because of the atheism essay, that just happens to be the title of the book, but because his ethics give a framework for figuring out ethical behaviour that's based on logic. Your logical faculties seem to be working well, so use them! It's nice to not have to rely on a patchy and misdirected conscience, but to have a really sound and solid framework for making decisions. Also he's a great writer which is notttt that common among the great philosophers.

And view the apathy/disregard as a pesky fly that can't actually get in the way of your decisions, but is going to annoy you a bunch of the time. Getting rid of the pesky fly is something therapy is good for, but I've left off recommending it mostly because I'm sure you're aware of their existence and the services they perform.

Lastly, I am prescribing this poem by Tom Clarke:

If you want solicited advice, send questions to thewhippet@mckinleyvalentine.com or just reply to this email.

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