Food and gratitude, in that order


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I’ll have the turkey, please, but hold the white bread.

I wished Swamp Rabbit a Happy Thanksgiving, knowing this would set him off.

“What’s so happy about it?” he said. “This supply chain problem is making me crazy as a chinch bug.The Dollar Store is charging the same price as the Superfridge for tin foil, on account of the Superfridge ain’t got no overstock to sell cheap to the Dollar Store. Avocados are five dollars each at the Superfridge, and they ain’t stocked Philadelphia Cream Cheese for weeks now, even though we live in Philly. I had to steal the store brand yesterday.”

“How do you justify this theft habit of yours?” I said. “I’d better get you a copy of Aristotle’s Nicomachean Ethics.”

“I ain’t justifyin’ nothin’,” he said. “If I’m hungry and broke, I do what I gotta do.”

Blame most of this mess on Covid-19, I told him. Food delivery all over the country is delayed. There’s a shortage of staples in some places, and of truckers and warehouse workers. Demand is outstripping supply. Go to a food pantry and ask for corn and they might give you string beans instead.

“I would have invited you to my shack but there’s no turkey dinner this year, it’s too expensive,” I said.

“I guess that means the price of hoagies at Wawa went way up,” he replied. “I know for a fact that buying turkey hoagies was as close as you ever got to cooking Thanksgiving dinner.”

I told him the tradition of serving turkey as a holiday meal dates back many centuries in England, and that Charles Dickens‘s A Christmas Carol (1843), along with myths about America’s Pilgrim settlers, helped establish the holiday turkey tradition in the United States.

Swamp Rabbit rolled his eyes and told me to skip the history lesson, what he needed was a good meal.

“Your problem is you lack gratitude,” I said, handing him enough cash for two turkey hoagies. “It’s a well-known fact that people who practice gratitude tend to be healthier than ingrates like you.”

“Maybe so,” he countered. “But if there ain’t no food, there ain’t no gratitude.”

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Save the planet in three easy steps


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The residential mix in our cities might change in a big way if climate change is ignored.

We were discussing the recently completed COP26. Too bad we couldn’t be there, I told Swamp Rabbit. In the news reports, the Glasgow natives seemed more serious about fighting climate change than your typical gas-guzzling American, maybe because the climate over there is already terrible.

“We didn’t miss much,” Swamp Rabbit said. “Same old story. Too much talk, not enough action. Blah, blah, blah, as Greta Thunberg would say.”

The climate crisis became real to Swamp Rabbit in September, when the remnants of Hurricane Ida hit the Greater Philadelphia area and flooded our shacks in Tinicum, PA. He read up on the subject and was dismayed to learn that humans must achieve net-zero emission of carbon by 2050 in order to prevent catastrophical levels of global warming.

“Net zero ain’t happening,” he said. “Not with China using more coal than ever last year, and India on its way to new coal-burning records. Not with the U.S. gov’mint leasing the Gulf of Mexico to all them oil drillers.”

I told him to stop being a gloom peddler. The countries at COP26 (what a weird name!) have all pledged to end deforestation. by 2030, and to put more money into fighting climate change in so-called developing countries.

“You’re a saleman,” I said. “You know how to accentuate the positive. Why don’t you come up with a new sales pitch for clean energy, something that will help save the planet?”

He put down his can of beer and turned toward the swamp. “Okay, peeps, let’s save the planet in three easy steps,” he shouted, as if addressing a crowd. “Step one, stop driving. Step two, stop using plastics. Step three, stop worrying, and ignore steps one and two. The planet will still be here long after us humans are gone.”

“This is about saving the the planet for humans, you stupid rodent,” I said. “What sort of planet would this be if there were no humans on it?”

“A healthier planet,” he replied, without missing a beat.

Footnote: Environmentalist Bill McKibbon blames Covid-19 for slowing the worldwide movement to replace fossil fuels with clean energy, but he cautions against despair: “… As Covid recedes… rejuvenated activism will combine with the continuing horror of the climate crisis to produce more pressure for change. It had better – Glasgow’s finish makes clear that when activists aren’t able to push as hard as we need, inertia and vested interest remain powerful forces. The idea that the world’s governments will simply do what needs to be done is just a fairytale.”

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QB ‘immunized’ against science and ‘woke culture’


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Image from The SATURDAY EVENING POST

Here’s Green Bay Packers quarterback Aaron Rodgers in August, responding to the question of whether he’d been vaccinated against Covid-19:

Yeah, I’ve been immunized. There’s guys on the team that haven’t been vaccinated. I think it’s a personal decision, I’m not gonna judge those guys.

I showed the story to Swamp Rabbit, who said, “Rodgers pretended ‘immunized’ meant ‘vaccinated,’ which makes him a freakin’ liar. It’s a good thing he ain’t gonna judge his teammates, ’cause he ain’t got the right to be judgin’ nobody.”

The vehemence of Swamp Rabbit’s reply was surprising until he told me he’d lost money betting on the Packers-Chiefs game when bookies changed the odds after Rodgers tested positive for the virus and was barred from playing.

“That’s what you get for gambling,” I said.

Swamp Rabbit shook his head.”That’s what I get for thinking that sneaky bastard was smart enough to know that throwing a football better than most people don’t make him stronger than the plague.”

It’s the way of the world, I told him. You reach a certain level of fame or wealth and you think you’re above the rest of the tribe, to the point where you even downplay the efficacy of vaccines that have protected millions from a deadly virus. Rodgers said he did his “research” and concluded he was better off taking horse de-wormer and “homeopathic” remedies. He misquoted the CDC guidelines regarding allergies and apparently refused to believe he might pose a danger to others if he remained unvaccinated.

And Rodgers had the balls to say this:

I believe strongly in bodily autonomy and the ability to make choices for your body, not to have to acquiesce to some woke culture or crazed group of individuals who say you have to do something.

“I don’t get it,” Swamp Rabbit said. “What the f%&* is woke culture?”

I told him “woke culture” was a big subject. In this case, it’s a term used by right-wing yahoos to describe anybody who doesn’t think we should be able to do whatever we want, even when our behavior might get other people killed.

“You mean them lying politicians and oil company CEOs and coal barons and arms merchants and pharma execs and Wall Street crooks and such?”

“And sports stars,” I said. “Some of them are just as bad.”

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Strange days have found us


Living in a black-and-white (and blue) world

It was a spooky weekend here in the Tinicum swamp, but not because of Halloween tricks or seasonal changes.

“So why was it spooky?” Swamp Rabbit said.

I told him I’d watched a movie called Strait-Jacket, with Joan Crawford as an ax murderer who, after 20 years in an asylum, comes home and creates more mayhem. The next morning I got into my car to drive to a job upstate, but my path was blocked by a boxy blue Amazon delivery truck driven by a woman who looked exactly like crazy Joan.

She got out and banged on the doors of three different shacks. No one answered, but she left parcels at each shack. I shouted for her to please park on the side of the road, I was late for work and had to get by. She furrowed her thick Joan Crawford eyebrows and stared daggers (axes?) at me before driving off.

She crossed Passyunk Creek to the tony side of the swamp, where the road is wider and the shacks much bigger. I tried to pass her, but it was tough going. Delivery vehicles were double-parked on both sides of the road — Amazon, FedEx, UPS.

“It’s eerie,” I told Swamp Rabbit. “People don’t go out to shop anymore. They’re home, but they don’t even answer the door when their deliveries arrive.”

Joan put the brakes on near a shack with an American flag hanging out front. Except the flag wasn’t red, white and blue; it was black and white with one blue stripe in the middle symbolizing (from what I’ve read) the flag owner’s support for the police (the “thin blue line”). I steered around Joan’s van as she left a package containing God-knows-what on the steps near the flag.

“Everything seems strange, even the flag,” I complained. “Amazon is everywhere. People are hiding from Covid-19 and climate change.”

And that’s not all that’s strange. A bunch of QAnon followers went to Dealey Plaza in Dallas last week to see the late JFK Jr. appear there and announce his solidarity with Donald Trump. A U.S. Senate Democrat is blocking clean energy. A closet Trumper was just elected governor of Virginia by people who would rather erase history thsn let their kids learn about slavery in school (though Matt Taibbi thinks there’s more to it than that).

Swamp Rabbit shrugged. “Signs and wonders, but what can we do about all this stuff?”

“I don’t know about you, but I’m gonna steer clear of Joan Crawford,” I said. “I think she keeps an ax in that truck.”

Footnote: You can order a black-and-white cop flag from Amazon, of course.

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Manchin again (the video version)


Swamp Rabbit was hungover and tired of my blogging choices. “How come you gotta do two posts in a row about Manchin? What about all them other creeps in the U.S. Senate?”

So I told him for the tenth time: “Because no other Democrat who will vote on the Build Back Better Act has a more damning and documented record of personal corruption than DINO Joe. He pretends his opposition to the bill has nothing to do with the coal industry being the source of his wealth. He’s not only a liar but also an enabler of the companies that are polluting his constituents.”

“Ain’t no big deal to me,” Swam Rabbit said, wincing at the sound of my voice. “I’m already polluted.”

Footnote: Why did Washington Post recently re-investigate the old story about Garrison Keillor allegedly groping women coworkers but not investigate Manchin’s lucrative relationship with the coal industry? Why is there more comprehensive information about the Manchin family’s corruption in Don Winslow‘s two-minute video (posted above) than in thousands of words from the Post and the New York Times? Just asking.

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Moral midgets like Manchin hold sway


“Lighten up, Odd Man,” Swamp Rabbit said as he stepped into my shack with a bottle of Wild Turkey. “You can’t call Joe Manchin a moral midget. What’s moral to him might not be moral to you, and vicey-versey.”

“No relativism, please,” I replied. “That pompous hick opposes sufficient funding to fight climate change because it would hurt the coal industry, where he made his millions. He says his investments are in a blind trust, but that’s a lie. He knows his dividend checks are coming from the coal industry. He’s close to the profiteers who are stalling to prevent the replacement of fossil fuels with clean energy. If he had an ounce of moral sense, he would recuse himself from working on any legislation that concerns the environment.”

“Then the Dems would lose for sure,” Swamp Rabbit said. “They need his vote. They ain’t got no choice but to cut the climate change budget.”

I asked my mangy neighbor if he remembered when I noted in April that Manchin, the senior senator from West Virginia, was likely to destroy any hopes Democrats have of passing strong progressive legislation. Sure enough, Manchin hasn’t budged in his resolve to neuter the $3.5 trillion Build Back Better Act, which would “expand the social safety net” and combat the impending climate crisis. The Senate is split 50-50 and all 50 Republicans will vote against the bill, so a “no” vote from Manchin or Kyrsten Sinema, his fellow Democrat In Name Only, would send the bill down in flames.

Joe Biden and company have tried to ignore this reality for months but it hasn’t gone away. So here we are, all of us, living in a so-called democracy but with no power to overrule corrupt officeholders who place their own interests above ours.

No one else was around, so I blamed the problem on Swamp Rabbit. “It’s cynics like you who allow the Joe Manchins of the world to seize power and wreck the future,” I said. “You could fight to elect more progressives, but you’d rather remain comfortably numb.”

“I’ll drink to that,” Swamp Rabbit said as he broke the seal on his bottle and poured himself a shot.

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Goodbye, Columbus? Not in South Philly.


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This is a follow-up to a column Odd Man Out wrote last summer.

A bizarre psychodrama was unfolding in South Philadelphia while Swamp Rabbit and I worked a dull sales event in the suburbs. Hundreds of people had gathered to celebrate Columbus Day with a parade near the statue of Christopher Columbus that stands on Marconi Plaza. But the Columbus statue was encased in a plywood box and confined behind a metal fence, as it has been since last summer. Someone had hung a “Free Chris” sign on the fence.

Like I said, bizarre.

I showed Swamp Rabbit a newspaper account to bring him up to speed on the years-long fight to remove the statue of Columbus, a hero to many Italian-Americans and a villain to activists who cite evidence that he played a central role in the killing, mutilation or enslavement of large numbers of Indigenous people. Bowing to pressure from the activists, city officials earlier this year canceled Columbus Day. From now on, the holiday on the second Monday of October will be called Indigenous People’s Day. Columbus remains in solitary confinement. His fans are not happy.

“I don’t blame ’em,” Swamp Rabbit said. “The guy discovered America, and so what if it was by accident? He had a lot of guts, sailing into the unknown and all that. The city should give him his due.”

“He didn’t discover America,” I replied. “He confirmed its existence for Europeans. And so what if he had a lot of guts? Stalin had guts, too. Should the world celebrate a Joe Stalin Day?”

But I was being too glib. The Columbus Day cancellation is still being disputed in court, and the dispute will never really end because it’s rooted in a moral dilemma. Why should city officials single out Columbus when so many other revered historical figures are guilty of similar crimes?

A Columbus fan at Marconi Plaza told The Philadelphia Inquirer that the famed explorer was “not the monster everyone has made him out of be.” This is exactly wrong; Columbus was the first of many European adventurers who, in their lust for gold and glory, sparked a genocidal effort to replace Native Americans with Europeans.

But the fan made a sensible suggestion: Why not take the lid off the statue, leave it where it’s at, and add a display that lists the explorer’s transgressions but also explains that his voyages set in motion a mass migration to the “New World” of millions of people who would have endured a bleak future in overcrowded Europe?

Swamp Rabbit agreed. “We wouldn’t be in this here country if it weren’t for Columbus,” he said. “Besides, he ain’t no worse than Thomas Jefferson and them other rich white guys who preached equality but kept slaves.”

He was saying that history is a lot like marketing. It’s almost always written by or for the victors, whose natural instinct is to downplay the great crimes they committed while building their empires. They can’t sell their myths to the masses unless they leave out or distort information that would cast them in a bad light.

“Ain’t nothin’ wrong with myths,” Swamp Rabbit said. “Them Italiano-Americans need their heroes, just like us. You take away Columbus and who’s left? Next thing you know them activists will be knockin’ down statues of Rocky Balboa.”

Oh no, anything but that. I repeated what I said last year: “Sometimes the revisionists go too far.”

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We pay million$ each year for cop misconduct


A typical September day in Philly. Oppressive humidity. Swarming flies. Cicadas making eerie outer-space sounds. In the media, another story about bad cops:

The city of Philadelphia will pay $2,000,000 to a Black woman who was pulled from a car, beaten by officers and had her toddler used for social media fodder by the police union, officials say.

A month earlier, the cop news was just as awful. A grand jury recommended that perjury charges be brought against three now-retired Philly homicide detectives who testified in the 2016 retrial of a black man who has since been exonerated after serving 25 years on rape and murder charges. The exonerated man sued the city and settled for $9.8 million in 2018. (Above, my response to an Inquirer writer who tweeted about the case.)

Whites who sympathize with Black causes also get the treatment. Last week came news that Philly was being sued by a White woman who was tackled and injured last year (there is video of the incident) by a “notorious” cop during a protest of the police killing of George Floyd. The same cop, now retired, will stand trial for assaulting another White protestor (also on video) at a separate protest against police violence.

“I don’t get it,” I told Swamp Rabbit. “These cops live in the age of camera phones but they behave like it’s 1971. The cop labor union defends them. They act like thugs and cost Philly taxpayers about $10 million a year.”

“Same old, same old,” Swamp Rabbit replied. “The peeps who actually run this town, and most other big towns, would rather keep paying out millions than try to make cops behave. They figure most peeps — white peeps, that is — will take the cops’ side when somebody gets their head kicked in.”

It’s true. White America was shocked and then disgusted by the Floyd incident last summer, but the outcry for reform fizzled after certain activists associated with the Black Lives Matter movement unwisely said they wanted to “defund the police.”

Naive white liberals don’t want to believe it, but we’re back to Square One. Last year, a black writer at The Nation put it this way: “…When it comes time to deal with institutional purveyors of racism, as opposed to individual bad actors, the outrage and support of the white community is not there.”

I showed the article to Swamp Rabbit and said, “Read this and you’ll know why Donald Trump is talking about running for president again.”

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Vegans, anti-vaxxers and the automatic smile


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Eat this delicious vegan salad, you hypocrite!

Covid-19 was surging again but Swamp Rabbit and I were back on the road, selling environmentally friendly products upstate at a vegan fest. Most of the vegans were polite and receptive, but it was my misfortune to cross paths with an ultra-orthodox member of the tribe who couldn’t abide anyone who doesn’t follow a strict vegan diet — no meat, no fish, no dairy, no arguments.

I told her I’m partial to fruit and veggies and grains but I’ve been known to eat a hamburger now and then. And eggs in the morning. I’m an active guy who needs high-energy foods, you know what I’m saying?

She scowled. “You present yourself as pro-environment but you’re not vegan. That makes you a hypocrite.”

“I was a pescatarian for awhile,” I said. “Before that, an Episcopalian.”

She said I shouldn’t be allowed to participate in vegan events. Animal species all over the world were going extinct, thanks to me and other meat eaters. The Amazon rainforest was being destroyed to make room for cattle grazing and soybeans for livestock.

I told her I was against destroying rainforests, against factory farms, against all the creeps who are wrecking the environment for the sake of their profit margins. It was like trying to convince an anti-vaxxer that Covid-19 vaccines save lives.

“You look faint,” I said, losing my cool. “How about a hard-boiled egg? I’ve got one in my backpack.”

At that point Swamp Rabbit noticed the ruckus and intervened. The uber-vegan marched off and I let flow the stream of curses I’d been holding back. Most of them started with the f-word.

“How many times I gotta tell you?” Swamp Rabbit said. “A big smile is the best way to say ‘eff you’ to kooks. You ain’t never gonna be a good salesman if you don’t know that.”

He was right, I guess. Frowny faces inflame kooks but smiles pacify them, especially if you have good teeth. If a kook approaches, smile and be serene. Do not engage. I will never master the art of the automatic smile, but maybe I can learn to use serenity as readily as I use anger, and so what if I reach the point where I can’t tell the one from the other.

Footnote: Swamp Rabbit had a scary thought. “Are most vegans also anti-vaxxers?” he asked. “I don’t know,” I said, “but make sure you get that covid booster shot.”

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The past is never past, the news hardly ever new


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William Faulkner could have told Swamp Rabbit a thing or two about what’s important and what ain’t.

We were still trying to clean up after Hurricane Ida knocked down power lines and flooded our shacks last week as it swept through the Tinicum swamp. Meanwhile, Covid-19 raged on and random bad news dominated a high-pressure zone that stretched from Washington, D.C., to Kabul, Afghanistan.

“What good is the news if it’s presented without context?” I asked Swamp Rabbit as he was dragging his waterlogged straw mattress into the sunlight. “What good is the news media if reporters don’t re-examine past events to help explain how we got from there to here?”

My mind wasn’t only on climate change. I was thinking of a recent news story about Congresswoman Liz Cheney, who blamed Joe Biden for the clumsy withdrawal of U.S. forces from Afghanistan but failed to mention that her father, former VP Dick Cheney, a war profiteer and war criminal, played a major role in suckering the U.S. into the multi-trillion-dollar quagmire in Afghanistan and the even more costly debacle in Iraq. The writer of the story didn’t mention her father either.

“The media rarely report on Evil Dick these days,” I said. “Or his boy George W. Bush, a war criminal who took up portrait painting when he retired from creating international chaos. Or Paul Wolfowitz. Remember that weasel? Or that double-talking old buzzard Donald Rumsfeld, who died in obscurity this summer. I couldn’t remember his name at first, but I knew he used to be on TV every day lying about both wars as the death toll grew.”

“It’s only natural we should want to forget them miserable bastards,” Swamp Rabbit said. “Here, help me with this mattress.”

But I wasn’t done complaining. I reminded him that the U.S. Supreme Court had just conspired with the new Confederates to help outlaw abortions in Texas, even though Roe v. Wade is still on the books. The new Texas law allows bounty hunters to turn in anyone who aids women who seek abortions. It’s eerily reminiscent of the 1850 Fugitive Slave Act, which arguably helped start the Civil War. But that’s ancient history, right?

Speaking of history, there seems little chance congressional Democrats will unite to block the new Jim Crow voter suppression laws being passed by many of the Republican-run state legislatures. And the Dems are unlikely to follow through on much of their $3.5 trillion reconciliation plan, which includes initiatives for paid family and medical leave, expanding Medicare, creating good jobs for the poor, making sure the rich pay a lot more in taxes, and coping with climate disasters like Ida, which wiped out large sections of Louisiana before it headed north.

“In the end, the Dems may do very little to change things, even though they have majorities in both houses of Congress,” I said. “They’ve forgotten how the Republicans made fools of them when they had majorities in 2008, and the media aren’t inclined to remind them. The Dems will never get hip to William Faulkner’s great insight: ‘The past is never dead. It’s not even past.'”

“I hate when you lecture me about the past,” Swamp Rabbit said. “Just hold this here ladder for me so I can climb up and fix my shack.”

“Hold your own ladder,” I said. “In a few years your shack will be gone and the swamp, too. The media will still be reporting the so-called news without context and with no respect for the lessons of history. The Democrats will still be losing battles they could have won if they had any vision or spirit.”

“And you will still be a doom prophet and a pain in the ass,” he replied.

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