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
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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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Diary of a Tree Stump

Tuesday January 14, 2020

Something lighter:                                    

  “I would vote for a tree stump if it could beat Donald Trump”

   [Timothy Egan, in his Nov. 8, 2019 column for the New York Times]

           Well, it’s been a whirlwind! There I was, quietly decaying in a clear cut in northern Wisconsin when I heard a couple of hikers talking. One said, “Tim Egan said he’d vote for a tree stump if it could beat Trump.” The hiker laughed. “I would too!” My first reaction was to feel insulted because Egan’s remark seemed to imply that tree stumps were, well, dumb or somehow inferior to the other candidates, even Biden. And it also triggered hurtful memories of 2000 when Al Gore would joke about suffering from Dutch Elm Disease – talk about cultural appropriation! But then the penny dropped, and I thought, “Hello! I’m a tree stump.”  

I’m also from Wisconsin, a crucial swing state. I’ve got a compelling personal history – I was the last old growth black spruce in the Chequamegon-Nicolet National Forest before Trump opened it up for logging every remaining tree. And, I probably have the support of every tree stump in America (not that they can vote, but there are a lot more of us since Trump took over).

            So, I continued to daydream (not much else to do except rot). Then, about a week later it happened! None other than Tim Egan showed up, hiking by with Randi Weingarten, president of the American Federation of Teachers.  “Look at the size of that stump,” said Egan, pointing at me.

            Weingarten bored into me with one of those withering stares she’s used to intimidate legions of politicians. Then she smiled, “hmm, definitely has some gravitas.” If I had breath I would have held it -- it’s well known that she’s not happy with the existing Democratic candidates. She gave me another appraising look, “This could be the guy.” 

            Next thing I know, I’m ripped out of the ground, sprayed with insecticide to kill the bark beetles slowly devouring me, and I’m being prepped for television by Mr. James Carville. Yup, that James Carville (Egan said as a journalist he couldn’t get involved, but then he winked and said, “but I can still vote!”). 

Carville’s advice: “Don’t say a fucking word!” Piece of cake for a tree stump.

            As a stump I had no plans for universal health care, reparations for minorities, identity politics, or any other hot button issue. (I do have strong views about forestry, but no way to articulate them.) Carville came up with a suitably sententious slogan: “It takes a real stump to stump for Iowans!” 

Not having any positions proved to be a winning formula. Moderates flocked to me. Polling showed that independents were breaking for me as well. Other candidates started imitating my silent strategy, which made for a lot of dead air during the seventh debate. Mayor Pete filled the space by offering a disquisition on the virtues of silence, citing Benjamin Franklin, Tacitus (in Latin), the ancient Greek philosopher Silenus (in ancient Greek), and Chief  Dan George in Salish (where Buttigieg lists himself as one of the 114 remaining living speakers). He finished with a flourish in which he argued that silence can only carry you so far -- at some point, he said, you have to stand for something.

            Apparently not; I carried every state except Mississippi, Alabama and Wyoming. Now I’m settling in to a copse of trees between the residence and the West Wing. The White House chef has been replaced by a bottle of wood preservative. Carville’s my chief of staff, and keeps repeating his initial advice -- the dummy hasn’t glommed to the fact that I can’t say a fucking word -- but now he adds that Veep Pete can do enough talking for both of us.   Still, I don’t fault Carville for worrying -- Woodward was spotted having coffee with the White House arborist.  

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Short Take

Afghanistan: When Losing is Winning

The stunning, but entirely predictable, collapse of the Afghan military marks the latest installment of our failure to understand what wins wars. Short answer: it’s not weaponry; it’s morale. This pattern of failure goes back 60 years to Vietnam, and even further. We load up corrupt autocrats and war lords with weapons, only to see war profiteers siphon off and distribute the bounty, while the other side pursues their goal with patience, and a deep sense of mission – however wrong-headed we might think that is.

There’s a tell in this pattern. When a superpower continues to hew to a failed strategy of counter insurgency after 60 years of failure, someone must be making out, big time. We don’t need to look very far to see who that is. Defense contractors get to sell the weapons  that we hand over to our feckless allies, and then, after tens of billions of dollars in materiel are left behind as we withdraw, they get to sell all over again as we restock. Thus, losing becomes a win-win strategy. In that sense, winning would be a losing strategy because they don’t get to double-dip. So, once again in Afghanistan, Mission Accomplished!

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