The Whippet: silence, snow, sleuths and celebrities

Good morning, proud lions! (MailChimp lets me autofill your names – *|PNAME|* – but it feels very bold to address you personally just because you filled in a form.)

One of the pieces below is an (emailed) interview with some monks who do the vow of silence thing. I’m constantly drawn to this idea. It feels like it would be more like a vacation than a fast – freedom from words rather than the imposition of silence. I wonder, if you stopped communicating in words, would you stop thinking in words as well? Or would you constantly be mentally composing all the bits of dialogues you couldn’t say?

I went to a silent interactive performance art party/event last year and it was both liberating and deeply discomfiting to be robbed of the ability to explain myself. I could apologise, with facial expressions or gestures, but I couldn’t give context, make clear my intentions or motivations, “here’s what I was thinking when I… here’s what I was aiming for” – which is something I do almost constantly. You just had to let your actions stand for themselves (but also, people were more forgiving, because they knew there was stuff you couldn’t say. Which is good practice for dealing with the rudeness of strangers: there’s so much context they can’t give you that might explain their actions).

The other tough part was seeing some cool thing in one part of the event – a silent drag show, a mime competition, a strawberry tasting – and then not being able to tell your friends what you’d just seen and where you’d been. You could point, and make your eyes shine – it was amazing! – but that was about it. You had to just accept that you were not capable of making yourself fully understood, and that you were not capable of fully understanding anyone else. There is a meaning here, but I cannot access it. (Again, good practice for the rest of life – it’s much easier to assume, when you’ve heard all the words, that you get what there is to be got. But you probably don’t.)

I’m trying to think of ways to make this acceptable – parties is the obvious one – but another might be something like the 40-Hour Famine, Movember or Dry July. Not everyone would do it, but people wouldn’t find it strange that you were, because it would be a Thing. You’d just gesture, and they’d get it.

Dragonfly wings "shred" bacteria

Credit:  Bonnie Taylor Barry


Dragonfly wings are covered in irregular nanospikes, which bacteria get stuck on and then tear themselves open when they try to move. Scientists are experimenting with antibacterial textiles that mimic this texture. Full article

I'm anti-crime, but I'm pro-heist


This is a cool story, don't ethics me

Image result for grimoire


"Antiquarian books worth more than £2m have been stolen by a gang who avoided a security system by abseiling into a west London warehouse.

The gang are reported to have climbed on to the building’s roof and bored holes through the reinforced glass-fibre skylights before rappelling down 40ft of rope while avoiding motion-sensor alarms.

The most valuable item in the stolen haul was a 1566 copy of Nicolaus Copernicus’s De Revolutionibus Orbium Coelestium, worth about £215,000.

Among the other books stolen were early works by Galileo, Isaac Newton, Leonardo da Vinci and a 1569 edition of Dante’s Divine Comedy.

One source familiar with the case said: “They would be impossible to sell to any reputable dealer or auction house. We’re not talking Picassos or Rembrandts or even gold bars – these books would be impossible to fence. It must be for some one specialist. There must be a collector behind it. The books belong to three different dealers working at the very top of the market and altogether they form a fantastic collection.” Full article (but honestly that's the gist of it)

How Silence Works: Emailed conversations with four Trappist monks

Credit: Daniel Tibi

"The silence does make me aware of my inner workings ... I can’t pretend that I’m always a nice guy, always patient, always calm and receptive. I have to admit that I can be abrupt, cold to offenders, or would often prefer efficiency to the messiness of other people’s moods. Silence seems to keep me from idealizing myself.

I’ve become very attuned to the sound of bird-song, the wind, water running through the pipes, identifying unseen monks by the sound of their footsteps — just paying attention to my surroundings." Full article

Reviews of celebrities on RateMyProfessors


"James seems sleepy and distracted and doesn't give feedback because he doesn't read our writing."
"I also know for a fact that he does not read the papers you hand in, he just gives you an A."
James Franco

"Defintely the former secretary of State, in the flesh."
Madeleine Albright

"Where exactly did she attend school; Does she have a degree; Or are we to assume that she is just a natural genius."
Maya Angelou

"This man does not belong in Academia. Very wierd ideas. Not recommended"
Peter Singer

The super-recognisers of Scotland Yard


How an elite police unit is catching some of London’s most prolific criminals.


“I hate using the words ‘talented’ or ‘good’ for a criminal, when they could be so many better things, like a street magician or a dextrous watchmaker,” said Porritt. “But when we watched him, it was like: ‘That’s good.’”
Extremely well-written long read

Tsugaru Railway: Japanese potbelly stove train

(click for full photoset)

Reader questions!


Peter asks: Have you ever cried during a movie?

Yes, loads, I hardly ever watch movies but when I do I am 100% on board with having my emotions cheaply manipulated. I always cry at the bits you’re sposed to cry at. You feel like you can breathe easier afterwards. And if you're really not coping, it fills up your emotional capacity with different, 'fake' emotions that are much more manageable, so there's no space left for your own unbearable ones – not a long-term solution but a useful stopgap measure.

When I really feel like crying I watch YouTube clips of What Would You Do? It's like candid camera, except instead of pranks, a homophobic waitress refuses to serve a family with two mums, or someone can’t afford to buy groceries, and then they film it to see how bystanders will respond (spoiler: HEARTWARMINGLY).

Ask me a question on literally any topic (doesn't have to be about crying) by replying to this email make sure to include how/if you want to be named/linked.

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