Whale Penises, Art, and Perfect Security


The Loch Ness Monster is an ancient sea serpent that allegedly lives in a lake in the Scottish Highlands. Hopefully, I'm not breaking news when I tell you that it doesn't exist.

But then we have an obvious question: what exactly is in that Scottish lake that people have mistaken for a sea serpent for the last century?

The favorite answer of TikTok and the internet generally: it's actually a whale's penis. Here's a photo in case you want to see the similarity for yourself. Fair warning that it's not a pleasant image.

It looks pretty plausible!

Unfortunately, Snopes looked into it and debunked this very funny origin story. Apparently, the Loch Ness Monster is based on a photo that was faked by a guy named Robert Wilson. That grainy black and white photo is actually just a toy submarine.

But here's the crazy part: Snopes also confirmed that many sea monster sightings in the past actually were whale penises!

They found multiple references in the historical literature dating back to the 1700s of "sea serpent" sightings by sailors that more than likely where actually just whale genitals.

One particularly funny story came from a sailor who claimed to watch a sea serpent viciously attack another whale. In hindsight, he was in a whale breeding area and it's pretty clear that he was just a Peeping Tom to a couple of consenting whale adults having a good time.

I'm not sure if this whole story shows that people will believe anything, or that people don't believe enough wild things. But it was so strange that I couldn't help but share it.


For the past decade or two, the perceived value of the creative arts (and liberal arts generally) has fallen dramatically. Why don't we just replace all those wasted classroom hours with STEM classes instead?

As an art curator and liberal arts guy myself, I have pretty strong feelings that the arts are essential. But I'm not half as eloquent as Ethan Hawke, who put it perfectly:

"Do you think human creativity matters? Well, hmm. Most people don’t spend a lot of time thinking about poetry. Right?

They have a life to live, and they’re not really that concerned with Allen Ginsberg’s poems or anybody’s poems.

Until their father dies, they go to a funeral, you lose a child, somebody breaks your heart, they don’t love you anymore, and all of a sudden, you’re desperate for making sense out of this life, and, “Has anybody ever felt this bad before? How did they come out of this cloud?”

Or the inverse — something great. You meet somebody and your heart explodes. You love them so much, you can’t even see straight. You know, you’re dizzy. “Did anybody feel like this before? What is happening to me?”

And that’s when art’s not a luxury, it’s actually sustenance. We need it."

In other words: art is what sustains us when we're feeling either really shit or really great. It's what creates a connection to others around us, which is all we really want when we're really feeling something. Long live the arts!


For about 70 years, starting in the late 1700s, humanity lived in a blissful era of perfect security.

Before that time, locks were basic and bad and easily picked. You couldn't keep your money, documents, or self completely safe.

Then Joseph Bramah came along. He took the normal tumbler lock of the day and added a layer of complications between the key and the bolt mechanism, making an "unpickable" lock.

Bramah was a showman, and wanted to publicize this innovation. So rather than keep the inner workings of his new lock techniques a secret, he openly published the designs. Jeremiah Chubb saw the designs and added in a "regulator" mechanism that would freeze the lock if someone even tried to pick it.

Apparently all lock-inventors are showmen - Chubb then created an outrageous challenge with the help of the English government. He found an expert lockpick serving a life sentence in jail. He then got the government to offer the expert a full pardon if he was able to break Chubb's lock. It seems like governments were a lot more fun a few hundred years ago. Anyway, despite months of effort, the criminal was unable to break the lock and remained in jail.

Unfortunately, this penchant for publicity would be the ruin of these egotistical lock-makers. In 1851, an American locksmith named Alfred Charles Hobbs went to the Great Exhibition of London. He had one purpose: break the unbreakable locks.

And he did! It took him 50 hours across two weeks, but he eventually figured out a way to use the "regulator" mechanism against itself to open the lock.

He took home not only the prize money, but also a place in history as the man who ended mankind's brief period of perfect security. Ever since, no precious items have been completely and utterly safe.

"We don't learn from experience. We learn from reflecting on experience." - John Dewey