Eugene Linden
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Maddening Numbers

The way in which the media and policymakers are using the numbers on coronavirus approaches insanity. Most of the numbers published are about as credible as Trump’s estimates of the size of his inaugural crowd. Absolutely no one with any expertise believes that China has only 80,000 cases o...


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Deep Past
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endangered animals
rapid climate change
global deforestation


Winds of Change
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Afterword to the softbound edition.

The Octopus and the Orangutan
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The Future In Plain Sight
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The Parrot's Lament
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Silent Partners
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Affluence and Discontent
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The Alms Race
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Apes, Men, & Language
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Monday March 17, 2014

Sunday night was very cold in my neighborhood north of New York City, maybe about 20 degrees Fahrenheit. I’d let out our adopted stray, Noodles, during the evening, and after dealing with a bunch of minor chores, had gone to bed. I woke up just before seven AM this morning after a decent night’s sleep, and I was lying in bed thinking it strange that I hadn’t heard Noodles scratching at my bedroom door as he is wont to do for several irritating hours at a stretch each night. I thought back over the previous evening and couldn’t remember letting Noodles in. No sooner had this thought entered my mind than I heard a very loud “Meow!!!” from outside my bedroom window. Aha, one mystery solved – I let in through the window a very angry cat, who proceeded to give me a piece of his mind -- but another mystery presented. Outside my bedroom window is the roof of the porch, which stands a good 20 feet above the ground atop vertical posts.

Somehow Noodles, who is a complete couch potato and must have endured a miserable night, realized that his best chance to be let in would be to get someplace where I could hear or see him, and he figured out that I would be in the bedroom early in the morning. To do this though, he also had to figure out where the bedroom was when viewed from the outside, and then somehow climb the posts and get past the gutters -- in difficulty a task that must rank with climbing Half Dome in Yosemite. This is perhaps the most unambiguous instance of something I’ve been observing for decades: cats wanting to get let in will size up the situation and will figure out how to get noticed.

In my book, The Parrot’s Lament, I tell the story of my Maine coon cat Zephyr, who, on an absolutely frigid and windy night in New Hampshire resorted to jumping up and down outside the kitchen window to get my attention. He seemed to realize that I could not hear meows given the wind and that the best way to get me to notice him was  by moving in my field of vision. The story is striking, but it wouldn’t prove anything to a skeptic about animal intelligence. More recently, Oliver, another of our adopted (better word might be kidnapped) strays, has taken to standing outside the French doors of the TV room when I am watching television to get my attention, and Noodles regularly will find a window where we can see him to get our attention, rather than sitting by the door. A reductionist would dismiss these examples too as ambiguous. Noodles' roof gambit, however, is a lot harder to dismiss.

Now cats don’t rank that high in the metrics -- e.g. encephalization quotient – that we use to rank potential for intelligence. Still, they continually exceed expecations. In truth,I suspect that cats don’t really care much about how we measure intelligence. And who was the dummy in this story?

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Short Take

A Glimmer of Hope in the Coronavirus News?

I’m usually the most apocalyptic guy in the room, but, maybe, there’s a glimmer of hope in the latest news on the coronavirus. If it’s been circulating in Washington state for several weeks, it’s probably also been circulating in a few other states for weeks as well. And if there hasn’t been a big spike in visits to emergency rooms with respiratory ailments (and I have not read about such), it may well be that the virus is already widely spread in the U.S., but not hitting Americans as hard as it has populations elsewhere. If this turns out to be the case, the difference might be that there are far fewer smokers in the U.S. than in China, South Korea, Japan and Italy, and that the air is far cleaner in American cities than in China’s. 

We’ll find out in the next few weeks whether Americans are better able to withstand the disease. There remain major unknowns about coronavirus; nor do we know how hard the virus will hit the elderly and infirm. Still, this latest news could be a positive. 

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