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  • Glenn Sonnenberg

Musings from the Bunker 7/9/20

Happy Thursday,

Yes, I know…a couple of weeks ago I said I was abandoning Tuesdays and Thursdays. And yet here I am again…There is just so much great material being sent in by others and that’s my focus today.



A lot of people seem to have been experiencing the nastiness and coarseness that I reported yesterday. “Is society getting meaner?” seems a serious question. On a national political level, Brad Mindlin reminds us that, while President Trump may be the apotheosis of nasty attacks, he is not the first. It’s been brewing for a while. He recalls when:

“Nancy Pelosi lambasted George W. from the House floor. I remember clearly the pundits discussing respecting the office and the loss of decorum in American politics at the time. We were all aghast…”

The decline of political decorum and norms has been going on for a while. Some of that can be attributed to sheer political fighting. But, as Brad also noted, and I agree, our representatives both set the tone and respond to the mood of the country. Much of this can be placed at the feet of the American people. If the American people demanded better behavior from their elected representatives, then we might get better representatives. But what makes the American people so hostile? I think it goes back to the media and chasing eyeballs and ad revenue. Controversy sells. “Breaking news” sells. Fear sells. Identifying a vilified “other” sells. The media have figured this out, as have the Russians and other nefarious actors. We should expect the fires to be stoked for the foreseeable future.



But more important than its intrusion in our national political life, this coarseness extends to everyday encounters. People seem to view others with disdain and even fear. Upon reading of the hostile encounters experienced in Aspen, Brandon Smith reported he found the same in San Diego and Big Bear, commenting that these are places “where people must feel my wearing a mask infringes on their right to be ignorant.”

As several have noted, the worst behaviors come out in situations in which the other party is anonymous. For example, it’s easy to be rude from the wheel of the car on the freeway. The person in the next car is the enemy, trying to eke out one car length of advantage. When on line, the people “next to us” are invisible, nameless, presumably with bad intentions or unworthy of respect. It’s easy to be mean to them. But now it seems the hostility has progressed from anonymous encounters with faceless people to one-on-one contacts with individuals with whom we have eye contact and/or know who they are.

It feels like the worst of us is coming out in our society. No question there’s stress from the pandemic and the economy. No question that there is increased politicization of issues. No question there is a lot of societal pressure. It’s all coming out under the pressures of the pandemic and economic uncertainty. Our strength as a people will be judged by how we cope and how we communicate with others.



After recommending Imperfect Union, by Steve Inskeep, of Morning Edition fame, David Lash recommended another NPR personage for their “moonlighting” career:

“And speaking of NPR hosts who are fun to see in different roles, last summer (or last lifetime, hard to tell the difference) we were at the Hollywood Bowl to see Pink Martini and Ari Shapiro was a featured singer!! A tremendous, classically trained voice.”

Are there any other radio or TV news personalities with attributes we may not know? And don’t anyone suggest that Tucker Carlson is Special Counselor to the President (even if he is…).



After weighing in how we consider historical figures from the past—whether their statues should remain, David deftly pivoted to rage on the comparison of baseball players from different eras:

"How can you compare Babe Ruth and Willie Mays and Mike Trout? Walter Johnson, Bob Feller, Bob Gibson, Sandy Koufax, Mariano Rivera? There is so much historical water under their bridges, how can we view those players from another era through our current lens? Babe Ruth didn’t have to face Black pitchers, there were no night games, medical care was nothing compared to now, there was no tv or instant replay, there were no expansion teams, training techniques were barely existent, no analytics, no film to review, relief pitchers were rare, etc. Making value judgments across history is very tricky. Some of it is easy (hitting 60 home runs when no one had ever hit more than 20 or so, waging war on the Constitution), some of it is harder. Ari Shapiro has a great voice in any era."

By the way, Mariano Rivera does not belong in a list with Johnson, Feller, Gibson and Koufax. These guys started many games, completed many and were the workhorses of their teams. Rivera was a specialist—albeit a great one—who typically pitched no more than an inning in relief.



Mark DiMaria, my friend from undergrad days and roommate in law school, is right again (he might say always). He correctly points out a couple of nits:

"My New York Jets have been pretty mediocre since Broadway Joe hung up his cleats, but they are by no means defunct, notwithstanding the cruel taunts of Patriot fans -- And while the original Winnipeg Jets hockey team picked up and moved to Phoenix in 1996 to become the Coyotes, the former Atlanta Thrashers migrated north and became the new (and current) Winnipeg Jets in 2011.

Secondly, the Chicago hockey team truly is the "Black Hawks" and not the "Hawks" of any color, as they are named after a native American chief of some repute -- as are the Columbus Blue Jackets.

But you got me on the Panthers ..."



I started listing quirky sub-genre categories and sent that list to Dave Swartz. He revised and expanded it to a level of true absurdity. I’ll be bringing this out in bits in coming weeks. Here is the list of modern-era Boston-based movies that are a must:

Gone Baby Gone

Good Will Hunting

The Departed (arguably one of the greatest crime/police movies of all time)

The Town

Mystic River


Be safe out there!


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