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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parrotslament

Buy The Parrot's Lament at Amazon, Barnes & Noble, Books A Million, or BookSense. The Parrot's Lament : And Other True Tales of Animal Intrigue, Intelligence, and Ingenuity From reviews: The New York Times Book Review, Sara Ivry His incisive, informal prose turns even these nonhuman scoundrels into endearing subjects. From Kirkus Reviews Empathetic stories of animals displaying intelligence and fellow-feeling, with some references to controlled experiments to help put the acts in context, from journalist Linden, the author of several books on animal cognition as well as other subjects. This ``decidedly unscientific' collection of animal tales, wherein the beasts ``tried or succeeded in outsmarting, beguiling, or otherwise astonishing the humans in their lives,' is written simply to knock on our intuitive doors and get us to appreciate the lives of animals and whatever consciousness they possess. Linden keeps the anecdotes short and sweet, and, thankfully, taps into those untold rather than recycling the same stories about apes saving human toddlers and elephants enjoying sunsets. There are chimps and parrots that specialize in devilry and pranksterism, and a marvelous sampling of deceit, from the disingenuous use of body language by dolphins to a white-winged shrike tanager abusing its sentinel duties ``by occasionally making the alarm call when no hawk is around. As its feathered colleagues head for cover, it wolfs down all the food in sight.' There are great escapes from zoos and parks, which for orangutans is ``a singular obsession'they shape tools, conceal their intentions, and choose the best opportunity to make their move. The acts of heroism, trust, and loyalty may sound familiar, though the odd friendships are a delight: the tale of wolf and the goat feels too biblical, but the one about the horse and the turkey couldn't be better. Linden closes with an enviable ramble through back-of-beyond central Africa, where the animals reacted to humans with inquisitiveness rather than fear, for a single, very good reason: they had never encountered us before. Most of all, these stories suggest a range of possibilities in animal awareness and feeling that signal the caring respect to be awarded any creature. Animals are an indicator species, Linden suggests, so take a look: how we treat them reflects how we treat everything else. -- Copyright 1999, Kirkus Associates, LP. All rights reserved. Amazon.com ...as a passionate and accomplished student of animal intelligence since the '70s, Linden--of course--couldn't resist comparing Sofia's reasoning to that of an ape, puzzling over the cognitive cusp upon which she teetered. And it's this affectionate but knowledgeable analysis, the gentle transition from rutabagas to metacognition and emergent symbolic ability, that makes The Parrot's Lament so satisfying, sentimental but still scientifically solid. The science of consciousness and animal intelligence is contentious, but many in the field--Linden included--deeply suspect that animals know more than we can verify. Linden lays down the science with clarity and good humor, but he leaves it to his animal coauthors, the amorous dolphins, escape-artist orangs, enigmatic cats, and lying hyenas that populate the book's scores of anecdotes, to make his argument. --Paul Hughes Buy The Parrot's Lament at Amazon, Barnes & Noble, Books A Million, or BookSense.

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Short Take

A Slippery Slope?

I’ve had some back and forth with some friends on the insurrection last week and the subsequent media bans. Some see a slippery slope towards censorship; I see a unique set of circumstances. 

With regard to the invasion of the Capitol, it speaks to the sheer lunacy of the moment I would be quoting a  Wall Street Journal editorial, but they put it best: The head of the executive branch incited an attack on the legislative branch with the hope of overturning a lawful election. Zip-tie carrying paramilitary troops thinking that they were aiding Trump’s cause, came within minutes of kidnapping members of Congress. They were actively seeking Pelosi and knew where they were going. Trump had urged them to come to DC, and then urged the march on Congress, using the word “fight” 20 times in his speech, and saying he would be with them.

Even before the insurrectionists were driven from the Capitol, violent fringe elements had begun planning major events for Jan. 17, and also to disrupt the inauguration.

This is a unique set of circumstances.

The uniqueness comes from the relatively new element of social media, particularly Twitter, and the instantaneous reach and enormous scale of the internet.  These factors turbocharged the volatility of this already combustible situation. Never before in our history have people been able to instantaneously recruit like-minded people. Given the explosion of human numbers, this means that truly dangerous psychotics have a lot of company. 

They no longer have to seethe alone and can join with others who share their delusions. And they have guns.

Truly dangerous psychotics are rare. I don’t know what the numbers are, but probably upwards of one in a thousand. Even that low guess would amount to 330,000 people in the U.S., and the number is probably far larger. 

The point is that if a meme gets out there – e.g. that Democrats are led by blood-drinking pedophiles who stole the election – it might gain casual traction with large numbers of people due to a long-standing susceptibility to conspiracies in the U.S.  (I’ve been thinking about this susceptibility since I first investigated fragging in Vietnam).  Much more dangerous: the meme will also gain recruits among that tiny, really violent, really delusional, fringe. And if there’s a goal or an event, even though that cohort represents a tiny percentage of the population, they can be rallied and brought together to become a significant force. And again, they have guns.

We saw this last week. Yes, there were a lot of people who sincerely bought Trump’s lie that the election was stolen, and came to DC thinking there was still a chance to pressure Pence and others to overturn the election.

But, we also saw a Who’s Who of nut groups leading the charge -- neo-Nazi’s, Proud Boys, Confederate flags wavers, holocaust deniers, holocaust embracers (!), militia members, and God knows who else. Most of these were feckless blowhards, but the invaders also included  the zip tie guys, and others who were blood brothers to the fanatics who wanted to kidnap and lynch Gretchen Whitmer.

The execs of Twitter, Facebook, etc. saw what happened and recognized that their platforms were being used, either directly or through Parler, to organize similar, violent events in the run-up to the inauguration. They also saw that the fomenters were using Trump’s tweets to bless their crusades with a patina of legitimacy, even nobility. 

At Twitter the staff was in near open rebellion, and I’m sure that execs at the other companies wondered about liability, culpability, ad boycotts, and Elizabeth Warren campaigning to break them up if another violent event resulted from their passivity. (Apparently, a potential ad boycott was one reason why the head of content at Cumulus radio threatened to fire Mark Levin, Ben Shapiro, and Dan Bongino if they didn’t STFU about the election being stolen.)

So, the tech and social media giants acted, and in doing so, dramatically underscored their awesome power. This show of force is going to provoke a lot of discussion about how these companies exercise discretion about content, about whether they should be broken up, regulated, or otherwise held responsible for their content and their decisions about content (which would dramatically shrink them). 

I don’t think they are going to come out of this unscathed. 

One other thought. IMO, the biggest disruption of the internet can be summed up in one word: disintermedition. The internet has given people direct access to data, markets, people, information, and endowed everyone with the ability to be a pundit, reporter, influencer, or brand. 

The disappearing intermediaries are the editors, producers, fact checkers, brokers, market makers, etc., who previously, maintained standards, buffered markets, and in myriad ways provided some friction that in the case of mainstream media, prevented complete fabrications from gaining traction with the broader public, and, in the case of markets, modulated price movements and reduced the probability of panics. We’re going to miss them.

 



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