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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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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When Nixon Resigned...


Friday August 08, 2014

When Richard Nixon resigned forty years ago I was in Lesotho, a tiny, mountainous, eroded and overpopulated Kingdom that is entirely surrounded by South Africa. The project that brought me to Lesotho was my book, The Alms Race, which tried to answer the question of why attempts to help the developing world continually repeated the mistakes of the past [the answer is that many of the projects that were abject failures from the recipients point of view actually were successes in terms of the donor's objectives]. I was interviewing a couple of officials from the Ministry of Education when the news came through that Nixon had resigned. The bureaucrats were in the process of trying to devise a curriculum that would convey to bright-eyed students that Lesotho had a rational system of government, when in fact, at that time, the country was ruled by a strongman.

At one point the delicate question came up of how to discuss the fact that the Prime Minister, Chief Leabua Jonathan, had suspended the constitution a few years earlier and that nothing had replaced it. One of the officials, a glib, rising star in the Ministry, had a ready answer. Alluding to Nixon's misdeeds he said that the needs of a developing country are somewhat different than those of Great Britain or the United States, and that there were countries with law that were lawless, like the United States, and there were countries without constitutions that we're law abiding, e.g. Lesotho.

At this, another official, a decent, educated man, had had enough. Risking his career, he said, "Didn't Watergate show that the United States is not a lawless country, and, in fact, didn't Watergate show the strengths of a constitutional system?" I felt like applauding.

One other note on Nixon. If someone had told me back then that Richard Nixon would be our greatest President in terms of pushing through  environmental legislation protecting air, water and endangered species I would have laughed outright. Nor would I have believed it, if someone had predicted that no environmental law passed during the subsequent 40 years would be anywhere near as significant as the landmark acts of Nixon's administration. But it's true, and it's worth reflecting on what it means that this legislation, that materially changed the face of America for the better, came from a most unlikely champion.

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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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