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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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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WHAT HAPPENED TO WHAT HAPPENED


Saturday June 14, 2008

-EUGENE LINDEN Former colleagues and friends hint that Scott McClellan's White House tell-all book, What Happened, reflects the influence of liberals during the editing process. "Something changed," said Ari Fleischer on NPR on May 28, "...parts of the book just don't sound like Scott to me." Excerpts from Scott McClellan's Diary: Nov. 6, 2007 First trip to Public Affairs to discuss the manuscript with Peter Osnos! Exciting! POTUS is going to love this book! Need a title that conveys the majesty of W., something like "A Man in Full" (too bad it's taken). Nov. 7, 2007 Weird scene today. Came in to Public Affairs and saw George Soros in Osnos' office. The body language was all wrong; it looked like Osnos was dictating to the billionaire... Osnos was leaning back, completely in command, almost sinister. And Soros? Well Soros looked submissive, defeated. Don't know what was going on there, but no New York editor is going to tell Scott McClellan what to write! Nov. 8, 2007 OMG! I should have seen this coming! When Osnos was called out of the office I picked up my chapter on Iraq and WMD. I'd written that the WMD were there all along, camouflaged as crates of Halva. What I was reading, however, was entirely different. It was my book, but the words were saying that Bush was going to invade Iraq from the get-go, regardless of whether WMD were found. It wasn't even my tone (a cut-to-the-bone minimalist narrative style leavened with throwaway lines that are pure American authentic a la Will Rogers)! When Osnos got back I let him have it with both barrels. He airily brushed me off, saying, "oh we'll get that changed in copy edit." I'm not sure this is over. Dec.4, 2007 Osnos has been quiet -- too quiet. On the other hand, they're coming at me from a new angle. Last week it was Samantha, that long-legged editorial assistant fresh out of Sarah Lawrence. She offered to "fix" the section on Valerie Plame. She's driving me mad, constantly brushing by me as she saunters off to that conference room next to Peter Osnos' office, while hinting at all sorts of possibilities. Damn! I wish I could see what goes on in that room. When I asked Osnos, he simply said, "Oh that's just where we liberals go to 'de-stress.'" Something about the way he said it made me tingle. I can't see through the blackened windows, but sometimes when the door opens I hear laughter... and moans. Dec. 5, 2007 If only I had Cheney's will-power! This is driving me mad! Samantha walked by hand-in-hand with the dark-haired Rebecca, and they both gave me long looks over their shoulders before entering what I used to scorn as the "liberal room," but which is seeming more and more like paradise. I remember W talking about how during Vietnam, liberal co-eds wore T-Shirts reading, "Girls say yes to boys who say no." W joked about how he made that work for him. Damn, he's good! It's not that much of a change they want. I'd written, "Valerie Plame is a self-seeking publicity hound who was outed as a covert agent by her husband, Joseph Wilson IV." All they're asking is that I change that to read that I was set up to lie by Rove and Libby and also assert that Bush knew about the Plame outing all along. Christ, here they come out of that room. They're both breathing heavily and look flushed. God help me! Dec. 10, 2007 When you think about it, the changes they want are really more issues of tone and word flow rather than substance. Dec. 11, 2007 What have I done?!!! Dec. 17, 2007 I'm ruined. Osnos walked by my desk and slapped some photos down. "Hey Scotty boy," he said, "As of now, you're my bitch." Then he pulled out some notes. "Let's talk about WMDs," he said. I have no choice. Dec. 18, 2007 It's almost over. Osnos is now dictating the last chapter to me in his office. I look up from writing and see Andrew Card walk by. I can't warn him - Osnos is watching me like a hawk.

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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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