- Glenn Sonnenberg
Musings from the Bunker 5/6/20
ARE WE CAPABLE OF ADDRESSING MULTIPLE ISSUES SIMULTANEOUSLY?
I love the above Venn Diagram—what it suggests is something I’ve been suggesting for a while—namely, it is possible to be concerned about multiple issues simultaneously—that concern about one issue doesn’t mean forgetting another. Our body politic seems to choose only one issue at a time—and then lining up behind one side of the issue or the other based largely on tribal preference. It seems to have lost its ability to hold two or three ideas in its head simultaneously and seek nuanced answers that address them all. Issues aren’t just black and white—and they can’t be resolved simply by “my team versus your team” or Red State/Blue State.
One of the things this pandemic has forced is for us and our leaders to consider multiple issues, all with ramifications, that encroach on and affect each other. There are risks in addressing one issue without consideration of the others.
I’m concerned about the pandemic and I’m concerned about the economic catastrophe we are facing. Each of these issues will take years to resolve. We are all holding our breath for the next shoe to drop (as if a dozen weren’t enough already…!). The next set of issues will revolve around the “opening of America” and blame game between the federal government and the States. The President has positioned himself as the arbiter of State actions—actions that were necessitated as much by the federal government’s inaction, sluggishness, and devaluation of science as by the disease itself. States are adopting a variety of “reopening” strategies, based as much on what protesters say as what scientists say. And now the anti-vaccination Luddites have entered the fray. Heaven help us. But there are many other issues requiring our attention and the ability to consider them simultaneously:
FIXING THE SYSTEM
There are underlying flaws in so many of our governmental systems and infrastructure that have been exposed. How could a nation that prides itself on its scientific prowess, pragmatism, enlightenment and flexibility have been caught so flat-footed by the virus? How could we, in the face of what was happening around the world, elect to diminish the importance of the virus and delay our response? How could we be under-supplied with medical protective devices; how could we have so missed the warning signs; how could we have restricted certain foreign travel based on nationality and not based upon risk; how could we have politically motivate president running our response, with his own view of facts, science and medical therapies? And then we have a legislature unable to speak with each other, much less act in the best interest of the country. All of these issues will be worthy of review, so that next time there’s a crisis, we will be better prepared.
THE STATES AS DEBTORS
As if all this weren’t enough we are going to begin to see cities, counties and States plagued by unsustainable debt and likely insolvency. Cities and counties may file for bankruptcy; states may simply welch on their obligations. Our Majority Leader seems to welcome this, presumably to humiliate his political adversaries and strengthen the federal government’s grip over the States and local governments. Those who want to further strengthen the central government (which previously was what the Republican party was concerned about), and those who want to increase the authority of the “unitary executive” (at the expense of the institutional bureaucracies of the nation) will have a field day. If they to be successful, the States and local governments might well become supplicants to an executive run amok and the bureaucracy will be purged of experts and authority—all in an election year.
TECH TRACKING US EVEN MORE
Finally, any attempt to slow further outbreaks of the virus will depend upon tracking contacts. Most proposals will tap the vast information available from tracking cellphones. And, as we do, major technology companies like Apple and Google will gain even further market power and strength. Our movements will be tracked by utilizing data the tech companies previously said was used only anonymously to bring more targeted marketing. Today, it feels benign and efficient to track a disease’s progress. But tomorrow, these companies will have mastered these techniques and, working in league with government, will have created something resembling a national surveillance system. In the hands of an authoritative-leaning administration (ahem…) this could become a tool that limits free expression and association. Earlier this week, Google and Apple promised they would cease using this technology after the virus is under control. That makes me feel so much better.
The Venn Diagram above illustrates the need to balance our concerns. It also tells us that we should be very, very concerned.
THE FAILED STATE
For a sobering article about our failings in preparing for and reacting to the COVID-19 crisis, this article by George Packer, in the upcoming June issue of the Atlantic, is disturbingly accurate: https://www.theatlantic.com/magazine/archive/2020/06/underlying-conditions/610261/.
It is articles like this that remind me how important longform journalism and analysis can be. It’s worth the read and it’s worth getting a subscription to the Atlantic right now. You’ll thank me.
AN INTERESTING BEDTIME STORY
A kid asks his father to “tell him the one about the virus again”: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=bea4jCAkXsI. This was created by the British poet and performance artist, “Probably Tomfoolery.” I’m going to follow up and read some of his other poetry, as this is so creative.
BOOKS FOCUSED ON YEARS, PART III
As I indicated in a prior Musing, there are a variety of ways to organize one’s library. One obsession I have is in books themed after a pivotal year in world history. Here is the final installment of “books focused on a year” that I’ve enjoyed:
The Day the World Exploded: August 27, 1883, Krakatoa, by Simon Winchester. Really not about the year and its effect on history; rather about the cataclysmic event and the effects on the environment and rebirth of the island. If you haven’t read anything by Simon Winchester, you’re missing out. His The Professor and the Madman tells the fascinating story of the creation of the Oxford English Dictionary. Also try The Map That Changed the World.
One Summer, America, 1927, yet another brilliant book by Bill Bryson. The year saw Lindbergh cross the Atlantic, Babe Ruth’s 60 home run season with “Murderers’ Row,” arguably the greatest Yankee (or any) team ever, the first “talkie”—The Jazz Singer, and so much more, in Bryson’s breezy, conversational style.
1946, The Making of the Modern World, by Victor Sebestyen. All right, perhaps a little dry, but a great read on the beginnings of the Cold War after the Allied victory. The year included the King David Hotel bombing, atomic bomb testing, riots in India, the new Japanese constitution (written with American help). I’m sure JD, Dennis and Tom have read or will read this!
October 1964, by David Halberstam. A great year of baseball. I miss baseball every day. These sorts of books help…
CAN ONE EVER GET ENOUGH OF RAVEL?
Here is the New York Philharmonic performing Ravel’s Bolero from their living rooms. It is dedicated to the healthcare workers in the COVID-19 pandemic: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=D3UW218_zPo