Butterfly Wall

When something grows, other things shrink in comparison. Sports are often an interesting discipline to investigate this simple principle and its effects. In ice hockey the relatively small size of the goal makes it effective for a goal tender to put as much of the body as possible between the puck. If the goalie is positioned in the centre of the goal there are basically five open spaces left. The 1 and 2 ‘hole’ next to the head are covered by the arms and hands, the 3-, 4- and 5-hole are covered by the legs. In the 1980’s the sport introduced better face masks and lighter and larger padding to protect the body. As a result goalies dared to experiment with body positions that blocked more of the goal. Overall the body stance lowered and involved a lot more crouching and less standing upright. And instead of a standard crouch, where one body part folds in front of another to cover space already covered, goalies extended their legs laterally to the lower corners of the net (The 3-, 4- and 5-holes). This position, known as the butterfly, still left the upper corners (the 1-and 2-holes) vulnerable. Subsequently much of this space was covered by leaving the large central padding of the torso quite loose so that when a goalie crouches the knees push the padding forward and upwards so that it acts as a kind of screen that covers the upper corners. A final vulnerability exists in the transitional moments between standing up and crouching down which led to goalies now spending most of the match in a semi-permanent crouch, removing almost all positional vulnerability. As a result, despite the fact that ice hockey is one of the fastest and most energetic team sports, it’s very difficult to score from this fast open field play.

The current scoring-strategy is to take away the goalie’s eyes. If a goalie, even in his near-perfect position, can’t see the puck, he can’t move the few necessary inches to fill the unguarded spot, so if the puck happens to be shot exactly there, it will go in. The attackers game plan currently is to rush the net with multiple offensive and defensive players, creating a chaotic jostle of multiple arms, sticks, legs, and bodies in front of the goalie, while the remaining shooters, distant from the net, will fire away hoping the goalie doesn’t see the puck. The result is that the game of ice hockey, one that allows for such speed and grace, one that essentially has so much open space, is now utterly congested. To counter this congestion people, quite predictably, have started to ask for bigger goals. However, to avoid some sort of arms race on ice, The Incredible Shrinking Man suggests embracing the logic of buddhist economics which is essentially about how to gain given ends with minimum means. In other words rather than bigger goals we suggest smaller goalies.

Read former Canadiens goaltender Ken Dryden‘s detailed article on recent developments in ice hockey HERE.

Fóxì

Tang Ping‘ or ‘Lying flat’ can be translated as a resistance to participate in the tempo and demands of current neo-liberal society by doing very little or nothing. Fóxì, or Buddha-like, is a rather more frequently used word similar to tang ping. Buddha-like youth, also sometimes referred to as as Generation Zen, reject consumerism by saying, “I have the right not to consume, I have the right not to follow the logic led by consumerism, and I have the right not to pursue the materialism advocated by consumerism.”

The term is inspired by the Buddhist guidance to achieve satisfaction by forsaking anything tied to avarice. But instead of being focused on the religious teachings, the Buddha-like mindset propagates a laissez-faire view on living. Their response is a backlash against the ruthless jobs market and the capitalist relentless focus on high salaries. Those with fóxì mindset adopt catchphrases like “anything will do”, “let it be”, “take life as it is” and the ubiquitous “Whateeeever”. The youth embrace the mentality of neither caring about achievements nor about getting evaluated by others. Escaping the rat race lifestyle, they aim to take actions that they want to do or believe are correct. When they encounter difficulties in life, a Buddha-like mentality enables the youth to experience a respite and liberates them from the concomitant pessimistic feelings.

Writing in a Chongqing University journal, Ouyang Zhao and Zhao Yangyang stated that while the Buddha-like mindset has “a certain degree of negative decadence”, people with the Buddha-like mindset are also noted for having tranquil thoughts, and “may be able to alleviate conflicts and contradictions in society and relieve the life pressure of youth groups”. Jie Yang, an anthropology professor at Simon Fraser University found the mindset to be “self-therapizing”. Comparing it to the therapy practiced in Western nations, Yang found that the Buddha-like mindset does not necessarily indicate that someone is likely to be suffering from their position. Instead, it indicates a person is “self-driven” and deliberate. While the Fóxì attitude mostly ignores a neoliberal value system, it may by default move towards another.

Japanese Miniatures: Bonkei

Our series on Japanese Miniatures investigates the specific Japanese small scale sensitivity as expressed through a love for things like bonsai, sushi, netsuke, and capsule hotels. Perhaps Japan ‘knows’ things about smallness that may help us embrace the desire for less.

A bonkei is a miniature landscape within the confines of a small shallow tray that may include both natural elements such as trees, rocks and water as well as cultural elements such as miniature homes, animals or figurines. The scenes follow a natural rhythm and particular attention is paid to the close observation of nature. In the Japanese household the bonkei is usually placed in the tokonoma where a family would usually display its valued objects such as painted scrolls, bonsai and small sculptures. Bonkei lets the viewer enter through a real landscape into an imaginary one without the imperfections in the original scene. It both miniaturises and idealises the world to provide an aesthetically pleasing small landscape for display and contemplation. Reduction is scale allows the viewer to understand the whole before knowing the parts. In his structuralist anthropological study The Savage Mind Claude Lévi-Strauss writes: ” ” To understand a real object in its totality we always tend to work from its parts. Reduction in scale reverses this situation…in the case of scale models, in contrast to what happens when we try to understand an object or living creature of real dimensions, knowledge of the whole precedes knowledge of the parts.” As such a great deal of interest concentrates on how to display the changing of the seasons, as it is believed that a landscape that does not suggest the time of year feels unnatural.

The history of bonkei is not precisely known although according to legend a gardener at the court of empress Suiko (A.D. 554-628) once created a miniature of Mount Meru, which in the Buddhist tradition is held to be the sacred center of the world. It may have been a more wide-spread custom at the time to recreate models of Mount Meru which eventually inspired the practise of bonkei as well as other forms of contemplative landscape art forms such as suiseki, saikai and bonsai.

Fry-Denial

In 2014 The Incredible Shrinking Man picked up on a story about Japanese McDonalds restaurants resorting to only selling small fries because of a frozen potato shortage. It seemed like a good idea. Now the Makudo’s or Makku’s, as they are called in Japan, are again faced with a french fry shortage. And again, as in 2014, the answer is a fry-denial policy. Medium and Large portions are momentarily of the menu. But unlike us, customers are not happy.

The shortage is the result of the fragile complexities of the global supply chain. The particular potatoes for the ‘French’ fries served in Japanese Makku’s come through the harbour of Vancouver where floods as a result of climate change interrupted regular shipment. Although analysis of the particular reasons for the shortage are interesting and worthwhile and allows us to despair or snicker at the world we’re creating, it also distracts us from the real issue.

Rather than look at the potato shortage from the perspective of the problem, we should approach it from the perspective of the solution. The problems being scarcity and complexity, the solution being smallness. Again, like in so many other situations, it is smallness that allows us to see that the problem is not so much the fact that we don’t have enough or that we should organise things differently and more efficiently, but that we need smaller appetites. Shrink the fries, shrink the problems.

VW (Think Small)

In the 1950’s, U.S. industry had firmly embraced the ideology of planned obsolescence and obsolesence of desirability to convince consumers they constantly needed to buy something new. Competing auto makers were building ever bigger and more stylised cars for growing families with baby boomer children. In this competitive climate Volkswagen introduced the relatively small and counter-fashionable VW Beetle. In 1960 they hired the Doyle Dane Bernbach ad agency to create a campaign that now is considered to be one of the most influential marketing campaigns of the 20th century. The Beetle ads stood out because of their simplicity, their conceptual approach and no-nonsense messaging. One famous print add featured a small picture of the car with the headline “Think small”, and listed the advantages of owning a small car versus owning a big car. This unique focus on smallness and simplicity in an automobile advertisement contradicted the traditional association of automobiles with luxury and status.

Another ad, “’51 ’52 ’53 ’54 ’55 ’56 ’57 ’58 ’59 ’60 ’61 Volkswagen“, showed how the car’s appearance hadn’t changed over the years. The ad reads: “If you had to decide between a car that went out of style every year or two, and a car that never did, which would it be?” The message created a sense of relief from the pressure to always have the latest. It tapped into a disconnect that the public, especially the young, was feeling as a result of being pressured to buy and consume. Those born after the Second World War saw their parents encouraged to buy and consume their way to happiness and they rejected this (to a large degree). The “Think Small” campaign was created just as this voice was starting to make its presence heard – it would be heard loudly throughout the sixties and seventies. The Volkswagen Beetle and its embodiment of simplicity and smallness became an integral part of the counter culture in America and Europe. But it also became a way to buy into another ideology. The car that presented itself as the antidote to conspicuous consumption was itself the badge product for those who fancied themselves a cut above, or at least invulnerable to, the tacky blandishments of the hidden persuaders. Paradoxically “Think small” was thinking quite big, actually, for what Volkswagen sold was nothing more lofty than conspicuously inconspicuous consumption, reconnecting the momentarily disconnected firmly back to the ideology of consuming yourself towards a ‘better’ future. And despite all its simplicity, that simply won’t do.

Tang Ping

Capitalism is driven by an inexorable logic of expansion. The profits of production are invested in more production, which requires expanding markets to consume what is made. This gives rise to the marketing industry, whose job it is to convince consumers that fulfilment lies in the accumulation of more and better things. In essence, the implicit bargain has been: Refrain from demanding fundamental political reform or challenging existing power structures and it will deliver constantly rising incomes and living standards, and thus happiness. Growth is about maintaining control. A loss of economic vitality would pose a danger to this agreement, which explains the single-minded focus on maintaining growth. But so does a population that no longer desires the material advancements on offer and has come to see that sating material needs is very limited in its ability to make us happy. For a system that is based on the notion of continuous growth and the lies embedded within its core, finding out that people are not buying into its values is highly problematic.

Tang Ping, or “Lying flat” describes a tendency of Chinese urban youths to opt out of the rat race and take unambitious, low-paying jobs or not work at all, eschewing conventional goals in favour of a minimalist, subsistence existence. The “lying flat” wave shows how similar the Chinese and western experiences are. “Lying flat is my wise movement,” a user wrote in a since-deleted post on the discussion forum Tieba, adding: “Only by lying down can humans become the measure of all things.”

Or as it is described in a song by Zhang Xinmin from Wuhan: “Working from nine to nine, six times a week 996. Your hair is falling out. Lying down is the antidote. Lying down is really good. Lying down is really marvelous. Lying down is the royal way. Lying down, you can’t be cut down… Lying down, you truly can’t be cut down. Competition’s inward spiral is a waste of energy, that wage slaves make for themselves. Lying down is the right way. Lying down is simply good, lying down is really marvelous. Lying down is the royal way. Lying down, you can’t fall down. Lying down, you can’t fall down. “Buy now, pay later” is fine at first, but you have to work twice as hard [when it’s time] to repay. Lying down is the magic weapon (is the magic weapon). Lying down is really good (is really good), lying down is really fine (really fine), Lying down is the royal way. A celebratory Lying Down Day can even save the planet. A Lying Down Day can even save the planet. Lying down is truly the royal way.

Small Amazonians

Birds are sensitive indicators of environmental change. A recent study of understory birds of the Amazon rainforest over a timespan of 40 years and 77 species shows again that most birds are adapting to the current drastic environmental changes by becoming smaller. By zooming in on non-migratory birds living in intact rainforests with limited local human presence any observed changes in morphology can be considered the result of global trends in environmental change. The decrease in body size seems to be the result of Bergmann’s rule, which states that that within a broadly distributed taxonomic clade, populations and species of larger size are found in colder environments, while populations and species of smaller size are found in warmer regions. Smaller animals have a higher surface area to volume ratio than larger animals, so they radiate more body heat per unit of mass, and therefore stay cooler in hot climates. The researchers were surprised to find that while their average weight dropped by 3 to 4%, wingspan actually increased by 2 to 3%. Although the mechanism behind this increase is poorly understood speculations are that larger wingspan may allow for more economic flight. It also increases surface area to volume ratio.

The morphological change in the Amazonians corresponds with a 40-year trend of increasingly hot and dry conditions during the rainforest’s drier season. As it turns out the research also showed that it is not so much the higher local temperatures that directly allow predictions of abundance of a species, but precipitation. More unpredictable rain patterns have led to more unpredictable availability of food and drinking water. Smaller body size, as well as greater wingspan seems to be a way to deal with unpredictability. If a species has the ability to shapeshift it has a greater chance of survival.

MCR3

According to research at the University of Cambridge the protein melanocortin receptor 3 appears to have an important role in linking signals of caloric sufficiency to the control of lineair growth of the human body. The research provides a mechanistic basis for the global secular trends toward taller human height due to higher level of caloric availability. Simply put, if people have plenty to eat they end up being taller and it is the MCR3 protein that plays a pivotal role in determining available abundance to the production of growth hormones. On the other hand, people with an altered MCR3 gene often end up shorter. Not surprisingly this is defined as a defect. Again, as so often, a deeply embedded cause and effect confusion seems to be in play where the stimulants of growth are associated with goodness while whatever stops growth is associated with something going wrong. So it is always GOOD food that leads to greater height. Alternative perspective on increased human height are very rare. We never hear about an unnecessary surplus of food leading to an unnecessary surplus in human height that makes the body more dependent on this unpredictable food surplus. Yes the reasons why people are tall may well be the current growth promoting conditions, yet the effect of these conditions, the being tall itself, is not necessarily a GOOD outcome. The Incredible Shrinking Man has linked this to the a plant growing up in a greenhouse. The conditions in the greenhouse stimulate the growth of very large plants, but is this ultimately desirable for the plant itself? What pressures and processes are at play within the organism itself? What is the relationship between external forces and intrinsic needs? What happens if conditions in the greenhouse change drastically? Although it is often claimed that tall people are healthier (another example of cause and effect confusion) this is certainly not a given. In fact short healthy people in many cases have higher life expectation. But this is not the point we want to make today.

Today we want to point out that short stature in human height related research is mostly presented as being part of the problem rather than seen in the light of the body coping with a situation. Height, although it may in certain cases be an indication of negative conditions, is itself not the condition. In fact it’s more likely a way of the individual to overcome negative effects of the condition. The adaptation of a more resilient smaller body type is part of an immune response. Much like the Dehnel phenomenon allowing animals to overcome hardships in nature, the smaller human body helps them deal with the physical consequences of non-height related challenges. The case of the altered MCR3 gene leads to later onset of puberty, as well as sarcopenia, a condition in which low lean mass, including muscle, contributes to disability in various chronic disorders. This is a serious condition that the body may try to cope with through staying smaller. Smallness is not part of the problem but part of the solution. The language used in scientific research when describing small stature should reflects this, so that we can recognise small stature as the coping mechanism that it is. Small is resilient.

Miss Heightism

If your ambition is to be Miss France there are considerable discriminating parameters. You cannot have children, you cannot be married, tattoos are forbidden and you have to be at least 170cm tall. Selection on height is outright height discrimination and an example of the flawed idea that tall people are better or more beautiful than small people.

French feminist activist group Osez le féminisme (Dare to be feminist) and three unsuccessful applicants have filed an appeal against the pageant’s parent company on the basis that Miss France contestants perform a work service and therefore should be protected from prejudice under French employment law. Discrimination against employees on the basis of gender, sexual orientation, family situation or genetic characteristics is considered unlawful in France. While the mission statement of the competition is to find “the young woman most representative of beauty and elegance,” the strict registration requirements mean contenders for the crown are limited. According to Alyssa Ahrabare, the head of Osez le féminisme, Miss France currently “has a negative and retrograde impact on the whole of society.” and “feeds stereotypes that stand in the way of equality.”

Hopefully the day in court, rather than becoming a space for further polarisation, will be appreciated by beauty contests around the world as a invitation to change their damaging views on height and beauty. Although there are some encouraging signs of changing perspectives, many beauty pageants still firmly MISS the mark and operate within a backward version of reality.

Mating Swarms

Selection on male body size is the result of four components of lifetime reproductive succes . 1. Daily mating success (how often do you get lucky). 2. Fecundity (number of offspring per mating). 3. Stamina (time remained within a situation of possible mating). 4. Longevity. It is commonly presumed that larger males are favoured by sexual selection and therefor have a greater contribution to the gene pool of future generations. However, if body size is a stable trait as we see in many animal species then advantages for large size in lifetime reproductive success must be balanced by advantages for shorter size. If not, body size would continue to increase indefinitely, and in most species it doesn’t. A 1992 paper by the University of Newcastle on the stabilising mechanisms in male body size of midges shows that one of the forces keeping them positively small is that small males have greater success at mating.

This is how it works: Aerial mating swarms of nonbiting male midges (Chironomus plumosus) form at dusk and attract females from the surrounding vegetation. Females fly into the dancing swarm and are grasped by a male. The pair then leaves the swarm and mates. Swarms vary greatly in size and an individual’s probability of mating is greatest in the smallest swarms since there is less competition. On the other hand, being part of a smaller swarm increases an individual’s risk of predation. You have a bigger chance to be eaten, but an even bigger chance to not be eaten and have sex. As it turns out, small males have developed a preference for participating in smaller swarms.

In the case of Chironomus plumosus only the first component of lifetime reproductive success, daily mating success, favours the small. However as we’ve seen in many other species, stamina (the red-eyed tree frog) and longevity (the supercentenarians) often also favour the small. And as far as people are concerned when it comes to fecundity, having less offspring, for the time being, sounds like a better idea anyway.