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  • Glenn Sonnenberg

Musings from the Bunker 4/1/20


"The best time to plant a tree is twenty years ago. The second best time is now."

-- Unattributed (allegedly a Chinese proverb)

Happy April Fools’ Day,

Sadly, it’s not a joke.

We are approaching three weeks in the bunker. No question this has been a major readjustment to our regimens; and yet it is beginning to feel that a rhythm to the “new normal” has emerged.

It bears note that this marks the approximate length of time of a “total lockdown” that professionals argued in February would be necessary for us to arrest the spread of the virus. Not acknowledging the problem and taking aggressive actions early was, sadly, the country’s second catastrophic miscalculation. The first was the spectacular failure of preparation—failing to address shortages in our health care delivery system, failure to stockpile or possess the ability to ramp-up production of supplies (particularly masks and ventilators), and failure to have in place well-practiced procedures in place for this foreseeable tragedy.

Had we had the willingness to listen to what was being suggested by professionals (either with earlier actions or with meaningful lockdowns) and had we had the political will to take action, this Musing would be discussing the eventual lifting of the lockdown, our success in averting calamity in the healthcare system, and addressing lessons learned. Sadly, we squandered those earlier weeks (more on this on Friday) and are looking at a far longer period lockdowns, an ever increasing number of patients, and a long recovery.

It is difficult, living as we are in the middle of this crisis, to draw conclusions and derive lessons for the future—whether for a future pandemic or for other potential future crises. But here are a few:

  • Trust experts

  • Invest as much in applying scientific advances and their delivery as we do to research in the basic sciences

  • Develop detailed scenarios for what to do in various foreseeable (if unpredictable) circumstances

  • Maintain stockpiles of emergency supplies

  • Demand that U.S. companies that benefit at all from governmental largesse diversify their supply chains

  • Reinvigorate the manufacturing sector in the U.S.

In the meantime, there are great books to read! Let’s get to it. Today is our first visit to Biographies.

 

BIOGRAPHIES

I have always felt one’s life is enhanced and enriched by the study of great lives. As a child, I read biographies of political leaders, baseball players, Classical composers, and scientists. Although I never went into any of those professions (I could never really quickly turn a double play in little league), I would like to think learning about other lives helped me make the most out of mine. I still think this is true for all of us. These are some of my favorite “recent” biographies:

  • Frederick Douglass, Prophet of Freedom, by David W. Blight. One would think there isn’t much new to say about Douglass, who wrote three autobiographies. But there is no end to understanding the story of Douglass. A former slave, he catapulted to the forefront of the abolitionist movement, helped move Lincoln toward emancipation, and was a public figure and orator of the first order. At the time of his death, it was reported that, together with Mark Twain, he was the orator witnessed by the greatest number of Americans.

  • Master of the Senate, by Joseph Caro. While one could argue all the Lyndon Johnson biographies are part of a monumental work (and they are), this volume tops them all. These are the years when LBJ expanded the role of Majority Leader and took control of the Senate. He is simultaneously brilliant, ruthless, vulgar, strategic, manipulative, and driven. The book has the added benefit of telling the story of the Senate and its traditions with a clarity and style I haven’t seen in a political book before.

  • Truman and Adams, by David MucCullough. There arguably is no historian who has done more to resurrect the reputations of these two extraordinary, yet underappreciated presidents. Each was president during tumultuous times; each was preceded in office by an iconic leader (Washington and FDR, respectively). As a result of these two Pulitzer Prize winning biographies, each has had his stature catapult, both in academia and public opinion. To read these biographies is to understand not only these unique individuals, but their style of leadership, their personal character, and the times in which they lived. The Adams biography was adapted as a mini-series starring Paul Giamatti as the great man.

 

AND WE THOUGHT ON-LINE LEARNING MIGHT BE A CHALLENGE…

While speaking of historic figures, it is only appropriate to segue from historical to hysterical historical. Here is a great essay from the Wilson Quarterly, comprised of history accumulated by a professor from his Freshman college students over the years. Have a tissue handy to wipe your eyes—you will cry:

https://www.wilsonquarterly.com/quarterly/winter-2014-four-decades-of-classic-essays/history-past-life-reeked-with-joy/

As the professor said, paraphrasing George Santayana, “those who forget history are condemned to mangle it.” Thank you, Jessie Kornberg, a fellow aficionado of good grammar and good writing, for this.

Consistent with this theme, here are a few good writing tips:



 

TIKKUN OLAM MAKERS (TOM)—LOW COST COVID-19 SOLUTIONS

I want to share the work of an international team of “makers,” trying to create affordable, accessible and replicable solutions for the COVID-19 crisis. Led by our friend Gidi Grinstein, TOM is mobilizing young people around the world to create solutions that can make a difference and then put it in an on-line library for others to use. They are delivering masks, have developed prototypes and new products. Here is a link to what they are doing now—it changes every week. https://tomglobal.org/community?id=5e73198894711e10b13ebe3b. We support them; we hope you will consider doing so as well.

Wishing you a happy and productive day,

Glenn

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