Eugene Linden
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Latest Musing

Imagining a Post Pandemic World

How might a post-pandemic world look and feel? Let’s imagine a creative team at a New York City advertising agency pitching a campaign in 2050 for a new perfume (more than most products, perfumes are sold by attaching to the dreams and aspirations of their times).  The Big Apple, ...

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Deep Past
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endangered animals
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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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MORE EVIDENCE OF CAT GENIUS


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

Relaxing COVID-19 Restrictions will Kill, not Save, the Economy


 

[This is a more developed version of the previous Short Take}

Those who want to relax mandates on self-isolation and social distancing to save the economy have got it exactly backwards. Reopen society too soon, and we risk destroying the economy as well as public order and our shaky democratic institutions. The reason comes down to two words: supply lines.

 Supply lines for necessities such as food are already under stress. Those going to grocery stories encounter random instances of empty shelves and vegetable bins. Smithfield Farms shut down a South Dakota plant that supplies roughly 4% of the pork in the nation after over 500 of its workers tested positive for the coronavirus. Other giant meat processors such as Tyson have also shut down plants for similar reasons. Farmers in the West are having trouble finding workers to harvest the crops now reaching maturity in the fields. And even if they manage to get the crops picked, farmers are out of luck if the truckers fail to show up, or the flow of packaging for their products get interrupted. 

Right now, these disruptions are episodic, but that should be concerning because we haven’t even seen the end of the first wave. What we have seen is that vital front-line workers such as nurses, doctors, EMT’s, and other first responders have had trouble finding protective equipment and maintaining morale. Some have staged walkouts over the dangerous conditions, and these are workers with a sense of mission.

By contrast, for most of the hourly-paid workers who keep supplies made, distributed, and sold, their work is a job that pays the bills. It would be appropriate if society recognized that they played a vital role, but mostly these workers encounter demanding bosses, monotony, and surly customers. If sick, they are not going to work – nor would we want them too. And they are not likely to risk their lives if going to work exposes them to contagion.

Disruption of one link, e.g. the trucker that delivers food the last mile, could halt a supply chain. COVID-19 is a threat to every link. Should a second wave hit before there is a readily available, cheap and effective treatment, it’s a very high probability that many supply lines will be disrupted and filling the gaps could easily overwhelm the nation’s businesses. 

Even today, on the evening news, we see images of vast caravans of cars lined up to get supplies from food banks. Imagine two weeks of empty shelves in the stores that feed our cities. How likely is it that civil order could be maintained in that situation? Will people suffer in silence if they realize that they can’t buy food for their kids because our leaders reopened the economy before a treatment was available because they wanted to prop up the stock market (which is how it will be portrayed)? If we want to look analogues for what life is like once supply chains break down, they’re readily available today in cities like Mogadishu, Kinshasa, and Port au Prince. 

 Thus far, the Trump administration’s response to the pandemic seems to be a mélange of Boss Tweed, Don Corleone and Inspector Clouseau. For the next act, the administration has a choice: Churchill, who bolstered British morale during the London Blitz, or Pol Pot, who sacrificed millions of his countrymen for a bad idea. Let’s hope those around Trump can convince him that the cure for the disease is the cure for the economy.
 



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