Anti-boomer demands recount of 2,020 greatest songs


“I bet they ain’t got none of my favorites,” my neighbor Swamp Rabbit said when WXPN in Philadelphia started playing the 2,020 all-time greatest songs, an end-of-year list based on votes cast by the station’s listeners.

“You might be surprised,” I replied. “Listeners were allowed to vote for anything, and each voter could choose from one to ten songs. I’m sure there were votes for some of those hillbilly songs you like.”

I told him I’d checked XPN’s audience demographics. It seemed obvious the playlist would include a ton of classic rock, a decent amount of soul and R&B, a little hip-hop, a smattering of tunes from other genres and enough eclectic oddball stuff to keep the list from being completely predictable.

The countdown went on for about a week, 24 hours a day except for a break before the Top 100 songs. I tuned in from time to time and at one point noted that many if not most of the songs were from the 1960s and 1970s, when pop music was the most important driving force behind cultural change.

“OK boomer,” Swamp Rabbit growled. “The real reason so many of them selections are old is because a lot of the voters were old. You and all them peeps who grew up burning your draft cards on Main Street and preaching the brotherhood of man. I demand a recount.”

I was surprised that Swamp Rabbit was so upset until I remembered he’s a lot younger than me and only looks old because he drinks Wild Turkey all day.

“You’re probably half-right,” I conceded. “Only 2,473 ballots were cast, representing less than one percent of XPN’s per-week listening audience. And I’ll bet a lot of the voters were old and white. And a lot of young people don’t even listen to radio anymore. They just download the songs they want to hear from the Internet.”

Swamp Rabbit wasn’t placated. He was mad, and so was I, that the list included so many songs by lame-ass Billy Joel and the hippy-dippy Grateful Dead and overrated Bruce Springsteen, and Led Zeppelin’s inevitable, insufferable “Stairway to Heaven.” And why no Ernest Tubbs, Loretta Lynn, Jimmy Rodgers, Kitty Wells and so on? Only one song by the genius songwriter Hank Williams!

“Don’t flip out, it’s just a list,” I said. “The point is to attract more listeners. Music fans find out some station is doing a best-ever list and they tune in to hear if their favorite songs are on it. Then they argue about the list, like we’re doing right now. It beats arguing about politics and the pandemic.”

I confessed that my own greatest songs list would be predictable. My Top 40 would consist mostly of cuts by Bob Dylan, Beatles, Rolling Stones and Jimi Hendrix, and probably something by David Bowie, Aretha Franklin, Billie Holiday, Muddy Waters, Stevie Wonder, Joni Mitchell, Sly Stone, Van Morrison, Captain Beefheart, Cream, Beck, Buffalo Springfield, the Band, Chrissie Hynde, Radiohead, Bob Marley, James Brown, Kinks, Doors, Who… But who cares what I think?

“That’s the first intelligent thing you said all day,” Swamp Rabbit said.

Footnote: The rabbit and I agreed on one thing: Super-long cuts by jazz and prog-rock artists shouldn’t have been included. “Miles Runs the Voodoo Down” is a great piece of music, but it is not a song.

One more: Sure, the “greatest songs” idea was a gimmick, but the execution was fun. I tuned in one day long enough to hear Frank Sinatra’s grandiose “My Way” segue perfectly into King Crimson’s “The Court of the Crimson King.” I’ll never hear that segue again, thank God, but I’m glad I heard it once.

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Is this progress? A show of hands, please


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Swamp Rabbit whistled to summon the birds and beasts of the ponds, mudflats and woodlands. “Listen up, critters,” he shouted. “Here’s what’s happening.”

He read aloud from a list of calamities that have made 2020 a landmark year:

  • Twin plagues of Trumpism and Covid-19, both of which surged to their worst levels in the final quarter of the year.
  • A Republican campaign to cast doubt on the soundness of the U.S. Constitution and the credibility of the electoral process.
  • A Donald Trump-led effort to undo what’s left of our environmental protection laws, even as glaciers melted and fires consumed whole forests and many species died out.
  • The country’s third and worst recession of the 21st century so far, closing thousands of businesses and putting millions of people out of work, made possible in large part by Republican reluctance to fight the spread of Covid-19.
  • A dramatic increase in shoplifting of necessities, a consequence of soaring unemployment and Republican opposition to further government aid to those hurt by the economic downturn.

“And that ain’t the half of it,” Swamp Rabbit shouted. “The question is, will we make progress next year, or is the idea of progress just one of them illusions that the peeps latched on to because America could put a man on the moon and make sixty different brands of cornflakes?”

An eagle circled high above my shack. Turtles stuck their necks out. Geese cackled at a raccoon peeking from inside a hollow log. The swamp cats gathered. And so on; my swamp neighbors are nothing if not diverse.

“How many of you critters still believe in the idea of progress?” Swamp Rabbit shouted. “A show of hands, please.”

None of them responded, probably because none of them have hands. (Swamp Rabbit is only barely human, but he does have hands.)

Does Swamp Rabbit think Joe Biden represents progress, or is he worried Biden might pave the way for another Trumpian president because the Democratic establishment is still too dependent on rich donors and out of touch with the needs of working-class constituents?

“Biden ain’t likely to try to stage a coup if he runs again and gets beat,” he said. “That’s progress, I guess.”

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‘Reaching across the aisle’ into the void


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Swamp Rabbit was happy for our former president. “That new book he wrote is a bestseller. Most of them critics like it, too.”

I shrugged. “It’s a doorstopper that lists for forty-five dollars. I read an excerpt. I like Barack Obama, but he didn’t really try to reduce the gap between the rich and poor.”

Swamp Rabbit scowled at me. “What were you expecting? Robin Hood? Obama did what he could. He was a real leader, an inspirational type of guy.”

“You’re right,” I said. “Obama was immensely more presidential than the vindictive clown who came next, but let’s not try to canonize him. Don’t forget how foolish he was in trying to reach across the aisle to that gang run by Mitch McConnell, who said that his goal was to make Obama a one-term president.”

I read to him from a long interview with political scientist Thomas Ferguson, who noted the long-term consequences of Obama’s timid reaction to Republican intransigence in 2008, when Democrats had control of both houses of Congress:

There were some efforts to push on Republicans, but Obama mainly didn’t do it… Well, you know, the truth is, [Democrats] blew the first two years and they brought you to 2010. That really stuck gridlock in the system and brought you Trump. They did everything too little, too late. I mean, let’s repeat that: you got Trump because of the Obama administration failures in economic policy.

“That ain’t fair,” the rabbit said. “If Obama had fought harder for poor peeps them Republican uglies would have accused him of being an angry black man with a secret plan to blow up the land of the free.”

“They did accuse him of that, but never mind,” I said. “My point is that Joe Biden is looking like he intends to repeat all of Obama’s mistakes. He’s trying to do business with a bunch of right-wingers who were lackeys for Trump. They’re still lackeys for Trump, even though he lost the election.”

Swamp Rabbit shook his head and snapped open the last beer in his six-pack. “Don’t sell Biden short. He knows them Republicans. He might talk them into compromising.”

“I think Paul Krugman is right,” I said. “Biden should make Mitch and the gang pay a political price for not taking care of anybody but the rich.”

Swamp Rabbit laughed so hard, he almost fell off my porch. “What’s that mean? Voters in dirt-poor Kentucky just elected McConnell to the Senate for the seventh time. Your boy Ferguson is wrong. Elections in them red states ain’t just about economics. They’re about God, guns and gays. And fetuses. And white supremes, too.”

“I guess I don’t get it,” I said, embarrassed by my naivete. “McConnell has power, he could help people who are hurting because of the pandemic. Why does he have to be so evil?”

Swamp Rabbit shrugged. “Hey, if you had to go through life looking like that dude, you’d be evil too.”

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Call rewrite, the Constitution is a mess


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“What are you laughing at this time, Swamp Rabbit?”

He was bent over his antique laptop, drinking Wild Turkey and reading an opinion piece in which a historian explained why “the Founders” didn’t anticipate some future president who might refuse to accept being voted out of office:

They couldn’t fathom two things: a person who had become president who was so utterly lacking in classical virtue that they would deign or dare to put their own interests above the unity of the country. And the second thing is, I think they couldn’t fathom how any president who would so vividly display disdain for the unity of the country, and mock and undermine the legitimacy of American democracy, why that person [wouldn’t have] already been impeached and removed from office.

He stroked his wispy goatee and said, “Hard to believe there weren’t no Trumps back in them colonial days.”

I told him that Trump types had existed throughout American history, working as snake oil salesmen, carnival barkers and politicians. A few of them even became presidents of the United States. But no former president, no matter how Trumpian, had ever tried to stay in office after he lost an election, if only because he knew he couldn’t get away with it.

“But that’s all over now,” I continued. “This time we got a president who spent his whole life as a real estate hustler and a reality TV host. Then it turned out the elected officials in the political party that backed him had become — or always were — just as corrupt as he is. They stuck with him when he got impeached, despite incriminating evidence. They stuck with him again when he refused to accept his re-election loss.”

“Well, there you go,” Swamp Rabbit said. “They must be in love.”

“Let me summarize, rabbit — the laws governing the conduct of a president are deeply flawed. A president can do whatever he wants if the party that runs the Senate takes his side and the courts play along. He can’t be stopped by the U.S. Constitution, which is a tattered old quilt held together by nothing but so-called norms. Nobody in the mainstream media seemed to notice this until Trump and his goons started shredding it.”

Swamp Rabbit took a big drink from his flask and shook his head. “Them’s mighty big words, Mister Know-It-All, but Trump is a loser this time, even if he ain’t decent enough to concede.”

“He’s a loser because the vote-counting process was upheld in court as he tried to delegitimize it. If election officials had given in to his bullying, Republicans would have hailed his successful coup. But they wouldn’t have called it that, of course.”

“Enough, already,” Swamp Rabbit said, logging off his laptop. “The system worked. Biden won.”

I reminded him that Trump had fired an FBI director for investigating him, used the attorney general as his personal lawyer, used the presidency to advance his personal business interests, tried to extort a foreign government and, in general, demonstrated that the Constitution is too vaguely worded to prevent presidents from grossly abusing their power.

“You’re right, Biden won,” I said, “but what happens when a smarter Trump type is elected president? And what about all those crooked Trump lackeys who are still in Congress?”

My mangy friend presents himself as an Everyman figure, so I was eager to hear his reply. He seemed to think it over for a minute, but then I realized he had passed out.

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Post-election reality check


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Swamp Rabbit had passed out next to the frog pond and it took me a few minutes to wake him. “Stop celebrating, Election Day’s been over for two weeks.”

He stood up and looked at the denuded trees and the vast piles of leaves on the footpath that leads to his shack. “What month is this? Is Trump still kicked out of the White House, or was I dreaming? I need a drink.”

“That’s the last thing you need. Trump is supposed to move out in January but he hasn’t conceded. He’d like to overturn the results of the election. I hate to be a drag, but the country is still a mess.”

“I can handle it,” he said, raising his fists. “The bottom line is the orange hog monster lost.”

I told Swamp Rabbit not so fast, he must submit to a reality check, it would be hazardous to his health if he jumped back into the real world harboring a bunch of delusions.

“Just answer true or false,” I said. “The Republicans in Congress have acknowledged that Joe Biden won the election and they’re urging Trump to acknowledge it, too.”

“True,” he replied. “Biden got about five million more than Trump. Last time I looked he had the Electoral College vote, too. Facts are facts, right?”

I shook my head. “The answer is ‘false,’ rabbit. Republicans know Biden won but they’re still going along with Trump because they want to make the country think the election was rigged.”

“Damn,” he said. “I remember saying you were an idiot for thinking the Dems were gonna flip the Senate, but I didn’t figure them Republicans would pretend Trump won.”

I continued with the reality check. True or false on these statements: 1) Now that the election is over, Trump and his henchmen have stopped denying that masks and social distancing are effective tools against the spread of covid-19. 2) With only two months left in office, Trump has instructed senior government officials to help with the transfer of power to Biden’s team. 3) With so many people sick or out of work, Trump and McConnell’s gang are finally ready to agree to a reasonable stimulus package.

Swamp Rabbit answered “true” to each statement, and I told him he had flunked the reality check with a perfect zero. “You’re still drunk on the notion that electoral defeat will shame Trump and his party into doing the right thing,” I said. “I think they’d rather stage a slow-motion coup.”

He picked up a beer can and tried to drink from it, but it was empty. “So what’ll we do now? We were looking forward to a new era. We were gearing up for a smooth transition.”

“Come down off Cloud Nine,” I suggested. “Get reacquainted with reality. Sober up.”

“The hell with that,” he said. “I stashed an emergency jug of Wild Turkey in the crawl space under my shack. If what you just told me is reality, I’m gonna drink it and go back to sleep.”

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Yes, bad things happen (to Trump) in Philly


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Swamp Rabbit’s parole officer Victor Cortez called me today with a joke about the Electoral College: “The only way for Donald Trump to get to 270 is if he loses fifty pounds.”

I said, “You’re right, it’s impossible.”

I was sure of this because the talking heads on TV had just announced that Joe Biden won Pennsylvania, which put him at 273 electoral votes, which means he’s now the president-elect.

The vote count had dragged into the weekend after the “blue wave” failed to appear on Election Day. Fittingly, the mail-in ballots that put Biden over the top today came out of Philadelphia, the city Trump has been smearing for weeks as one of those places where Democrats would try to steal the election. “Bad things happen in Philadelphia,” he said.

It was the sort of lie Trump can’t resist telling about people who won’t buy his brand, meaning anyone who knows he’s a vindictive blowhard crook who isn’t qualified to be a South Philly ward leader, let alone president.

Swamp Rabbit appeared outside my shack after my phone call with Victor. “You hear the news? Trump just got beat on account of all them bad peeps right here in Philly and the suburbs voted for Biden.”

I reminded him that we live in the Tinicum swamp, not Philly proper. “So what?” he said. “That don’t mean we ain’t close enough to celebrate.”

We got on our bikes and rode a few miles to South Philly and then to Center City, where the streets were packed with placard wavers and fist pumpers and car drivers honking their horns to acknowledge Biden’s victory. It was sunny and 70 degrees and there was no sign America had come fairly close to self-destructing by awarding a second term to a third-rate Mussolini.

Swamp Rabbit parked his bike and bummed a beer at Rittenhouse Square. “Too bad Biden’s gonna get sabotaged by Mitch McConnell and all them other Republican goons who got re-elected to the Senate.”

“Don’t start that again, you’ll spoil the party,” I said. “Besides, Democrats might still get the Senate if they win those two run-off elections in Georgia.”

He shook his head. “And too bad Trump gets to hang around in the White House for a few more months. That’s plenty of time for him to stir up his base and make sure the pandemic gets worse and the stimulus don’t happen. He’s gonna want revenge.”

I shrugged. “We survived four years of him, we can survive a few more months… I think.”

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Uh-oh, a blue mirage!


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Swamp Rabbit was doubled over laughing at me for having thought the 2020 elections might generate a wave that would sweep Democrats to victory even in some former Confederate states that were, according to the pollsters, trending blue.

“Hahaha, you believed the hype. You drank the media’s blue Kool-Aid.”

“Not true,” I replied. “I said Trump would lose and then dispute the results for as long as he could. That’s exactly what’s happening. And I said Biden’s victory wouldn’t amount to much unless the Democrats also managed to flip the Senate. They needed a blue wave.”

“Hahaha, blue wave! I make bigger waves in my bathtub.”

He was getting under my skin. “You don’t have a bathtub, you mangy rodent. You don’t even have running water.”

The truth is, I was losing my temper because Swamp Rabbit was half-right. When it’s officially over, Biden will have somewhere near five million more votes than Trump and, more important, he’ll most likely have the magic number of Electoral College votes. But the idea that Dems would easily flip the Senate was wishful thinking stemming from the popular belief that pollsters would be more accurate this time than in 2016 when they predicted Hillary would prevail.

“I was fooling myself,” I confessed. “I figured a lot of Trumpers lost faith in their would-be dictator after he said ingesting bleach might be a good treatment for Covid-19, or when he didn’t denounce the Proud Boys, or after he told his twenty-thousandth presidential lie. But they stayed with him because he voices their hatred of everyone they envy or fear. They need their misdirected hatred more than they need the truth.”

“Nice speech, but where do you go from here?” Swamp Rabbit said. “What good is a Dem president if he’s gonna get blocked in a Senate run by Mitch the Amazing Turtle Man?”

“That might not happen,” I said. “Votes are still being counted in some states. The Democrats only need three seats.”

I told him to look on the bright side. Biden was a weak candidate but as president he won’t back reactionary judges or antagonize NATO allies or destroy the environment or use taxpayer money to prop up his failing businesses or…

“The Dems didn’t clean out the Senate,” Swamp Rabbit said, interrupting me. “McConnell, Ernst, Graham and them other uglies will still be there. Republicans even picked up some House seats and held on to statehouses. More gridlock up ahead. This here is what you call a cold civil war.”

I stepped off the porch of my shack in search of a large rock to shut him up with. “Don’t flip your wig,” he said, sensing danger. “It ain’t a hot war… Not yet, at least.”

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Only a blue wave can detox the U.S. Senate


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Tomorrow is Election Day, but Swamp Rabbit and I are still arguing. Will a blue wave crash down on the Orange Contagion? Will the Democratic victory be large enough to discourage Trump from contesting it? Large enough to turn the Senate blue?

“There you go assumin’ again,” Swamp Rabbit said. “What if there ain’t no blue wave? What if 2020 is 2016 all over again? I’m just saying.”

I told him Biden isn’t Hillary, the polls are probably right this time. Trump will lie and cheat and dispute the election results – especially in regard to mail-in ballots — but he’ll be out of the White House by Inauguration Day. And if he’s not, we’re all doomed.

Swamp Rabbit laughed. “Don’t be so dramatic. It don’t matter who wins, you’re still gonna be living in the Tinicum swamp.”

“It does matter,” I insisted. “Better to have a dinosaur in the White House than a dictator. Biden won’t lord it over the DOJ or fire inspectors general for investigating corruption. He won’t ignore the pandemic or kill decent healthcare and environmental laws or put kids in cages. He won’t condone voter suppression and intimidation.”

“Blah blah,” the rabbit replied. “How you know what Biden’s gonna do?”

I told him Biden won’t be able to do anything unless the blue wave is big enough to wash away a significant number of Trump’s allies in the Senate — i.e., the flunkies and enablers who voted not guilty at Trump’s impeachment trial, pushed through huge tax cuts for the rich and blocked additional aid for the unemployed when the Covid-19 was starting to surge again.

“Biden needs a working majority in both houses of Congress,” I said. “Otherwise Mitch McConnell and his fellow uglies will shoot down every bill the Democrats try to pass.”

Swamp Rabbit shook his mangy head. “That’s a pretty tall order, Odd Man. Them voters might turn against Trump, but what makes you think they’re gonna turn against them rightwing senators?”

Because people are tired of being lied to,” I shouted. “They’re finally realizing that the Republican Party is the party of the rich and no one else.”

The rabbit was laughing again. “I’m glad you’re fired up, Odd Man, but you’re gonna feel pretty silly if that blue wave turns out to be a trickle.”

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Bad things happen when you debate a demagogue


Odd Man Out

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Here’s the lord of Mar-a-Lago ranting Tuesday night during his so-called debate with Joe Biden:

As you know today there was a big problem. In Philadelphia, they went in to watch. They are called poll watchers. They are very safe, very nice thing. They were thrown out. They weren’t allowed to watch. You know why? Because bad things happen in Philadelphia. Bad things.

Swamp Rabbit and I live in the Tinicum swamp near Philly, so we wondered what Donald Trump was talking about. Turns out he was referring to satellite election offices, where you can register to vote and pick up or drop off mail-in ballots.

“Trump ain’t got no certified poll watchers in Philly,” Swamp Rabbit noted. “Polling places ain’t even open yet. He’s just trying to make his MAGA wackos believe all them big-city Dems are gonna rig the election by stealing votes from him.”

I…

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The spookiest Halloween ever


Swamp Rabbit’s parole office Victor Cortez dropped by yesterday at my shack in the Tinicum swamp while the rabbit and I were critiquing Donald Trump’s performance at his final debate with Joe Biden. “I’m the least racist person in this swamp,” Victor said, doing a dead-on Trump impression.

Swamp Rabbit handed him a beer. “That’s because you the only person in this swamp, ‘cept for Odd Man and me.”

“No president has done more for the Black community than I have, except maybe Abraham Lincoln,” Victor added, making weird, Trumpian hand gestures. “Ask my black friends. Any of them.”

“That shouldn’t take long,” I said. “The only Black friend you’ve got is Kanye West.”

Swamp Rabbit objected. “That ain’t fair. Just because Trump wanted to have the Central Park Five executed don’t mean he ain’t got no Black friends. Just because his real estate company screened out Black applicants and his casinos treated Black employees like they was in the deep South don’t mean Black peeps ain’t gonna vote for him.”

“White suburban women will vote for me, too,” Victor said. “They know I’ll keep my Black friends out of their neighborhoods.”

Victor was really getting into his Trump impression. He snapped open his valise and pulled out a strawberry-blonde fright wig and a jar of pumpkin-colored makeup and a red tie that was four yards long. A few minutes later he looked like the real deal. Like he was ready to go door to door for Halloween dressed as the worst president in U.S. history. “Trick or treat!” he said.

“Try not to be a complete whack job,” I told him. “There won’t be any trick-or-treating this year, not with the Covid-19 surging.”

“Covid, Covid, Covid, Covid, Covid,” Victor said, quoting Trump. “People are tired of all this Covid stuff.”

I reminded him that the country set a new single-day record on Friday with over 83,000 new Covid infections. Millions of people remain out of work because of the plague. There might be another 200,000 Covid deaths by January unless people wear masks and abide by all the other measures that help mitigate the spread of the virus.

“Fake news!” he shouted. “I came down with the China virus and I beat it, no problem.”

“Yeah, no problem,” I said. “Thanks to those two drugs that other infected people don’t have access to. And steroids, of course.”

Swamp Rabbit congratulated Victor on his Trump outfit and asked what he planned to do with it after Halloween. Victor said he was tired of being a probation officer and would use the outfit to land another job after Trump gets kicked out of the White House.

“The guy who made the Borat movies said he’s always looking for people to play racist buffoons,” he explained. “If Trump doesn’t want the job, I’ll take it.”

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