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  • Glenn Sonnenberg

Musings from the Bunker 12/22/20

Good morning! First, apologies for not including the link to “Puppy for Hanukkah,” written and performed by Daveed Diggs. Diggs played Lafayette and Jefferson in Hamilton. He also played Frederick Douglass in The Good Lord Bird (on Showtime). Nice Jewish boy of color… BRITISH POLICE DRAMAS TELL US MUCH ABOUT OURSELVES If you like police dramas and legal thrillers, nothing beats the drama of police “procedurals” from the U.K. They are not procedurals in the American sense, with story after story filling season after season. They are typically a single story arc over 4-10 episodes with a beginning and an end. The characters are rich and the settings—small towns throughout Britain (including Scotland and Wales)—carry with them a chill and sense of foreboding. These British shows are so extraordinary that they warranted an article in the Atlantic, which goes on to break out exactly why they’re so good. Among other things they note are the relationships of well written characters, the fact that many of the principal investigators are women (see, e.g., the fantastic Happy Valley and Broadchurch, as well as the great ensemble production, Line of Duty). The issues that the police face in their personal lives are real. They have difficult marital problems, suffer sexual harassment at work, experience fits of depression, and recall post traumatic distress. The Atlantic notes a big difference between British and American shows. In Britain, closed circuit television is all around but handguns are in short supply—in fact, nearly non-existent. Experiences with the police visiting a home to question someone isn’t a “beating down the door” or “arms drawn in anticipation of violence” moment. Rather, the detective rings the bell and waits patiently for an answer. But there is another reason that British shows—not just police dramas—differ from our shows—a reason not cited by the Atlantic. And that is that the characters, while played by actors of different ethnicities are not playing those ethnicities. Or, more precisely, they are not playing the writers’ biases regarding an ethnic group. When Idris Elba plays Luther, a brilliantly drawn character of great depth and personal anguish, he is not playing a “Black cop.” He is playing a cop. When a person of Indian heritage plays a character, we may see them briefly in the context of a family or neighborhood that includes others of their ethnicity, but that is hardly the story. In British TV, there aren’t so many stereotypes. Black people, White people, and Brown people just play people. They do not generally play a character that someone might stereotypically place in a particular surrounding or context. And they don’t play a character intended to make a political statement by virtue of their ethnicity. They just are. But would we all look at the world more that way, we’d be a lot better off. WHAT’S UP WITH BASEBALL? The Winter Meetings are a time when baseball fans cross their fingers and hope that their teams will do something great in the offseason. Given that the Winter Meetings this year were virtual, the crop of available talent is lesser, declining revenue, and we are coming off of a shortened season, not much happened. That said, some teams made moves. The Angels have been in search of starting pitching. True to form, they proceeded to trade away two promising pitching prospects for…a shortstop. I don’t understand… Not as ridiculous as the Red Sox parting ways with Mookie Betts (although the Dodgers benefited from that single stupidity), but I’m still scratching my head. THE PURSUIT OF PERFECTION There was a great article this week about Major League Baseball having “found” a no-hitter 119 years after it was played. As even non-baseball fans know, the no-hitter is one of the greatest of all baseball accomplishments. But why 119 years late? And why does it matter? There is a group that publishes “Retrosheet,” that works on clarifying and perfecting the baseball record books by going over newspaper accounts and partial scorecards to confirm all the records of baseball—every game played and every statistic. They began with pre-1980 games (before which records were not as complete), and working backward. So they found this disputed no-hitter. It’s amazing because this group pursues information for information’s sake alone—it has no practical value and yet it’s important. It’s analogous to learning for learning’s sake. Perfection for perfection’s sake. BOOK RECOMMENDATIONS FROM PRESIDENT OBAMA Here are President Obama's favorite books of 2020, with some notations from the Sonnenberg family:

  • "Homeland Elegies" by Ayad Akhtar; Julie Robinson recommends it

  • "Jack" by Marilynne Robinson

  • "Caste" by Isabel Wilkerson: Jake loved it; Lauren is reading it

  • "The Splendid and the Vile" by Erik Larson; I loved it. Fantastic

  • "Luster" by Raven Leilani

  • "How Much of These Hills is Gold" by C Pam Zhang

  • "Long Bright River" by Liz Moore; Andrea loved it

  • "Memorial Drive" by Natasha Trethewey

  • "Twilight of Democracy" by Anne Applebaum

  • "Deacon King Kong" by James McBride: I really enjoyed it; also read The Good Lord Bird

  • "The Undocumented Americans" by Karla Cornejo Villavicencio

  • "The Vanishing Half" by Brit Bennett; Andrea really enjoyed it

  • "The Glass Hotel" by Emily St. John Mandel: Read everything by her! Especially Station Eleven

  • "Hidden Valley Road" by Robert Kolker: Lauren read it and loved it; I’m going to start

  • "The Ministry for the Future" by Kim Stanley Robinson

  • "Sharks in the Time of Saviors" by Kawai Strong Washburn

  • "Missionaries" by Phil Klay

All the best, Glenn

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