No Complaints #54: Goats, Guillotines and Gretchen

Welcome to new readers (of whom there are an astonishingly large number, thanks to this great list by Bim Adewunmi – you should sign up to all the other letters on there stat) and welcome back to the stalwarts who have been making space for me in their inboxes for over a year now.

A few housekeeping reminders: the newsletter’s website, if you want to bookmark or share an edition more easily, is nocomplaints.email; you can just hit reply to any edition if you want to talk to me, but I might have already answered your question here; and if you’d like to put a few quid towards the cost of hosting the website, you can do that here.

Now to the important stuff.

Things to read

“First-generation children, particularly nonwhite ones, particularly ones who come from regions where giving anglicised names are not tradition, end up defined by their peculiar monikers. The process of explaining, correcting, spelling, slowing down and spelling again – all of that ends up ingrained in whatever identity you carve out. So many parts of my person, namely my immediate jump to tell you how wrong you are and my inability to enjoy almost anything, feels inextricable from my dumb name.”

What happens when you find out that even you have been saying your name wrong. Email to Pocket.

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“It starts as a feelgood movie, all donkeys and palm leaves and cheering crowds. Reform in the air. Mr Christ Goes to Jerusalem. Oh-oh, it’s slipped into a dark thriller, with a double agent and a night-time arrest. Now it’s plunged from courtroom drama into torture porn. The sinister villains – basically the Conservative frontbench in togas – have, with the help of a rightwing media, transformed all those Palm Sunday hippies into heartless, bloodthirsty bastards. We watch the horrific, protracted, cinematic death of Our Hero. Bosh. Nice one, Quentin Tarantino. Fifty minutes too long, as usual. Let’s slip out before the credits and oh, WHAT NOW? Magical realism, really? He’s come back to life? But … oh, NOW the credits? What?”

I know we’re supposed to feel ostentatiously miserable during Lent, but for long time I’ve quietly considered it one of my favourite times of year – the music is incredible, the weather is better at the end than at the start, and I rarely have to explain to people why I’m not drinking alcohol. Email to Pocket.

 

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“For cats, Eppink explained, there is an overarching philosophy that dictates their popularity online: it’s not so much about the cats as it is about us. Online, a cat doesn’t just stand for a cat. It stands for being a savvy internet user. That theory works to explain the rising popularity of goats, too. On the internet, goats aren’t just goats anymore. They are the symbols of a new, more diverse internet. Sharing a goat video is a nod to being in the know, to recognising that we are living on the post-Cat web, a place where goats, chickens and llamas can go viral, too.

Why goats are the internet’s new cats. Email to Pocket.

 

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“In politics, it’s really not just a matter of ushering in a neologism for the pure joy of seeing language change. You also have to somehow make people want to own and use these new terms. In the political realm, the most successful terms are often noun phrases composed of common words instead of newly coined words. The new terms and nuances being introduced are calculated to frame and control the narrative that’s being told, to deflect opposition and obscure information, to bring up positive or negative images – ultimately to further a political agenda.”

Marco Rubio has a much better chance than Gretchen Wieners of making fetch happen. Email to Pocket.

 

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“In the early 1780s, Lavoisier developed a triple-walled metal cannister large enough to house a guinea pig. Inside the walls was a layer of ice. Lavoisier knew how much energy was required to melt ice, so he could estimate the heat the animal emitted by measuring the amount of water that dripped from the canister. What Lavoisier didn’t realise – and never had time to find out; he was put to the guillotine during the Revolution – was that measuring the heat emitted by his guinea pigs was a way to estimate the amount of energy they had extracted from the food they were digesting.”

Unsurprisingly, a system for measuring the energy content of food that has its roots in a centuries-old experiment with a guinea pig isn’t really working anymore. Email to Pocket.

Things to listen to

I resisted listening to Women of the Hour for a long time. I don’t really know why, given that I am generally first in the queue for new internet ventures done by and for women – something about its branding, celebrity line-up and general vibe felt off to me. Months later, reassured by an extremely pod-knowledgeable friend that it was the opposite of unbearable, I gave it a go. And it is delightful.

The whole first season is produced to an incredibly high standard – all credit to the women of Buzzfeed Audio for making something that isn’t trying to be radio, but which still sounds better than most of what gets on the scheduled airwaves. Lena Dunham is a chatty, companionable host, using her platform to give space to other, fascinating women. The music is beautiful. The bonus episodes are actually good, not just offcuts that weren’t quite worth including in a full show. And most importantly for me, it is innovative with the podcast format – like the first episode is punctuated by Lena and Ashley Ford reading their emails to each other, or Zadie Smith’s “productivity tips” that are actually an audio essay on how be alive and not unhappy.

I want more.

Things to watch

My ramen-loving mind was blown.

Birds are incredible.

Birds are also really scary.

Compulsory medieval thingamabob

Bet you missed this.

The guest gif

Me, back on the internet after two weeks away.

THE END. See you next time*!
*Next time will probably be next Friday. If you want to suggest things I should include in the next one of these, please do reply and send me links.