Eugene Linden
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Maddening Numbers

The way in which the media and policymakers are using the numbers on coronavirus approaches insanity. Most of the numbers published are about as credible as Trump’s estimates of the size of his inaugural crowd. Absolutely no one with any expertise believes that China has only 80,000 cases o...


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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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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

A Glimmer of Hope in the Coronavirus News?

I’m usually the most apocalyptic guy in the room, but, maybe, there’s a glimmer of hope in the latest news on the coronavirus. If it’s been circulating in Washington state for several weeks, it’s probably also been circulating in a few other states for weeks as well. And if there hasn’t been a big spike in visits to emergency rooms with respiratory ailments (and I have not read about such), it may well be that the virus is already widely spread in the U.S., but not hitting Americans as hard as it has populations elsewhere. If this turns out to be the case, the difference might be that there are far fewer smokers in the U.S. than in China, South Korea, Japan and Italy, and that the air is far cleaner in American cities than in China’s. 

We’ll find out in the next few weeks whether Americans are better able to withstand the disease. There remain major unknowns about coronavirus; nor do we know how hard the virus will hit the elderly and infirm. Still, this latest news could be a positive. 

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