The Case Against “Busy”

Writer Tim Krieder offers a bracing and insightful rebuttal to the idea that we should measure our lives by how busy and productive we are:

My own resolute idleness has mostly been a luxury rather than a virtue, but I did make a conscious decision, a long time ago, to choose time over money, since I’ve always understood that the best investment of my limited time on earth was to spend it with people I love.

Naturally, as a person who has long valued time over money, he is singing my favorite hymn. But I am convinced that changing the way we value time and money (and how we spend our time; I prefer outdoors, with people, away from the electronic assault), is the key to reinventing not only how we live and seek happiness, but how human culture impacts the Earth. The current formula–work, earn, consume–is a disaster for the planet and doesn’t deliver happiness. A different approach that values time over money, nature and outdoor activity over manufactured entertainment, and personal relationships over consumption, I think, would go a long way toward bringing humanity into balance with the planet. Throw in an emphasis on compassion, tolerance, and selflessness, and you start to imagine a wholly different, and wholly more appealing, future.

How’s America Doing?

Not so great, according to the World Economic Forum:

So says the forum’s new Human Capital Index, which rates the United States 16th globally in how well it harnesses the power of its people. The nation gets good scores for education and opportunity. But the disappointing overall outcome is because of things like “non-communicable diseases.”

Before you holler “gross” and click elsewhere, these are non-communicable ailments – things like obesity, diabetes and heart disease. The United States ranks 112th out of 122, for example, on the obesity scale, and similarly low when it comes to stress. The overall “Health and Wellness” score places the United States 43rd out of the countries studied, with a particularly poor rating for the “business impact” of disease overall (including the communicable type, where we are 65th…gross!).

Sorta at odds with our “greatest country in the world” self-image. Reminds me of this:

Animals And Spying

Fascinating piece by Tom Vanderbilt about how the CIA trained all sorts of animals to help in the Spy vs. Spy Cold War games. BF Skinner wasn’t just useful for training orcas:

While Pavlov plays a part in our story—“I have a saying in the training business,” Bailey says, “Pavlov is always on your shoulder”—the real inspiration is B.F. Skinner, the Harvard University psychologist who was, in the middle of the 20th century, the most cited scholar of the human mind after Freud. Skinner popularized “operant conditioning,” a practice based less on primal reflex responses and more on getting animals (including humans) to do things voluntarily, based on cues in the environment. When “behavior is followed by a consequence,” Skinner wrote, “the nature of the consequence modifies the organism’s tendency to repeat the behavior in the future.” In his famous operant-conditioning chamber, or “box,” an animal learns to associate an action with a reward. He favored pigeons, which received food for pecking at certain buttons.

During World War II, Skinner received defense funding to research a pigeon-based homing device for missiles. (The birds would be housed in the nose cone; their pecking would activate steering engines.) It was never deployed, but the project captured the imagination of two of his graduate students, Keller Breland and his wife, Marian. They left Skinner’s lab in 1947 and went into business in Minnesota as Animal Behavior Enterprises, or ABE. Their main client was General Mills, for whom they trained chickens and other animals for shows advertising General Mills feed at county fairs.

Their business gradually expanded, to zoos and theme parks and appearances on “The Tonight Show” and “Wild Kingdom.” They trained a slew of animals for TV commercials, including Buck Bunny, the coin-depositing rabbit protagonist of a Coast Federal Savings Bank commercial that set a record for repeat airings over two decades. In 1955, in their new home of Hot Springs, Arkansas, the Brelands opened the I.Q. Zoo, where visitors would pay, in essence, to watch Skinnerian conditioning in action—even if in the form of basketball-playing raccoons.

The I.Q. Zoo was both a tourist attraction and a proving ground for systems of operant conditioning. The Brelands didn’t just become America’s pre-eminent commercial animal trainers, they also published their observations in scholarly journals like American Psychologist. Everyone from Walt Disney to Florida’s Marineland wanted their advice. It is thus little surprise that they were invited to the Naval Air Weapons Station at China Lake, California, to address a new Navy program on the training of marine mammals for defense work, headed by Bob Bailey. The fact that China Lake, on the western edge of the Mojave Desert, has neither water nor marine mammals is the sort of detail that does not seem out of place in a story like this.

It’s an interesting window into the gain-any-advantage-possible-no-matter-how-nutty mindset that prevailed in a world that seemed always to be on the precipice. I doubt the NSA, in an age where it seems capable of spying on just about everyone and anything, these days feels much need for animal operatives.

A Comic’s Take On Killer Whale Training

Comedian Doug Stanhope pulls no punches….at all. You’ll cringe at points, especially in his treatment of Dawn Brancheau, but boy does he nail it.

(h/t Jordan Waltz)

Good Deed Of The Day: Diver Cuts Whale Loose

Not exactly clear when this happened (and right whales should be up north now), but a diver off the coast of Virginia manages to cut some fishing gear free as an entangled right whale swims by

It could have gone very badly wrong if the gear had entangled the diver, too, and the whale had sounded. So kudos to the diver.

The Man Who Fell To Earth

This is awesome, if you haven’t seen it yet.

Commander Chris Hadfield–who has single-handedly restored America’s romance with space exploration–taps into his inner Bowie as he gets ready to depart the international space station. If this guy can make orbiting the Earth so interesting, imagine what he could do if we sent him to Mars.

Fact: that is his real voice.

Earthist Music: Shark Fin Blues

How about a shark-revenge fantasy, courtesy of The Drones? Raw, angry, and mournful, with a touch of Lou Reed.

Perfect for a Friday sign-off. So crank it to 11.

Well you are all my brothers, and you have been kind 
But what were you expecting to find? 
Now your eyes turn inwards, countenance turns blank 
And I’m floating away on a barrel of pain 
It looks like nothing but the sea and sky remain 

I sing na na nana nananana na 
Na na nana nananana na 

A harpoon’s shaft is short and wide 
A grappling hook’s is cracked and dry 
I said, why don’t you get down in the sea 
Turn the water red like you want to be? 

Cause if I cry another tear I’ll be turned to dust 
No the sharks won’t get me they don’t feel loss 
Just keep one eye on the horizon man, you best not blink 
They’re coming fin by fin until the whole boat sinks 

Fin by fin 
Fin by fin 
Fin by fin by fin by fin

(Full lyrics here).

Moment Of Zen: False Killer Whales

Screen Shot 2013-05-02 at 1.53.40 PM


Via NatGeo:


Whales on the Move

Photograph by Mazdak Radjainia, Reuters

A pod of false killer whales (Pseudorca crassidens)—a rare species related more to dolphins than true killer whales, or orcas—swim off the coast of New Zealand on April 13.

False killer whales swim in the open ocean and often socialize with bottlenose dolphins. Orcas, however, are not so friendly. They have been seen attacking their false counterparts.

%d bloggers like this: