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
rapid climate change
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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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Bush, Saddam and Climate Change

Bush, Saddam and Climate Change: What Might Have Been Wednesday, Jul. 16, 2003 As the hunt for Saddam's WMD begins to look as promising as OJ's search for the real killers, it becomes tempting to think about what might have been. If only, for instance, the Bush Administration had adopted its posture on global warming when considering the evidence justifying the invasion of Iraq — and vice versa. Instead of fighting a lonely battle amid hostility and near anarchy in Iraq, the U.S. might have let inspections and containment continue to hobble Saddam forever, while we mustered a real coalition to confront North Korea, which is all but televising its efforts to build nuclear bombs. Instead of dismissing the overwhelming evidence that climate is changing, and alienating the 111 nations that have ratified or acceded to the Kyoto Treaty, the Administration could be leading the way to promote the technologies and policies that will be necessary to come to grips with a real threat to civilization. In attempts to muster support for the March invasion, the Administration took a worst case scenario view in estimating Iraq's stockpiles of chemical and biological weapons, and then, in the State of the Union Address, President Bush credulously trumpeted bogus evidence that the Saddam was buying uranium from Niger. With climate change, however, the Bush Administration grasps at every whisper of doubt and demands a standard of proof that would make it difficult to prove that the earth orbits the sun. In this world of what might have been, imagine a conversation between UN chief weapons inspector, Hans Blix, and U.S. Secretary of State, Colin Powell, last fall: Blix: "We need at least a year to complete our inspections." Powell: "Take 10 years; better yet let's wait until Saddam uses them." Blix: "I'm not sure even the French will be willing to wait that long." Powell: "Well the U.S. isn't going to waste money and risk lives on some hypothetical threat. Democracies don't invade other countries without incontrovertible proof of an imminent threat." Blix: "And if we find that proof?" Powell: "If it's a real threat, I'm sure Old Europe will unite behind us." Imagine the conversation between VP Cheney and representatives of the coal industry: Coal rep: "The science is uncertain!" Cheney: "We'll be making tea by dipping Earl Grey in the Potomac before there's absolute certainty. When the threat is a potential calamity for the global food supply and economy, we have to act!" Coal rep: "Fixing the problem will bankrupt the American economy." Cheney: "Wrong, global warming will bankrupt the economy. Taking action will be the biggest stimulus since the end of WWII. Imagine the capital spending!" Coal rep: "OK, OK, but the transition will still cost money. How much is the Administration prepared to spend?" Cheney: "Will $3.9 billion a month help? It's a figure we think we can sell to Congress for dealing with extraordinary threats to stability."

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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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