‘The Bonobos I Work With’

Female Bonobo

Female Bonobo (Photo credit: Princess Stand in the Rain)

If you’re worried that the bonobos I work with are spending too much time staring at computer screens, rest assured: They have plenty of opportunity for more natural interactions and for just goofing around.

via Apes With Apps – IEEE Spectrum.

Yes. I know.

Let’s go over that again.

“If you’re worried,” begins Ken Schweller of the Bonobo Hope Great Ape Trust Sanctuary, which I assure you is not a made-up thing, “that the bonobos I work with” — he’s presumably talking here about actual monkeys, not his human co-workers — “are spending too much time staring at computer screens,” — I tell you honestly I did not even imagine bonobos had computers — “rest assured:” — this is a phrase that should arouse suspicion in everyone every time they hear it — “They have plenty of opportunity for more natural interactions” — this seems like a euphemism for something unseemly, if not scatological — “and for just goofing around” — ditto.

In all seriousness, what Schweller is explaining is the cutting edge in primate research. As he writes, “the wide availability of touch screens, tablet computers, digital recording, and wireless networking is giving researchers the world over powerful new ways to study and unambiguously document ape communication.”

His “Apes With Apps” article is full of surprises, like this, which is both interesting and heartbreaking:

For two years, nobody suspected that Kanzi was paying even the slightest attention to the lexigram training, although he clearly liked the lights on the keyboard and the blinking projections above. It was only when Matata was taken away for a few weeks for breeding that researchers discovered how much Kanzi had picked up. After searching in vain for his mother, he spontaneously began using her keyboard to communicate with his caretakers. What is more, he understood the spoken words that the lexigrams represented, and he could locate their representations on the keyboard.

Anyway, the good news is that Schweller assures us that bonobos are not being overworked. Sadly, the same cannot be said for the rest of us.

“Even children are busy now,” writes Tim Kreider in the “Anxiety” section of The Times’s Opinionator, “scheduled down to the half-hour with classes and extracurricular activities.”

Which is not exactly surprising. Or troubling. But Kreider’s essay is interesting throughout, particular his reminder that busyness “is not a necessary or inevitable condition.”

Busyness serves as a kind of existential reassurance, a hedge against emptiness; obviously your life cannot possibly be silly or trivial or meaningless if you are so busy, completely booked, in demand every hour of the day.

He reminds his readers that “Idleness is not just a vacation, an indulgence or a vice; it is as indispensable to the brain…”

No one, it says here, needs a vacation more than Umair Haque of the Harvard Business Review, whose overheated assessment of the appalling Barclays/Libor scandal is a full-on fire hose of hyperbolic anxiety:

“The banker rigged the rates, and stole from you and me.” Who stole what from whom? Was it the banker who stole a dollar a day from us — or we who stole a life worth living from the banker? Who consents to a deal with the devil — you? Or you and the devil? When the deal is struck, has the devil stolen your soul? Or have you stolen, for a few searing moments, the devil’s due? If the basis of the contracts that govern men is consent, have you and I, with our furious pursuit of more-bigger-faster-cheaper-now-at-any-cost already consented to the compact of our own undoing; already tempted the banker with the devil’s glittering deal — and damned the banker to tempt us right back?

Speaking of fire hoses (have you caught your breath?), you will be relieved to learn that firefighters everywhere are shelving plans for sexy calendars and actually getting down to the business of being better at fighting fires. Witness:

“We’re an organization steeped in tradition and we’ve been fighting fires for many years in certain ways and they worked,” the fire commissioner, Salvatore J. Cassano, said in a phone interview. “But we owe it to everybody who works for us and the people we serve to look at the way we fight fires.”

via N.Y.C. Fire Dept. Rethinking Tactics in House Fires – NYTimes.com.

“We need to understand the conditions were facing today,” Tidwell told the Associated Press in an interview. “Theyre different than what we used to deal with. Were seeing erratic fire behavior, more erratic weather.”

via Western wildfires fuel urgency for forest restoration — USATODAY.com.

“Hoping for a debate about freedom, not fatness,” the beverage industry began a campaign in New York against the mayor’s proposal to ban big containers of sugary drinks by employing at least one person, right, who obviously does not drink a lot of sugary drinks.

This is exactly the sort of thing I would get wound up about, and I would lend my enthusiastic support if the campaign had hired mostly thick-necked people who sweated all over the petition.

But I won’t even notice. I weaned myself off big sugary drinks two years ago, which is too bad because my bladder is extra stretchy.