Sunday, August 02, 2015

Circular Firing Squad: 2016 edition

In the aftermath of the 2012 election and its endless rounds of primary debates, the Republican party determined that in 2016 they would avoid the circular firing squad that election’s primary debate season entailed.  Instead of endless candidate debates featuring every jackal who was a declared Republican presidential candidate, they would set a public opinion poll requirement for debate participation.  After some back and forth, they set the bar at the top 10 candidates, meaning that the top 10 candidates in national polls would be invited to participate in the 2016 election debates.

Fair enough.

Back when the rules were set, it seemed like a reasonable approach.  The chances of more than 10 serious candidates seemed slim.  This top 10 strategy expected to limit internal sniping and backbiting and lend itself to a serious discussion of the nation’s issues.  Missing from this discussion was the established knowledge of political scientists: early polls are generally name recognition measures and are typically useless when it comes to determining who will emerge as a party’s nominee.  That piece of knowledge turns out to be very important.

Republican candidate debates start this month, more than 14 months before the election.  In keeping with the rules set a few years back, of the 17 candidates (well, 17 as of this writing) only the top 10 polling candidates will be involved.  A system that seemed to make sense has instead created a perverse incentive.  To attract early polling numbers, standing that is essential for continued debate participation, a candidate needs to attract attention.  And what attracts attention the most is over-the-top words and behavior.

With Donald Trump and his ridiculous rhetoric now coming in number 1, the bar for candidates has been set.  And the bar demands attracting media attention.  Full stop.  We all agree that Trump has virtually no serious candidate creds but every time he says something the mainstream media trips over itself to report the inanity……hateful attacks on undocumented immigrants, boneheaded claims about his ability to manage the economy, attacks on John McCain’s bravery as a veteran…..nothing is beyond Trump’s reach and therefore the media’s attention.  The remaining candidates strain to achieve the Trump standard: to the sounds of metal rock, Rand Paul takes a chainsaw to the tax code and releases a video for our enjoyment.  Lindsay Graham films himself destroying his cell phone, an act seemingly necessary after Trump told the world his phone number.   Chris Christie deploys his patented Jersey charm, insulting those who ask questions while he’s on the campaign trail.

The Republican debate rules have created candidates who are Saturday Night Live parodies of serious candidates.  As a Democratic voter, I’ll confess that I am somewhat entertained by the ridiculous race to buffoonery that GOP rules have stimulated.  But as a citizen who believes that honest political discourse is a real and important obligation of elections in a democratic nation, I’m horrified by Republican candidates who offer a healthcare platform of repealing ACA in favor of “something terrific.” Thanks, Mr. Trump, but I want a few more details on what “terrific” looks like.

Genuine electoral competition is necessary to sustain the republic.   I find myself wondering if a single Republican candidate can rise out of this morass to fashion an idea-based campaign to compete against the Democratic candidate.  As I’m not a Republican and unlikely to vote for that party’s candidate, this doesn’t matter for me as a voter, but it does matter to me as a citizen.   I have long-standing belief that we get the government we deserve, the outcome of our civic engagement as a nation.  It frightens me that current Republican presidential crop may be exactly what we deserve.    As for me, I want better for my nation.

Saturday, August 01, 2015

August 1: Peach Tree

I suppose that I could have waited until today to share the news of my big peach tree harvest but I was too excited about my first harvest to delay the news.  Now that the harvest is complete, my hard-working peach tree has earned the right to soak up the sun and relax.

The last week of July was very hot and we seem to have entered a patch of dry weather.  If the lack of rain continues, I’ll need to give the peach tree a big drink.  

As is nearly always the case come August, the summer is starting to droop along its edges.  Heat and limited rainstorms can do that.  Though the peach tree harvest is complete, there are plenty of other things yet to be harvested before the summer growing season is complete.  I plan to to enjoy every bit of the summer that remains even as I am grateful for what it’s given me thus far.

Friday, July 31, 2015

Call for You

At Harper’s Ferry National Park in West Virginia, the 1980s are waiting for your call.

Wednesday, July 29, 2015

The Patient Peach

In the Spring of 2008, my dad sent me three dwarf fruit trees for my backyard.  I planted the two apple trees on either side of the pear tree.  Then I began to dream of the fruit I would one day harvest.  It takes two years for new trees to set on fruit and I knew that patience was the order of the day.

The first fruit set on on 2010 and I followed my dad’s directions and culled the fruit so that none of the branches would be overloaded.  Then, just when I was confident that I would be picking my first harvest, a backyard predator cleared out my crop.  

It would be like this for the next four years.  The fruit would set on and I’d get excited only to wake up one morning and discover that all of my fruit was gone.  I came to expect that my harvest would end up being one lone apple lying under the tree with a bite taken from it.  It was disheartening.  This summer, I expected the same outcome.  As usual, an abundant amount of fruit set on to the apples and pear trees and things looked great.

Even the peach tree, in just its second year in the backyard, looked quite promising.

I didn’t get my hopes up because every year my early crop prospects have ended with some kind of critter disaster.   But this year, as the growing season unfolded, things looked promising.  Each morning, I held my breath and checked to see that my fruit crops were still on the branches.  I held quietly to my hope for an actual harvest.  

The peaches were ready first.  As I stood at the tree I could smell their musky ripening.   After seven years of cultivating the fruit trees, I had my first tree fruit crop!  This past Sunday, I picked my crop of peaches.  They smelled amazing and tasted delicious.

I feel like my patience has been rewarded.  There is plenty of fruit on the apple and pear trees steadily moving toward ripeness.  I’m hopeful that actual apples and pears will follow.  Time will tell that story; for now I wait.  Good thing that I've had all those lessons in patience.

Monday, July 27, 2015

Weekly Garden Update: July 27

All year long, I wait for the privilege of eating tomatoes still warm from the garden.  I keep track of the blossoms on my tomato plants, I visit the first tomatoes that set on, and I watch them each day for signs that they have ripened.  When the first few tomatoes come of the vines, it’s a glorious thing.  The crop comes on slowly and I’ve not yet reached the stage of tomato abundance.  But the signs are all there.

My zinnia seedlings seem to be tasty to the bunnies and other creatures who live in the backyard and I’ve started to despair of having bouquets to pick.  

Gardening is like that: filled with prospect and hope only to suffer the folly of fate in the form of weather, animals, or some other misfortune.

So I practice patience and resolve and I remember to take time to appreciate the crops that do come my way.

Saturday, July 25, 2015

Dunker Church

One of the more well-known sites of the Battle of Antietam is the Dunker Church.  The Dunkers were a German pacifist sect whose place of worship was a simple structure, in keeping with their beliefs.

During the battle, this modest church saw action as Union troops attacked Confederates in the woods behind the building.  Eventually, the building was pressed into service as a battlefield hospital.

Now it stands quiet on a small hill, witness to imaginable horror.  It’s loveliness is deceptive but no less real; a testament to the horror that mankind seems determined to enact against one another.

Friday, July 24, 2015

On Backyards and Little Boys

For several years now, the lawn in my backyard has had a rather large bald spot.   It is the outcome of JT’s daily games outside.  When he was younger, the bald spot would sometimes annoy me in my quest for a perfect lawn.   In the past few years, the size of the spot has shrunk, at first a pleasing development.  But I realize that the fading bald spot is directly correlated to the growing up of my boy.  Suddenly, I’ve developed a fondness for the scruffy part of the lawn.

Backyard gallivanting won’t last forever.  Each time that JT heads out the backdoor to explore the yard, I wonder if it will be his last backyard adventure.  I’d just as soon he hold on to the abandon and wonder of childhood.  If that means running through the backyard, checking out the bunny warren, and wearing out the bald spot just a little more,  then so be it.

One day, a day far sooner than I will welcome, the boy who runs through this backyard will pack his bags and walk out the front door, headed off to college.  That day, what’s left of the bald spot will be a reminder of years that flew by more quickly then I ever could have imagined.   So you’ll pardon my fondness for the imperfect backyard lawn.  It’s evidence of a boyhood of adventure that is passing by far too quickly for my tastes.

Thursday, July 23, 2015

An Uncivil War

Last summer, T and I pulled up stakes and spent a few days visiting Gettysburg, Pennsylvania, the site of a three-day battle that changed the course of the Civil War.  Gettysburg occurred in July 1863 and the Union victory turned the tide of the conflict; Rebel forces would never again invade North.  But the war wasn’t over after Gettysburg.  Nearly two more years of brutal destruction followed.  

Gettysburg today is a beautiful place with acres of the battlefields preserved.  There are monuments to the soldiers who fought here and the sheer volume of them gives one pause.  There were 50,000 casualties in the three day battle; nearly a third of the soldiers who fought on those days.   That the war would last nearly two more years after those three days of miserable carnage tells us how divided the nation had become.  

This past week, T and I stepped back in time again, this time visiting Antietam, in Maryland.  This battle happened in September 1862 and is most often remembered as the Union victory that enabled President Lincoln to issue the Emancipation Proclamation, which freed enslaved men and women in the rebellious states.   Beyond emancipation, Antietam was a battle that taught both the Union and the Confederacy of the need to engage in a more ordered brutality.  In the aftermath of the immediate fighting, the fields around Antietam Creek were littered with the corpses of the dead and dying, as both sides struggled to organize a plan to remove the injured and bury their dead.  This fact is sometimes hard to remember when one stands in the fields that saw fighting in 1862.  It seems so peaceful now.

Though the battle is considered a Union victory, it was just barely that.  More accurately, the battle should be described as a failed Confederate invasion of the North.  When the smoke had cleared, the Union still held the land around Antietam Creek.  The Confederate Army slipped back over the Potomac into Rebel-held territory in Virginia and lived to fight another day.  In the aftermath, both sides developed plans for organized field hospitals, evacuation of the injured, and burial of the dead.  Nearly 23,000 casualties in one day is sobering in that fashion.  

In both of these places, the beauty and peacefulness of the fields belies the brutality that divided this land more than 150 years ago.  I’m accustomed to teaching the Civil War as a bloody, hand-to-hand fight between brothers, and that’s certainly true.  Horrifying as that idea is, seen up close it’s even more shocking.

I’m struck by the notion that our ability to understand the complexity of race and inequality today is really rooted in the same animosity that drove us to the Civil War in the first place.  In the years of those battles, over and over again we destroyed our homes and neighbors in pursuit of a conclusion to the question of slavery and preservation of our union.  That is took such cold brutality to bring the nation to settlement of the questions is unsettling.  For all the brilliant promise that exists in the Declaration of Independence and the Constitution which followed, we’ve had a mighty hard time fulfilling those ideals.  Today, we regret that violence and mourn the dead.  But for all that we record the history of the Civil War, I wonder if we really understand who we are and what we did to one another.

Monday, July 20, 2015

Weekly Garden Update: July 20

Last week, the first tomatoes that set on my plants began to fully ripen.  This occurred just as several more tomato buds began to set on with fruit.    At this point in the growing season, things change daily.  The hot, sunny weather of the last few days will bring on rapid growth, especially when supplemented by the sprinkler as was the case this morning.

Each day I spend time in my garden listening to the birds chirp and watching my crops come to fruition.  I planted a bit late, on May 25, but still in plenty of good time for a season’s worth of growing to pay off.  The tomatoes have already begun to ripen and there are some tomato sandwiches in my immediate future.  

That’s happy!

Sunday, July 19, 2015

Wash Day

I’m the sort of woman who thinks highly of modern laundry technology but it doesn’t hurt to be reminded that housekeeping has come a long, long way.

This picture was made at the National Canal Museum, which was a treasure of a place that T and I made a visit to on our most recent adventure.