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  • Glenn Sonnenberg

Musings from the Bunker 4/28/20

Good morning,

A couple of folks commented that in my list of 20th century genocides yesterday, I failed to list Mao’s Cultural Revolution or the 30-40 Million killed by Stalin in the 1930s. My apologies; it was not my intent to create an exclusive list of ignominy. There is a long list and no shortage of candidates. But for a great movie on Uncle Joe Stalin, there are few movies quite as entertaining as The Death of Stalin. Here’s a trailer:



There are those who maintain that the lock-down is all an overreaction. They base this in large measure on the reported death toll being below initial estimates. Of course, they fail to acknowledge that the shutdown itself was a huge factor in keeping people safe. Here is a parable provided by Afshine Emrani, that helps articulate the stupidity of this position:

A car is headed towards a cliff. A man screams “slow down.” He yells “stop.” He jumps in front of the car and finally brings the vehicle to a halt. The driver gets out looks around and is angry at the man for scaring him when he's totally fine. The man points to the cars that didn't stop and fell off the cliff, to the wreckage and to the dead bodies. The driver refuses to listen because he is fine and his car is fine. The man says now that you're safe, you can start driving; but go slow and in a new direction. The driver is pissed for having listened to this fear mongering idiot in the first place, rolls his eyes, and drives away slowly and in a new direction.

Hopefully we are wise enough to drive away slowly and carefully and avoid the next possible catastrophe.

In another act of sophistry, some find an explanation for the criticism of the administration’s failures to date by saying it’s “perfectly natural” to have feelings of anger with government for the situation in which we find ourselves. This re-characterization gives a free pass to the administration by suggesting that we all just “feel bad” or “feel frustrated” (as if the repeated lies, delays in taking action, lack of appreciation of the gravity of the situation, propounding dangerous therapies, and sheer ineptitude aren’t enough reason to be angry). It’s sort of like when people get in a fight and say “I’m sorry you feel that way.” By deflecting a discussion of real substantive concerns and instead focusing on the “feelings” of the observer, one removes agency from the actors and excuses their failures in leadership.



Welcome back to my library! As I related last week, everyone organizes their library a different way (or not at all!). Few are as clever as the one above, created by librarians with too much time on their hands.

I organize my non-fiction around broad topics, (e.g., words and grammar, science, medicine/disease, economics, politics, sports, etc.). One such categorization is books about specific eras or events. Basically, how a particular event or movement was an inflection point between what was and what would come. The Sack of Rome, Constantine’s conversion, the Spanish Inquisition, the discovery of the new world, the American Revolution, and the Industrial Revolution all are seminal events. But these cover pretty broad periods. Sometimes it’s a year or a month that is the fulcrum of past and future. Here are some of the books I’ve enjoyed based on a particular year and that year’s effects on the world:

  • 1603, The Death of Queen Elizabeth I, the Return of the Black Plague, the Rise of Shakespeare, Piracy, Witchcraft, and the Birth of the Stuart Era, by Christopher Lee. The title really describes the contents well. A plague, a complete upending of government, and the end of medievalism. Sounds familiar (well, at least two out of the three).

  • 1688, a Global History, by John E. Wills, Jr. This is a great survey of the world at a pivotal time. The chapters are short, so whether you enjoy just a little history lesson a day, or are using these brief chapters as a soporific, it’s a great book. Truth in advertising: John was my Chinese history professor in college. Notwithstanding that I only got a B+ in his class, he was a great professor and I harbor no ill will (well, maybe a bit…).

  • The Scratch of a Pen, 1763 and the Transformation of North America, by Colin G. Calloway. Americans tend to think of 1776 as the beginning of the American experiment. But the case can be made that it began as soon as the Seven Years’ War ended. The Treaty of Paris established British hegemony over the eastern seaboard from Canada to Florida and pushed the French and Indians away. The war is where Major George Washington got his inauspicious start.

  • 1831, Year of Eclipse, by Louis P. Masur. Covers an important year in American history—Nat Turner’s rebellion, de Tocqueville’s Democracy in America, Jackson’s America, Indian Removal Acts, and other events presaging the Civil War. And, of course, a total eclipse…

  • April 1865, by Jay Winik. Okay, so it’s a month, not a year. This widely acclaimed book covers the month when the Civil War ended, President Lincoln was assassinated, and the beginnings of the messy attempts toward reconciliation.

At some point in the not too distant future, I’m confident we will be reading a book entitled, “2020: The Year of the Pandemic.” Let’s hope it isn’t entitled “2020-2021: The Pandemic that Kept Returning…” Last group of books by year coming next week…



Believe it or not, some who have joined us late have asked for access to the earlier Musings. The Musings from the Bunker since the beginning are saved as a blog at:



From Keenan Wolens, here are a few more museums that can be visited on line, compiled by Christie’s:

Art Institute of Chicago

Visit an interactive online version of the current exhibition El Greco: Ambition and Defiance.

The Frick Collection

Take a virtual tour of the museum’s historic home before they temporarily move out for renovation.

The Getty

Visit the Getty’s blog, the iris, for a list of the many ways you can explore the museum’s programs and collections online.

Guggenheim Museum

Listen to a tour of the museum’s Frank Lloyd Wright-designed building and watch videos from behind the scenes at the museum.


Visit LACMA @ Home, the museum’s updated homepage showcasing digital media for those at home looking for things to watch, listen, read and learn.



Melissa Etheridge promises to perform live from her home every day until this is over (like the Musings!): There’s a lot of chat but you can skip around to the songs. The first song is “Pulse.”



If isolation tempers the strong,

It is the stumbling block of the uncertain

--Paul Cezanne

Enjoy the day,


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