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  • Glenn Sonnenberg

Musings from the Bunker 10/6/20

Happy Tuesday!



Last week: Revelations about the President’s tax evasions and minimal payments, a catastrophically embarrassing debate, the defiant refusals to wear masks (including the President’s party in the debate audience), a president defiantly casting the election as fraudulent, the president’s COVID diagnosis, the COVID diagnoses of many White House and campaign staff and Senators, a visit to Walter Reed hospital with conflicting medical reports, wildfires burning out of control, record heat, a presidential “drive by” while infectious, and more infections.

Add to all of this the mad rush to confirm a new Supreme Court justice (while all other Senate business has been suspended by the Majority Leader), continued impugning of the election, the inability of Congress to agree on a relief bill, and mounting unemployment and layoffs.

This all is in the course of little more than a week. It makes me think that we’re listening to Billy Joel’s “We Didn’t Start the Fire” at 3x its already fast pace.… Remember that the song listed historic events from the 40s through the 80s, moving faster and faster as it went on… But now, instead of decades of news in quick succession, it’s all in the course of a week.

I think most of us look forward to a more peaceful, calmer time. The refrain I hear repeatedly from friends is “next year will be better.” Let us hope.

As if the last week wasn’t enough, here’s an interesting perspective on our president’s behavior. Thanks, Riki Parikh, for highlighting this observation about Mr. Trump as parent: It takes on even greater relevance in that just a few days later, his reckless disregard for his children and staff in dealing with COVID was shown to have unnecessarily exposed them to the disease.



Doctors and scientists are at war with our President regarding the response to and handling of this pandemic. While most people listen to the doctors, a surprisingly large number of die-hards are wedded to the view that this disease is no worse than the flu and that efforts to staunch the bleeding are politically motivated. They look to their leader—our president—for guidance, despite his consistently being proven wrong.

Mr. Trump has repeatedly downplayed the severity of this illness. He touted unproven and magical theories of treatment, most of which have been debunked. He refused to follow simple rules of conduct to reduce the spread of the disease, including social distancing, avoidance of mass gatherings, and use of masks. He insisted first on not restricting behaviors and then on “opening up” too fast.

Then he gets the virus. And he continues to interact with people—supporters, staff and family—without regard for their health, increasing the spread of the disease. After going to the hospital, he and his team are opaque about the extent and prognosis, and he takes a “drive around,” exposing more members of his staff and the Secret Service. He demanded early release, putting others at risk.

Many of us were encouraged that finally the President’s new perspective would both humble him and embolden him to lead by example. Leadership, however, is hardly his strong suit. His narcissism and unwillingness to admit failure (or even being wrong) are in full display. In the same way as he is “so smart” not to pay taxes, to stiff subcontractors, to abuse others, he has bested this disease! He seems not chastened one bit, pulling off his mask before entering the White House. And after receiving the best care that our money can buy—care not available to the ordinary American—he tweets:

“Feeling really good! Don’t be afraid of Covid. Don’t let it dominate your life. We have developed, under the Trump Administration, some really great drugs and knowledge…”

So the message is “look, I’m better—I was always right—you need not worry about this scourge…” And any drugs and knowledge were products of my administration. He is irresponsible, selfish and deserving of the shellacking he hopefully will be getting in the election.



While on the subject of diseases, there is a “sub-genre” of sports movies about athletes facing disease. Here are a few great ones:

• Last month Gale Sayers passed away. Besides being a great player (and the youngest player elected to the NFL hall of fame), he was the friend to the ill-fated Brian Piccolo, played by James Caan in Brian’s Song, a 1970s tear-jerker (Gale Sayers was played by Billy Dee Williams). Here’s an article on the friendship and the story of Piccolo, who died after a battle with late-stage cancer. The story takes on particular poignance, given their relationship amidst a backdrop of racism:

• Pride of the Yankees. Gary Cooper as the iconic Lou Gehrig. The Iron Horse’s speech is a classic…”the luckiest man on the face of the Earth…” Here’s the Smithsonian’s four minute video on the actual day, including the appearance of the Babe: Gehrig’s #4 was the first retired number in baseball.

• Bang the Drum Slowly. Michael Moriarty, later of Law & Order fame, stars as Henry Wiggen, friend to a somewhat dim-witted teammate, played by Robert DeNiro. It was a well-reviewed, faithful adaptation of a novel. It has that same 70s vibe as Brian’s Song.

• Rudy. The true story of a Notre Dame player with learning disabilities who, against all odds, makes it as a walk-on. He plays toward the end of the final game of the season in his senior year. He manages to sack the quarterback and is carried off the field.

• Who hasn’t lamented the effects of chronic traumatic encephalopathy (CTE) on football players like Junior Seau? It is hard these days to be a football fan, which I am, without acknowledging the brain disease resulting from repeated concussions. The movie Concussion, a Ridley Scott film starring Will Smith, came out a few years ago, IS a solid, indeed powerful, film. Smith plays Dr. Bennet Omalu, a pathologist who takes on the NFL, which is resisting the research on this disease. There are numerous case studies of formerly healthy men who succumbed to the ravages of this disease, but the good doctor is the “winner” in this film. The question I come back to is whether football will follow boxing into the pantheon of barbaric sports, like gladiators’ fight to the death, that become outlawed. If the NFL and the NCAA don’t come up with some meaningful and radical steps to stem the mental and physical effects of the sport in its current incarnation, it’s only a matter of time.



A while back I’d asked people to share stories of their favorite baseball players who were “out there.” Here is one from Peter Bain:

You have issued the call and I am obliged to answer. I will submit for the Academy's consideration one Pedro Borbón, rubber-armed Dominican relief pitcher for the Big Red Machine.

First, he was a dang good player. No National League pitcher appeared in more games from 1970 to 1978 than Borbón. He also excelled in the postseason. In four National League Championship Series, he was 1–0 with a 1.26 ERA in 10 games, of which he finished seven.

But more to your topic, he definitely had the “marching to the beat of a different drum” thing working. There are more than a few stories in the lore of Borbón, but I will leave you with one. He was angry about the Reds’ trading him to the Giants in 1979. To exact his revenge, he placed an elaborate voodoo curse on the entire franchise and said it would last until everyone then in the front office was gone. The Reds stopped winning that year, and the last front office person wasn’t gone until 1989. Borbón lifted the curse. The Reds won the World Series in 1990. Just sayin’......

Best, Glenn

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