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  • Glenn Sonnenberg

Musings from the Bunker 7/16/20


We’ve made it to Musing from the Bunker #125!

In honor of yet another 25 newsletter milestone, here are some “bests,” both new and a few favorites from the past few weeks. Enjoy!



Imperfect Union, by Steve Inskeep. First, how can any NPR Morning Edition listener pass up on a book by the famous Steve Inskeep, with the mellifluous voice? This is a dual biography of John C. Fremont and Jessie Benson Fremont, his wife. It’s a great story of the rise of the Whig party, the Polk platform in the 1844 election to secure Texas and Oregon (with a nod toward California and a gateway to Asia), the expeditions of John C. Fremont, his courtship of Senator Thomas Hart Benson’s daughter, the partnership of the Senator and the Pathfinder, and the even more interesting partnership of the Fremonts. Eventually the story leads to Fremont’s run for President as the first candidate of the newly created Republican Party in 1856 (you may recall the second candidate, Mr. Lincoln). Fremont was defeated in the 1856 election by James Buchanan, arguably one of the best prepared of all Presidential aspirants, who produced one of the worst administrations in history, acquiescing to Southern desires and precipitating the Civil War.



The Grammarians, by Cathleen Schine. The story of identical twin sisters who invent their own language as babies and later become obsessed with words and meaning. They are extraordinarily close as kids, drawing apart as they access and fight over their father’s dictionary. They both pursue careers in words and meet and marry two interesting (though not quite as interesting, but far more lovable) men. It’s a short book but very satisfying. The rivalry strikes me as a bit Ann Landers vs. Abigail VanBuren and what I imagine the rivalry might have been like among the Brontes.



For some reason, Boston-based films seem just a little richer, grittier and smarter. Here are two classics:

The Departed, a Martin Scorcese film with an all-star cast and an all-star story. One of his best. Intricate plot, sympathetic characters, great dialog. Best Picture, Best Director and Best Screenplay Oscars.

Good Will Hunting, directed by Gus Van Sant. Matt Damon and Ben Affleck burst onto the scene with this film of genius and character development. Damon and Affleck won a Best Screenplay Oscar and Robin Williams won Best Supporting Actor. Much of the movie is formulaic, but it’s a really wonderful story. It’s set at MIT.

Education is a Great Setting. Stories set at academic institutions seem ripe for coming of age drama, the exploration of what constitutes genius, intellectual and mental health struggles, and the life of the mind. Other great movies set in high school or college include: Goodbye, Mr. Chips, A Beautiful Mind, Stand and Deliver, Dead Poets Society, and Flatliners, The Graduate

And then comedy at school. No list of movies set in college can be complete without some of the classic comedies: Back to School, Animal House, Dobie Gillis, and Wonderboys.





“Let the word go forth from this time and place, to friend and foe alike, that the torch has been passed to a new generation of Americans, born in this century, tempered by war, disciplined by a hard and bitter peace, proud of our ancient heritage, and unwilling to witness or permit the slow undoing of those human rights to which this nation has always been committed, and to which we are committed today at home and around the world. Let every nation know, whether it wishes us well or ill, that we shall pay any price, bear any burden, meet any hardship, support any friend, oppose any foe to assure the survival and the success of liberty.” --John F. Kennedy




--Langston Hughes

What happens to a dream deferred?

Does it dry up

like a raisin in the sun?

Or fester like a sore— And then run?

Does it stink like rotten meat? Or crust and sugar over— like a syrupy sweet?

Maybe it just sags

like a heavy load.

Or does it explode?



The New York Philharmonic with its Concerts in the Park all summer long. Here is the first, a compilation of great past concerts:

And here is the June 25th concert, which can be seen live on YouTube at 4:00 p.m. PDT on June 25th:



The remarkably talented Leslie Odom singing “The Room Where it Happens”:



John Fogerty and family covering Bill Withers from their home:





There are so many classics, but this one combines the “hat trick” of illiteracy, innumeracy and illogic:

For the 1/100th time, the reason we show so many Cases, compared to other countries that haven’t done nearly as well as we have, is that our TESTING is much bigger and better. We have tested 40,000,000 people. If we did 20,000,000 instead, Cases would be half, etc. NOT REPORTED!



David Lash refused to give up on comparing baseball players from different eras. While he agrees that Mariano Rivera “does not belong on the same list with Walter Johnson and Sandy Koufax,” he maintains (I believe correctly) it is because he essentially played a different position in a different era. But then he branches off to comparisons of others in history and finally brings it home to a mash-up of baseball comparisons and the current controversy regarding historic figures (and you thought I had too much time on my hands…):

“Whose year was greater, Babe Ruth in 1927 or Bob Gibson in 1968? How can you compare? They played different positions, had different roles, were in different eras. Same with Rivera. But who is the greatest baseball player of all time? Then you have to compare everyone. Who are the ten greatest pitchers of all time? Does that include relief pitchers? They were an asterisk in by-gone days. So can you not compare Rivera to the greats? He was a pitcher. But he was a relief pitcher, essentially a different position. Ruth v. Gibson? Rivera v. Koufax? Likely not fair comparisons. Rivera no doubt was the best to ever play his “position”. What do we do with that? Thomas Jefferson v. Ben Franklin (one owned slaves, one did not)? Thomas Jefferson v. Abraham Lincoln (one wrote the Declaration of Independence and owned slaves, one wrote the that incredible second inauguration speech and emancipated the slaves but might not have done so had he come up with another way to save the union)? Different roles, different times, different standards? Fun to argue about however.”



In 1968, the Giants were playing the California Angels in a spring training game in Palm Springs. That morning we were having breakfast at a coffee shop when my dad spotted many of the Giants, including Willie Mays, in nearby booths. Being a shy 7 year-old I begged my dad to go over and get Willie’s autograph for me. Never one to pass up a teaching moment he said that if I wanted the autograph I should wait until he Mr. Mays was finished and then go over and ask him politely, which I did. He gladly signed on a paper coaster with the coffee shop’s name—Sambo’s.



Off to the next 25!



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