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
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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Erectile dysfunction is ascendant, so to speak. The Super Bowl displayed a trifecta of impotence potions as the makers of the three main drugs –- Levitra, Cialis, and Viagra-- all ponied up millions to advertise. Obscured by the debate about some of the cringe-making disclaimers – “if erection persists for more than four hours seek immediate medical attention” – has been the obvious question: why are erectile dysfunction drugs advertised on the Super Bowl at all?      Professional football has long been the high altar of American maleness. Everything about it celebrates warrior culture, physical dominance, and raw aggression. The same is true for NASCAR, another venue that impotence drug makers see as fertile ground. What’s going on here? Aren’t the wimps and sexual no-shows supposed to attending the Philharmonic and reading Spinoza? Shouldn’t Eli Lilly be sponsoring “Masterpiece Theater” rather than wasting its money on the NFL, and, as an aside, do Mike Ditka’s self-confessed problems correlate with the arc of his coaching career?      Popular culture often does offer a different perspective on where to look for real men. In “Something About Mary,” Tom Green’s high school football hero can’t get it up, while nebbishy Ben Stiller makes Cameron Diaz happy. And the drumbeat message of nearly every Woody Allen film is that beautiful women ultimately turn to short, whiny guys for ultimate fulfillment. Unfortunately, the message from popular culture is tainted by conflict-of-interest because it’s dweeby guys who make the television shows and films celebrating the sexual virtues of dweeby guys.      Nature, as always, offers crucial insights. Studies of chimp DNA have shown that while the alpha male and his aggressive pretenders are bluffing each other and fighting battles, junior and low-ranking males are regularly making assignations with the desirable females. Since there is evidence that female chimps choose the fathers of their offspring, and since reproduction is the only score that counts for evolutionary biologists, it’s game, set and match for Woody (can his name be a coincidence?) and his peers. So the question for football-worshipping guys has to be: what’s your girlfriend doing while you’re wrapped up in the big game?

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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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