Interesting. Issue 002. August 2019. The birds are watching.


The birds are watching

I’m not a collector of things generally, but I dutifully hoard my back issues of NatGeo, just like my Grandpa Grimm before me. I pulled the article on bird brains from one of them. After you read it, you won’t look at the birds in your life the same way again.

Also linked is a podcast to listen to when you have 30 minutes in the car, and a very long article about a 17-year-old who I think is very interesting.





Three that made me pause this week.


Ukraine’s StopFake

… When the protesters succeeded, and the pro-Russian president fled, Ruslan realized that Russia was fighting back but in a way that took him a while to understand. Russia did not send tanks or bombs - not at first. First, they sent news…

Ruslan came up with a radical new plan to fight back. A team of top journalists would fact-check Russian news and broadcast the results…

The show is called StopFake. This was years before Americans were using the term fake news. It's a roundup of all the false [Russian] stories you might have missed that week… Now, at first, StopFake was a success beyond what Ruslan and Margo had even imagined. The debunked stories - they were a hit on social media…

And then the real war came… Up until then, he'd known that fake news could inspire fear and distrust. He'd seen that. But now it seemed to him to plant ideas in people's heads. Fake news today could become tomorrow's reality.

- Excerpted from What Americans Can Learn From Fake News In Ukraine, Rough Translation podcast


***HIGHLY RECOMMEND*** Both the transcript and podcast (29 min) are linked here. The transcript is ok, but this is much better in the audio version.


Bird Brains

The American Crows in Gabriella Mann’s Seattle Neighborhood love her, and the eight-year-old girl has the goods to prove it. She places a plastic jewelry box on a kitchen counter and lifts the lid.

Each small compartment holds a treasure, a gift, that the crows have given her: a gold bead, a pearl earring, a screw, a red Lego piece…

Gabi selects two that she calls her First Favorites, and holds them up for me to admire. One is a pearly-pink heart charm, the other a tiny, silver rectangle with the word “BEST” engraved on one side. “It’s because they love me,” she says about the seemingly thoughtful objects, adding that she expects the birds will leave her a “FRIEND” charm one day. “They know everything I like—toys and shiny things—because they watch me. They’re like spies.”

…Two crows flew into the conifers. One was [a crow she named] Babyface, and he was holding an orange object in his beak. He moved to an overhead cable, perched above Gabi, and dropped the item so that it landed right at her feet. “Look! A toy!” she cried, scooping up a miniature rubber squid and spinning with joy—a dance Babyface watched from his perch. “See, he knows exactly what I like.”

Are the crows actually doing what humans do, bringing gifts to a friend because she’s been kind to them? Can a crow—or any bird—make decisions of this sort? Researchers studying crows, ravens, and other corvids (the family of songbirds that includes crows, jays, rooks, magpies, and others) say yes.

- Excerpted from Think ‘Birdbrain’ is an insult? Think again, National Geographic

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Billie Eilish

Her brain always worked a little differently. As a child, she was diagnosed with Tourette syndrome, which for her manifests as barely noticeable tics: a slight bulging of her eyes, a twitching of her head to one side. She’s usually able to suppress them, though certain things seem to trigger her attacks (e.g., math)…

[Her parents] Maggie and Patrick were “mostly unemployed” actors (his words) who put their careers on hold to home-school the kids. They had no formal curriculum: Instead, they let Eilish and [her brother] Finneas explore whatever interested them…

When Eilish signed her first record deal, her label tried to relocate her to a real studio and get her to collaborate with more seasoned songwriters and producers. She was not a fan. “I hated it so much,” she says. “It was always these 50-year-old men who’d written these ‘big hit songs!’ and then they’re horrible at it. I’m like, ‘You did this a hundred years ago. Ugh.’ No one listened to me, because I was 14 and a girl. And we made ‘Ocean Eyes’ without anyone involved — so why are we doing this?”

When it came time to record her album, Eilish stuck with the formula she knew. She and [her brother] Finneas co-wrote 11 of the 13 songs, while he wrote the other two and produced them all. They worked in spurts, for 45 minutes or all night long, just sitting in each other’s bedrooms trading lines…

- Excerpted from Billie Eilish and the Triumph of the Wierd, Rolling Stone

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Note: Billie Eilish is dark, weird, and very… teenager. She’s also the first artist with a chart-topping album to be born this millennium. Her music is, to me, interesting, because she is. Eilish’s story got me thinking about how helpful it is, creatively, to not have ready access to what everyone else is doing (e.g. high school, songwriters who’ve been around the block too many times). Exposure to normalcy decreases creativity?

If we’re not careful, and we’re surrounded by trendiness, it can iron out all the weirdness in us. And then, if all we create is trendy, after a while it will no longer be life-giving. At least, that’s my working thesis.

The song that made her famous

Lindsey Witmer Collins