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  • Glenn Sonnenberg

Musings from the Bunker 7/6/20


Reading is my escape too…!



I have a few thoughts on books this week. As you may know, some of my favorite genres are interesting spins on biographies, books based on important years, dystopian novels. Here are books that I’m either currently reading or just finished this week (yes, I’m one of those sickos who read multiple books at a time):

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.

Severance, by Ling Ma. While the “present” in this novel is a post-apocalyptic America after a pandemic (of some sort of fungus, not fully described), the book tells the story of a modern Chinese-American woman, her childhood in China and the United States, her immigrant parents, and her life as a millennial in 21st century American business. The apocalyptic portion of the story is the “hook” to a larger story. Candace, the protagonist, gets tied up with a character that seems a blend of David Koresh and Jim Jones, traveling in a world of quasi-zombies (but apparently not of the violent “Walking Dead” variety). It’s an interesting read, more for the office-culture riffs and the immigrant story than the apocalyptic theme. For recent apocalyptic novels full of fascinating conjecture, try Station Eleven, California or The Mandibles. All offer interesting takes on the end of civilization.

The Year 1000, by Valerie Hansen. The subtitle of the book is “When Explorers Connected the World and Globalization began.” That’s an apt description. The book explores the Lief Erickson expeditions, the presence of blond visitors in drawings found in Chitzen Itza, and how the trade routes in the East and Middle East emerged. The argument is that the explorations of the 15th and 16th centuries were following or trying to replicate trade routes established in the tenth and eleventh centuries. The New York Times review captures the general idea better than I could:

“One of the book’s surprises is its demonstration of how much life in the early 1000s resembled that in the 21st century. In those years, a citizen living in Quanzhou, China, could buy sandalwood tables from Java, ivory ornaments from Africa and amber vials from the Baltic region; attend Hindu, Muslim or Buddhist religious services; and, if well educated, read a Japanese novel or the latest writings of Islamic scholars."



Last week I posed a trivia question on teams that share names. There were a number of great responses from Joey Behrstock, Howard Kroll, Adam Weissburg, Ken Millman, Larry Goldstein, J.D. Crouch, Mike Schlesinger, Alok Gaur, and Mark DiMaria. The names are (I think…):

• Arizona Cardinals (football) and St. Louis Cardinals (baseball)

• SF Giants (baseball) and New York Giants (football)

• Atlanta Hawks (basketball) and Chicago (Black) Hawks (hockey)

• Los Angeles Kings (hockey) and Sacramento Kings (basketball)

• Florida Panthers (hockey) and Carolina Panthers (football)

• New York Rangers (hockey) and Texas Rangers (baseball)

Extra credit for defunct teams or team names:

• New York Jets (football) and Winnipeg Jets (hockey)

• Edmonton Oilers (hockey) and Houston Oilers (football)

• Indianapolis Jets of basketball in the 40s and 50s

• Former St. Louis Browns (baseball) and Cleveland Browns (football)

• Ottawa Senators (hockey) and Washington Senators (baseball)

These are the teams moved, whose names didn’t change; though their cities did (so were good guesses but do not qualify):

• Boston and Milwaukee Braves (previous incarnations of the Atlanta Braves)

• Philadelphia As, Kansas City As (previous incarnations of the Oakland As)

• Brooklyn Dodgers (now, well, you know…)

• Minneapolis Lakers

• St. Louis Rams and Cleveland Rams

• Cleveland Browns (who are now the Baltimore Ravens) and the newly constituted Cleveland Browns

The trivia question was posed after a discussion of team names that may need to change due to offensive imagery or references (like the Washington Redskins or the Cleveland Indians). Ben Resnik suggests he prefers team names like Bruins, Ducks, Beavers, Cubs, and other baby animals.

Special recognition to J.D. Crouch for the Detroit Lions and British Columbia Lions (even though it’s Canadian football…).



After reading a Willie Mays story, Jon Berger, related this one:

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.



Regarding the difficult, complicated and contradictory histories of famous people that we are muddling through is this observation from Scott Schwimer, regarding his beloved Stanford University:

"By the way, it is noteworthy that my alma mater Stanford chose independently in the early 1970’s to change their symbol and mascot from a caricature of a native American to a tree and a color. They also pulled out their investments in South Africa when I was there in the mid 70s because of the apartheid policies. Stanford didn’t need a revolution to become evolved. Just sayin!"

True enough. But there also is this legacy of Leland Stanford, cited by Steven Shane. This is a quote from Governor Stanford in 1862 (made all the more ironic in that his Central Pacific Railroad was importing Chinese workers):

"To my mind it is clear, that the settlement among us of an inferior race is to be discouraged by every legitimate means. Asia, with her numberless millions, sends to our shores the dregs of her population…There can be no doubt but that the presence among us of numbers of degraded and distinct people must exercise a deleterious influence upon the superior race, and to a certain extent, repel desirable immigration."

Great man, great school, admirable actions in the 1970s…and yet troubling observations by a man who might be said to be a product of his times but harboring views we find abhorrent today.

Have a great day,


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