From out of the blue, new realities

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I was reading to Swamp Rabbit from Albert Camus‘s The Plague:

Everybody knows that pestilences have a way of recurring in the world; yet somehow we find it hard to believe in ones that crash down on our heads from a blue sky.

I reminded the rabbit that he and I, along with tens of thousands of others, had been at the Flower Show less than a month ago. Even the most ignorant tulip watchers knew the coronavirus was coming, but hardly anyone at the event seemed worried. It was too hard to believe, in such a balmy setting, that a plague would soon “crash down on our heads from a blue sky.”

“Enough Camus,” he said, stretching out in a beach chair on my porch. “I don’t need no more existential dread. I’m depressed enough as it is.”

He was playing devil’s advocate, like last week. Or maybe he wasn’t.

“Camus believed in courage, not dread,” I replied. “He believed in fighting the good fight, even though the deck is stacked against you.”

Swamp Rabbit laughed. “It’s easy to feel courageous if you got groceries and the Internet and checks in the mail. It’s peeps like us who ain’t got no dough who feel the dread.”

I fetched a rusty milk crate and sat down six feet from him. “This is tough on everybody, rabbit, even those with money. People like privacy, but they also like to go to ball games and flower shows and so on. They don’t like sheltering in place. They don’t like too much isolation.”

“Peeps don’t like forced isolation,” he said. “They like having a choice. The thing is, there ain’t never no choice if you got no money… Is my six-pack of beer still here?”

He was trying my patience. “Virus deaths are spiking in Europe,” I said. “The worst is yet to come over here. Trump has stopped saying the virus is a hoax and started calling it the invisible enemy. He wants his base to think it was planted by the Democrats and the Chinese.”

The rabbit sat up, angry. “Trump’s gonna do what he always does — blame other peeps for problems he’s too dumb to deal with. F–k Trump. He oughta be quarantined in some dungeon somewhere.”

“That’s better,” I said. “Anger will keep your spirits up, rabbit. We’ve got to grapple with the new realities, the opposite of what Trump’s doing.”

He slumped back into the beach chair. “You go right ahead and grapple with them realities, Odd Man. Where’s my beer?”

Is social distancing here to stay?

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Photo by GETTY IMAGES

I read aloud from a Washington Post story about our reluctance to maintain social distance from fellow humans during the coronavirus crisis:

Hermits aside, humans are social animals, even what some call “ultra-social.” For millennia, survival has depended on being part of a group. If distancing seems hard, it’s not just you: It’s human nature.

“Human nature, my ass,” Swamp Rabbit said. “Whoever wrote that article must be tripping. Or maybe she never heard of the suburbs.”

He sipped whiskey from his silver flask and jabbered on. If the post-WW II years have proved anything, it’s that many if not most people prefer to exist as far away from each other as possible. Sure, there are family homes and barrooms and sports arenas, but these are vestiges of an earlier era in which humans felt their was security in clans and safety in numbers.

The automobile and the highway system ended the notion that Americans were inherently friendly and/or group-minded, Swamp Rabbit added. Big cities emptied out as the middle class grew. Suburbs sprang up and metastasized into mega-suburbs where endless expansion is driven by the human preference for private space.

“City peeps ain’t much different,” he continued. “The more money you got, the more you avoid other peeps. If you’re rich in Manhattan you can go from one end of the island to the other without crossing paths with nobody but the doorman.”

I told him he was exaggerating, people really are upset about having to isolate during the pandemic in order to keep the infection rate down. Most humans don’t like social distancing. They like face to face contact with their fellow creatures. There’s no substitute for the human touch.

“What planet you from, Odd Man?” he said. “Where I live everybody’s on the Internet. They stream music and movies instead of going to record stores and theaters. They order groceries instead of going to the market. They socialize on Facebook. If they need the human touch, they go to one of them quickie sites, Tinder or whatever.”

“You’re too cynical, rabbit,” I replied. “When the pandemic fades, things will go back to normal.”

He shook his head and took another drink. “Normal today means staring at a smartphone, in case you ain’t noticed. Ain’t nothing you can do about that pandemic.”

GOP: He’s guilty, so what, let’s acquit

Swamp Rabbit said he was worried about me. I wasn’t working today, and I hadn’t even ventured outside my swamp shack to pick a fight with someone.

“Stop watching that impeachment trial,” he said. “It’s turning you into a nut job.”

I told him it should make everyone nutty now that Republican senators, after three years of groveling before Donald Trump, have sunk to the point where they won’t even permit the appearance of a fair trial by voting to include witnesses and relevant documents. They’re telling us Trump was correct when he falsely claimed that Article II of the Constitution gives him “the right to do whatever I want as president.”

They’re agreeing with Alan Dershowitz, who signaled his approval of an imperial presidency by absurdly arguing that a quid pro quo entered into for personal gain by an elected official can’t be illegal so long as that official believes “his election is in the public interest.”

“I blame Claus von Bulow,” I said. “They made a movie about his overturned murder conviction, and the movie made that dirtbag Dershowitz look like a hero. It made him famous.”

“It ain’t just Dershowitz,” Swamp Rabbit said. “They’re all dirtbags. They’re all in the loop. Them senators and lawyers and Cabinet members, them yahoos in Wildwood, New Jersey who like Trump on account of he hates blacks and immigrants and tree huggers — they wouldn’t be propping up Trump if they wasn’t as rotten as he is.”

He’s right. John Bolton, the mustache behind the door, is too concerned about book sales to share his first-hand knowledge of Trump’s law-breaking before the so-called trial is over. Lamar Alexander and other Senate “moderates” have admitted they know Trump abused his power but say they’ll vote to acquit anyway.

Lisa Murkowski lamented the failure of the Senate — a failure in which she played a key role. And here’s Marco Rubio, who seems as stupid as he is gutless: “Just because actions meet a standard of impeachment does not mean it is in the best interest of the country to remove a President from office.”

I kicked my oatmeal bowl off the porch and into the swamp. “Rubio says removing a corrupt president isn’t in our best interest. He’s worse than Dershowitz.”

Swamp Rabbit opened a can of beer and chuckled. “I was where you’re at last week, Odd Man. It don’t do no good to get your blood pressure up. All you can do is vote the crook out of office in November.”

I reached for my oatmeal bowl before it sank. “He was impeached for trying to steal the election, and he’s getting away with it. What makes you think he won’t try again and not get caught next time?”

Change your story, change your life!

Swamp Rabbit and I were arguing about lying politicians. I used to think most of them lied only when they thought there was little danger of being found out. Like Richard Nixon, who famously said, “I’m not a crook.”

But things have changed, especially with Republicans. Donald Trump has made more than 15,000 false or misleading claims in his three years as president, and he’s proud of it.

Trump is in the vanguard of something new. He lies even when he knows there is recorded evidence that he’s lying. The same is true of Ted Cruz, who has made easily refuted lies about Beto O’Rourke, Hillary Clinton, Harry Reid, Barack Obama and even Trump.

“The worst liar might be Lindsey Graham,” I said. “That boy will look out the window at a blizzard and tell you the sun is shining.”

Swamp Rabbit told me I’m old-fashioned, Republicans are hip to new cultural realities. “They ain’t lying, they’re just changing their stories,” he said. “Ain’t no moving forward if you don’t let go the past. You change your story to change your life.”

He sounded like one of those New Age, posi-vibe guys; like Tony Robbins, the motivational speaker who has helped his acolytes, including Bill Clinton, overcome negative thinking in order to “unleash the power within” while navigating the road to success.

“You can deny the past but you can’t really let it go,” I said. “It comes back to bite you. The truth will out.”

“You’re wrong, Odd Man,” he said. “This here’s the post-truth era. Them fifty-three Republican senators at the impeachment trial know Trump tried to shake down that Ukrainian, but they’d rather walk on hot coals than vote to convict.”

“What if John Bolton testifies?” I said. “He’s a first-hand witness.”

He shrugged. “They’re gonna change their stories if they absolutely got to, but they ain’t never gonna admit to lying.”

Footnote: The New York Times, Washington Post and the rest of the mainstream media know Lindsey Graham is a world-class liar who changes his stories as often as he changes his ties. They sometimes report his individual lies and contradictory statements, but never attack his credibility in a comprehensive way. Where’s that story, except in the Intercept and other reputable alternative publications?

NYT to readers: Vote for both of them!

“This is pathetic,” I said after reading the editorial twice. “What’s going on at the New York Times?”

Swamp Rabbit looked confused. “How would I know? I ain’t no Manhattan neolib. I live in a shack in Tinicum swamp, just like you.”

I was genuinely confused. An endorsement, by definition, involves choosing one candidate over all the others. Why choose two, unless you’re trying to confuse your readers?

Swamp Rabbit took a minute to check the editorial then read aloud from it:

Both the radical and the realist models warrant serious consideration. If there were ever a time to be open to new ideas, it is now. If there were ever a time to seek stability, now is it. That’s why we’re endorsing the most effective advocates for each approach. They are Elizabeth Warren and Amy Klobuchar.

Warren is the radical, you see, and Klobuchar is realistic. I couldn’t help wondering how often The Times‘s editorial writers venture outside their glass-and-steel tower, and how they’re defining their terms.

Warren is actually a New Deal-style Democrat, with beliefs and policy ideas similar to those of Bernie Sanders, a candidate the Times calls divisive and despises. Klobuchar is middle-of-the-road, a lot like Joe Biden but more bland and not as gaffe-prone. How her politics equates with realism is a mystery to me.

“They mean she’s a go-slow type,” Swamp Rabbit said. “They’re saying she can do what Warren wants to do, but without rocking the boat. Don’t make much sense when you think about it.”

I told him the Times editorial tells us more about the Times than it does about Warren or Klobuchar. The famed newspaper of record badly misjudged the mood of the country when it confidently endorsed Hillary Clinton in 2016. It still doesn’t understand Trump’s appeal. It’s hoping to get back some credibility by hedging its bets in 2020, by being all things to all people who aren’t Trump-loving troglodytes.

“Who cares about them editorial writers anyway?” the rabbit said. “They all work for corporations. I know bloggers who make more sense.”

I nodded in agreement. He said, “Don’t jump to no conclusions, I ain’t talking about you.”

Who’s more anti-Bernie? Too close to call.

Matt Taibbi’s succinct summary of Joy Reid’s most recent attempt at character assassination:

If you combine junk forensics and yellow journalism, you get this peak-stupidity moment by MSNBC – having a “body language expert” on to declare Bernie Sanders a liar.

What’s next from Reid? Maybe Sybil the Soothsayer from Sidney Lumet/Paddy Chayefsky’s Network to predict that Bernie’s election would result in the end of the world.

Swamp Rabbit thinks MSNBC is more blatantly anti-Bernie than CNN. I think it’s a tie.

The Dems’ circular firing squad takes aim

Swamp Rabbit wanted to know why the corporate news media are blatantly anti-Bernie.

“Because he’s a pushy old guy from the Bronx,” I said. “Because he complains about their biased coverage of his campaign.”

Swamp Rabbit was referring specifically to the recent candidates’ debate in which CNN talking head Abby Phillip asked Bernie Sanders why he told Elizabeth Warren that a woman could not win the presidential election. Sanders denied the charge. Phillip then turned to Warren and said, “Senator Warren, what did you think when Senator Sanders told you a woman could not win the election?”

“It’s like she was calling Bernie a liar,” Swamp Rabbit said. “Them talking heads on CNN don’t even give him the benefit of the doubt.”

I tried again to explain. All the big media outlets hate Sanders for saying they’re in bed with Wall Street and the insurance industry and the defense industry and the student loan racket and Big Pharma. He makes them look bad, and they get even by distorting his policies and pretending he’s not doing well as a candidate.

The real surprise is Warren, who heightened the drama by confronting Sanders after the debate. By openly feuding with him, the only other progressive in the race, she arguably weakens both of their campaigns and strengthens Biden and Buttigieg, the corporate-friendly candidates. The CEOs who run the corporate media would love to see Sanders and Warren knock each other out of the race.

“I don’t get it,” Swamp Rabbit said. “Why did Warren make it a #MeToo thing?” She might as well have said Bernie is a — what’s the word? — a mis-og-o-nist. What good’s that gonna do her in the long run? “

“She knows he’s not a misogynist,” I replied. “She was pissed. Some of Bernie’s campaign workers have been telling people she can’t win because rednecks will never vote for her.”

“I don’t know,” he said. “I’m a redneck and I’d vote for her in a heartbeat. I’d vote for Booty if I had to, or for Biden, God forbid. Consider the alternative.”

I didn’t reply. The alternative is unthinkable.

If I lived in Iran, I’d hate us too

Swamp Rabbit wanted to know why Iran hates America, the beacon of democracy and the land of opportunity. “Just because,” I told him.

Iran hates us just because we overthrew its democratically elected prime minister and propped up the corrupt Shah (1953). Just because we backed Iraq in the Iran-Iraq war, which cost more than a half-million lives (1980-1988). Just because we shot down an Iranian airliner, killing all 290 people on board (1988). Just because we withdrew from the Iran nuclear deal and doubled down on economic sanctions that have hurt millions of Iranian citizens.

And just because we took out Qassim Suleimani, the second most powerful character in Iran and a national hero.

“What you mean by took out?” Swamp Rabbit said. “Did we wine and dine him?”

I told him “took out” is a U.S. military euphemism. It sounds cooler than “killed,” much less alarming than “assassinated” and not nearly as ugly as “murdered,” the word used by former New York Times reporter James Risen in an Intercept piece about the hypocrisy of American foreign policy.

“But Suleimani was a terrorist,” Swamp Rabbit said, playing devil’s advocate. “His posses killed hundreds of Americans.”

“Depends which side of the fence you’re on,” I replied. “If you’re in Iran or Iraq, you probably think Bush and Cheney are terrorists, and Petraeus and the other generals. How many people did they kill?”

“But Mike Pompeo said Suleimani was planning more attacks,” he said. “What’s the big deal about killing him?”

I told him President Gerald Ford issued an executive order banning assassinations (1976). A current version of the ban is still in effect. Which means killing Suleimani was illegal. Which means we shouldn’t be outraged or even surprised if Iran blows up some high-ranking U.S. officials.

“But Pompeo said attacks were imminent,” Swamp Rabbit insisted. “And that this was — what you call it? — a targeted killing, not an assassination.”

“Pompeo is an Opus Dei member,” I replied. ‘He hates Iran for being a heathen country and thinks good Christians will continue to fight heathens right up to the Rapture. He thinks lying is okay if you’re lying for the Lord. His mascot Mike Pence feels the same way.”

Swamp Rabbit reached for his whiskey flask and drank deep. He was enjoying himself. “But them bosses in Iran are religious nuts, too. They got big chiefs called ayatollahs. Ayatollah means sign of God.”

I took a deep breath and exhaled. “The point is that America is run by bigoted hypocrites, just like Iran. It’s an open secret our news media will never acknowledge.”

“Well, no shit,” he said. Why didn’t you say that in the first place?”

Footnote: Sure, the assassination ban is vague. Several presidents, including Barack Obama, argued that it doesn’t apply to targeted killings of “nonstate actors” — Osama bin Laden, for example. But Suleimani was definitely not a nonstate actor. If the ban doesn’t cover his case, it’s worthless.

Wake me up when it’s over

The flu bug latched on last weekend at the Farm Show in Harrisburg and flattened me when I got back to the shack. My bones were creaky and my head was on fire, so I chugged NyQuil and climbed onto my hammock to sweat it out.

I was hoping for the bliss of sleep but what I got was a 24-hour nightmare about some vile, orange-faced freak who became president of the United States despite losing the election by three million votes.

The freak mocked a disabled person on camera and bragged about being a pussy grabber. Used donations to a charity to pay his legal fees and campaign funds to prop up his ailing businesses. Published a book called The Art of the Deal during a ten-year period in which his businesses lost more than a billion dollars. Was fined $25 million for swindling attendees of his fake university. Retained the unwavering support of white evangelicals who ignored ample evidence of his corruption. Separated immigrant children from their parents and jailed the children. Sabotaged the EPA as the climate crisis worsened.

I got up twice. The nightmare grew darker each time I went back to sleep. The freak threatened to start a war with North Korea, a nuclear power. Escaped criminal charges despite obstructing an investigation into his intimate relationship with a foreign dictator who interfered with U.S. elections. Was impeached for the attempted extortion of the president of Ukraine. Retained the unwavering support of almost all Republican senators who will serve as jurors at his Senate trial. Dashed hopes of Mideast peace by ordering the assassination of Qasem Soleimani, the second most powerful figure in Iran.

The next day I was still sick but back on my feet. Swamp Rabbit stopped by with some stale biscuits. “I dreamed that an orange hog monster was elected president and was trying to destroy the world,” I told him. “Thank God that’s over.”

“That weren’t no dream and it ain’t over,” Swamp Rabbit said. “It’s only just begun.”

The satire-proof POTUS

I showed Swamp Rabbit a news story and noted that no one could write a more bat-shit funny satire of Donald Trump’s thought processes than Trump himself.

We’ll have an economy based on wind. I never understood wind. You know, I know windmills very much. I’ve studied it better than anybody. I know it’s very expensive. They’re made in China and Germany mostly — very few made here, almost none. But they’re manufactured tremendous — if you’re into this — tremendous fumes. Gases are spewing into the atmosphere. You know we have a world, right? So the world is tiny compared to the universe. So tremendous, tremendous amount of fumes and everything. You talk about the carbon footprint — fumes are spewing into the air. Right? Spewing. Whether it’s in China, Germany, it’s going into the air. It’s our air, their air, everything — right? So they make these things and then they put them up.

“That ain’t satire,” Swamp Rabbit said, reading Trump’s remarks. “He don’t do no satires of himself. He don’t do no jokes at all except to pick on somebody weaker than him.”

“That’s my point, rabbit,” I replied. “He’s never joking when he says something stupid. He’s irony-free and satire-proof. He believes what he says and so do his fans. If Trump says wind power is dirty — that turbines spew fumes — then that’s good enough for Trumpers.”

I told him it took the emergence of Trump to remind literate people that there are limits to the usefulness of satire and other literary devices that have been used through the ages to shame authority figures into behaving better. You can’t shame the shameless.

“What about Stephen Colbert and them other comedians on TV?” Swamp Rabbit said. “Why can’t they get through to Trump’s peeps?”

“Because Trump’s peeps don’t watch them,” I replied. “If they did watch, they wouldn’t get the jokes.”

Footnote: Trump’s bizarre opinion of wind power has nothing to do with pollution, of course. It dates to the bitter battle he fought to stop construction of an offshore wind farm near his golf course in Scotland because he felt the wind farm would spoil the view from the course.