Saturday, July 25, 2015

Duke Farms - Orchids

I made my third trip to Duke Farms today with a clear plan of action - get there early, head straight to the Orchid Range and hope to get some great pictures. I think I did. I hope you enjoy them too (especially the second to last orchid that looks like it has a white version of Darth Vader's helmet!)

Follow me on Twitter - @scarylawyerguy

Sunday, July 19, 2015

Trump, McCain, & The Latest Media Pile-On

This weekend, the Beltway media is doing what it does best - grabbing its pitchforks in search of someone to burn at the stake. The unlucky victim is Donald Trump, who made some intemperate remarks about John McCain in Iowa on Saturday, seeming to question McCain's military heroism when that conduct is plain to all (though an earlier Trump zinger about McCain graduating at the bottom of his class at the Naval Academy was right on the mark). 

Trump's competitors for the Republican nomination for President quickly joined the pile on, denouncing him and coming to McCain's aid (as if the senior senator from Arizona, an object of reverence among the DC chattering class, needed it). Everyone seems to agree this is the moment the Trump bubble will burst as quiet calls to bar him from the upcoming debate grow louder and his foolishness is put on greater display. 

The other question which has been raised by people like Chuck Todd is whether the comment itself disqualifies Trump from being President (this is a favored Chuck Todd trope, he famously declared Alison Grimes disqualified from being a Senator because she would not disclose to a reporter who she voted for for President). It is a layup question that appeals to the facile nature of political analysis, but is what Trump said about McCain any more disqualifying than Rick Perry not remembering which three federal departments he wants to shutter, or Ted Cruz's climate denialism, or Scott Walker refusing to say whether he believes in evolution, or Jeb Bush's treatment of Terri Schiavo, or Rick Santorum darkly warning on "man-dog" love if gay marriage was legalized, or McCain, for that matter, when he selected Sarah Palin as his running mate when she was clearly unfit to hold national office?

The other hypocrisy in all of this is the reflexive protection of military service. Once upon a time, Republicans made it a part of their playbook to disparage Democrats who had served - think the "purple heart band-aid" brigade at the 2004 Republican National Convention mocking John Kerry or the disgusting attacks on triple-amputee Max Cleland in 2002. Where once the Republican National Committee led such attacks, now they suddenly care about what one of their own says about another? Puh-leaze. 

UPDATE: Oliver Willis  has unearthed a letter Jeb Bush wrote to the Swift Boat Veterans in 2005 thanking them for what they did to John Kerry. I'm sure the media will ask Jeb about this the next time he chats with them (sarcasm, mine).

Follow me on Twitter - @scarylawyerguy

Sunday, July 12, 2015

The Trump Bump

When Donald Trump entered the Presidential race on June 16th, his entry was met with derision (the press), consternation (fellow Republicans), and bemusement (Democrats). The event itself was mercilessly mocked, from his egotistical escalator descent to the members of the audience who were paid to be there, few thought "Mr. Trump" was doing anything other than what he tends to do - pump up his own "brand" through bombast and braggadocio. 

Whatever lift Trump may have received from the announcement was quickly deflated when he tore into the issue of immigration, and specifically, describing how murderers, drug dealers, and rapists were crossing the border to wreak havoc here in the good old U.S. of A. Business partners like Macy's (where Trump-branded menswear is sold, much of it made in China (irony)), NBC (home of his reality TV show "The Apprentice"), and Serta (yes, Virginia, there is a Trump-branded mattress), quickly cut ties with the real estate mogul. 

But a funny thing happened on the way to Trump's expected obscurity - his poll numbers took off. The more attention the media gave Trump's incendiary comments, the more popular he became, quickly vaulting into second place in polls taken in Iowa and North Carolina and, amazingly, leaping into first place in a YouGov/Economist poll taken nationwide of Republican voters. Just yesterday, he spoke to more than 4,000 people in Arizona, a crowd that dwarfed the largest ones drawn by any of his challengers. Trump has tapped into a vein of Republican voters who are deeply distrustful of Washington and "the establishment," fear the demographic changes going on in our country, and want someone to stand up for them. That their standard bearer would be a New York City real estate developer with a ridiculous hairdo and no filter was missed entirely by the press corps. 

All this all happened while Jeb Bush, who the media is breaking its back to carry water for, announced he had raised more than $114 million, much of it through a Super PAC affiliated with his candidacy. The media is stuck in the narrative that name recognition + deep pocketed donors = front runner even though Jeb has done little to merit this title. He is a desultory public speaker, stumbled badly when asked a rudimentary question about Iraq, and has not had much in the way of negative press coverage of what one would think would be hot button topics like his handling of Terri Schiavo while Governor of Florida or the fact that almost all of his foreign policy advisors served his father, brother, or both and what that might say about the direction he would lead the country.

Indeed, it seems like the dirty little secret to Jeb's candidacy is that he may end up being an emperor with no clothes. I will admit, way back in 2011, I foresaw him being nominated for many of the same reasons pundits still cling to - his family name, his experience, and sobriety, but the Republican party of 2015 is a different place than it was even four short years ago. Trump's rhetoric may be overheated, but it is not substantively much different than what you hear on Fox News or by many other leading Republicans (just google "Steve King cantaloupes"). And that's just on immigration. Other wedge social issues, like same sex marriage and contraception put most of the leading contenders for the nomination well outside mainstream thought in our country, but little attention is being paid to those topics because Trump is taking up so much oxygen. 

For all the money Bush has raised, the polls do not bear out much enthusiasm for his candidacy. Scott Walker is in the lead in Iowa, and while Bush leads (barely) in New Hampshire, the Granite State has been notoriously unfriendly to his family - Poppy Bush was crushed by Ronald Reagan in 1980 and stumbled badly against Pat Buchanan in 1992, and in 2000, John McCain blew out George W. Bush by almost 20 points. After that, the primary calendar moves to South Carolina, which has a favorite son candidate in the race and whose politics are more conservative than Bush's, and Nevada, where the Rand Paul acolytes are ready to put their man over the top. A string of Southern primaries have moved up to garner greater attention and there again, Bush may struggle against more conservative and evangelical opponents like Mike Huckabee, Rick Santorum (who did very well in the Deep South in 2012), and Rick Perry. 

Contrary to what his brother was able to do in 2000 - chase off challengers and secure endorsements through the might of his fundraising acumen - the Republican field this year is larger than it has ever been and Jeb has not separated himself in either national or early primary polls. If anything, his enormous financial haul speaks solely to the allure of his family name, something he claims he would not need (and would not use) to get elected. Of course, you won't hear anything approaching negative coverage from the Beltway media - they are too focused on pumping up Jeb as the "adult in the room" and the recipient of a polling surge (from 12 to 15%!) but Trump's popularity and sudden rise also illustrate something that is becoming more obvious with each passing election - the disconnect between the Beltway bubble and the rest of America. Fifteen years ago, another Bush hoovered up tens of millions of dollars and was anointed the frontrunner. Today, that narrative no longer holds true. 

Follow me on Twitter - @scarylawyerguy

Sunday, July 5, 2015

Why I Did Not Go To Chicago

More than 200,000 people trekked to Chicago this weekend to see the original, surviving members of The Grateful Dead perform what have been billed as the band's farewell concerts. I was not among the throng who made the pilgrimage to the site of the band's final shows with lead singer Jerry Garcia. It had less to do with the shameless cash grab (though anyone who mail ordered tickets in the 80s or 90s eye rolled at the face value for a ticket) and a lot more to do with the appropriation of the band's name for something that could have been done under a different guise. 

I have no problem with the surviving members commemorating the 50th anniversary of the band's formation or, for that matter, touring in celebration of that signal event. What I do mind is the idea that these are "Grateful Dead" shows. Let us be clear. They are not. That band was led by Jerry Garcia and ceased to exist when he passed away on August 9th, 1995. Don't believe me? The surviving members once understood it too. When Jerry died at the height of the band's popularity, when millions were pouring in from tour dates, they could have plucked someone else to play lead guitar, sing Jerry's songs, and carry the banner. But they did not. For the same reason the band could survive the death or departure of Pigpen, Keith and Donna, Brent, and even Mickey Hart for a short spell, they could not survive without Jerry because Jerry was The Grateful Dead. No Jerry. No Grateful Dead. 

In fact, just six short years ago, the now-dubbed "core four" toured together and, but for a few guffaws from the press about old geezers "still truckin'" after all these years, those shows, and that tour, passed without much notice. Why? One key word was omitted from that band's name. "The Dead" filled amphitheaters and smaller venues but none of the sturm und drang, including a shout out from the President of the United States, attended these otherwise unremarkable shows. The side men playing with the band this weekend are also familiar - Bruce Hornsby was a member of The Grateful Dead and Jeff Chimenti has toured for years as part of Bob Weir's band Ratdog. Trey Anastasio, the front man for Phish, has also played with Lesh and has his own jam band credentials. So why feel the need to resurrect a name that you properly retired when the man most associated with it died? 

And I get it. The band was always about a sense of adventure, of young people exploring the world and getting into shenanigans and maybe meeting some friends along the way.  Perhaps the three shows in Chicago and the two in California gave some who never got to see the band the opportunity to experience a Dead show, or at least a pale imitation of what that experience was like, but the truth is, the band has been touring under different names for almost as long as Jerry has been in the ground. The Other Ones. The Dead. Further. Phil Lesh & Friends. But the one thing the band members had the decency to do was not call themselves The Grateful Dead.

This is true for the same reason Nirvana survived half-a-dozen drummers before Dave Grohl but disbanded after Kurt Cobain's suicide, why The Beatles made it past Pete Best and Stu Sutcliffe but The Police called it quits after Sting went solo, and why Roger Daltrey and Pete Townsend can still pass themselves off as "The Who" even though Keith Moon has been dead since 1978 and John Entwistle since 2002 (they did a show just four days after their erstwhile bassist went to the great beyond!) Sometimes musicians are so associated with a band and a band is so associated with a particular member, that using that name once they are no longer in the band is just not right. 

Of course, it is the band's name, their music, and their legacy, they can do with it what they please, charge people what the market will bear, sell $700 box sets and crackdown on anyone attempting to share soundboard recordings of their old shows. But it is too bad they have chosen this route because the music they have produced has actually been pretty good, it is just not "The Grateful Dead." To some, this will seem silly or a matter of semantics, but those of us who had the good fortune of seeing the band, of knowing that electric current that passed through the crowd when the lights went down and band took the stage, do not need the band's name resurrected to cherish those memories.

Follow me on Twitter - @scarylawyerguy