Posted by: cousindampier | 18 October 2019

Hiking in Wales with Pete


Pete was in a bad spot and it was my fault. We were climbing Pen Yr Ole Wen and it was easy compared to Tryfan the day before. We had clear trails, an early start, and – most importantly – sunshine instead of hurricane rain. About an hour and a half in and we thought we could see the summit, just past a little horseshoe gully. It ran upwards about twenty feet on a steep slope, and we didn’t think much of it. After all, we were experienced scramblers, having climbed one peak the day before, and Pete started up as I spotted him.

I followed when he was about halfway, and then Pete looked over the top of the rock and found nothing, no handhold and no solid branch to use, only scree and as he reached around for a way up a piece fell down and crashed next to my ear, like the stuff out of stories, and he was braced with a foot on two different rocks and we were stuck. He’d taken the left route and I moved right and tried to find a way up and around the scree impasse and as the edge of my boot rested on a crack no bigger than two fingers, I realized how dumb this was. It was the same feeling as I got when I’d be safely climbing in a gym, only to break out in a full body sweat and I’d taste bile in the back of my throat and realize how scared I was of falling.

But there was no rope, only a backpack, and falling was going to put us in a bad spot.

The right route had a better top: a few big rocks to use and an easier escape. I moved up and around and Pete had muscled his way up and over by the time I got to help. We sat for a moment and I started to laugh at the ridiculousness of it all, of how tiny of a distance we climbed and how terrifying it was for what was just a few minutes, but in those few minutes seemed like forever.

It’d been a false summit. Pete tightened his straps and climbed up the scree pile we were in. I followed, my shirt and hat streaked with sweat.


We bounced the idea around for a year. I’d met Pete in a course at King’s College and soon found that we enjoyed the outdoors. At least, I spoke of enjoying the outdoors. Pete actually did it. He’d been working on a mountain leadership course, which required a certain number of quality mountain days, and led cadets (boy scouts) on day hikes throughout the United Kingdom.

Despite our good intentions, Wales happened on a whim. Early in the autumn we’d been catching up over burgers and beer and I mentioned how I wanted to get out of London before it became too cold. Pete perked up. He’d been working on a film set for six weeks and it was his final day. He had time and money to spare, and started planning. I used it as an excuse to complete my trekking kit – I needed hiking poles – and I was concerned with basic elements such as, ‘Would Pete drink this kind of whiskey?’ Meanwhile, Pete had a relief map on his kitchen table and was cutting out sections of post-it notes to mark our trek.

It was a three-day project. We were to summit Tryfan and two other nearby peaks on the first day, and then spend the night at a campsite. The next morning, we’d pack up, leave the car, and hike into a lake just behind Carnedd Llewelyn and wild camp there. Pete had this all marked beautifully and for good reason – his father knew of our plans, and if we were to disappear, they’d know where to search.

I hadn’t thought of that part. It was the first of many times I was thankful Pete was there to guide me, because my usual philosophy – get going and figure it out on the way – had serious flaws when it came to backcountry hiking. I had the gear, and I was prepared for an emergency in the sense of having an emergency blanket and some food – but preparing my route ahead of time and letting someone know my location were beyond me.

The day before, Tryfan owned us. We picked a proper scrambling route up its north ridge, spending more time hauling ourselves over enormous piles of rock than we did on the occasional path. It’d all seemed easy at first and we made good time but as we climbed we became more exposed to the winds blowing in from the southeast. The dark gray clouds clustered around Tryfan’s peak as if waiting for an audience before the wind grew angry at their delay and pushed them hard down the valley, speeding out towards the Irish Sea. It was a sublime sight when sheltered; an angry one when not.

The views from Tryfan – when we had them – opened a book into a larger world. The green of Wales was something I’d not seen since traversing Ireland by bus. The world was the kind of green brought about by moisture – sometimes rain and often just air thick with water. It was marked by rock and the occasional path. High enough on Tryfan and we could see the village of Bethesda and further on the town of Bangor, the only places we were able to get cell service the entire time.

More than anything, the sky stood out. It looked as if the gods were fighting, with streaks of sunshine enclosed in columns of clouds. Billowing pillows of moisture would rumble across the sky, darkening the rock and grass below them only to be followed by a flash of warmth. The black and blue blended into purple, only dissipate and leave blue and gold for a few moments.

It was as if the wind saw us as a challenge, and once we submitted Tryfan, it lost. The clouds began to linger and rain started to fall, and by the time we made it back to the campground and set up the tent we were soaked, the tent was soaked, and the ground below it was halfway to bog-land. We found a hostel and Pete – knowing the area about as well as one can from staring at it on a kitchen table – pulled out a map again and we altered course. No wild camping, but a day hike to the second-highest peak in Snowdonia National Park, Carnedd Llewelyn.

So we found ourselves climbing up a steep slab of rock, thinking we were near the first peak of the day, not even the major one, only to find we were disoriented. The real peak appeared in the distance.

The most consistent things in Wales were wind, sheep droppings, and false peaks.

* * *


We peaked Pen Yr Ole Wen and kept moving for Carnedd Llewelyn, first moving up Carnedd Dafydd and sticking largely to the path going forward. We fell in with an older gentleman named Andy, who saw us struggling as we climbed and had a good laugh about it as he’d walked up the path we ignored, dealing with the monotony of switchbacks as we’d dealt with the terror of tipping over.

Pete started chatting, asking about mountains and experiences around the valley. Andy was from the south, somewhere in Cornwall where there were no mountains, just sea and hills covered in tall grass. He was, however, a solid climber. He was thin, almost scrawny as he stood and talked to us in a quiet voice, but when his shoulders moved and he pointed out a specific peak to Pete and I, underneath he was all muscle.

He’d spent the morning climbing Tryfan, the peak we’d submitted the day before, and he was on his way to the top of Carnedd Dafydd. Pete asked the same question of everybody we encountered who climbed Tryfan. “North Ridge?”

Andy smiled, as if he knew the question was coming. He hadn’t gone fully up the north ridge, but it was the easiest path to take. Whereas the day before the wind and rain and pounded down on Pete and I, Andy had an easier go of the mountain.

“If you live down south, you can’t get much training for the mountains here,” Pete observed.

Andy let us in on his secret. “I live on the 13th story in a tower, and I never use the lift. Usually I climb it twice, three times a day. I take the lift going down, of course,” as if walking 13 flights down was an absurd idea.

The view from the top of Carnedd Dafydd revealed a different world. The path behind us didn’t lead to civilization, but it did lead to a road. Modern cars moved along modern pavement, a hostel with a warm bed, and beer all lay back down in the valley. The other side brought forth the wild. We stood on the edge of a large gully, or a small valley. Clouds rushed down, blown from the southeast, pushing towards the sea and we stood on the edge of a ride which forced them up and over, a wave effect in the sky. Their parting revealed the greenest of fields marked by the black soil of a lake, looking like a heart as streams raced away from it, further down into the valley below.

We looked down into a foggy, dark crater, the clouds rolling in and shading the area much like a child might pull the covers over his head to block the approaching day. Off on our left, towards the west, was a different picture, golden sunlight mixing with emerald hills, a perfect scene, with gray houses and thatched roofs just beyond. The blue sea stood proudly in the sunlight, absorbing the rays on a calm surface broken only by an offshore wind farm.

Pete and I weren’t thinking of descending into the dark. We bid our goodbyes to Andy, who was calling it a day and headed back to the hostel. We were headed to Carnedd Llewelyn, the second-highest peak in Wales and the highest in the area we found ourselves. Pete’s best guess was around another hour or two of walking.

We headed off of Carnedd Dafydd and down onto a ridge leading further north. From above, the clouds looked majestic, wales breaking the ocean surface; along the ridge where the valley ended, the wind vented its anger at reaching an obstacle on us. We were blown to the left and started to duck in and out of obstacles, working to say on the leeward side. A large carin stood in the middle of the ridge, a small mountain in itself. We hid from the wind for a moment, watching the clouds roll up and over us.

Carins are giant piles of rock. I’d seen them during our hike the day before without knowing what they were. Pete explained that they were points of reference, used for people in the valley to determine approximate distance. They were in a number of places along the mountain ridges, although I couldn’t imagine who moved enough rock to create such hills. It was massive, enough to be another small peak.

It was not a false peak, and we seemed to have escaped the problem. Carnedd Llewelyn spent the morning with a hat of clouds, and as we started the long hike up it began to clear. The mask of gray we’d been moving through dropped and revealed a brown footpath bordered by the stark green of grass. Brown patches began to appear, and the path disappeared at certain points, leaving us to scramble over rocks and dirt. Unlike the initial climb of the day, Llewelyn was not difficult. It was a long, uphill slog.

Heads down, we kept moving up until the land began to level and the wind picked up, and when I looked up I saw a group of four people leaving a rocky alcove and a beautiful view of the sea. The top of Carnedd Llewelyn was a small plateau and in the early afternoon we said hello to the group leaving and took their place and unpacked food and settled in for a rest.

Long ago, this area of Wales was under massive amounts of water in the Southern Hemisphere. The modern peaks are the result of volcanic activity followed by centuries of glaciation, which gave the region its modern look – tall, steep peaks surrounded by deep valleys, all smoothed. Most of the mountains around us lacked steep cliff faces and sharp edges – the route we climbed earlier in the day was one of the more difficult ways up, and aside from the eerie climb, we made it in decent shape.

The extent to which glaciers shaped Snowdonia National Park became apparent after we finished lunch. Pete brought enough Army rations to keep us alive for two weeks, and we warmed two bags of food over a gas stove as we huddled from the wind and the returning fog. The outcropping was nothing more than a sheep shelter, though I was never clear if it was for the sheep or the sheep-herder. It was a brilliant setup though, borne of generations of experience – the curve of the rock perfectly blocked the oncoming wind.

The extent of the ancient glaciation set it as we spent time in the shelter. The top of Llewelyn was flat, old stone pounded away until it made for a good sized plateau. Looking out over the valleys below us, we saw an astonishing view of Wales – deep, U-shaped valleys with streams roaming towards the horizon, a black and blue path leading the sea and eternity. The light shaded the valley in forms of gold and green, and made the black soil mark the stream as if painted there. After we packed up and pulled our hoods over our heads, we walked around the plateau to check out the place we would have camped – a little valley not far from the top, a place we would have needed to pack in gear and water.

A day hike uphill was far easier than humping everything we brought with us. The campsite Pete had picked out was isolated – the water wasn’t safe to drink nearby – but it was on the leeward side of the mountains, facing down the valley and out towards the sea. A small lake sat next to the campsite with a small stream running forever into the horizon. We stared at it for a few moments, the sun beaming in our faces and rain pelting us in the back, before turning around and heading back.



The tops of the mountains had no woods, and we weren’t out of them yet. Looking back over the fog to the false peak we’d summited two hours earlier, Pete headed down the far side of the mountain, along another spine leading – eventually – towards the A5 motorway and the path back home. We were a bit more sheltered from the wind, and the air began to clear as we moved away from Llewelyn and the sea. The sea was still there, but the dominance of the interior of Wales made itself known. It seemed we were on one of a hundred mountain spines, there for no reason except to be in the mountains. Parts of the trail looked down onto something sublime and dangerous – the greenest fields I’d ever seen on the steepest mountain sides. As much as I wanted to reach out and touch them, a wrong step would lead to disaster.

The roar of jet engines accompanied us. I’d not expected this, so I asked Pete what it was.

“The RAF has a training base in Holyhead,” he mentioned. That was neat to me, so I asked more.

His Uncle used to be stationed there, so Pete knew a bit about RAF Valley. A number of Hawk jets were stationed there, which was the cause of the engine roar we kept hearing. As he told me this, a helicopter appeared.

“They also run Search and Rescue training,” he said.

As we watched, the helicopter moved slowly into position over the small lake we were trying to get around. Waves appeared in the water as the helicopter came to a hover and dropped a line out, simulating a water rescue. It hovered for a few minutes and Pete and I stood and watched it, before pulling the line in and moving around for another pass. Eventually it sped off back down the valley, the sound of its rotors engulfed by the sound of Hawk jets, and Pete and I started walking again.

We dropped down two hundred meters in an hour, and started our curve around a small lake. A few muddy areas presented themselves. Pete had a good set of leather boots, while I had a more basic set of hiking boots – lots of mesh. The more we descended, the more mud and marsh we encountered. We found a path off to the side of the ridge and started down, skipping over piles of ice and rock, with a small road in the distance. The last stretch was ominous – we scrambled over an open field, Pete rushing headfirst across it while I picked my steps, aiming for dry ground. We met at the road.

“We’re drifting a little off,” Pete said, indicating the direction we needed to walk. It was not back down the dry pavement, but up and over a grassy berm.

I wasn’t about to back down and complain about my slightly-wet feet.

We pulled ourselves up and over the grass and my slightly wet feet no longer mattered, because looking out across the path Pete picked out, I could already feel how wet my socks were going to be.

Pete stepped out and barged headfirst into the middle of the field, mud spitting off his shoes. His leather boots were going to hold up well over this mess, and as he walked further away I decided to try and follow on some sort of a less-soaking path. His direct route became my bounding from rock to dry patch. This worked for a while. I was a ways behind Pete but was keeping steady until one missed step caused my boot to sink all the way to my ankle, and my sock became a wet rag wrapped around my foot.

Well, fuck it

I followed Pete across the bog, my boots sticking with every step. Crossing the field took just under thirty minutes. It was thirty minutes of wet. The rain had stopped coming down quite as hard, but the air was heavy with water and we swam through the Welsh sky. A portion of my brown boots was darkened when I first stepped into the mud, but that line was now gone. My whole boot was a wet, soggy mess, my socks no better. Pete’s confident strides put him far out in front, a speck on the other end of the field and I was overwhelmed by two thoughts:

If he is there, how much further do I still have to go? I can’t fucking believe I don’t have waterproof boots for this.

It was a beautiful mess.

The ground began to harden and piles of manure began to appear. It was as if we’d been cast adrift across the field and we’d just sighted a piece of driftwood with a bird resting on it; it signaled the end of the bog. The A5 appeared in the distance, as did the lake we’d skirted earlier in the day. A fence appeared with a sign we couldn’t quite read. The only way there was across an expanse of manure.

Pete looked at me. I looked back and swore. There wasn’t much I could do except walk across it.

The sign seemed to say that beyond this was a private home; do not go left. There was a path down to the road around the property. The arrow pointed to the right. So we went right, only to find ourselves confronted by an angry farmer.

“This is private property. You’re not supposed to be here.”

Pete lept to our defense. “We were just trying to get back to the A5 and the sign said to follow the path this way.”

The man seemed to be early-30’s, with beard barely more than stubble. He shook his head. “It said don’t go this way. You’ll have to go back and follow the road around to the left.”

I looked down his driveway. The highway was less than a half-mile away. The thought of backtracking a mile and hiking three more was not appealing. I lept in. “Mate, I swear the sign was pointed this way. It must’ve been turned around.”

Both Pete and the farmer stared at me and I proceeded to shut up. They kept talking. I thought back to hiking Big Almaty Mountain a few years earlier and having to bribe a set of guards and cursed myself for leaving my cash at the hostel. Right now it seemed like the fastest way out.

Waterproof boots. Always bring cash.

I think the man eventually grew tired of us. He pointed down the road and told us to go ahead, but never come back this way again. We thanked him a hundred times over and set out down the long driveway, and as we passed through some trees and next to what seemed like a hotel, the rain started to come down again, increasing as we walked down the A5 to the hostel. 14 miles of wind and rain, mud and manure later, we were done.



One of the most quoted Jack Kerouac lines is the one about ‘climbing that goddamn mountain.’ I have always read that somewhat figuratively, a modern take on Marcus Aurelius: “The impediment to action advances action. What stands in the way becomes the way.” Whatever that mountain in life is, go climb it.

Yet, throughout my life, there have been figures who have taken that sentiment literally and asked me to come along and my responses are always the same:


Why don’t I do this more often?

We were never in danger. Pete didn’t fall and the farmer never sent us back and I never developed any rare Welsh disease from walking ankle deep through a field of manure. I’d brought a bunch of hiking stuff to London but never really knew what to do or where to go, so my mountain became trying to see every borough in London on foot (this was an insane goal).

The night before we’d stood looking up at the mountains. From the hostel, the path led through some trees and to the top of a small hill. We stood there with cigars in the damp cold, looking up at a farmhouse and a fence which ran the length of a hull far above us.

Pete spoke first. “Have you ever heard of Hunted?”

I had no idea what it was, and told him. He began to explain it was a reality show in the UK in which teams of two people would attempt to evade capture. They had to spend periods of two weeks or more running from the authorities – teams of retired police or intelligence officers.

The idea seemed very cool, and I told him as such. “I’d also be caught in about two days, because I stand out in a crowd pretty well.”

Pete laughed at at that. In one of the seasons he watched a teams won by spending two weeks cycling the canals of London. “If I had to do it, I’d do it here. Backcountry camp and try to stay out here for weeks.”

After Wales, seeing its peaks and valleys, carins and rivers; after trekking across its bogs and scrambling up its mountains, I think Pete would have won.


Posted by: cousindampier | 16 November 2018

A Story About Nothing


It is the silence which is the hardest to describe. It is as if New York City shut off its lights and being able to look up and see the Milky Way – technically possible but massively unrealistic. London is a city defined by its movement and its noise; massive, muscular flows of people moving at urgent speeds while providing a consistent background noise – footsteps and chatter, engines and horns. Then for two minutes, once per year, the city goes silent.

I returned to London for this. The 11th of November – Veterans Day in America and Armistice Day in the United Kingdom. The American version began with the same name and it was the return of veterans from the Second World War which urged the change from Armistice to Veterans. From the American perspective, it made sense. The Second World War was the ‘Good War’ as Studs Terkel called it. It was a conflict easily defined by good versus evil, and the conflict which gave America its unipolar moment where no country, nor any alliance of countries, had the capability to challenge the United States.

Yet it is Armistice Day which captures the imagination because, in America, there is nothing quite like it. The 9/11 anniversary comes closest, but it does not carry the national weight that Armistice Day carries in the UK. It is a holiday celebrating all veterans but the core of the day is the First World War.

The United Kingdom remembers the First World War differently than America. We slot it in as one of those victorious conflicts, that long streak where America emerged on the winning side. In the UK, it is a victory tainted with significant loss. Almost a million Britons died during the conflict – over 2% of the population – with more than a million more wounded. In his work on the First World War, John Keegan writes:

“The First World War was a tragic and unnecessary conflict. Unnecessary because the train of events that led to its outbreak might have been broken at any point during the five weeks of crisis that preceded the first clash of arms, had prudence or common goodwill found a voice; tragic because the consequences of the first clash ended the lives of ten million human beings, tortured the emotional lives of millions more, destroyed the benevolent and optimistic culture of the European continent and left, when the guns at last fell silent four years later, a legacy of political rancour and racial hatred so intense that no explanation of the causes of the Second World War can stand without reference to those roots.”

Britain won, but every year it does not celebrate the victory of the First World War. It remembers it instead.


The silence is the most haunting part. The first time I experienced England on November 11, I was in Heathrow Airport. I’d forgotten what day it was, and was nursing a coffee and paying no attention until the lack of noise made my look up. Everybody was standing, and the only noise was the pre-recorded messages over the intercom system. Nobody was ordering, and there were no drinks being made. It was eerie, and at the time I did not understand what it meant.

While the silence may be momentary, the poopy is more prevalent. In late October, they begin to appear on jackets and shirts; by the 11th, they appear on cars. Busses. On the sides of buildings and you begin to stand out if you lack one. It is a symbol of patriotism, but not the kind the American flag pin represents. It is altogether different, and the United States lacks a true comparison. Derived from the poem ‘In Flanders Fields’ and originally about American war dead, it now represents the grave sites in France where British servicemen were buried during the conflict. It’s core meaning, if it has one, is about tragedy and sacrifice and not outright patriotism.


In a recent article on Deadspin, Odrán Waldron illustrated the hatred footballer James McClean received from fans for his refusal to wear the poppy. McClean’s experience reveals the patriotic and nationalistic element of the symbol. He refused to wear the poppy because it grew from a memory of the First World War to an object remembering other conflicts in which English soldiers have fought and died; and since McClean is from County Derry in Northern Ireland, the site of the Bloody Sunday massacre, the poppy is a symbol of imperialism gone wrong. Playing football in England, this subjects him to boos, chants, and anti-Irish racism yelled at him – and this is by fans of the team he plays on.

What the poppy stands for is more controversial than ever before. It grew out of a sense of mourning, but as McClean illustrates, not all history deserves mourning. White poppies – representing all victims in all wars – have appeared since the 1930’s and grow in popularity. A sort of populist-nationalism has gripped the meaning of the traditional red poppy since 2013-14, as Britain First, a Fascist organization, began to promote themselves with the poppy. Brexit, and the nationalism inherent in it, added to the populism behind the symbol.

Yet even if the meaning is stretched and under more discussion than before, the poppy remains without an equal in the States. It is not the Pledge of Allegiance, said every day, nor is it a flag pin. It is a step below that regular, constant patriotism that pervades everyday American life. Yet, it carries significant and deep meaning for the six weeks it appears. For the days leading up to Armistice Day, it is as powerful a symbol of patriotism as nearly any American icon, but it remains based on one of the most senseless, terrible conflicts of recent time.


The distance between Trafalgar Square to the Houses of Parliament is only half a mile, yet Trafalgar Square was as close as I could get. Whitehall, the street connecting the two, was shut down and full of people. The circle around Trafalgar was technically open but so many people crossed here and there, busses had a slow time getting through. I arrived 15 minutes before the 11th hour, and I was late.

With a few minutes to go, the busses stopped first. The one in front of me, between Trafalgar and Whitehall, cleared out and as soon as it was to the side of things, it stopped. A truck – lorry as Billy would yell at me to say – drove up to the circle and seemed to want to continue before the driver looked around. He stopped and turned the engine off and got out to stand with us.

Cabs, cars, everything stopped, and not just in this area. When the cannon boomed at 11, there was no sound of traffic. There were no cars moving up and down the Strand and honking when they were stuck. The universal shutting down of vehicles was strange enough, but it was the lack of chattering and footsteps, the constant background noise of London, which set the moment apart. It was a moment of nothing and it meant everything.

It lasted two minutes and drew on forever until the cannon sounded again. Murmurs and footsteps started at once, and then one engine started. Then another. The crowd at Trafalgar Square started to disperse, and with it Whitehall, and within thirty minutes it would be as if nothing ever happened. But for two minutes on a Sunday, half a mile of street was packed with people who waited to do nothing but be silent, a hundred years to the minute after the guns fell silent on the most devastating war their country ever faced.

Posted by: cousindampier | 31 October 2017

200 Miles to Sandpoint


Someone once told me that when a friend of a friend is about to help you out, it’s either going to be the most spectacular story or total disaster, with no in between. Kelsey wasn’t exactly a friend of a friend – many New Years Eve’s ago, we were assigned a McDonald’s run for the rest of the family – but that was the only real time we’d ever spoken. She was the one putting the team together.

I’d heard about it through a few other people throughout the early summer and never bothered to pay attention because I had commitment issues. I didn’t know where I would be at the end of August, and I kept saying no but the race wouldn’t die. Her brother, Aaron – taught me everything I know about soccer and bartending, usually at the same time – was already driving one of the vans, and his wife Marina – Mar – kept asking me.

I hadn’t run a mile since early June, when I was in Reykjavik and the sun was in the sky until almost midnight and I spent the evenings running wherever I wanted, away from the surreal aura which midnight often brings. Later, as I made my way up Ramsey Road in a part of Idaho I didn’t know existed, the darkness hugging my shoulders and a headlamp guiding the way, I spent miles thinking about the Reykjavik sun and how long it seemed to take to fall away from earth.

I’d hurt myself too many times over the past three years – strange pains behind my knees, strained iliotibial  bands, tight hamstrings. Being a runner – in the sense that it bites into your soul and makes itself part of your identity – was something I resigned to my past, my twenties. I’d started to find new outlets which hurt less and my running dropped off

I didn’t know that the Gruis family were relay race veterans, nor that Kelsey had a system down for this. All I knew was what Mar promised me – running. She kept asking. My buddy Curtis signed up as well and I still found a dozen reasons to say no. I had to get shifts covered at work. I had a dissertation to work on. I wasn’t a distance runner anymore. Yet, as I opened my mouth to say no, what came out was “right on, let’s do this.”

And so I found myself as the 11th of 12 legs on the 200 mile relay race from Spokane, Washington to Sandpoint, Idaho, moving down a mountain and through a city before hitting the lakes and hills of Idaho.


The basics first: The team was 12 people, split into two vans. Each van had three segments, six legs to a segment, so we all ran three times. Although the distance of the race was 200 miles, the actual distance from Spokane to Sandpoint was about 90 miles – the race began on the top of Mt. Spokane and wound its way down to the west, running through Spokane along the Centennial Trail before turning around in Riverside State Park and finally making its way back to the east towards Coeur d’Alene and then north to Sandpoint.

Looking at a map of the route beforehand, my Dad, who’d lived in Spokane his entire life and visited areas of the state which I know only as legend, studied the route north from Coeur d’Alene to Sandpoint before passing his judgment: “I didn’t know you could get to Sandpoint that way.”

2017 was the tenth edition of the race, and the rumors beforehand made it seem like there might not be an 11th. As difficult as it may be to run, the logistics are worse – signs every turn for a 200 mile span while ensuring – and worrying – about the safety and security of the runners. 12 people run throughout a Friday night in parts of Idaho where the only light comes from stars, only to emerge on Saturday morning at the tip of a massive lake.

Two vans. Six runners per van. One starts at the top of Mt. Spokane, heading west, which – if you look at a map – is not the way to Sandpoint, yet after curling around a state park on the other side of Spokane the long run east begins.

Knowing all of this, I joined up with the group late.

I’d been working on a dissertation for the better part of a month, and I was stressed and tired. The project spiraled, and my organization skills were lacking. While the rest of the crew was on the top of Mt. Spokane early in the morning Friday, I begged Kelsey to let me join around noon, a few hours before I had to run.

I joined just before Micah’s leg. A cousin of Kelsey and Aaron, he was both humble and witty. Later, I understood the importance of having both of these qualities when dealing with the race. As I met up, it made for a warm environment.

His leg was short, just over three miles. Micah was a strong runner, able to push himself in what seemed like a dead sprint, a linebacker hurtling towards the finish line. He was wearing a headband, and seemed like a mix of Paulie Bleeker and Richie Tenenbaum, only much faster than both and I had just a few minutes to warm up and go.

The baton we handed off was a Carhartt snap bracelet, the kind you undo rigidly and snap back over your wrist. I was in the parking lot when someone saw Micah in the distance; everything went into the van and I tore off my shirt and threw it on the hood, grabbing a water bottle and headphones, and sprinted to the starting line. An old work buddy was at the starting line, and I stopped for a moment to say hello only to glance over my shoulder and see Micah bearing down on me like an antelope sees a lion. I yelped and grabbed the bracelet and ran.

I’d run most of this six-mile trail before. The Centennial Trail is a popular running route which requires little stopping; but away from the downtown core it has enough bends and curves to get lost in. Headed upstream, it follows a two lane-road at first, and I started fast. A few honks from cars followed me, either because of the American flag short-shorts and socks combo, or because the pale whiteness of my back and legs blinded the drivers as they passed.

The path began to deviate in the first mile, wandering away from the road and through a little shade along what looked like a slow-moving river. Across the way the ground rose quickly, emphasizing the banks of the old river valley. Flowing west from Lake Coeur d’Alene, the Spokane River is the perfect middle-class river for a middle-class city: broad, but not too broad, and fast – but not too fast. It points the way west, towards the ocean and we were following it to the foothills of the Rockies.

I wasn’t good with the heat, and the streets were brutal. Like much of Spokane, the road along the river was under construction and I was re-routed through some residential streets. The shade was almost entirely gone and I pounded pavement in the spotlight of the sun. When the detour dumped me back onto Upriver Drive, I was high above the river’s edge and away from the trees alongside it. I dreaded this part of the train, just after the uphill when there was no time to recover before facing a mile alongside the road with no shade and no recovery. The van passed with a honk and some cheers, or because they were also blinded, and parked further along.

The halfway point of my run was at a turnoff near Minnehaha Park, a popular climbing and biking area. It’s pretty, in its own way – the river straightens out behind Upriver Dam, with an airfield on the right and a small park on the left. Mar held some beef jerky and Aaron some water and I took a sip from both and tried to look like I was doing allright. I was pouring out sweat and I had to use the toilet, and I nibbled on a piece of jerky and headed off again, hoping to seem like I was making good time towards the end, mostly because the trail began to move through the brush and I wanted to use the opportunity to step aside and take a piss.

Water adds an expansive dimension to running that is both mesmerizing and intimidating. The breath of openness brings a feeling of smallness, of fitting into the world as a small piece amongst everything going on around you. Simultaneously, you can usually see some obstacle in the distance which you’re aiming for, and it never seems to get closer. Depending on the curve of the water, it sometimes seems to get further away, and it is usually at that point you start cursing yourself and path you chose and why you even run in the first place when you could be drinking beer instead.

For the most part, running over the river valley was the former, and as I moved away from it and headed through more residential streets I said a silent goodbye in words that made no sense.

About two miles after the Van met me, up a hill and through some residential streets, I arrived at a school where I passed the bracelet to Toni. She took off towards the east and I limped towards the van, hip on fire, to drink some water.

top of Mt Spokane

From the top of Mt. Spokane


The sun set by the time we reached Coeur d’Alene. The other van picked up from Toni near Maribeau Point in the Spokane Valley and made it across the Idaho border and to Coeur d’Alene in good time. Curtis was the first to run, and his leg was there to simply add miles – it was an out-and-back leg through the park and along Lake Coeur d’Alene, six miles in all, pushing the total mileage close to 200.

Curtis was already in love with the race. He’d been a cross-country runner in high school, and van life brought back memories of road trips past. We’d nearly matched on the first leg – his American-themed socks had little wings on them – and he was ready to go, moving around jogging for a few blocks to warm up. He’d knocked out his first leg of 3.5 miles at a fast pace – seven minutes per – but during the downtime back at Toni and Micah’s place he’d spoken of being sore and spent the better part of an hour with me stretching his legs out. This run was flat, and he wasn’t as sure of his time and speed.

It was the recurring theme of the weekend. The distance wasn’t the problem – the longest run for either van was ten miles, and they usually fell between five and seven. The challenge was the recovery. We were all pushing ourselves on the runs, and only to face a rest period of about ten hours before having to go again. We did the obvious stuff – compression and movement and water – but we were still living out of the backseat of a van, sleeping on the floor or against the window, and as our Van took over the baton, I was aware that the next two days would be strung together by hope. My calves felt strong. My hamstrings did not.

Curtis agreed with me, and then he went out and ran six miles in about 40 minutes, remaining ridiculous.

It was somewhere between 10 and 11 pm when he finished, passing the baton to Mar. She’d been trapped by work during the summer and hadn’t had enough time to train either, and the run and rest grind was starting to wear at her. She’d run her three and hand it to Kelsey and it was sometime during Kelsey’s run that the day shifted to Saturday and we moved out into the cold, rural part of the course. Kelsey’s run began in the middle of a park and ended in the middle of nowhere, and I imagined the middle of her run the same – a dark nothing. We weren’t in the mountains, but we’d made it to the hills, and as Micah took over and ran my time resting grew limited.

Houselights burned as we passed them, and for a short period we were on an arterial, closed-down businesses flowing beside us. A gas station light up and we drove past it to a parking lot by a deserted field. It seemed to be a school sports field, tall chain-link fences surrounding wet, green grass which sucked up the light provided by a few street lamps into a thick darkness.

I jogged through the hazy parking lot. My legs remained tight and I was about to enter this stretch of run, seven and a half miles, on a prayer. I didn’t trust my right knee, and both of my hamstrings were sore and there was no time to think about it because Micah suddenly appeared out of the darkness, as if launched from a black hole, and into the spotlights provided by the race. He handed the bracelet to me and I started off into the darkness, down a rural road in Idaho I’d never heard of.


Everything is bigger at night, which is strange because you can’t see as far. What you lack for vision, however, you make up for in imagination, because just beyond that line of sight might be anything. That light in the distance, which you’d never notice in the day, suddenly stands out, both a beacon and a warning.

Seven and a half miles in the dark didn’t seem like much. The yearly road race in Spokane is almost equal in length and I kept telling Mar that I was just running that race, Bloomsday, except at one in the morning, and for all my worries about my knee it started fast. Out of the parking lot, the road ran straight, gravel edge with a street in the distance. The Van sped past, and then another, and I crossed the street we’d arrived on and then I was alone.

In any run, the first mile is settling in. I kept adjusting my pace, counting my steps, 42 every 15 seconds, remembering that cadence fixes form. I ran with some arm warmers and a bottle of water, iphone in the other hand. I was there, thinking about every step, working for the flow I knew would come.

And then sometime around the second mile, or maybe after, the night began to shift. For a race defined by the people – the Van, other runners, houses and crowds along the route – I was suddenly in the antithesis. In the far distance, I saw a light. Or I thought I did, for it would come and go and I wondered if it was real, maybe a runner, or if it was some reflection of a houselight or passing car. I’d run along large fields, stretching forever until they mixed with the sky, a swirl of paint, and only the stars let me know that the horizon was finished. Then a house would appear, its single light more ominous than the night. The dirty trick of the nighttime was that light is more ominous than the dark itself.

It began to get to me, not in the fearful way as much as the sublime. It was not as though nobody would notice if I disappeared – the Van surely would, and they needed their damn baton-bracelet – it was more that there was an infinite space to disappear in. I felt tiny compared to the dark, as if it were a big, ominous ocean which was allowing me to traverse through it. And as I moved from house to house, field to field, and tree to tree, I began to understand that. I understood that the night was bigger than me.

Lots of things appear out of nowhere in the night, although they should not. The lights of the Van were visible to me for miles, only guarded by the curve of the road, but the trick with light in the dark is that you never know what form it may take. Sometimes a porch light, other times six people with water and Gatorade and encouraging words. I stopped for a minute and then I was off again and the Van passed and I was left to Ramsay Road and Northern Idaho.

Strange thoughts creeped into my head. I started to wonder if there were bears in northern Idaho. I tried to remember what I needed to do if I saw a bear – was I supposed to play dead or get big and loud to scare it away? – and I turned this over in my head for a bit before realizing that if I saw a bear, I’d be dead before I decided what to do. I kept glancing over my shoulder just to make sure and around the end of the fourth mile I looked over my right shoulder and saw two eyes staring back at me and nearly had a mess. A deer stood and stared at me not more than ten feet away, and I started to think about some statistic I’d read a long time ago stating that deer killed more people every year than bears, and I hustled away only to have the world ahead of me explode in noise and light.

My route was simple. Five miles straight. Take a left, and two and a half miles to the finish. The map warned of three potential pauses – a two-lane highway, and two railroad tracks. All three were empty, but the map failed to mention the third railroad track just before the left turn, which had the biggest, most immense train I’d ever seen running along it. It reminded me of when Martin Sheen arrived at the base along the river in Apocalypse Now, with the christmas lights strung across the bridge and the sudden noise of partying. In the middle of the night, the train seemed like a nuclear bomb.

The Van was there too, stopped by the train, and I stood and waited for it to pass. They sped forward, two and a half more miles, to meet me at the end, and I turned down a small side road lit by a dying red light on a cone marking the route. Once the turn happened, and that second straightaway hit, the run – until this point, somewhat of an experience – turned into a race, the last stretch of road leading to the handoff point.

A slight downhill led to a large field on my left with a massive view of the sky, the field ending only when the stars began, and as the road moved uphill away from it I saw the sign indicating one mile to go and as hard as I tried to move faster, to hit a final, eight-minute mile, the best I could manage was a steady pace, just like the turtle in the fable and just as slow.

A gas station appeared and I handed the baton to Toni. Curtis smacked me on the ass, and I crawled into the back seat of the Van and was asleep before we started moving.


Somewhere, Micah acquired a bullhorn.

I remain unaware of exactly where it came from. Kelsey may have brought it with her, or, in a flash of foresight, Micah realized exactly how useful it would be. Like many Greek myths, the origins were never clear, so it was considered fate and credit given to the Gods.

While I never found out where it came from, it was as if Micah found his medium. The bullhorn became his paintbrush, and the race had become his canvas, and he was determined to leave his mark on the world.

As we drove to meet Toni, and then to the resting spot for the night, I only awoke once. As the rest of the van drifted asleep, only Micah and Aaron remained awake, and to ensure that Aaron remained awake and diving, Micah found it necessary to sit in the passenger’s seat and occasionally use the bullhorn to communicate with.

At this point – a day in – it was normal, almost background noise. I learned that bullhorns have a use inside of a car, to communicate which turn to take, or to ask for food, or to amplify bodily noises. It had never occurred to me to use a bullhorn inside before; but I was merely an apprentice. I only awoke once that drive, to the sound of Aaron and Micah giggling uncontrollably in the front and the screech of the bullhorn being used, and I rolled over and smiled knowing that all was good.


I woke up curled on the backseat of the van to the deep sound of Curtis’s voice as he swore to himself.

Looking at my phone, I saw a text from the other van. One of their runners texted saying she had just a few miles left, and Curtis was the next runner to go. He had – at best – thirty minutes to get his stuff together and wake up enough to start out an eight mile run.

My legs were tight and sore, although they did not hurt. That was crucial, because I somewhat expected my right knee to explode in pain when I awoke. Curtis cracked the van to a warm July morning and started warming up. He had this pre-workout mix with enough caffeine to kill a small child and sucked it down while doing a light jog around the school.

The parking lot was full, and everybody else was still asleep.

This should’ve been our first hint that something was wrong, but after three or four hours of sleep that kind of thinking was difficult. Someone woke Marina and Kelsey, the runners scheduled after Curtis, and they started moving too.

Ten minutes passed. Curtis wasn’t happy, but he was ready to go.

Another ten. And then another.

Kelsey texted the first van, and went from confused to shocked in a cocaine heartbeat. The group text we received was from their third runner; they still had three more to go. Curtis wasn’t about to run, he had another three hours to go and he’d just sucked down about three cups of coffee.

I rolled over and went back to sleep while Curtis started into the distance before deciding to fuck it all, and went for a two-mile jog.

By the time I awoke, the rest of the parking lot was moving as well. One person had strung up a hammock in a corner of the chain-link fence, and I could see his sleeping bag and fuzzy hat appearing in the morning gloom. Curtis was ready. A trapped engine ready to explode, he was moving about like this run was something he’d been working towards for months. As it crept closer to his start time – we were in better contact with the other van – the sun appeared and started to warm the pavement.

As the other van appeared and everyone mingled about in front of the high school, I walked over to where Curtis was stretching.

‘Last run. You all ready to go?’

‘Hell yeah Abester,’ he replied. ‘It’s going to be sunny and nice.’

‘Get any more sleep?’

He smiled beneath his sunglasses. ‘Yeah, I managed a twenty minute nap after I went on that jog.’

The transfer point was easy, but the road to it was not. The last runner of the other van – also a Kelsey – was hidden from view until she curved up to her right and appeared at a road directly across from the school. We waited, all of us ready to start.

And then Curtis uttered his last words.

‘I’m sore today. I’ll be happy to keep it around eight minute miles.’

54 minutes later, he was done with his eight mile run.

Curtis remained ridiculous.


We moved north along Lake Pend Oreille. Curtis handed to Marina across from a farmhouse proudly displaying a massive Trump-Pence yard sign. Marina had a short run, just a few miles, and handed to Kelsey in the middle of nowhere, Idaho, a straightaway with a dirt turnoff and tall grasses. Kelsey hit a few curves and handed to Micah, who started to the final uphill.

One more run.

The map made it seem difficult. The first third was uphill, followed by a downhill slide to the final handoff point about five miles from Sandpoint. I stared at it a hundred times, and each time came away thinking that I really knew nothing about it. It was only a few hundred meters uphill and those numbers meant nothing to me aside from the up and down.

I figured I’d have a slow first third, and try to make up the time on the last bit. I was solidly into the nine-minute-mile pace by now. It was frustrating. I wanted to be faster and I knew I was, but I just couldn’t manage it.

We hit another dirt road. I borrowed Marina’s headphones and used the restroom one final time and then Micah appeared, moving along fast, chest thrust out like he was running for the tape and he handed me the bracelet and I found Lynyrd Skynyrd and I set off uphill.

And for all my frustrations of the previous two runs, and all my worries about my knee and hamstrings, it all came together.

The uphill didn’t last as long as I’d expected. I passed two people on the uphill and when I reached a plateau, I thought there was more to come. It started to turn downhill, and then switched back up.

Last run.

Fuck it.

I sprinted.

The Van’s stopped about two and a half miles in, just after the downhill, right as the guitar solo of ‘Free Bird’ kicked in and I was hitting just under seven minutes. They were all there. Micah with his bullhorn and Toni and Kelsey with misters. Aaron had water and Curtis was wearing a green speedo.

I wasn’t surprised by that. I was more surprised he wasn’t wearing any shoes, because it was an old country road and all I could think about was how painful it would be to hit a rock, but he went all out, a green-speedo wearing never-nude, running a few hundred meters with me while I tried not to laugh in between gulps of air.

And then the van sped off again and I kept downhill and found the map lied to me, as I left the country and found where the lake houses began, the road moved uphill and curved to the right. The trees began to provide shade and on my right was a hill – mountain? – and I heard people screaming, kids playing somewhere, but I couldn’t figure it out.

I couldn’t feel anything anymore and began to target distant trees as my goal: ‘After this tree, I’ll stop for a moment.’ My sprinting died, and I kept churning uphill like a slow train, shade to sun to tree. And then at some point the road flattened and I saw groups of people standing in the distance. It looked like a small park, one of those grassy areas surrounding a parking lot whose reason of existence is the beach just beyond, the kind of place that exists around every lake.

I handed off to Toni and hit the shade and no matter how tired I was after the run I never wanted it to end. As long as I kept running, the weekend and the race and the Van would still exist. Micah would still have his bullhorn, Aaron would still be driving and Marina would still be his co-pilot; Kelsey would still be making sure we had it all figured out and Toni would still be the anchor, finishing every leg we had and making sure we were all settled and ready.

This is not an expedition story. Nor is it really a story about overcoming long odds. To be fair, I don’t know what this story is aside from a story about a run, and yet there is a certain basicness to a story about a run which lends itself to overcoming long odds. Running is many things – challenging and cathartic, necessary and sometimes painful. Putting together a team of 12 to run 200 miles is crazy, yet every July dozens of teams showed up and pounded the same route.

Toni finished her run and the race was over. We spent some time in Sandpoint along the finish line before heading back to Spokane, and the finality only hit home as we were driving back down Ramsay Road, the same road I’d run the night before except in the daylight it was a different kind of beautiful. Wide, open fields straddled the road and the late-July sun brought heat and haze. It wasn’t the muggy, slow haze but rather the hot haze of a desert. A few cars passed us and Ramsay Road seemed alive and healthy, and the Van became just the van. Chatter stopped. Micah and Toni seemed to fall asleep and Kelsey went through her photos and Curtis and I sat in the back and started out the windows and as we left Idaho behind, the energy of the race streamed out with us, waiting out there somewhere south of Sandpoint, south of Pend Orielle, waiting to be collected by some crazy group of people next July as they ran and moved through the middle of the night, along dirty roads, and, if all goes well, with a bullhorn in tow.

Posted by: cousindampier | 26 January 2017

I love Star Wars and Rogue One was bad

With Lucasfilm Story Group’s belated attempt to fix a relatively-major plot hole in Rogue One: A Star Wars Story – the reason Leia was at Scarif in the first place – the backtracking of the confusing, black hole of a plot that is Rogue One has begun, and with good measure: by any standard, even Star Wars standards – Rogue One was a bad movie.

There were some good moments. The space battle was incredible, probably the best after Endor. The final scene with Vader immediately landed among the pantheon of Star Wars scenes. Of the visuals Star Wars never provided, Vader blowing his way through a few dozen troopers is one and to see it in action took away my ability to speak coherently for a week. Just the sight of that red lightsaber with nobody else around was enough to make me scared for my life.

From the Marvel comics. I felt afraid after seeing Vader.  I think I died for a minute or two.

To the good bad stuff:

A. Orson Krennic is an awful bad guy, and not in a Hitler-ite way. He is more Trump-ite: an utterly forgettable, narcissistic bully. He isn’t mean, he is just annoying, and this is sad, because Ben Mendelsohn played Krennic in excellent fashion. Krennic’s entire existence is as if Disney went through George Lucas’s Phantom Menace archives and found a character too poorly written even for that film and decided to put him to use.

Aside from shooting some scientists, Krennic does little else to make himself a villain. He forces Galen Erso to come back and build the Death Star. He…defends Scarif and his whole project against the Rebellion? Or what about the time he is too incompetent to catch a major design flaw and massive leak? Or what about the time he stands up to Darth Vader?

Krennic is far more boring than Vader and Boba Fett. He is more boring than Darth Maul. Even Count Dooku seemed evil. Krennic is just a dick.

B. The ending is the single worst Star Wars ending aside from Phantom Menace. It is a false dichotomy in a massive way: Cassian is healthy enough to move…but only to the beach.

Disregard the fact that there are 13 (or more) landing pads at Scarif. Disregard the fact that the whole Rebel Fleet is still hanging out in space. Disregard the fact that Jyn is a fighter and she has been her whole life but now she’s just going to call it a day. Either Cassian is too hurt to move – in which case he should watch his impending death on a skyscraper, which doesn’t sound much worse than a beach – or spent his last few minutes of life working to find an escape. Both Jyn and Cassian fought through so much, and I am supposed to believe they are both just giving up? I recognize the movie is trying to be tragic and dark, but that idea is insulting to both characters and it comes off as corny instead.

If Cassian and Jyn needed to die, show them getting to the ship. Make a damn effort to live. Don’t insult the viewer by making what should be a thrilling raid to steal the Death Star Plans nothing more than a scene out of the Leonardo DiCaprio version of Romeo and Juliet.

C. “Hey, Baby Boomers! Do you remember the first time you saw Star Wars in theaters?
Guess what – it’s back! With all the explosions and heroism and desperation you remember, and you know what else? We’re going to take you back to your old favorites – maybe it’s the explosion from Dr. Strangelove, maybe it will remind you of On the Beach, but either way it is going to look an awful lot like a nuclear holocaust sweeping towards two main characters who just happen to fall deeply in love and die in each others arms!”
The final scene was the last gasp of the nuclear holocaust movies our parents watched in 1967.

D. Back to Cassian – he is phenomenal. He is a complicated character, showing the extremist edge of the Rebellion, killing without conscience. His recruitment of the band of Rebels to fight on Scarif is revealing of a complex movement, one which is not just the counter to Imperial evil; but which is political, extremist in nature, and brings a grain of truth to the Imperial desire to ‘bring order to the galaxy.’ With Cassian, the Rebellion ceases to be a shining star, far in the distance, but rather a burning, bubbling one up close.

So why not kill him and cut off that storyline, because that makes sense.

If Disney is going to do this one-off stories, the look into the life of a Rebel soldier is a story rich with possibilities. Cassian was a perfect connection to such a movie, and now he is dead.

E. The Red 5 death scene is the Jar-Jar Binks of this movie. It is insulting, dumb and totally unneeded.

The short of it: Red Squadron goes into battle, and at some point Red 5 gets shot down. He is the only pilot we see shot down while saying his callsign, and it explains why Luke is Red 5 at the Battle of Yavin.

Except…what, Luke was going to show up on Yavin as a pilot and the Rebellion was going to say, “Ahhhhhhhhh man, Luke, listen, buddy, pal…I know you’re a pilot and all but we already have full squadrons and we can’t just send out a Red 13 to do battle with a superweapon space station which is going to kill us all. I mean, that’d be crazy! Who ever heard of 13 ships in a squadron? Sorry – we just can’t allow it.”

Luke was going to fly against the Death Star no matter if he was Red 5 or Red 40. There were obviously enough X-Wings on Yavin – most of the squadron was shot down over Scarif and there were still enough to go around. The scene takes away from what is an incredible space battle.

F. Gold Squadron famously gets destroyed at the Battle of Yavin. Yet, Rogue One wants me to believe that in a massive space battle with a fuckload of TIE fighters, they do allright. But against the Death Star, with 13 TIE fighters (Black Squadron + Vader) and an entire squadron of X-Wings to fight those TIEs, they get destroyed.

G. Jyn Erso is a hunted woman. Given how the film presents her, if the Empire knew of her existence, they would want her. And if they found her, they would probably question her about what she’d been up to while away.

This is not hard, and yet the Rebellion brings her to their main base at Yavin 4. The one they are trying to keep a secret. The one Grand Moff Tarkin wants to find.  HOW DOES THIS MAKE ANY SENSE.

For Fuck’s Sake, she’s not even a trustworthy person when they bring her in, and yet they bring her to the most important planet in the galaxy.

H. Rounding back to Leia, the backtracking by Lucasfilm not only doesn’t help, it makes things more dumb. Leia is at the Battle of Scarif in the Tantive IV, but she was hidden in Admiral Fishbot’s Mon Calamari cruiser (of which the design is an idiotic monstrosity; yet I digress) the entire time. We don’t see her until the final scene. The idea is ridiculous: Princess Leia is put at risk in Admiral Raddus’s flagship while he fights a massive space battle above a well-defended Imperial planet. Much like Jyn Erso, the Empire probably wants Princess Leia as well. The logic here, as best I can figure, is that when you can put a key figure of the Rebellion at risk, you might as well do so.

Now the story is that Raddus and Leia were on the way to pick up Obi-Wan Kenobi off Tatooine when they heard about Scarif, and they changed course to fight there instead.

This all makes sense aside from the realization that the Rebellion was sending the entire fleet to grab Obi-Wan Kenobi, which surely would alert a few Imperials as to his existence. And since Obi-Wan was not sitting there waiting for his ride like I used to do when I was too lazy to walk home from High School, it was going to take some time to find and convince him to go. And there was this whole problem of the vow to guard Luke, so he was going to have to fix up that whole mess before he left, so all this time the Rebel Fleet was going to hang out above Tatooine just…waiting for the Imperials to arrive. Lucasfilm fixed a plot hole by making everyone seem stupid instead.

Rogue One sucked. I love Star Wars, and it is painful to say. I still know the number of the trash compactor where Luke, Leia, Han and Chewie were stuck in. I spent inordinate amounts of money on Decipher’s Card Game. I saw Attack of the Clones seven times in theaters and twice in IMAX. Hell, I read all the books, and that includes Kevin J. Andeson’s Jedi Acadamy Trilogy. AND Crystal Star, which was so bad I fell off two grades in my reading levels. Crystal Star is to the Star Wars Universe what Pearl Harbor is to World War II films, and that’s a massive insult to Pearl Harbor.

Rogue One was a bad action movie set in the Star Wars universe, and the only things it lacked were a bad cover of ‘Wonderwall’ at the end and an Executive Producer credit for Michael Bay.

My only hope is the next stand-alone is good.

Posted by: cousindampier | 8 November 2016

Was That Election Like This One, Part II: 1892 – 2012

There are fewer accusations of prostitution, significantly more landslides, and at least one JFK boner joke to read about while you wait for the Florida exit polls.


1896: On one side of the 1896 election, we have a candidate backed by a organized, developed, and well-funded campaign. On the other, we a populist who travels through the country giving speech after speech, working to rouse his base through words and personality.

William McKinley and William Jennings Bryani are perfect candidates for 1896. Each showed a segment of society and a vision of where American was headed.

Beyond the surface, the more dissimilar 2016 and 1896 become. The key reason is Bryan. The semi-populist Democratic nominee based his political tactics around his skills as an orator and rousing a popular base, but his campaign actually argued for something, for a vision of America, and not just against the status quo (like 2016).

Every campaign argues against something. A nominee will either make the argument against the opposing candidate or against the status quo of the President in office. Both Bryan and William McKinley, however, argued for their respective visions of America. Trump is not an outlier in this sense – both the 1840 and 1848 were campaigns in which the Whig Party dodged real issues as much as possible, and the Cleveland-Blaine battle of 1884ii was a personal referendum on each candidate. Trump dodging the issues and focusing instead on character attacks against Clinton and rousing populist sentiment remains a few steps away from the 1896 contest, even if Bryan used a similar strategy.

Anyways, McKinley wins in a huge landslide by promising the gold standard and high tariffs and he doesn’t have to leave home.

Fun Fact: According to the latest Presidential Rankings, McKinley comes in at 21 which means he is +1 PARiii in rank or +.47 PAR in rating. Brookings has John Quincy Adams as the replacement level president though, which seems suspicious.

1900: McKinley and Bryan run against each other again, and Bryan’s position is weaker than 1896. Silver is less of an issue with a growing economy, and McKinley is now a successful war president. McKinley has another asset – Theodore Roosevelt is the new vice-presidential nominee, and Roosevelt can match Bryan in oratory skill.

McKinley wins, proceeds to die, and renowned knife-fighter Roosevelt becomes President.


Relation to 2016: Very little. If you squint, the context looks similar – a recovering economy finally turning the corner. However, the Spanish-American war was seen as a success, while Afghanistan, Iraq, and the Islamic State are not yet ended, much less successful. Comparing Roosevelt to any other candidate is generally frail, but in context – a vice-presidential candidate who can take the fight to the opposing presidential candidate – isn’t really there.

Fun Fact: Six times have the same two candidates come to blows two elections in a row, and 1900 was the fifth of these.iv

1904: Theodore Roosevelt beats Alton Parker, as they both basically run on the same platform. SPOILER ALERT: Elections involving Roosevelts are devoid of drama.

Relation to 2016: None. Seriously, none. It was a little dirty but not out of the ordinary.

Fun Fact: Teddy became the first former Vice-President to ascend to the office of President during the middle of a term and then go on to win his own term outright. Former VP’s who moved up the chain: Tyler, Fillmore, Johnson and Arthur. None would serve again. VP’s after Roosevelt who moved up: Coolidge, Truman, LBJ and Ford. Only Ford failed to win re-election.

The lesson: Roosevelt really did make the President a more visible, powerful office.



That is all.

Oh, and William Jennings Bryan runs again and loses.

Relation to 2016: Bryan is one of the more incredible figures in American history – he worked for years on causes he believed in and they were widely accepted (McKinley only garnered 51% of the vote over him in 1900).v Yet, while his ideas were popular, they always fell just short. He has a number of dubious distinctions – my favourite being that he is supposedly the basis of the Cowardly Lion in the Wizard of Oz.

For all the good things he worked for, his historical legacy is decisive. He was for the continued disenfranchisement of Black Americans, but he inspired a generation of leaders in the Democratic Party, with Truman citing Bryan as the reason why liberalism remained alive in the mid-20th Century. Questions continue about how he really viewed working Americans – was he a full champion of their cause, or simply a populist looking to get elected?

He is often forgotten, as most losing candidates are. Yet his legacy runs through the veins of both parties.

Anyways, Donald Trump is no William Jennings Bryan. 

Fun Fact: Linked in the above article is the story of how the Washington Post interviewed the cow.  That alone would fit in this election. 

1912: In the closest a true third party ever comes to winning the White House, Woodrow Wilson defeats Teddy Roosevelt (Progressive) and William Howard Taft (Republican) to become the first Democrat elected since Cleveland in 1892.

1912 ranks along with 1828 as one of the most fascinating elections – minus the prostitution and slavery The Republican Party of 1912 controls the electoral landscape – Wilson is the only Democrat who serves as President between 1896 (Cleveland) and 1932 (FDR). The GOP has such a dominant position, the only way it can lose is if the party tears itself apart, which it proceeds to do. Taft and the conservatives clash with Roosevelt and the progressives, and with both men running, a Democratic victory becomes assured.

Relation to 2016: Somewhat. The Republican Party of today does not have the popularity nor strength of 1912, but if Marco Rubio, or Ted Cruz, or John Kasich stayed in the race, it would look similar to this. Except the 2016 version would be about who can say the most racist things, instead of the 1912 issues of tariffs and workers rights.

Fun Fact: Thomas Woodrow Wilson was kind of a racist asshole! 

1916: For all his issues not liking people of different colour, Wilson was deceptive (or, perhaps, a good) politician. His core campaign issue was his ability to keep America out of the First World War; yet he believed that with the growing conflict, if he lost, it would be imprudent to keep Charles Hughes waiting and devised a plan to usher him into the White House as soon as possible.vii He pushed for a stronger military while claiming progressive ideas from the GOP.

1916 was closer than most elections of the era. Wilson faced the unique situation of having a larger share of the popular vote than in 1912, but far fewer electoral votes – he squeaked by Hughes by just 23 electoral votes, the sixth closest election in American history.viii

Relation to 2016: Very little. Mexico was in revolt and everyone in Europe was shooting everyone else.

Fun Fact: Charles Hughes was a sitting Supreme Court Justice when he decided to run. He gave up his seat, ran for President, lost, and later served as Chief Justice.

1920: 1920 was the year without a President. While working up support for the Treaty of Versailles during the summer and fall of 1919, he collapsed and never fully recovered. His wife, Edith, worked as his surrogate.

The decline of Wilson corresponded with a decline in the economy, a rise in social unrest, and a question of the American character (stay open to the world or close back up). His personality and popularity may have forced American involvement in the League of Nations, but without his backing the project was doomed, as was the Democratic party. Warren Harding – he of Blink fame – took up the Republican mantle and trounced James M. Cox in the largest popular-vote victory in recorded American history.

Relation to 2016: Very little. Much like Stella, Harding and the Republicans got their groove back. The GOP peaked again during the 1920’s beginning with Harding’s landslide.

Fun Fact: Teddy Roosevelt reacted to his defeat in 1912 like any normal man: he went on an expedition to the Amazon. While there, his malaria flared up (due to yellow fever, contracted from a wound he received after leaping into the river to save a pair of canoes). He was bothered by this the rest of his life, and it prevented him from seeking the Republican nomination of 1920. When he died in 1919, leaving the Republicans without a standard bearer, the Democrats seized on the opportunity and nominated his distant cousin, Franklin, as the vice-presidential nominee.  

Theodore Roosevelt is the reason Jules had that wallet. 

1924: Harding dies in 1923, which came as a surprise and really shouldn’t have. Keeping something like seventy-eight scandals and an affair hidden from the public was much easier in 1920 than it is today, but all the stress took a toll on Harding. Fortunately, he had a well-spoken and garrulous Vice President in Calvin Coolidge who took over and handily defeated a divided Democratic Party in 1924.

Relation to 2016: Very little. The public knew little about Harding’s transgressions and he remained popular after his death. Coolidge rode excellent credentials and an incredibly popular Republican wave to victory.

Fun Fact: This is the end of the Confederate voting block – the last time a winning candidate takes none of the states from the Confederate South.

1928: The 1920’s is starting to feel like the Madison/Monroe/“Era of Good Feelings” elections – predictable.

So thank goodness for 1928. Coolidge refuses to run again – tells absolutely nobody of this decision until he hands his secretary a press release saying concisely “I do not choose to run for President in 1928,” and then at the press conference he gives the media copies of his statement and refuses to speak about it. The Republicans turn to Herbert Hoover, Commerce Secretary and famous inventor of household cleaning goods, while the Democrats counter with Al Smith.

Smith is Catholic and anti-prohibition, as the Democrats were chasing that all important drinkers vote. His nomination put the Democrats between a rock and a hard place – while there is a wealth of pro-Catholic sentiment, he simultaneously faces the broadside of anti-Catholic conspiracy.

That conspiracy grows fast and wild. The Klan gets involved, terrorizing a Smith campaign trip. Protestants across the country are told if Smith gets elected, marriages will be annulled, and while Hoover himself claims his opponent’s religion has no bearing on the contest, the Republican Party pushes the Catholic narrative out to hide their man’s straightforward aloofness.

Relation to 2016: Lots. The virulence against the Smith campaign was similar in nature to the populism excited by Trump, and not just because the Klan gets involved.ix On some level, all political campaigns are dirty and involve lies; fewer devolve to activating baser group-mentality truths about human nature, an us-vs-them mentality which paints the other candidate as morally vacant and evil. Smith faced a lot of this in 1928.

Oh, and the economy was about to implode.

Fun Fact: Blacks and the Klan find themselves on the side of Hoover. While the Klan hated Catholics, Black Americas thought Hoover to be anti-segregation at worst, and possibly supportive of integration.

Also Babe Ruth campaigned for Smith in such a way as to make all future sports endorsements pointless:

Unfortunately, Ruth wasn’t the most dependable spokesman. He would sometimes appear in his undershirt, holding a mug of beer in one hand and a spare rib in the other. Worse, if he met with any dissent while praising Smith, he would snarl, “If that’s the way you feel, the hell with you!” and stagger back inside. 

If athletes aren’t going to campaign drunk, then why campaign at all

1932: The economy implodes in 1929. Franklin Roosevelt wins in a landslide.

Relation to 2016: Very little. There’s not much to say here. Hoover ran again because he controlled the Republican Party, but the heyday of the GOP was over. They wouldn’t win a Presidential election again until 1952. It is unclear what Hoover really thought – obviously that he could fix the country, but the vast majority of Americans blamed him for the collapse. It would be similar to 2008 if the race was Obama vs. Bush instead of McCain. 

One event does stand out – Hoover was so unpopular in the GOP that some prominent Republicans refused to back him, and others openly spoke of a Roosevelt victory.

Fun Fact: Herbert Hoover oversaw the total and utter meltdown of the American economy and the beginnings of a worldwide depression and still ran for office.

1936: FDR ran again, facing off against Alf Landon. The race is close, surprisingly so until the first weekend in October, when NBC sues Landon for using the ‘Alf’ theme song without permission. This marks the first ever ‘October Surprise.’

Just kidding. Landon disappears about halfway through the campaign and FDR wins every state except Maine and Vermont.

Relation to 2016: I can’t find any. Maybe if Obama ran against Trump – that might cause a 1936 type of landslide.

Fun Fact: College football teams use FDR as an example when scheduling teams to play during the upcoming season. “He ran against Hoover and Alf Landon? Lets schedule Bourgeoisie State and the U.S. Virgin Islands junior varsity swimming team!”

Also George Gallup starts asking people lots of questions, Nate Silver correctly predicts every state except Vermont, and Peggy Noonan claims that Landon “can pull this thing out of the hat” with a high Kansas turnout on election day.

At least Landon had awesome campaign buttons:

1940: Hindsight is everything, and it makes 1940 a strange election. It is clear that the war going on in Europe, Africa, Asia, Antarctica, the North Pole, and Mars is going to reach American shores soon, but Americans don’t believe that. FDR certainly does, but he is forced to campaign on an isolationist message while simultaneously quietly working the public to prepare them for war. His opponent is Wendell Wilkie, who looks like Don Draper’s father.

FDR eventually wins, but not as easily as ’32 or ’36. Wilkie is a strong campaigner; while he faces an uphill battle in regards to FDR’s popularity and lingering memories of the Depression, he works to expand the Republican map and does so in the Midwest.

Relation to 2016: Very little. With an imminent war, popular president, and lingering distrust of big business, 1940 is a poor guide for the 2016 campaign.

Fun Fact: In 1940, the Republican Party won ten times the electoral votes compared to 1936, and they still lost by 367.

1944: A dying FDR picks Harry Truman as his vice-president and possible successor and runs against Thomas Dewey. Dewey fights hard, expands the electoral map for Republicans, and still loses by 300 electoral votes.

Relation to 2016: None. Running against a successful war-time President is nearly impossible.

Fun Fact: After 1944, pundits are able to start referring to ‘temperament’ and ‘nuclear codes’ and ‘finger on the button’ and America is worse for having to listen to them, especially this year.

1948: Fucking Thomas Dewey runs a great race, looks poised to win, and loses at the last minute to Truman, and forces all of us to endure years of ‘Dewey Defeats Truman’ references in regards to a candidates chances. He also gives rise to Peggy Noonan. In a just world, he either loses in a landslide or wins and we avoid this catchall.

Dewey Defeats Truman Newspaper

We will see this image until the End of Days.

Relation to 2016: It depends on how election day goes, but dammit if there’s not hope!

Fun Fact: By 1948, America was on the up! Things were looking nice, recovery was cruising along, and Truman was making inroads on segregation. Death and taxes may be the only two certainties in life according to some, but there is a third, little known subsection to that rule:

We can’t have nice things.

And so Strom Thurmond runs for President as a Dixiecrat.

1952: Truman discovers that while it is hard to defeat a successful war president, it is easy to run against a not-successful war president, and the Korean War is going…poorly. Truman fires MacArthur in early 1951, and while America is no longer losing, they certainly are not winning in 1952. Truman toys with the idea of running again – though the 22nd Amendmentx is now law, Truman is exempt from it (the last President with the chance to run for a third term until President Trump overturns the Constitution in 2024). Adlai Setevenson emerges from the Democratic mess.

The Republicans see their chance and grab onto war hero Dwight D. Eisenhower, who defeats Stevenson, sweeping everywhere but the deep south and ushers in an era of gentlemanly goodwill for all.

Relation to 2016: Very Little. Ike ran against the war in Korea and Truman’s Cold War policies; Stevenson seemed to never really commit to running.

Fun Fact: Truman had to relieve Eisenhower of his rank in order for Ike to run for office.

1956: REMATCH! The final rematch in American history.

*please don’t let 2020 be a rematch*

Ike and Stephenson square off again and it is never really a contest. Ike is remains incredibly popular – war hero status and a growing economy will do that to a President. Just look at Ike’s approval ratings


Stevenson retained a strong following amongst Democrats, and he campaigned heavily, but it was never a contest.

Relation to 2016: None. A popular incumbent facing off against the same rival is about as boring and opposite from 2016 as we can get.

Fun Fact: This is the last 48-state election. Alaska and Hawai’i would make Richard Nixon’s life hell in 1960.

1960: Eisenhower’s handpicked successor is Richard Nixon, who campaigns with a pledge to visit all fifty states. His opponent is Democrat John F. Kennedy, who is a bit of an underdog in the primary and runs a tight race with Nixon throughout the campaign – the race was rarely more than five points apart.

A lot of circumstance dominated the race. Nixon’s pledge hits a bump when he hurts his knee and spends two weeks in the hospital. Kennedy’s VP nominee – Lyndon Baines Johnson – was an ambivalent choice, in terms of pairing, but LBJ remains one of the best campaigners in American history. The two candidates were simultaneously faced with the medium of television. JFK’s youthful appearance famously helped him.

Kennedy won – barely – and Nixon’s choice to not contest the results of the election placed him in good standing until he actually won in 1968 and then tried to lie to everyone.

Relation to 2016: Somewhat. Comparing the issues of 2016 and 1960 – or any Cold War election – is difficult because of the overarching American strategy, but both elections have an element of redefining an enemy and focusing on him. JFK famously ran with the idea of a bomber gap, claiming Ike let America fall behind on defense.

The race was also often close, as 2016 has been at times, but that is also what makes 2016 hard to compare. The bottom fell out from Trump, but he has worked his way back to within striking distance.

Fun Fact: Early in his term, JFK dares America by saying, “We choose to go to the Moon in this decade and do the other things, not because they are easy, but because they are hard; because that goal will serve to organize and measure the best of our energies and skills, because that challenge is one that we are willing to accept, one we are unwilling to postpone, and one we intend to win.”

America thinks he is talking about getting to the moon in space and we start launching giant rockets whereas JFK is just talking about seeing Marilyn Monroe naked.

1964: Kennedy dies in 1963 and Johnson takes office. Riding the popularity and mourning of JFK, he runs in 1964 with a huge approval rating and faces one of the most unpopular nominees since the Great Depression, Barry Goldwater. Goldwater proceeds to win six states and under 40% of the popular vote.

He is, however, the first Republican to ever win Georgia, and sets off a realignment within the GOP culminating in Reagan. Who leads to Bush. Who leads to Trump.

Relation to 2016: Similar. Goldwater was an unpopular Republican nominee, on the extreme edges of the Party. He was unwilling to support Civil Rights legislation, losing the votes of Black Americans in the process, and was either crazy or willing to use threat of nuclear activity on the Soviet Union. Johnson easily painted him into a corner in which Goldwater was unable to broaden his support.

Party dynamics are different today than 1964 – most Republicans came home to Trump instead of look elsewhere, but both Goldwater and Trump ran on a relatively specific part of the party base.

Fun Fact:


The New Deal Coalition is used to refer to the structure FDR created in 1932 to win election; that structure was passed down to Truman and then Stevenson, to Kennedy and Johnson. 1968 is the year where the Coalition is thought to end.

And it was a chaotic year. Johnson’s second term is full of promise which never sees the light of day. Vietnam is sucking more and more American troops into Asia with little result. The pushback against the Civil Rights Acts are in full swing and 1968 sees both Martin Luther King and Robert Kennedy gunned down. A major shift in party dynamics is occurring as well – Nixon bases his comeback strategy on winning the south, and the modern political map we see today dates from 1968.

After RFK’s assassination, the Democrats are left without a standard bearer. Humphrey is a leader in the party but the Democrats are splitting on the Vietnam War, and the anti-war side of the party sees Humphrey as an extension of LBJ – and therefore the war. The 1968 Democratic Convention is combustible to begin with and it explodes; images of the Chicago Police beating protesters are shown worldwide. Humphrey wins the nomination of the Party, but throughout his campaign the support of the party is slow to arrive.

So Humphrey is off to a hard start and Nixon has the united Republican Party behind him and a strategy to win, and then the fun begins.

LBJ is working to end the war, and ends up suspending bombing and calling for peace talks in October 1968 – the first true October Surprisexi. Humphrey is polling close to Nixon at this point, and Nixon is growing wary. He sees this as an attempt to throw the election to Humphrey, and counters with a secret promise to the leader of South Vietnam, telling him to not attend the peace conference and that under Nixon, South Vietnam will get better terms.

LBJ finds out and is irate. He passes the information to Humphrey, who does nothing with it. Nixon goes on to win a close election, though he loses the south to George Wallace.

Relation to 2016: Somewhat. Trump’s dealings with Russia harken to Nixon’s dealings with South Vietnam, and Clinton does show some similarities to Humphrey, especially with the difficulty in pulling the left-leaning part of the party onboard her campaign. However, the Vietnam context makes any comparisons seem shallow.

Fun Fact:

1972: Nixon remains somewhat popular, with an approval rating hovering between 50 and 60%. He runs against George McGovern in a mirror image of the 1964 race – Nixon, the popular incumbent, and McGovern, the ideologue extremist. McGovern wins Massachusetts and DC, and Nixon wins nearly everywhere else.

In the process of completing one of the most devastating electoral landslides in American History, Nixon sends agents to break into the Democratic National Committee Headquarters at the Watergate hotel. While noting came of it at first, Robert Redford and Dustin Hoffman eventually broke the story, leading to Nixon’s downfall and resignation.

Relation to 2016: None. Too much of a landslide.

Fun Fact: 

I wanted the final scene from the movie and couldn’t find it.

1976: No winners emerged from 1976 – literally.

Nixon’s Vice-President, Spiro Agnew, was forced to resign in 1973 after a bribery scandal broke. Nixon asks Gerald Ford to take his place, as Ford is seen by the public as a man with integrity. When Nixon resigns a year later, Ford becomes President – the only man to do so having never been elected President nor Vice-President.

He is beset by problems. The economy is beginning to slow, South Vietnam is falling apart, and he decides to pardon Nixon in an effort to move on from the Watergate scandal. Running against Jimmy Carter in 1968, Ford is blamed for both the nation’s problems and a corrupt bargain to become President, and Carter’s campaign of being a Washington outsider wins him the office.

Relation to 2016: Very little, as 1976 was on the coattails of the least popular president of all time.

Fun Fact: Each of the four candidates in this race would go on to lose a Presidential election – Ford loses in 1976. His running mate is Bob Dole, who loses in 1996. Carter would lose the 1980 election, and his running mate – Walter Mondale – will go on to lose in 1984.

1980: The more interesting race in 1980 is for the Democratic nomination, as Ted Kennedy gives Carter a very difficult time. Carter eventually wins and Kennedy gives one of the best campaign speeches of all time. On the other side stood Ronald Reagan, an economy on the verge of depression, and the Hostage Crisis in Iran.

Reagan wins easily, ushering in a decade of Republican domination.

Relation to 2016: None in the general campaign. The primary races of 1976 and 1980 both have some ties to 2016, however. Ford was pushed to the brink by Reagan in ’76, and Carter by Kennedy. Both lost, which may hold over to the Cruz-Trump ending of the 2016 Republican race (though it did not the 2008 Democratic primary).

Fun Fact: After retirement, most presidents find they get an aircraft carrier named after them. This was true for FDR, Truman, Eisenhower, Kennedy, Ford, Reagan, H.W. Bush. As a former submariner, Carter got a sub named after him instead.xii

1984: Walter Mondale runs against Reagan and wins Minnesota and DC.

Relation to 2016: None. It was a blowout loss for the Democrats.

Fun Fact: These 1980’s elections are boring.

1988: Michael Dukakis revolutionizes politics with his radical Canada strategy, where he attempts to win only states along the Canadian border. He loses to George H.W. Bush, 426-111.

Relation to 2016: None. The Republican Presidential machine was at its apex, and the party was about to undergo another revolution.

Fun Fact: This Photo:


It will never cease to be amusing.

1992: George H.W. Bush manages to break a long-held American truth: successful wartime Presidents never lose, and unsuccessful wartime presidents always lose. By 1992, HW has seen the collapse of the Soviet Union and successfully prosecuted the First Gulf War, but the economy begins to tank in 1992. Bush also breaks with the Republican Party and offers a budget where he – gasp – raises taxes. This is anathema to the GOP after the Reagan years.

On the other side, the Democrats nominate popular southern-charmer William Jefferson Clinton, only recently emerging from some sort of sexual harassment allegation. They pair him with Al Gore and go on to prove that if you have an accent of any sort, secret doors will open for you in America.

Clinton’s victory is fascinating in hindsight. Bush had a number of advantages and seemingly happened to be the wrong candidate for the wrong time. The economic downturn hurt him, as did the rise of Ross Perot, who ran as a third-party candidate. His character attacks against Clinton did not stick but within a decade they would easily have done so. The rise of the moral Republican Right was beginning in 1992, but was not full force.

Meanwhile, Clinton just looked at us and we swooned.

Relation to 2016: Very Little. Aside from the Clinton connection, 1992 holds few parallels for 2016. Both candidates were experienced, the economy was the main issue, and there was a popular third party to deal with.

Fun Fact: HW wrote Clinton a heartwarming letter upon his inauguration, going to show that politics isn’t full of deplorables.

1996: After seeing him on an episode of Family Guy, the Republicans nominate Bob Dole to run against Clinton. The Democrats had lost the House and Senate in the 1992 Republican Revolution and Clinton was thought to be vulnerable; but the mid-90’s economic recovery solidified his Presidency, even as Newt Gingrich was fucking everything up.

Relation to 2016: Somewhat. The partisan divide in 2016 dates back to the 1992 mid-term elections, which brings forth a Republican Congress unlike any seen before – radical, unwilling to compromise, and angry. Dole is not that brand of Republican – he harkens back to an older era of politics where parties get along, and his candidacy is a passing-the-torch type moment, only instead of holding the torch high, the Republicans use it to try and burn everything down.

Fun Fact: The reason Carter was a one-term President was because his initials are bad. Democratic Presidents since the Depression: FDR, HST, JFK, LBJ, WJC…and Jimmy Carter.

2000: George W. Bush and Al Gore and I don’t want to think about how this election might be similar either. Let’s move on.

2004: The Democrats nominate John Kerry, who is immediately attacked over his war record…and the attacks manage to stick. Bush is running as a recently successful war president – his near 100% approval ratings post 9/11 were declining, but still hovering around 50%. More the point, Iraq has not yet descended into chaos and Afghanistan looks like it will not be a problem either.

Much like 1812, the lesson here is to win re-election before they burn the White House. Or throw your invasion plans to hell.

Relation to 2016: Somewhat. In other circumstances, the Kerry-Bush campaign would be fascinating. One experienced, well-respected politician running against a relatively popular incumbent President. It was not that environment though. Bush worked to portray Kerry as weak on defense, which is the exact reason Democrats chose him to run; Kerry was never fully able to find his legs and the night was over early on election day after Kerry lost both Ohio and Florida.

Fun Fact: Obama gives the 2004 DNC Keynote address, and everything changes.

2008: Obama faces off against John McCain.

Relation to 2016: Very Similar, with one key difference. In 2008, the GOP didn’t know what it wanted to be. Bush was massively unpopular, though his final two years were the best of his term. Cheney wasn’t going to run (he was liked less than Bush) and there was no Republican waiting in the wings. McCain was an old Republican veteran who ran against Bush in the 2000 primaries, but the Party was starting to split along domestic lines. Conservative Republicans pushed against all the social change happening within the country and for a more isolationist America, all the while praising Reagan; meanwhile the Reganites were beginning to feel pushed away from the party as it moved more extreme and further away form mainstream Americans. These were not surface level changes yet, just inklings of what was to come.

Oh, and the economy was self-immolating and threatening a worldwide depression.

Fun Fact: The only way 2016 would be better is if Trump had picked Sarah Palin as his Vice President.

2012: Obama runs for re-election against Mitt Romney in an election Democrats will feel awful about for decades to come.

Obama is not a given for re-election. Pushing through the Health Care Act saps into his popularity, and though he manages to wind down Iraq and Afghanistan and get Osama Bin Ladin, those wars are not completely over yet. The economy is doing better, but unemployment is still high, and part of the Obama message is “We’re on the right track.”

Meanwhile, Romney is a standard Republican and is vilified by the left for being out of touch, a wealthy plutocrat with no knowledge of what middle America is going through through every day. He is attacked for being too scripted and moving from position to position on the issues like he is playing defense in basketball.

He loses – in the race Peggy Noonan actually calls into question on election day – and Obama won and America moved on believing that we’d never think of it again.

And then 2016 happens, and Romney emerges as the leader of the Never Trump movement.

The Presidential cycle of 2012 holds few lessons for 2016 (the Congressional Cycles hold a lot of lessons about what Democrats should have expected). But the idea that Mitt Romney – the most recent Republican candidate for President, would lead a charge against his own party is not something one could see coming in 2012, and it is a fantastically difficult position to take.

Romney ran against Obama and essentially wanted to do the opposite of what Obama did from 2012-16. Hillary is not going to be the same, but she will, broadly, continue a lot of Obama policies, and Romney is saying that she is a better candidate because she won’t bring about the downfall of the Republic.

Who knows how much effect his actions will have. This is not Alexander Hamilton throwing the election to his hated rival Jefferson, nor Henry Clay working to get a cabinet position under Adams, but it is in the same vein as those two individuals. In a different era, with a less black and white electorate, it would be a Roosevelt maneuver, running against your own party because it has moved too conservative.

Either way, Romney – and the others like him who have disavowed Trump – have decided that the country is more important than their preferred policies; and America is strong enough to survive four years of someone they disagree with.


2016 is unlike any other specific election because of one reason: Trump. He is a radical candidate, which knocks 80% of elections off the table, but when you combine his personal issues, a divided electorate with no third-party outlet, and a relatively unpopular Democrat, the election stands in its own tier. Other elections have been just as crazy in their own right – along with the contests in 1800, 1828, 1860xiii, 1884, 1912 and 1968, this year’s campaign fits in with those as the craziest elections in American history.

This year is not a one-off election. It is not unique and it is not without historical precedent. The partisan divide and black-vs-white outlook today dates back to the Republican Revolution of 1992, and from there to the 1976 Republican primary, and from there to the 1964 Presidential election and from there to the Republican collapse in 1932 – and this is only focusing on the political aspect. Take into account any number of social, economic, and foreign changes and that mix gets more difficult to map.

It is the general lesson of American politics. We may drift to the extremes, but we will always snap back towards the center. One party may win six elections in a row, but it does not mean that party has figured it out; it is far more likely to mean that party has reached its apex.

The problem with this election, as pointed out by the Keepin’ it 1600 crew, is how close it all has come. Trump is an undisciplined fascist who, at the time of this writing, may still win. If he doesn’t, he is going to get over 40% of the vote and carry 200+ electoral votes. What happens if a disciplined fascist takes hold?

Let’s go back eighty years to 1933. Franklin Roosevelt is just elected and is sorting through the Depression. To get elected in 1932, Roosevelt has the support of Huey Long, a former governor of Louisiana and current Senator. Long is a left-wing populist ideologue. If Donald Trump and Bernie Sanders had a love child, it may well be Huey Long.

Roosevelt isn’t comfortable with Long and calls him one of the two most dangerous men in America – and he is not entirely wrong in doing so. Long holds a wide network of devoted supporters who hang on his every word. He is a great speaker, able to motivate people through his rousing speeches. He essentially controls Louisiana, and at some point in 1933 he begins to split with Roosevelt and starts to lay the groundwork for his own Presidential campaign in 1936. He wants a wealth redistribution, net asset taxes, and more spending on public works; and in the height of the Depression this begins to spiral into antisemitism and egomania.

Long is assassinated in 1935, and a race against a popular Roosevelt is probably a poor idea in the first place, but the popularity of his positions and the Democrats ability to take him under their umbrella, thinking they can assimilate him is a cautious tale for 2016. People can change; demagogues often do not, and to expect that one will after his election is a folly proven by history.

i I think this is the first year where both candidates have the same name

ii The Cleveland-Blaine battle of 1884 is about as exciting as a Jets-Browns mid-December matchup to decide the fifth overall pick.

iiiPresident Above Replacement

iv 1800, 1828, 1840, 1892, 1900, 1956.

v WJB garnered just over 45%

vi Go and read the 1828 section again. It’s certifiably insane.

vii Wilson would nominate Hughes to be Secretary of State, and upon his confirmation, Wilson and his vice-president would resign. The modern line of succession – which includes the Speaker of the House and President of the Senate – came into being in 1945.

viiiCounting the draws in 1800 and 1824 here.

ixLet’s pause for a moment here and get a drink as we all realize that the Klan is still a thing.

x So you don’t have to google: Presidential Term Limits

xiI lied to you earlier.

xiiI just discovered that LBJ is getting a Zumwalt-class destroyer named after him. The Navy either has an amazing sense of irony or no historical knowledge.

xiiiWe didn’t talk much about 1860, but it caused a Civil War.
Posted by: cousindampier | 8 November 2016

Was That Election like This One, Part I: 1788 – 1892

Election years bring out the most virulent part of the American psyche.  2016 is almost over, and the overwhelming theme seems to be “we seriously cannot handle any more of this.”

The fun part of American elections, however, is that a lot of what happens today has come before.  Events might be specific to an individual year, but the theme is there.  The violence and personal attacks of 2016 are nothing compared to the slander of 1828, and the personal scandals of Clinton and Trump are a replay of Cleveland and Blaine.

2016 will rank as one of the craziest elections and the best lesson we can take from American history is that crazy elections are usually followed by some really boring ones.

1788: No.

1792: No. It’s George Washington.

1796: Washington steps aside and a two-party system erupts. John Adams (Federalist) runs against Thomas Jefferson (Democratic-Republican)i, and in ways it was modern: the Federalists accuse Jefferson of sympathizing with the horrors of the French Revolution, having an affair with a slave and running away from battle during the Revolution. Meanwhile, the Democratic-Republicans accuse Adams of wanting a return to the monarchy. This is no basic slander – it is an accusation of wanting to upturn the results of the revolution and betray American independence.

Everything works out.ii Adams is elected President and Jefferson is elected Vice-President as no system exists for electing a Presidential ticket. It is the most awkward Presidential term in American history until 1800.

Relation to 2016: Some, but very little. Washington is the most popular President in American historyiii and comparing any election to his coattails is problematic. The immediate and violent personal attacks, however, does speak to a strain of American politics which holds true today.

Fun Fact: Theodore Roosevelt was not a fan of Thomas Jefferson and despised Jeffersonian Democracy.

1800: Adams’ Presidency is not the most successful. By 1800, the French Revolution is in full swing, the British are testy over sailors, and Adams has worked to pass two unpopular laws – a tax to pay for an army and navy, and the Alien and Sedition Acts to silence any critics. The Federalists also split – Adams and Hamilton emerge as rivals within the party, so much so that Hamilton works to bump Adams from the ticket. When a fifty-four page letteriv blasting Adams was released to the press, the Federalist movement was tarred. 

The lesson here: in the early years of the Republic, don’t tax and take away rights.

Then, because this is America and we learn from our mistakes, we screw up again. Jefferson is running against Adams with Aaron Burr as his running mate. In 1800, the presidency and vice-presidency are recognized to be a) different and b) held by members of the same party. However, the electoral college has no way of voting for each position separately. The Adams-Jefferson debacle remains: the highest vote-getter became President, and second place went to the Vice-President.

The Democratic-Republicans find a solution – have one member refrain from voting for Burr, so Jefferson will win. Perfect, right?

The guy forgot.

Now, Jefferson and Burr are tied. Under the constitution, the election goes to the House of Representatives, and while the election of 1800 is going to bring in a new Democratic-Republican majority, the old collection of members is still in session. They are dominated by Federalists who hate Jefferson, their political opponent since forever. Burr stands a real chance of winning.

And then Alexander Hamilton gets involved again, telling the House Federalists to vote for Jefferson. He would rather have someone he disagrees with as President rather than someone who might be the literal incarnate of Satan.v

Jefferson wins, and this was definitely the most awkward Presidential term. Especially after Burr kills Hamilton in a duel and, in later years, tries to start an insurrection out west.

Relation to 2016: The Federalists split in 1800, handing the election to the Democratic-Republicans. Yet, it is the Democratic-Republicans who nearly split and blow the party into a million pieces. It is Alexander Hamilton – Great Britain-leaning, Federalist Alexander Hamilton – who saves Jefferson’s election. And that rings true this year. The Republicans who have come forward, looked at Trump, and decided they would rather vote for Clinton run in the path set by Hamilton.

Fun Fact: We can revisit this later if Mike Pence kills Mitt Romney in a duel and tries to start the independent nation of Hawai’i

1804: The Federalist Party disintegrates, and the elections become landslides. Jefferson wins with the usual slander. The Federalists do run a vice-president named Rufus, which is the closest America is to getting Droopy in the White House.


Relation to 2016: None. Literally none.

Fun Fact: Did you know that George Clinton is one of only two men to serve as vice-president under two administrations? Always the bridesmaid, never the guy holding the nuclear codes.

1808: The way I remember the Presidents is that Madison comes before Monroe alphabetically, and also in Presidential order.

Relation to 2016: I guess Madison did serve as Jefferson’s Secretary of State, as did Hillary.

Fun Fact: The Federalist ticket was the same as 1804, and George Clinton was the VP nominee again. Much to the joy of typesetters everywhere, Madison was the only new name on the ticket.

1812: Facing off against DeWitt Clinton, Madison puts the successful war president theory to the test. He is not yet a successful war president, but the British also haven’t burned the White House yet, so he squeaks by with 50.4% of the vote.

Relation to 2016: Get elected before the invasion happens.

Fun Fact: Clinton is the nephew of Madison’s late vice-president, making this another awkward contest. There is a theme somewhere in this.

1816: Rufus King is back, starring in “The Last Federalist Candidate,” which fails at the box office and James Monroe is elected President. The early 1800’s are devoid of drama.

Relation to 2016: The previous decade saw the Federalists hang on by bits and pieces, and King would be their last stand. The party fell apart after 1816, so when I write this again in four years 1816 might be the most similar election.

Fun Fact: Monroe is the only President with a foreign capital city named after him, in Liberia.

1820: Monroe runs unopposed. Literally. Peggy Noonan still finds a way to call the race a toss-up on election day.

Relation to 2016: None.

Fun Fact: Monroe was the third consecutive president to get re-elected, which doesn’t happen again until

1824: The House of Representatives is good for three things. They control the purse strings (Thanks, history class). They are the most populist branch of government, charged with keeping their collective fingers on the pulse of hard-working America and responding in kind, usually poorly. And they decide ties, ranging from a Presidential election to who wins in a triple-overtime Super Bowl.vii

Providing role-models for father-son figures for the rest of time, John Quincy Adams is eventually elected, but not without a tremendous amount of bile, anger, and eternal hatred. The election split one party (possibly happening), created another (probably not happening), and even forced Andrew Jackson to stop focusing on which Native American tribe he was going to expel and slaughter next (Does Donald Trump know that Native Americans exist?)

With Monroe taking his leave, the last of the Revolutionary leaders is gone, and the Democratic-Republicans cannot unify behind one candidate. The result is a four-way race, with Adams, Jackson, William Crawford, and Henry Clay all receiving electoral votes.

Jackson receives the plurality, but not the majority. 131 electoral votes are needed, and he only received 99. Adams had 84.

The 1796 and 1800 election prepared for this – sort of. The election went to the House, but only the top three candidates are considered. Clay is left out, the first of his many attempts at the Presidency defeated. Like Hamilton before him, he considers Adams to be more in tune with America, and he hates Jackson. With Clay’s support, Adams proceeds to win 13 of the 20 states in the House, become President, and Jackson was left to brood until 1828.

Relation to 2016: Similar. The animosity between the candidates is palatable. Any Adams-Jackson debate would be similar to the second debate this year, minus the whole dumb “DO YOU LIKE THE OTHER PERSON PLS SAY YES” question at the end.  

It is also striking because of the end of the Democratic-Republican Party. Jackson inherits the Democratic mantle, and this is where the modern Democratic party begins. Adams’ segment of the party will eventually become the Whigs, which…we will get to the monstrosity that is the Whigs.

Fun Fact: 1824 does hold a striking resemblance to one election. When the 1989/90 NBA awards were announced, Magic Johnson won the MVP despite receiving fewer first place votes than Charles Barkley, and the idea of Charles Barkley and Andrew Jackson having something in common should make everybody happy.

1828: This election has everything: A bitter re-match, accusations of adultery and prostitution, slave-trading, possible improprieties with public funds, slanderous use of a formal President’s dying endorsement and, of course, a riotous mob quieted only by the delivery of alcoholic punch.

The setup is this: Jackson and Adams have four years to prepare for each other, but Jackson has a bit of an upper hand. Adams has to spend the past four years governing, while Jackson spends it plotting revenge. From the beginning of the Adams Administration, Jackson slanders him for choosing Henry Clay as his Secretary of State after Clay had thrown him the Presidency. This move is seen as corrupt, political, backhanded, especially since Secretary of State is a stepping stone to the Presidency – Jefferson, Madison, and Monroe all held the position.

And this is just the beginning.

Jackson is also seen as a man of the west, and America is rapidly expanding in that direction. In that same vein, Jackson is also the Southern Candidate, and during the 1820’s this began to matter quite a bit. During the next forty years, the South would increasingly vote together behind the Democratic candidate.

Adams’ Presidency isn’t useless. He manages to fund a significant number of public works projects while paying down the national debt. His problem is the hostility he faces with the Jacksonian faction in Congress. While Jackson and Adams ran under the same party banner in 1824, by 1828 the two factions move far enough away to be two different parties.

Jackson wins a resounding victory, after the following happens:

-Jackson is accused of adultery, as he marries his wife before she is officially divorced (unknown to either of them).

-Adams is accused of gifting a young girl to the Tsar of Russia while posted there as ambassador.

-Adams is also accused of using federal funds to purchase gaming tables for the White House, later proven false.

-Jackson is dogged during the campaign by his pro-slavery and pro-slave trading stance. The north-south division was already clear at this point.

-Both men campaign for Thomas Jefferson’s endorsement. Jefferson would die in 1826, leaving mixed messages with his support. At various times, Jefferson views Jackson as dangerous and unfit, while also blasting Adams’ stance on government, fearing a monarchy even in his late years. This is revealed as bits and pieces of Jefferson’s papers are released after his death but before the election, likely due to the Tsar of Russia hacking into the server holding Jefferson’s papers.

It’s likely he distrusted both, which did not stop either man from claiming Jefferson’s mentorship and support and decrying the other for doing the same.

-At one point – either the day the results are announced or the day Jackson is inaugurated – a pro-Jackson mob rushes into the White House. Windows are smashed and items destroyed, and the rioters are only quieted by dragging bowls of punch out into the lawn to encourage the rioters to go outside.

-Jackson’s wife dies shortly after his election, and he blames it on the stress caused to her by the accusations of adultery, singling out Adams and Clay.

-In 1830, after his defeat, Adams runs for the House of Representatives and wins, as a congressman from Massachusetts. He is one of only two Presidents to serve in government after holding the Presidency.viii He quickly becomes a leader of the abolitionist movement, putting him at odds with President Jackson.

Relation to 2016: No one election is quite like another, but 1828 has just enough crazy circumstance, personal vitriol, and ugly campaigning to be very similar to the 2016 campaign. Seriously, look at that list again. Adams was accused of child slavery and prostitution, while the other guy OWNED ACTUAL SLAVES.

Other threads persist – Jackson was dogged by his ‘business practices” (most of his fortune was made off the backs of slaves on his plantation) and Adams was occasionally viewed with suspicion as the son of a former President and an elite – he was, at his time, a well-traveled and seasoned diplomat who had spent most of his life in public service.

Any comparison is difficult because America is far different from it used to be, a world power as opposed to a continental one. Yet, the political threads established by the Jefferson-Adams campaign of 1796 – the focus on personal context and attacks – reaches a high in 1828 which it will not again for some time.

Fun Fact: There is one other way 1828 is like 2016 – there is nothing to say to make it seem more crazy. There was a riot when Jackson took office, and they had to bring out booze to stop it. I mean, booze probably caused it too, but that remained the solution – and it worked.

Both 1828 and 2016 are in the Tyson Zone of Presidential Elections.

While Jefferson was quite possibly correct in liking neither. Having said that, at least both Jackson and Adams were both qualified to be President.

1832: A theme of Jackson’s Presidency is the city and rural divide. Jackson casts himself as the frontiersman, saving hard-working Americans from the elites of the northeast. He wins in 1832, defeating Henry Clay’s second attempt at the office, but not as broadly as in 1828. He would spend the rest of his time in office pissing off John C. Calhoun (always a plus!) and scheming ways to steal land from Native Americans.

Martin van Buren makes his first appearance in government. All you need to know about van Buren is that he is Dutch and his political mentor is Aaron Burr.

Relation to 2016: More similar to 2012 than 2016. Popular incumbent wins again, but the popular vote is slightly less.

Fun Fact: As far as I can tell, Henry Clay is the only man to run for President three times under three different parties and lose each time.ix

1836: America elects a Dutchman and then we all agree it never happened.

The 1836 election also brings us to the era of the Whig Party. While the people who formed the Whig Party probably did not mean to be historically hilarious, their legacy is one of unintentional comedy. Consider 1836, the first year the Whigs run presidential candidates. Martin van Buren is riding the coattails of Andrew Jackson, so the Whigs devise a strategy.

What if,” one Whig says to another, “we run three candidates for President and split the vote, forcing the election to the House of Representatives? Then we can choose like Henry Clay did!”

The other Whig turns to him and says, “Thats the dumbest thing I’ve ever heard. Why run three when you can run four?”

And so the Whigs ran FOUR candidates in 1836x, all from different regions, and somehow Henry Clay isn’t one of them.

Van Buren wins easily.

Relation to 2016: None. Yet, I can see a 2016 where the Republican Party does this and it works.

Fun Fact: The next 3,000 words are going to poke a lot of fun at the Whigs, because they are hilarious. The party did rest on a solid foundation – they looked to build America up internally before expanding, looking to the Constitution and rule of law to balance Jeffersonian Democracy. They were hesitant about westward expansion because they wanted to contain slavery to the South, though a full-fledged abolition movement was not quite a force in politics yet.

1840: We all have our 8th grade history teachers to thank for “TIPPACANOE AND TYLER TOO!” William Henry Harrison takes a paddle to van Buren and sends him up a certain kind of creek minus said paddle, but in a canoe.xi

Harrison wins and then dies, inspiring a billion pub trivia questions and one of the best Drunk History Videos of all time:

Relation to 2016: Outside of a snappy campaign slogan, 2016 and 1840 have another similarity: the Whigs refused to discuss any issues. Van Buren was unpopular, the Whigs were able to run against his failed policies rather than discuss, you know, slavery.

Fun Fact: John Tyler became President after Harrison’s death. He proceeded to split with the Whigs and alienate the Democrats leaving him with few avenues to pass any legislation. The Whigs expelled him from their party before his term was up, which may happen if Donald Trump wins.

1844: James Polk defeats Henry Clay, in Clay’s last appearance as a Presidential candidate. He goes 0 for 3, which are some Tim Tebow baseball numbers.

Polk is considered a “dark horse” candidate, due to his lack of national recognition. From Tennessee, he initially aspires to be van Buren’s running mate. Splits are appearing in the Democratic Party, and Tyler’s annexation of Texas makes them apparent, but a bloc of Southern Democrats holds sway, and Polk – running on expansionism more than slavery – ends up with the support of Andrew Jackson and the nomination. Van Buren tries to run again before Americans remember how bland it was the last time they elected a Dutchman.

Relation to 2016: Both Trump and Polk were dark-horse candidates, except Polk had the support of the greatest living President, while every living President has refused to support Trump. I suppose Polk did take us to war with Mexico. That could happen under President Trump.

Fun Fact:Polk died of cholera, because the early American frontier was like the zombie apocalypse minus the zombies.

1848: In 1848, the Whigs adopt a strategy which continues to haunt American politics, and justifies the party’s downfall. Desperate to win, they nominate a war hero, General Zachary Taylor, even though he sort-of-kind-of-just-barely agrees with Whig politics.

Polk declines to run again so the Democrats nominate Lewis Cass, except the Northern Democrats are becoming increasingly uncomfortable with slavery…Anyways, Taylor wins.

And then he dies! Harrison and Taylor are the only two Whig Presidents, and they both die in office. The lesson here: If you are on the Whig ticket, always run as the Vice President.

Relation to 2016: Somewhat. The Democratic Party is going through an upheaval. They somewhat recover for the 1852 and 56 elections, but Polk’s nomination and victory is really the last move of the party before the Civil War. What happens to the Republican Party is to be seen, but they likely are not going to fall apart, and will find some sort of inner-party balance.

Fun Fact: Taylor was opposed to the Compromise of 1850 and wanted to ban slavery from the western provinces. The Compromise of 1850, however, was created by Henry Clay (Whig) and when Taylor died, Millard Fillmore (Whig) pushed it through. The Democrats sat back and watched the Whig Party destroy itself.

1852: Ah, the antebellum years. How sweet and blissful they are; a generation not yet destroyed by the horror of violence. I mean, except for all the people who are still enslaved.

A quick overview of the Whig Strategy for Winning the White House:

  1. Nominate a successful war hero along with a less-successful vice-president.
  2. Ensure the War Hero dies in office.
  3. Ensure the Vice-President is unpopular, so unpopular that the party refused to nominate him when his term is up.
  4. Lose following election in a massive landslide.
  5. Profit?

Millard Fillmore is best known for sounding vaguely like the conservative-leaning comic strip that always appeared in the strangest places in your local paper, and for being the only Whig President to not die nor get expelled from the party.xii He is, however, massively unpopular, so the Whigs run another war hero – General Winfield Scott. To his good fortune, he loses and proceeds to live a long-if-not-healthy life, dying in 1866.

The Democrats run an unknown, Franklin Pierce. If the Whig grand strategy is to pick candidates who continually die, the Democratic grand strategy is to stick heads in the sand. To that end, Pierce’s campaign slogan was: “Everything’s perfectly all right now. We’re fine. We’re all fine here now, thank you. How are you?” George Lucas would later turn to Pierce for inspiration when writing Star Wars: A New Hope.xiii

Pierce wins and has a rough for years. Charles Sumner gets caned on the floor of Congress.

Relation to 2016: Very Little. The Whig Party falls apart after the election, so if that happens then sure.

Fun Fact: Pierce becomes the first sitting President to seek a second term and get denied by his own party.

1856: The Whig Party tries a novel strategy – instead of picking candidates who are going to die in office, the whole party dies instead. Taking its place as the second party is the GRAND OLD PARTY, the Republicans are here!

They lose to James Buchanan. Millard Fillmore is back! But he loses too.

Relation to 2016: Very Little. Both parties were broken in 1856. The Whigs were gone, the Democrats could barely agree, and the Republicans were brand new. Somebody had to be elected, and Buchanan was not what the country needed.

Fun Fact: Buchanan is the only bachelor President.

1860: The Democratic Party splits, the Republicans unite behind Lincoln. 1860 is one of the three or four strangest elections in American history. Civil War may or may not have been inevitable, but Lincoln’s election catalyzed southern sentiment in a way that there was no going back.

Relation to 2016: Lincoln is better than both of these candidates, so no. His election did cause a civil war, so…maybe?

Fun Fact: None, because the Civil War is really sad.

1864: Check back in four years.

1868: The Republicans nominate Ulysses S. Grant, most famously known for cigars and his portrayal by Kevin Kline in Wild, Wild West. Grant is one of the more fascinating Presidents in American history solely because of his rags to riches to rags story; poor and broke, he found wild success leading the Union Army during the Civil War only to reach too far – the Presidency broke him and he barely finished his memoirs, which were to save his family – before dying.


By 1868, the southern states are being re-admitted to the Union and voting primarily Republican – the newly free black vote ensures that Grant wins nearly the entire region, defeating Democrat Horatio Seymour.

Relation to 2016: Somewhat. The influx of both a massive number of new voters and the changing demographics of the voting public are the primary similarities to 2016, but the context is far too different to have any real resemblance. Strangely, while Grant gained 214 electoral votes to Seymour’s 80, Grant only won the popular vote by five points.

Fun Fact: The ghost of the Whig Party strikes one more time, as the Republicans put Andrew Johnson on the ticket with Lincoln. Upon Lincoln’s assassination, Johnson proceeds to get impeached and the Republicans turn to Grant.

1872: Grant defeats Horace Greeley in the last election where the Democratic and Republican parties did not face off. By 1872, the Republican Party is splitting over Reconstruction – enforce it or finish it? – and the Grant administration’s corruption aids the schism. Greeley ran under the Liberal Republican headline and the Democrats – in their desire to defeat Grant – refuse to nominate a candidate and throw the Party’s weight behind Greeley.

Greeley proceeds to lose in massive fashion. Grant carries 31 of the 37 states. His record as the Union’s savior and Lincoln’s heir remains strong despite the middling performance of his administration, and Grant again carries much of the South.

Relation to 2016: Greeley remains an interesting figure and does have a striking resemblance to the Republican of this year’s process. A newspaper editor, Greeley was never a politician until 1872, and the Republican party had years of literature and editorials to use against him. He was also a poor campaigner, especially compared to the local and national strength of the traditional Republican Party in regards to running a campaign.

Fun Fact: In a strange twist, Greeley died after the election but before the Electoral College met. As a result, though he earned 66 electoral votes, he only received three. It’s almost as if he ran with the Whig Party.

1876: I really hope this election has no bearing on this year. I really, really hope it stays as far away from 2016 as historically possible. Let’s move on.

1880: The single best election in American history, because the guy who wins is named James ABRAM Garfield. Of course, he dies in office. Small historical detail, that is.

Garfield defeats General Winfield Scott Hancock, who continues to serve as he runs (bearing in mind that candidates did not have an active role in elections at this time – party mechanisms drove presidential campaigns more than personality and charisma). 1880 holds a number of distinctions. It has the highest turnout ever recorded, close to 80%. It is also sixth election won by the Republican Party, tying the Democratic-Republican streak from 1800 through 1820. 1880 is also one of the narrowest elections in history – Garfield defeats Hancock by less than 2,000 popular votes, while smashing him in the electoral college.

Relation to 2016: Very Little. Garfield won by .02% of the vote, but won the electoral college 214-155. Something like that probably won’t happen in 2016, but it remains a possibility.

Fun Fact: Garfield is assassinated in 1881 and Chester A. Arthur’s facial hair becomes President, pushing through civil service reform and changing the fundamental nature of American government and politics. That is a lot of work for some facial hair, and his whiskers decline to run again.

1884: Grover Cleveland ran against James Blaine, which sounds boring and really, who can name the Presidents, in order, in between Lincoln and Teddy Roosevelt anyways?

Except it is not boring because Cleveland is accused of fathering an illegitimate child and Blaine is accused of accepting bribes, so this campaign is based a lot around the personal character of the two candidates. On top of each party spending the majority of the campaign engaged in character defense and attacks, near the end of the race a Republican surrogate accuses the Democrats of alcoholism, insurrection, and the mortal sin of being Catholic. Cleveland wins – barely – but both Blaine and he seem to be pretty unlikable candidates.


Cleveland is confronted with his illegitimate child

Also some guy named John St. John gets involved.

Relation to 2016: Similar. The election was largely a personal referendum on the two candidates. The polling data at 538 says that Cleveland and Blaine were the two most unlikable candidates until this year, but the results are skewed by the lack of phone access in many parts of the country.

Fun Fact: Cleveland is the first President named after a Sesame Street character.


President Cleveland

1888: Benjamin Harrison is known primarily as the grandson of William Henry Harrison and by his colloquial nickname, “Benjie.xiv” Unlike his grandfather, he does not run as a member of the Whig Party, and therefore lives through his term much to the consternation of Vice President Levi Morton and Levi Morton’s incredible mutton chops. To this day, scholars debate who would have assumed the role of President had Harrison died while in office. Morton and his Mutton Chops work against each other behind the scenes of Harrison’s presidency, splitting the cabinet in two and almost causing a constitutional crisis.


It’s like staring into the whiskers of God.

Relation to 2016: The 1888 election focused a lot on trade, tariffs, and the building of American industry. We hear a slight refrain of that in 2016, focusing primarily on leaving the North American Free Trade Agreement, but the 2016 refrain on trade is much smaller. Tariff policy was the economic issue of the era, while the economy is more diverse now.

Fun Fact: 1888 was also the third of four elections in American history where the popular vote winner was not elected. It should stay that way.

1892: REMATCH! Kind of like the 1828 election, just minus all the accusations about prostitution and slavery. 1892 is somewhat anticlimactic – Cleveland won the popular vote in 1888 but lost the electoral college. He spends eighteen months watching Terminator before declaring that he will be back and returns to remedy that issue.

Relation to 2016: None. 1892 might be the most dissimilar campaign to 2016, because when Harrison’s wife died a few weeks before election day, both Harrison and Cleveland ceased to seriously campaign out of respect.

Fun Fact: Cleveland becomes the second President to win the popular vote three times in a row. Andrew Jackson won it in 1824, ’28, and ’32, and Franklin Roosevelt would win it from 1932-1944.


i Yes, that was the party name. It’s length will infuriate scholars and excite students until the end of time. TAKES UP SO MUCH PAGE SPACE.

ii No it doesn’t.

iii Go check the 538 archives for their 1796 predictions. I’ll wait.

iv  I’m doing my best to impersonate Alexander Hamilton’s writing length with this post.

v Or something like this.

vi  About 10,000 words from now.

vii  Somehow they would mess this up and make Roger Goodell seem likable.


ix  Democratic-Republican, National Republican, and Whig

x  Seriously. They ran four people. The Whigs would die out soon.

xi  You’re welcome for that.

xii Someone needs to write a book on all the messed-up things surrounding the Whig Party. It’d be like, 700 pages long.

xiii Isn’t American History great?

xiv  The more I started at Benjamin Harrison’s photo, the more sure I felt that he was the architect of the Matrix.

Posted by: cousindampier | 1 November 2016

Midnight Colombian Peace Thoughts

A month ago tomorrow, the Colombia people rejected a settlement to end the longest running Civil War in the Americas.  The Colombian government, led by Juan Manuel Santos, and the Fuerzas Armadas Revolucionarias de Colombia (FARC) came to an agreement in late September which would essentially re-launch FARC as a political party and avoid much of the legal retribution an end to an internal conflict usually brings.

And then the accord was brought to the Colombian people, who narrowly defeated it, sending four years of work into a tailspin.

One one hand, in A Great Perhaps, David Spencer argues that the FARC are working the peace process to advocate for causes they were unable to win on the battlefield.  In the attempt for peace – Santos’ term runs out in 2018 – the Colombian government has given way on nearly every point to secure a peace agreement, and FARC has not yet retracted its long-stated demand to see a communist Colombia.  The peace treaty, in this sense, is an end-goal for the government and a step towards victory for the FARC.

On the other, as covered by Chapo Trap House, just end the damn war already.  The price of ending a  fifty-year war is worth it.*

Somewhere in the middle lies this Washington Post briefing.  The Post attempts to compare the Colombian Peace accord with similar accords throughout history, but the underlying point is that the Post had to reach down and find three.  The Colombian conflict is not something easily related to other peace accords, especially Brexit.  Colombia and Brexit have about as much in common as Lynyrd Skynyrd and Beethoven.

The intrigue continues, if one may label war in such a passive way.  The government gave ground on a wide scope of items to secure peace.  Now, they get to have some back; and FARC has to decide if they truly desire peace, or if the peace process was simply a way to gain space.

*As far as I can tell, this is the first time Chapo Trap House has been compared to anything associated with David Kilcullen.  I’ve never been prouder, boys and girls.

Posted by: cousindampier | 31 October 2016

Week in Review

The Scenery: The Gherkin.  It’s a fantastically strange building, looking like a teardrop.  For a  skyscraper – or as much of a skyscraper as London has due to aviation restrictions – it fits into the cityscape in a subtle way.  The building seemed to play hide-and-seek as I walked towards it, peeking out from amongst the surroundings; and even when I stood at its base, it didn’t seem like…what it was.  Because it looks strange as hell.


This statue in front of it was unique as well.  I took five steps to the right for each photo.

Beer: BrewDog.  For a few weeks I attempted to drink all of the BrewDog at the local Tesco market; then I had to switch to Heineken because it is cheaper.  It is one of the best beers widely available, and the brewpub is in London.  I haven’t been to the brewpub yet, because that requires putting on pants, but their punk IPA is the first thing you’d drink after a long voyage on some sort of a ship, where you’re desperate for beer.


Song I’ve been listening to on repeat: Genghis Khan by Miike Snow.  In DC I learned the fun of walking through an art museum while listening to music, and sometimes I think of London as a giant art museum.  It is pretty impossible not to have a surreal moment with this song, especially when crossing a bridge.  

Thesis note for the week: 90 tons of heroin flows into Central Asia from Afghanistan and only 75-80 flows out.  This would seem like a good note, except there are country by country breakdowns throughout the region, and over the past week my thesis has gone up in smoke.  Having said that, I do get to draw a lot.


Posted by: cousindampier | 19 October 2016

The Obama Era, I Miss It So

By Senior Master Sgt. Thomas Meneguin, USAF [Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons

Barack Obama’s Inauguration

 Eight years ago – almost to the day – I was at a Citizen Cope concert in Bethesda, Maryland. I was lucky to be there – my girlfriend at the time had grabbed tickets for my birthday – but I’d begun working for a progressive political consulting firm ahead of the 2008 elections and it was not the quietest of times.

Three weeks later, we’d had a role – very small, but a role – in getting Barack Obama elected as President. (More importantly, we’d helped downballot progressive races throughout the country, getting issues passed or candidates elected). And I discovered that election days were a little anti-climactic, because as the east coast results began to appear we had less and less to do. Eventually we retired to a bar in Adams-Morgan, drank Miller Lite, and watched America elect Obama.

Tonight is the final debate between Hillary Clinton and Donald Trump, and in three weeks – the longest three weeks in the history of America aside from that time it took William Henry Harrison to die of pneumoniai – it will all be over, and the eight years of the Obama era will have passed far too quickly.


My peers in age and I can mark out our lives in three phases: the Clinton, Bush, and Obama eras. More to the point, those eras have corresponded with distinct life changes. My first memories are from the early 1990’s – I was seven when Clinton took office. By the time Bush was inaugurated I was 15 and beginning to learn to drive (I also have a distinct memory of staying up late the night of his election to figure out if I should colour Florida red or blue on my homework assignment. That wasn’t the worst of it – I got Nevada wrong).

The Bush era was a different kettle of fish. His first term was high school; his second was college. I was ‘coming of age,’ though I have no idea what that means and refuse to read ‘Catcher in the Rye’ to find out. There was 9/11 and Iraq and the thought I might join the Navy and arguments about Bush and Kerry. They were political arguments of the type and scope which only high school kids can have – overly moralistic and not very nuanced.

The summer of 2008 I graduated college. Obama didn’t secure the nomination until after I graduated, because my friend Katie was still in Oregon or South Dakota or some random state. Soon after, the 2008 Hillary campaign ended and Katie was back and working for a private consulting firm and she started to ask me if I wanted to come to work.

I said no. I was a new graduate, and who wasn’t going to hire me to research Iraq and Afghanistan?

She kept asking.

No. The Brookings call was on the way!

She asked again.

I said yes, with just a little bit of “please?” mixed in, and to her word, Katie got me out of there that night and took the heat.

The three weeks between the concert and election day were the most exhausting, exhilarating, crazy and rewarding weeks of my life. I wasn’t really in charge of any aspect of any race – the only time I recall making a decision on a campaign was when Katie had been up for something like 30 hours and was trying to get some sleep on a couch. But that feeling you get working to get someone elected, working to get some random small ballot measure passed, staring at results of phone banks and trying to determine the next day’s strategy – its a spark that spreads, very quickly, into a fire.

Politics and voting is often derided, and sometimes justly – look no further than Congress overriding a Presidential veto only to immediately try to figure out how to override its override. But Congress isn’t really the problem. In 2014, members of congress were re-elected at a 95% clip, though the institution as a whole had an approval rating of 11%. The lesson, obviously, being that my congressperson is perfect and its all you idiots out there who should figure it out.

No theory really covers why politics is so unpopular. Maybe the system is broken. Maybe it is elitist – in that the horizontal movement is between the elite and public office. Maybe the money is too much – check out this Planet Money investigation which revealed former Idaho representative Walt Minnick’s statement that he needed to raise $10-15,000 per day. PER DAY. During the working week, he had to raise enough money to subsist a middle-class family for a whole year.

Or maybe it is because each generation has their superstars, their careers which call out for a larger purpose. Growing up, the names thrown about – Gates and Buffett and Jobs and Oprah and Zuckerberg – they were all people who ran multi-million dollar businesses.  The business generation began in the 1980’s, with Reaganomics, and peaked in the early 2000’s. Before that, it was artists and musicians, birthed in the 60’s and peaking in the 70’s. Today, its probably Silicon Valley and entrepreneurs.  It hasn’t been politics for a generation.

This is why I will miss Barack Obama – he made politics cool again.


In just under four months, 44 will be gone and 45 will be inaugurated, and the Obama era will be over. It already should be over, except he keeps doing fun things like letting Stephen Colbert interview him and pulling a Kobe Salute at Correspondents Dinners.

I don’t necessarily like everything he’s done. Obamacare needs some fixing and the sheer number of drone strikes is disconcerting, much less the bystanders killed, and we still don’t seem to have a coherent strategy in the Middle East. There’s a lot I do like as well – he got health care passed, oversaw a massive economic re-growth and put Joe Biden in a position to speak publicly multiple times per week, which is just a fantastic concept.

(Aside: Skip the “Bernie could win” debates. Imagine a Biden-Trump debate. Think of what we’ve missed, America. Think of the comedy we’ve missed.)

It’s not that he was a cool guy – that rationale is a terrible way to judge both presidents and potential flatmates. It was the how. The entire time, Obama was a politician and never tried to hide that; but he was so damn good that we often forgot. Go watch Jerry Seinfeld’s interview with him in Comedians in Cars Getting Coffee. It’s funny, but the whole thing is an appeal for the ACA. He understood how to appeal to a growing generation of voters, and he was so charismatic that he made us laugh in the process.

However, the simplicity of being a politician doesn’t do him right. There were moments where he seemed approachable. Not ‘one of us,’ but someone we could aspire to be. He was amazed by the same things we were. He had intense sports fandom. He sang happy birthday to his daughter. He was – and is – a really great dad. Obama’s charisma stemmed from his sense of self. He was, by all accounts, humble enough to have that quiet confidence which we all aspire to have, the detachment which allows him to keep calm and come through in the clutch, ranging from debates to three pointers.

Aside from his graying hair, he never really seemed to let the job get to him, and he dealt with some incredibly complex and difficult issues.

He remains a brilliant speaker, and anybody who decries that needs a reality check. America remembers the words of Presidents. In my first grade class, the Gettysburg Address and the Constitution were taped to the wall. Not only do we remember words of Presidents, we remember morals – “I cannot tell a lie,” and “Speak softly and carry a big stick,” and “Slavery? What slavery? I don’t know what you speak of,ii” and “Don’t boo – vote.”

His speech on race during the 2008 campaign will be remembered and read. (He also looks so young as to be another person. Coincidentally, this is also a debate topic on Fox and Friends next week. Headline: BARACK OBAMA BODY DOUBLE?). His press conference after Sandy Hook was good. His speech at the Emanuel African Methodist Episcopal Church in Charleston was brilliant, and that was before he sang Amazing Grace. And Selma somehow tops all of those.

America is very fundamentally different now. Society is more open and less constrictive. Health Care has been breached, and there is probably no going back – only modification. We are only partially embroiled in war, instead of totally embroiled. The economy is in such better shape as to also be unrecognizable (another Fox and Friends topic this week).

When the legalization of gay marriage was upheld, the White House was bathed in rainbow lights. He brought the science fair to the White House, declaring “if we are recognizing athletic achievement, we should also be recognizing academic achievement.” Apparently, the fair was one of his favourite events.

The man danced tango in Cuba, which gets lost in the shuffle of crazy things Obama did. For my entire life, and most of the lives of my parents, Cuba was the Elephant Graveyard – we don’t speak of it and we don’t go there. Then, suddenly, the President of the United States of America was there watching baseball and dancing tango, and that does not get nearly enough press.


In January 2009, a few friends of mine and the same girlfriend who bought the Citizen Cope tickets – and who had stuck with me even though I was, quite literally, barely home for six weeks – came over to sleep at my house. The next morning, we put on every piece of clothing we had and trekked through the absurd cold to Obama’s inauguration. Inaugurations are held in front of the Capital Building, but it was too crowded to slip in there, so we kept walking.

And walking.

And walking.

We settled in somewhere on the far side of the Washington Monument. This is more than a mile away from the steps of the Capital, and still more people packed in behind us. Nearly two million people attended Obama’s inauguration, and if he had an outgoing party there would surely be as many.

Perhaps Obama appeals to me. While my favouite Presidents are Republicans, I lean left. He was a young President who understood how to appeal using the internet; a brilliant speaker and a good comedian. Perhaps I have a bias because he is my generation’s President – my President.

But that doesn’t weigh down the fact that he will leave office as an incredibly popular President, and someone I – and millions of other Americans – look up to. Those months in 2008, I knew he was a politician but I was caught up in the lights and flash and cult of personality and I didn’t understand what that meant. Now, having seen Obama the President, I get it. He is a politician, and that term does not have to be dirty. He worked hard to sell the issues he cared about. He worked hard to find solutions where there were none, which is an underrated skill in a leader. He not only dealt with tragedy, he worked to find a larger theme of what it meant to be American – the sense of American exceptionalism, not found in American actions abroad, but found in our equality at home.

He wasn’t perfect, but no President is – and he was, and is, my President.

And I hope his legacy is not as the ‘cool President’ – not at all. Instead, I hope is legacy is the President who made politics cool again.

i Everyone dreaded a John Tyler Presidency.

ii Attributed to Millard Fillmore.

Posted by: cousindampier | 10 October 2016

A Day In Communist Budapest


I stood at the head of a hundred faces, the wave of sunshine making it difficult to see. Some marching music played behind me, but the weight of the wave drowned it out and muffled it. As the music receded, the deadened faces stared back at me, bronzed and determined.

I focused on the music, even as the sun stared me down. It was a lifeboat, a cord to ground me to this place. Without it, I may as well have been on the moon or Mars or in the apocalypse. That same sun brought a heavy haze, distorting any length of vision. The red brick wall blended in with the yellow sky, as if the sun was simply a drop of paint and a brush came along to sweep the yellow across the page.

The faces looked far into the horizon with a sense of purpose. The horizon they looked to was not the rising sun – the era the remembered was long into the darkness. A fallen hero here and an idol there, members and moments of Communist rule in Hungary, all captured and locked up in a flat space of ground surrounded by one story houses and small warehouses outside of Budapest.

In the early 1990’s Hungary found itself facing a question of history. The Soviet Republic had worked hard to re-create Hungarian history, and with its fall left history etched in bronze and marble. Those memorials had to go somewhere. Now they stood behind large walls on a deserted field outside of Budapest, as if the new Hungary had simply wanted them to disappear.


As I entered through a small brick passageway, to my left power lines stretched towards the end of the sky, towers connected by silver rope. On my right stood a different tower of sorts, an enormous Y-shaped concrete funnel-except some sort of structure was built in the funnel part, a gray dome and though I stared at it from many angles I could not determine what it was. I decided on water tower, but it easily may have been an antenna, air-traffic control tower, anything out of a James Bond movie and as I moved the gravel crunched underneath my feet and I’d hear the occasional chirp and bark and growl of an engine, but there was nobody else, only me and the faces and the sun.

I’d reached the end of the earth.

It is sometimes difficult to remember that before the Cold War ended, there was no end in sight. There was no capture of territory or sacking of capital which would bring the conflict to a close. In the mid-80’s some voices could be heard predicting the collapse of the USSR, but the rapidity with which the bottom fell out surprised nearly everyone. It was an endurance affair with no end until suddenly there was.

It is also somewhat difficult to remember that the Soviet Union only existed for a short period of time, given how much of the 20th Century revolves around the USSR. With the end of the civil war in 1922, the USSR came into being; by the end of 1991, it was over. As a superpower, the time is even shorter – the Soviets tested their first atomic bomb in 1949. A person born in 1941 likely remembers both the rise and collapse of Soviet superpower.

However brief, that period was intense.. The Soviet Union worked with rapidity and purpose to create history anew. “All post-communist societies are uprooted ones because Communism uprooted traditions, so nothing fits with anything else,” the philosopher Horia-Roman Patapievici told Robert Kaplan. The socialist governments of Eastern Europe attempted to overwrite the history of their nation-states, emphasizing different figures and movements. These manifested themselves in monuments, statues, and places of memory – all key in creating a new historical narrative. Memorials are cultural icons, created and displayed publicly to convey a sense of meaning and purpose, a place for all to gather and share in some emotion. They are, largely, generalist, conveying a sense of theme instead of the specifics of the event – details are often messy.

Put enough of them in one place, however, and a historical textbook begins to appear.



Getting there was a process.

After taking the subway out to a bus depot, we spent some time on a busy road headed south. I sat on a bus staring out the window on a warm November day. The driver was speeding away from the Buda side of the city, the Danube somewhere off to our left. Memento Park was the only stop in English on the route.

As the bus sped away with a goodbye of dust, I found myself in the middle of a lonely stretch of road. Some tall wooden walls guarded a building supply storage area, painted solid colours with the occasional two panel gap for an entryway. I could pick out some peaked roofs and what looked like a few blocks of houses in the near distance, and the sound of the highway was not far off.

An elderly man with a cane got out the front door as I hopped out the back. I watched him for a second because I did not know where to go – how could I have not looked up where to walk, dammit – but a tall brick wall stood out above the low-level structures, a brick wall with an open arch for an enormous statue.

I headed that way, passing the old man.

The statue came into form as I stood at a crosswalk waiting for traffic to part. That proud face, with the unmistakable goatee. One arm held back a jacket, revealing a tight-fitting vest while the other beckoned me to come and listen. Vladimir Lenin towered over me. I was so tiny underneath him I felt I was entering an ancient temple underneath the gaze of a god carved out of brick and stone, protecting the history inside. There was no sign or announcement that I’d arrived, just an open entryway leading to a white building, marching music drifting out.

A glass window appeared as I stepped through the entryway, the kind from a movie box office with the small hole at the bottom to exchange money. Images were taped to the glass and some small mementos laid neatly behind it. A lady stood there, unsmiling as I approached and pointed to the sign. 1500 florents to enter.

I handed over the money.

She gave me a ticket.

“Guidebook?” I asked.

She pointed to a little book next to her. “one thousand five hundred.”

“Ah. Kusunum.” Thank you was one of the few Hungarian words I knew. I smiled at her and she stared back at me with the same apathetic look as before. I walked around the corner and into the park and found myself on a wide path between the brick entryway and the white wooden complex I’d seen through the door.

I didn’t see anybody else in the park. A river of cars flowed by in the distance. I hadn’t bought the guidebook, and didn’t know where to start, so I went right, where a bronzed man proudly held a flag, a gun strapped tightly to his chest, memorializing the liberation of Hungary by the Red Army. The soldier was immense and looked proud and it was difficult to determine if the solider brought with him freedom or slavery. The memorial said liberation; he looked like a conquering hero.

Hungary is a nation which has always been strong enough to maintain a vibrant and unique culture, but not always strong enough to be independent. It was absorbed by the Hapsburg Empire in the 17th Century, after control of the land was wrestled from the Ottoman Turks. The Revolutions of 1848 began process which forced upon the Hapsburgs the Dual Monarchy, the Austro-Hungarian Empire which lasted until the end of the First World War.

The years between the wars were chaotic at first. Hungary elected Count Mihály Károlyi to lead the new state. A devotee of the west, he demobilized the military and accepted temporary borders, believing the final map to be drawn at a later date. Everyone else invaded. French, Serb, Czechoslovakian and Romanian troops all occupied Hungarian territory; as all inched further and further into Hungary, Károlyi lost support, eventually handing control to, he thought, the Social Democrats.

The force behind the Social Democrats was the Hungarian Communist Party, and their leader, Bela Kun, was installed as leader and the new Hungarian Soviet Republic was born in the Spring of 1919.

It was short lived.

Romania continued to push deeper into Hungary, eventually occupying roughly a third of the modern state. Kun asked for an armistice, the Romanians temporarily agreed. Despite intervention from the Entente Powers, Romania refused to move back to the pre-war border until Hungary demobilized, and Hungary refused to demobilize until Romania moved back.

The two nations came to blows again, and the might of Romania won out; advancing to Budapest and controlling nearly all of modern Hungary, Romania forced Kun from power (he fled to Austria and eventually the Soviet Union). The former Austro-Hungarian Admiral Miklós Horthy was installed as regent and ruled until 1944 – when once again Hungarians would lose control over their nation. First occupied by Nazi Germany, the Red Army lay seige to the city, and by 1945 would liberate the nation. Hungary would be a Soviet satellite state until the end of the USSR.

* *

Next to the soldier stood a monument to Soviet-Hungarian friendship, the first of many such memorials in the park. Every decade or so, the Soviet powers seemed to deem it necessary to remind Hungarians of the friendship between Moscow and Budapest and the whole process brought to mind the apocryphal story of the triumphant Roman General and the slave who would follow him through the streets, whispering in his ear, “You too are mortal.” The Soviets brought liberation and proclaimed freedom and all the while their monuments came with a whisper, tangible mementos reminding people of power and control.

Faces began to appear. Dmitriov, leader of communist Bulgaria and advocate of a trans-Balkan Slavic state. Kun, Landler, and Szamuely shared a memorial together, three of the leaders of the initial Hungarian Soviet Republic etched in stone and jutting out of a brick wall as if they were part of the wall, the inward face of the communist state, guarding against what lie outside. János Asztalo, member of the Communist party in 1956, killed while defending party headquarters. His nose is missing, with no mention if it was purposeful or just the result of age.

It is the forgotten history of Hungary, a park of statues which tried to Hungarians forget their own past and create one anew.

* *

I discovered later the first ring of the park focused on liberation movements. It spanned the whole run of Communist Hungary. The statue memorializing Hungarian “liberation.” Bela Kun and the initial steps towards a communist state after the First World War. Janos, and the revolution of 1956.

The Revolution of 1956 did not just alter Hungarian history. It fundamentally altered the way in which the Soviet Union administered its empire. What began as a peaceful protest turned violent after shots were fired outside the Parliament building, the first real threat to Soviet control of Eastern Europe since Nazi Germany. The Soviets were not prepared – the Stalinist regime in Hungary collapsed, and Hungry declared its intentions to leave the Warsaw Pact only to have Soviet troops invade, crush the uprising, and install a puppet regime, silencing dissent until the 1980’s.

The blockade of Berlin changed the Cold War in that it clearly marked a smoldering conflict. It was a move by the Soviets to force the West out of Berlin, and possibly out of Germany. The detonation of an atomic bomb increased the tension, and led to Mutually Assured Destruction. The Hungarian Revolution, seven years later, marked a different theme – the willingness of the Soviet Union to crush any uprising within its newly-formed empire. Like the Prague uprising of the next decade, the Soviets reacted to revolutions within satellite states as if they were revolutions within the homeland.

In the west, they may well have been. No matter the emotional pull of the November Uprising – Time awarded its ‘Man of the Year’ to the Hungarian Freedom Fighter in 1956 – the west did not attempt to push back. President Dwight Eisenhower, an advocate of pushing back Soviet advances, declined to intervene, fearing a third World War with nuclear weapons. After 1956, the Soviets had free reign in Eastern Europe. Containment won out over interference.

* *


I kept moving through the statues. The glorification of the Soviet Union ended as I moved into the second loop, focusing on workers movements. Monuments to Hungarian communists began to appear. The Red Army may have liberated the nation, but the memorials they installed were local, focused on the homegrown Hungarian movement. A mass of silver people appeared on the left, layers of men, the front row marching while the back rows seem to break rank and give a sense of charging forward. Over the top stands a man in a thick coat, arm straight out to one side with a cap in his hand, pointing the way for the mass of revolutionaries below.

Bela Kun appears again and again to stands watch, though for many years he did not.

The First World War changed everything within Europe. “It had been World War I that legitimized armed conflict in a way no other war had or could,” writes Robert Kaplan, “the emblematic and meaningless sum total of all the wars that Europe had fought in its thoroughly violent and therefore discredited past.” The war did not end all wars, but it brought an end to the sense of order within Europe. War no longer renegotiated the balance of power – it had become total.

The end brought with it the last gasp of air from Central Europe. The collapse of the Austro-Hungarian Empire saw Central Europe emerge, briefly, as a series of nation-states. Kun was part of this, the brief leader of Communist Hungary. By the early thirties, with depression spreading worldwide and the early murmurings of Nazi Germany, Central Europe would begin its slide into history.

Bela Kun bridged one era to another. Communist Hungary existed for a blink before he fled. When the Soviets returned, Kun was not with them, having been caught up in Stalin’s purges in 1938.

* *


I reached a monument of three bodies which, at first glance, had no faces. The individuals stood tall and broad-chested, hands saluting someone in the distance. This was a recurring theme – staring off into the horizon, looking towards the future or, at the least, towards some other, far-away meaning. After seeing so many with this theme, I started I felt small and like I was not part of the movement, which was probably the point.

As I moved closer, features appeared in the faces of the three soldiers. The monument was to the communist brigades which fought in the Spanish Civil War. They looked beaten and smoothed by weather, but it may have been a purposeful move. Other monuments also contained unrecognizable faces, I presumed to subvert individuality to the collective whole.

This last ring focused on the people’s movements themselves, not just the individuals leading them. A bronzed man held his jacket in his hand as if a flag, frozen in time as he rushed forward towards some life-defining event. He was a celebration of the first version of Communist Hungary by its alternative name – the Hungarian Republic of Councils.

When Kun and the Social Democrats took control of Hungary in 1919, the Communists had the only organized fighting force in the state. Károlyi’s demobilization left Hungary without means to fight. The Social Democrats – who merged with the Hungarian Communist Party – were not only the most popular political group in the state at the time, Kun also promised the help of the newly formed Red Army.

No help was forthcoming.

Given the circumstances of Kun’s death, the sheer number of images dedicated to him was impressive. His presence trailed me around the park, part of every ring of memory. The first ring contained a monument of three blocks of stone, each with an individual carved out. The two outside faces stared towards the middle; and the man there stared straight ahead, jacket neatly buttoned and hair swept back. Bela Kun seemed to have a strong jaw, and even in the stone his face seemed weathered. His hands rested at his sides and proved his most ominous feature, his left clenched into a fist and his right open, as if ready to extend friendship. Tibor Szamuely and Jenő Landler, two other individuals instrumental in the creation of that first communist state, simply looked to Kun for guidance.

Further down was a solid concrete block with a single star in the middle. The concrete was chipped away exposing steel rods which helped articulate individuals, soldiers – though again, never enough to define features. It was a celebration of the Volunteer Regiment of Buda, Hungarian soldiers who fought with the Red Army to free Hungary from the Germans.

I lingered in this section for longer than the rest. Here was the epochal history of modern Hungary, a focus on the historical forces which swept through the nation. The stone and bronze testified to the youthful rise and the angry fall. The reminders of Soviet-Hungarian friendship seemed to get harsher and larger, harder to miss. In a corner of this third ring a man falls forward with one hand in the air and the other over his heart. In ways it was the same man as earlier, the youthful man who led the way with his jacket in his hand. There, he was fighting for a communist state. Here, he was protecting it, fighting against the 1956 uprising, protecting the people’s republic.

This last ring was a testament to the forces which went into that state. In 1989, Hungary removed the fence along the border with Austria, which resulted in a flood of movement across the border into the west. Later in the year, the Communist party re-branded itself as the Hungarian Socialist Party and by 1990, Hungary was holding free elections.



As the 1980’s dragged on, there was a growing sense of Austrians being better off. While partially due to an economic downturn which lasted most of the decade (and inevitably helped push the country towards the end of communism), it was also true. By the 1980’s, the west was pulling economically ahead of Eastern Europe.

But it also once again brought a theme of division. Hungary – or perhaps the Hungarians – had always existed near the schism between Western and Eastern Europe. Imperial Roman territory stretched to the Danube, which splits the nation in half, and Rome’s primary settlement formed the basis of Budapest. From the collapse of that empire until the early 1700’s, Hungary remained a crossroad, conquered by Huns, Germanic tribes, Mongols, and Turks. Along the way, the nation realized a series of homegrown regents and became one of the most wealthy nations in Europe. For a few years the Hungarians found themselves with a King who was simultaneously the head of the Holy Roman Empire; nearly a century later, Budapest would be under threat from the Ottomon Turks, eventually conquered by them and only freed in 1718.

On the Hungarian Plain, two historical rivers met and swirled together.

The regency ended after the First World War, but the crown remained emblematic of Hungary. Patrick Leigh Fermor described it as the defining symbol of this congruence: “Wrought in battered gold, with its culminating cross askew, it was the actual diadem Pope Sylvester II sent to St. Stephen when he was crowned first King of Hungary in AD 1000. But the later addition of enamel plaques, gold chains, and pendant gems give it an unquestionably Byzantine look, fitter for a mosaic sovereign by the Bospherous or at Ravenna, one would think, than for a canopied monarch of the west. No wonder: the gold-and-enamelled circlet was a gift of a Byzantine emporer to a later sovereign, who promptly had it clasped round the Pope’s original gift to his ancestor, and the gleaming hybrid is an apt symbol of the early Hungarian kingdom, for blandishments from the East as well as the West had flickered over the great Hungarian Plain with the ambivalence of a mirage.”

As I stood in the park, the borders to the east were closed. Movement into Croatia or the rest of the Balkans was impossible except by air. Refugees from the Middle East triggered a conservative response within Hungarian government. The nation, meanwhile, continued to move towards the west. Though an ancient city, dating from Roman times, the people and culture were young, bars and coffeeshops marking the map of the city. Students were everywhere and English was common.

Memorials can be removed, but art and architecture and design cannot. Though Budapest may look western and be moving in that direction, the city held too many memories of the communist years. New memories had been added – walk along the river and one will find bronzed shoes, a remembrance of Jews ordered to take off their footwear before being shot along the riverbank.

The city was alive and vibrant, built upon layers of history difficult to untangle while facing another moment adding to that layer of history.


In an essay on Orwell and censorship, Christopher Hitchens writes that in Orwell’s own experiences fighting in the Spanish Civil War, he found “that the Communists relied very heavily upon the horror and the terror of anonymous denunciation, secret informing, and police espionage.” While it is easy to remember the Soviet Union and communism as a police state – in addition to oppression, the statues surely reminded Hungarians of their own mortality if they were to speak out, especially post-1956 – in the late 1940’s and early 1950’s, there were doubts as to the oppression of the Soviet Union. Communists had, after all, been the ideological force fighting Nazi Germany during the 1930’s, when the West was struggling.

The memorials stored in Memento Park were an attempt to re-write history. Here was the physical evidence of what Communist Hungary wanted to remember. Hindsight calls communism what it was – totalitarian – but at one point, it was a possible version of the future. Like all eras, communism had its end, yet Memento Park brings the reality of living in it one step closer. For the man with his jacket in the air, running towards history and the liberating solider gripping his gun may now be historical symbols in the open air of a far-away park; but at one time these were the icons Hungarians passed on their way to work.


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