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  • Glenn Sonnenberg

Musings from the Bunker 3/18/20

Happy Wednesday!

First, welcome to the new folks on the mailing list. If anyone has others you want to add going forward, please e-mail me.

Today is slanted a tad on the serious side—lighter stuff on tap tomorrow. I’m touching on the outbreak today but increasingly will pivot away from the news, as I think everyone is getting more than their share already!

I hope everyone is staying healthy, distancing, and getting used to the “new normal.” There has been quite of news lately, as Americans finally come to grips with the seriousness of the transmission of this outbreak and the upcoming burdens on the health care system. I’m not sure whether I feel better or worse with this quote:

“So it seems to me that if we do a really good job, we’ll not only hold the death down to a level that is much lower than the other way had we not done a good job,” Mr. Trump said, “but people are talking about July, August, something like that.”

Let’s think positive. Tuesday’s press conference had the feel that the administration has come to grips with the gravity of the situation. And, to be clear, it’s not all Trump. It seems that the test kits were botched and our federal bureaucracy has tripped any number of times.

Has anyone else noticed that there seems an inverse correlation of governmental size to competency? What I mean is there seem to be states and cities that are a few steps ahead in addressing the issues. Perhaps the founders and their intellectual progeny were right in their concern that democracy, with its roots in Greek city states, could not handle a trans-Atlantic empire. I’m starting to pay greater attention to Andrew Cuomo, Mike DeWine and other governors and mayors.

Glenn Raines, thanks for reminding me that we seem three steps behind in attacking the problem…first restricting gatherings to groups under 100, then 50, then 10. It feels a little like we’re buying a stock all the way down. How much better off would we have been if they just “pulled off the bandage” early in this fiasco. How much better can it be if we did it now, with more draconian measures. Plus, has anyone else noted the insidious reality that the freer and fun-loving the society, the greater the pain and the longer the recovery? See, e.g., Singapore vs. Italy.


Naysaying the Naysayers

The virus has been spreading long enough and the restrictions are increasing quickly enough that “contrarians” have emerged in our midst. I’m not talking about the lunatic fringe like former New York police chief Bernard Kerik, a felon pardoned by Mr. Trump, who mused “Why do I feel this hysteria is being created to destabilize the country, and destroy the unparalleled and historic economic successes of President @realDonaldTrump?”

Let me suggest a few things about the contrarians “on the merits”:

  • This is not just another flu. There is no treatment yet available. You get it and you suffer through with as much pain relief as the health care system can afford to provide.

  • It’s easy to scoff at something that can’t yet be seen. But it is lying in wait. (Slight diversion: I believe that’s correct. We lie down but we lay things down. But maybe I’m wrong—Debbie Kahn, we need a ruling!) When it comes it will come with full force. It has now been estimated by the CDC that for every reported case, there are six to seven unreported (some saying up to 10). See the geometric explosion of cases over 16 days in Musings #2.

  • Some believe “herd immunity” is the answer. But here’s the thing—we don’t know enough about the disease and don’t have any natural immunity. For a negative review of the idea briefly floated by Boris Johnson that infecting everyone could be the way to go (remember, he still thinks Brexit was a great idea), check out the New York Times article against that tactic.

  • Many of nay-sayers are younger folks are willing to take the risk—with our health. I don’t fault them for their unwillingness to face this reality, but I’m glad that they won’t be able to go to their favorite juice bar (at least in the City of LA) and then wander down the street coughing. See a troubling example of the problem here:

  • People have the wrong idea about statistics. Sure, if the lower end of the mortality curve is correct—1%--that seems like everything’s hunky-dory. But it’s devastating—devastating to society, devastating to families at such a level. Trust me when I say this. Losing a family member in the best of circumstances (grandpa at age 95, after a great life) is horrible. Anything else is a gut punch that hits you each and every day. Every life is precious. We cannot look at public health as a day at the roulette wheel.

  • Some make misleading comparisons to other outbreaks, like Ebola. While Ebola kills 80% of those it infects, those who die are out of commission quickly. Here, because so many young and relatively healthy people will catch it, they will wander about feeling great and spreading it around. This means that a large number of the population will be exposed and even a low rate of mortality will result in huge absolute numbers of deaths.

  • The most ludicrous of all nay-saying is comparing the “panic” associated with COVID-19 with other causes of death—getting hit by a car, gun deaths, over-doses, and accidents. This is comparing apples to oranges. Many of the examples tossed about are the result of dangerous behaviors, which can be reduced through prudent social action, or they are singular events that are not multiplicative in their effect. In other words, when one event happens (e.g., a car accident) the likelihood for a subsequent similar event following closely thereafter isn’t increased.

Stay safe. Let’s over-react and not under-react.


Let’s Visit a Museum From Home!

Just because we’re stuck at home doesn’t mean we can’t escape for a little culture at some of the world’s great museums. Thank you, Ed Nahmias, for providing the link to virtual tours of many of the greatest—the Guggenheim, the Rijksmuseum, the Pergamon, the Van Gogh, the Uffizi, the Musee d’Orsay and others.


Get In a Routine

I keep coming back to this. I think it is so important to both (a) develop a routine, and (b) maintain as much connection to one’s “regular life” (to which we will all return someday soon, let us remember). This guy was successful:

Let’s stay busy, stay positive and take this one day at a time. Ralph Waldo Emerson had something to say about taking one day at a time. It offers hope and a “reboot” every day:

“Finish each day and be done with it. You have done what you could. Some blunders and absurdities no doubt crept in; forget them as soon as you can. Tomorrow is a new day. You shall begin it serenely and with too high a spirit to be encumbered with your old nonsense.”


Purchasing for the Duration

Most of us have been purchasing food and supplies to carry us for anywhere from two weeks (the optimists) to four weeks (the skeptics) all the way up to the people building these to store even more:

I’m curious if any of you have found that what seemed like a brilliant idea at the time has turned into excess, while other items that might have greater value were overlooked. Now that we’ve unpacked everything, I have found that, much like a child left in a candy store (or, in this case, a 63 year old juvenile with a computer) there is no shortage here of chocolate chips or Nature Valley Granola Bars. That said, perhaps each of us should splurge on a few guilty pleasures to tide us over. We received a delivery today of red licorice. Lauren, any idea how that happened?

Don’t worry if you underpurchased something. Necessity is the mother of invention:


Reading About Health

We are all becoming, to varying degrees, “experts” on epidemiology, reading ceaselessly reports from a variety of sources. I’ve been thinking that some of us want to learn more about health. If so, here are a few options:

  • The Great Influenza, by John M. Barry (he also wrote, Rising Tide, about the great Mississippi Flood of 1927). Perhaps some may say, “not right now.” This is a great book and a gripping story. Needless to say, Mr. Barry has become quite the desirable interview subject of late.

  • The Emperor of All Maladies: A Biography of Cancer, by Siddhartha Mukherjee. It’s a great book, albeit dense. Jake read it; I confess to only reading the first few chapters, skimming the middle and reading the end.

  • Polio, An American Story, winner of the Pulitzer in history, by David M. Oshinsky. Thoroughly enjoyable, offering insights into the times, the politics, the race for a vaccine, the Salk and Sabin rivalry; it’s all here. The New York Times review cites the book’s discussion of “the tension between sober scientists and sensationalistic media…” Sound familiar?

  • And for those who want to read happier things about the miracle of life, The Body, by Bill Bryson. Subtitled “A Guide for Occupants,” this is from the great Bill Bryson, who can take any subject and make it amazing. Of course the human body is amazing, so his task shouldn’t have been that hard. I just purchased this, so I’ll report further soon.


Helping Others

There has been a lot of discussion around our house regarding how other people are dealing with the pandemic. Obviously there are folks who work in retail or at restaurants and bars, with varying ability to withstand a disruption in their income. Mitt Romney proposed on Monday a $1,000 payment from the government to all citizens to tide them over. Here are a few quick ideas:

  • I believe Mitt is right on in attempting to infuse some cash into homes and the system—this seems to be catching on (Andrew Yang, you were right all along!). If you’re reading this, you are not likely hurting. So if you get that check, immediately either (a) send it back to the Treasury, or (b) give it to a food bank.

  • Buy gift cards at local restaurants that you frequent. At its best, you can contemplate coming back to old friends and great food once the dust settles. At its worst, the money is gone, but you can view it as a gratuity for years of service and friendship. How much I treasure the guys at Piccolo Paradiso, Nerano, Porta Via, and elsewhere. I think about their current challenges and want to say thanks—I’m thinking of you.

  • Give to food banks and others on the front lines of helping those in need. I’ll follow up in the next few days with the contact information for several organizations. If you have some ideas, please share them.

  • Prepay your pledges or intended gifts to charitable organizations. Sitting on the boards of several organizations that provide support to families that struggle, I can tell you that your support is needed now more than ever.


Please Communicate!

I can’t do this alone—we’re in this together! I still have a slew of books, movies, quirky articles, bad jokes, and musings to come—but even I have my limits (well maybe other than bad jokes)... I know you have ideas to share as well. I’ll pass your contributions along. Don’t be shy—look at me…I’m putting it out there for all to see…in all my quirky, nerdy glory.

Thanks, Mark Berman, for correcting me on the spelling of Prisoner-elect #8993547229’s name (Lori Laughlin). Mark coached her daughter in soccer and swears that, notwithstanding her prowess on the pitch, he never saw her with an oar in hand.

Thank you, Lauren Campbell, for passing on the news that effective today, Gelson’s is restricting shoppers from 7:00 to 8:00 am to those 65 years of age and older.


Closing Thoughts

Since we’re all so focused on science (one silver lining these days is that “believing in science” seems to be on an uptick!):

And finally, moving from the silly to the sublime, from Jerry Coben (and thank you, Jerry Muchin, for sharing a similar photo):

“As the rain started this morning, this was the view from our terrace, looking north over Westwood. Had the feeling that it was a sign. Certainly worth enjoying!”

Peace and love,


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