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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Articles by Category
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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Now Let Us Praise Fat!

This article ran in Forbes FYI a few years ago. It seems timely again with the ongoing debate about wether fat is good or bad. Let Us Now Praise Fat Historically, there are some good reasons why humans crave a fatty diet by Eugene Linden It is possible to starve to death eating lean meat. I'm not making this up. The ancient tribes of the southwest knew this and would not eat female bison in the spring because nursing and pregnant bison cows burned off their fat reserves during the winter months leaving few calories in their flesh that might help the natives to digest the pure protein of the meat. Explorers like Randolph Marcy discovered this truth the hard way. Members of his expedition to Wyoming continued to weaken and lose weight even thought they consumed six pounds of horse and mule meat a day. The problem: the horses and mules were so starved that their meat had no fat. Such stories fire the imaginations of fat lovers. We constantly remind ourselves that most of human history has been a battle to find fat, not avoid it. We note that the scrawny rickshaw drivers of Bombay and Calcutta put away thousands of calories a day and yet never gain an ounce. And is it not true that the Japanese, an ethnic group perpetually trotted out by researchers as exemplars of sensible eating (they even call their parliament the Diet) spend fortunes to buy Matsusaka beef, which comes from Wagyu cattle that have been pampered, massaged, and beer-fed to the point that the animals resemble mounds of fat with hooves, horns, and contented expressions. It is no accident that fat adds taste to foods: evolution is reinforcing our urge to eat something that we need in order to survive. Knowledgeable explorers of the rain forest pork up before expeditions because the extra weight gives them reserves of energy should they fall ill while in the forest. At the beginning of one trip that took me into a remote area of northern Congo, the seasoned botanist leading the trip told me how pygmy trackers would pat his protruding stomach, and, nodding with approval, say, "money!" This piece of bush savvy was music to my ears, and in the forest I consumed every fattening food imaginable -- sausages, peanut butter, cheeses, chocolate -- confident that I was going to burn it off slogging down sweltering trails. (In fact I lost 17 pounds in 12 days.) At the end of the trip I nodded wisely when I heard that a Japanese researcher, emaciated from months in this same jungle, had nearly died from malaria. Of course she got sick, I reasoned -- she had little strength to fight the invading microbes. Unfortunately, I don't get to the forest quite as often as I should, though I have admirably built up my reserves of "energy" for the next adventure whenever it comes. Nor am I a rickshaw pusher. In fact, I spend most of my time sitting in front of a cathode ray tube, hardly the situation nature envisioned when evolution created our cravings. Come to think of it, my lifestyle has disturbing similarities to that of the cattle that become Matsusaka beef. And so, while I secretly pray for a credible study exonerating fat, I have been cutting back on rich foods. Unlike our hunting and gathering ancestors I may well live past 90 -- but I may also hate every minute of it.

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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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