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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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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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GRAVITY


Friday October 18, 2013

I hugely enjoyed the movie Gravity. The vistas and effects, particularly in 3-D, are nothing less than stunning. Great survival story. But, there was one thing that bothered me, and it was not a little thing. In the film’s crucial scene, as George Clooney valiantly unhooked himself from Sandra Bullock so that the added drag of his weight didn’t break the thin lines that constituted the only thing that connected them to the crippled space station, I wish I been floating there with them in order to scream at him: “You don’t need to do this! There is no drag in space! You’re weightless you idiot!”

In this scene, they are both tumbling along outside the station as space debris perforates everything around them. The only thing that prevents them from being lost in space is that Sandra Bullock becomes entangled in some lines connected to the station amid the carnage. After the lines hold in the initial shock, and in a prolonged, heart-wrenching scene, the Clooney character calmly says that he’s going to unhook himself from Ms. Bullock otherwise the lines will break. This self-sacrifice might be understandable if they were hanging from a plane 100 miles closer to earth with earth’s thick atmosphere and gravity in play, but, but, but George … if the lines held after the initial shock and you and Sandra are now floating in concert with the remains of the station, there would be no more drag or gravity to deal with. Which makes this climactic scene colossally and comically dunderheaded in a film entitled Gravity, which promises to bring alive the impossibly harsh realities of life in space. Why did he even float away? The space station was not under power. When he unhooked, he should have just hung around with a sheepish look on his face. Am I wrong?

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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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