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  • Glenn Sonnenberg

Musings from the Bunker 7/24/20



Good morning,

We are now some 19 weeks from the mid-March start of the lock-down. Since then, we failed to get testing and tracing up and running in a meaningful way, opening too early and now forced to rethink the opening and close some things down again. The demoralizing impact of the now-rising cases and death counts is taking its toll on everyone—but particularly health care workers and workers in service industries. A good deal of the false starts rest with local officials who, without guidance from Washington, tend to find themselves responding to the passions of the citizens and not relying enough on data and science.

 

FIRST, LET’S WIN THE WAR…THAT WILL STIMULATE CONSUMER SPENDING (NOT THE OTHER WAY AROUND)

We are seeing increased unemployment and businesses shutting their doors. These numbers will rise. What we are also seeing is a decline in wealth (or at least perceived wealth) at all levels of society, which translates into reduced consumer demand. So now we have the “double whammy” of less supply and less demand. The economy is shrinking, while the government is spending more. What is clear is people aren’t going to spend more money until they feel more secure.

“The Daily,” the NYT podcast, had an interesting commentary by Nate Silver on why Trump is falling behind in the polls, even losing support from those who believe he is good for business. Mr. Silver suggests that today’s political climate is much like wartime. In World War II, if one posed the question, “Should we try to defeat the Japanese first or fix the economy first?” the resounding answer would be “win the war first.” And so, today, we must first win the war on COVID-19 before getting on with other things. Only recently has the President acknowledged the war and only now does he acknowledge the tough road ahead. The question now is whether the President has the resolve to fight the war, relying upon the “generals” (in this case, scientists and public health experts), and providing the leadership so important at this juncture.

 

THE MYRIAD SUB-CULTURES IN AMERICA

Those of us who are fortunate to remain at home and avoid commutes, long business lunches, business travel, and in-office meetings find ourselves with time to take on hobbies and pursue learning. I’ve spoken of some of these pursuits in the past—jigsaw puzzles, learning languages, home gardening, baking and growing sourdough cultures, collecting various ephemera, mah jongg, on-line games, painting, tie-dye, acting and singing, and on and on.

Those of us who have delved a bit deeper into some of these pursuits have discovered there are entire subcultures of people out there and passionate about these pursuits. I recall examples well before the lockdown, when I discovered just how passionate people could be about their pastimes. One was when Andrea was obsessed with needlepoint. There were groups on line and groups gathering together just to work on their needlepoint together with an expert. Another experience was when I started coaching AYSO soccer years ago. Little did I know that there was an entire organized culture around soccer—people who devoted nearly every waking hour to the game—coaching, refereeing, running leagues, publishing newsletters. And each of these groups has formalized organizations, rules, rituals, cliques—like small towns—all in pursuit of the same form of happiness.

These sorts of “mini-societies” exist for any number of things. Who knew that there is a group (perhaps more than one) devoted to train travel and its history. Or organizations devoted to the preservation (either in the real world or in cyberspace) of bygone architecture. There’s even the “Sons of the Desert,” the International Laurel & Hardy Society.

Until one dives in to a pastime pursuit, one is unaware of these small gatherings of like-minded folks. It’s a little nuts but it’s all a little sweet, and quite human. We all struggle with purpose, particularly in times that seem purposeless. We all look to share with others. Our passions can bring us together in odd ways. In some way these small organized communities fashioned around passions may satisfy our need for community and companionship, in ways our physical communities cannot—which is particularly important in these challenging times.

 

BASEBALL WITH EMPTY STADIUMS AND A SENSE OF NORMALCY

Last night, many of us tuned into the opening games of the baseball season. It was great to connect again with the familiar aspects of the game—the windup, the pitch, the swing, the adjustment of the package…all of it. And yet it was eerily quiet, with vast rows and sections of empty seats. Even the press was watching camera feeds and reporting from a studio, rather than perched high above the action in the press box. But it was still baseball and it still offered excitement and entertainment. And it was one thing that felt normal in these crazy days.

Jerry Coben reminded me that for the Cleveland Indians baseball fan, empty stadiums are not unfamiliar territory. As Roger Cohen pointed out in yesterday’s Wall Street Journal:

“…I know baseball can survive without fans in the stands. Cleveland proved it in clinical trials spanning four decades.”

Whether you’re a baseball fan or not, summer seems finally to have arrived…

Warm regards,

Glenn

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