Wednesday, November 30, 2016

Musical Monday Playlist - Halloween Songs

When I set about creating Musical Monday playlists, I was midly surprised at the number of Halloween songs that I had featured as Musical Monday selections. After Christmas songs, Halloween songs are the most prevalent of any of the holiday-related songs that I have featured. I suspect this is mostly due to the fact that there just aren't a lot of songs for other holidays - there aren't a whole lot of Thanksgiving songs, for example, and Easter songs are pretty rare as well. And so on.

What makes the number of Halloween songs kind of odd is that I don't really have any particular fondness for Halloween - I am just not one of those people who gets excited about decorating the house for the holiday, carving pumpkins, dressing up, or going out to cornfield mazes, or any of the other activities that some people get really worked up over. I don't have anything against the holiday, but for the most part my participation has come down to making sure that I have candy on hand in case I get trick or treaters, and not even that in the past couple of years due to the fact that the place I am living pretty much gets no trick or treaters.

These songs have no real connection to one another save that they are at least vaguely Halloween-related and I like them. None of them are really serious either. One odd note that I have noticed is that even though Halloween is ostensibly scary, in popular culture it is more often portrayed in a light-hearted humorous manner.

09/28/15: Bad Moon Rising by Creedence Clearwater Revival

Musical Monday Playlists     Musical Monday     Home

Monday, November 28, 2016

Musical Monday - The Greatest by Sia Furler


I was going to post a Christmas video for my Musical Monday selection today. I had some music from A Charlie Brown Christmas all lined up accompanied by a post about how disappointed Charles Schulz would have been that even fifty years later, we still haven't figured out how to have a Christmas that isn't commercialized to the hilt.

Those plans were derailed by the news today that there was an active shooter at the campus of Ohio State University. Students were told to take shelter, set their cell phones on "vibrate", and prepare to "run, hide, fight" if necessary. People across the country appeared to brace for the worst, as initial reports of nine people taken to the hospital and one more dead came out. Initial reports said there were two attackers, one with a gun and one with a large knife. The implications of the early reporting was that the body count would rise, as it always seems to when such incidents occur. Like so many other attacks, we expected that as the hours passed, the news would report an ever-increasing number of casualties - both wounded and dead.

And then it didn't happen. The number of wounded sent to the hospital rose to eleven, but no more deaths were reported. It turns out that there was only one attacker, and he was the one dead body, apparently killed by the police when they arrived on the scene less than two minutes after the incident began. The question is, why was this attempt at a mass attack so different from so many others that had preceded it?

The answer is simple: The perpetrator had a knife, not a gun. Omar Mateen was able to kill forty-nine people and wounded fifty-three others at the Pulse nightclub in Orlando because he had a gun. Dylan Roof was able to kill nine people and wounded one other in Charleston because he had a gun. Adam Lanza was able to kill twenty-seven people in Sandy Hook because he had a gun. Seung-Hui Cho was able to kill thirty-two people and wounded seventeen others at Virginia Tech because he had a gun. Elliot Roger was able to kill six people and wounded fourteen others in Isla Vista because he had a gun. The list of people who were able to kill and wound large numbers of people because they had easy access to guns goes on and on. Abdul Artan, currently identified as the attacker in the Ohio State University incident, had no gun. He was unable to kill anyone. He wounded under a dozen people before his rampage was stopped.

Sia's song and video commemorates the Pulse nightclub shooting where, as noted before, Oma Mateen killed forty-nine people and wounded fifty-three more, The truly shocking thing about the Pulse nightclub shooting is that it wasn't really all that shocking. After the shootings at Sandy Hook, Virginia Tech, Isla Vista, Aurora, and so many other places, an armed man killing or wounding more than a hundred people in a night seems almost normal. As a people, Americans have decided that sacrificing hundreds of people on the altar of Gun Rights is acceptable. These sorts of mass murders don't happen with similar frequency in other nations, when confronted with yet another horror involving a mass shooting, as the Onion put it Americans simply throw up their hands and say ‘No Way To Prevent This,’ Says Only Nation Where This Regularly Happens. The common denominator in the bulk of the mass killings in the United States is the easy access to guns. To preserve this ease of access, we turn away from the hundreds murdered as a result.

One might seize upon the fact that Artan is a Muslim, and Mateen was also a Muslim as support for the theory that Muslims pose a particular danger to citizens of the United States. It seems an attractive theory until one actually considers the identities of the perpetrators of mass shootings in the United States. For example, Dylan Roof is not a Muslim. Adam Lanza was not a Muslim. Seung-Hui Cho was not a Muslim, Elliot Roger was not a Muslim. Jerad and Amanda Miller were not Muslim. Jaylen Fryberg was not Muslim. Micah Johnson was not a Muslim. Gavin Long was not a Muslim. James Eagan Holmes was not a Muslim. When one looks at the perpetrators of mass shootings in the U.S., one finds a Muslim here and there, but they are lost in the sea of non-Muslims who have set about shooting their fellow Americans. The case for Muslim's being a particularly dangerous source of violence is remarkably thin when one looks at the array of perpetrators who have gone on violent and deadly rampages within the United States over last few years. The common element is that they were all young, male, and armed with firearms.

One might assert that Artan's assault proves that immigration is the cause of problems. After all, Artan is an immigrant from Somalia. But even though Mateen was Muslim, he was born in the United States, in New York specifically. Syed Farook, the Muslim man who orchestrated the San Bernadino shootings that left fourteen people dead and another twenty-two wounded, was also born in the United States, in Chicago. They may have been Muslim, but they were home-grown murderers. Multiple studies have shown that immigrants are less likely to be criminals than native-born citizens. Immigrants aren't the prime cause of mass shootings in the U.S. - native-born Americans are. We are literally killing ourselves, and all anyone can do in response is throw their hands up helplessly.

The root of the problem is not Muslims or immigrants. The root of the problem is the easy access to guns that the laws of the United States permit. Some people have tried to put options on the table to reduce the frequency of these types of killings by reducing the ease by which firearms can be acquired, but such efforts have thus far been thwarted by the Republican servants of the National Rifle Association. I remember when Dylan Klebold and Eric Harris murdered thirteen people and wounded twenty-one more at Columbine High School and it was an incredibly shocking event. Now, it is just one of many, and not even among the most . Given the results of the recent election, this is not going to change in the next few years. I expect that the Pulse nightclub shooting memorialized in this video, like all of the other shootings mentioned in this post, will soon be overshadowed by some new tragedies in the years to come.

Previous Musical Monday: Fiddler on the Roof Pogrom Scenes
Subsequent Musical Monday: Christmas Time Is Here by the Vince Guaraldi Trio

Sia Furler     Musical Monday     Home

Saturday, November 26, 2016

Book Blogger Hop November 25th - December 1st: In Men's Archery, the Clout Shooting Distance Is 180 Yards

Book Blogger Hop

Jen at Crazy for Books restarted her weekly Book Blogger Hop to help book bloggers connect with one another, but then couldn't continue, so she handed the hosting responsibilities off to Ramblings of a Coffee Addicted Writer. The only requirements to participate in the Hop are to write and link a post answering the weekly question and then visit other blogs that are also participating to see if you like their blog and would like to follow them.

This week Billy asks: Name one book that you would fight for on Black Friday!

There aren't many books that I would fight for, because for the most part, you can always find a copy of that same book somewhere else. To be worth fighting for, the book would need to be unique in some way. Perhaps a particularly interesting first edition volume would be worth fighting for, like a first edition copy of The Hobbit - because The Lord of the Rings was originally published in three volumes, and thus would not be "one" book worth fighting for.

Previous Book Blogger Hop: 179 Days of the Year Are Even-Numbered

Book Blogger Hop     Home

Friday, November 25, 2016

Follow Friday - Emperor Probus Had the Usurper Proculus Put to Death in 281 A.D. (I Told You Proculus Didn't Last Long)


It's Friday again, and this means it's time for Follow Friday. There has been a slight change to the format, as now there are two Follow Friday hosts blogs and a single Follow Friday Featured Blogger each week. To join the fun and make now book blogger friends, just follow these simple rules:
  1. Follow both of the Follow My Book Blog Friday Hosts (Parajunkee and Alison Can Read) and any one else you want to follow on the list.
  2. Follow the Featured Blogger of the week - Bathory's Closet.
  3. Put your Blog name and URL in the Linky thing.
  4. Grab the button up there and place it in a post, this post is for people to find a place to say hi in your comments.
  5. Follow, follow, follow as many as you can, as many as you want, or just follow a few. The whole point is to make new friends and find new blogs. Also, don't just follow, comment and say hi. Another blogger might not know you are a new follower if you don't say "Hi".
  6. If someone comments and says they are following you, be a dear and follow back. Spread the love . . . and the followers.
  7. If you want to show the link list, just follow the link below the entries and copy and paste it within your post!
  8. If you're new to the Follow Friday Hop, comment and let me know, so I can stop by and check out your blog!
And now for the Follow Friday Question: What are you most thankful for (in the blogging world)?

Authors. I am most thankful for authors. Specifically, I am most thankful for the authors I have met who have turned out to be not only talented at putting words on paper, but fantastic people as well. Authors in this category include Catherine Asaro, Tom Doyle, Scott Edelman, Chuck Gannon, A.S. King, Alethea Kontis, C.S. McCath, Alex Shvartsman, Fran Wilde, and so many more. One of the best things about blogging has been that it has put me in contact with so many authors who, in many cases, have turned into good friends. They write the books and stories I love to read, speak on the panels that make conventions possible, and are just generally great people to know and be around.


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Thursday, November 24, 2016

Musical Monday Playlist - Christmas Songs

Every year over the last few years, starting some time in December I post a couple of Christmas-related songs as Musical Monday selections. There isn't really a lot that connects these songs other than the fact that most of them are a little bit nerdy, many of them are fairly funny, and they are all about Christmas in some way. The songs on this list range from country songs about a gloriously red-necky Christmas celebration to a nerd-folk science fiction song about people ruled over by robot overlords (excuse me, I mean protectors) to an a capella celebration of the season by two of the student singing groups at the University of Virginia. For the most part, the only thing that truly connects these songs (other than their Christmas theme), is that I like them.

11/26/12: Chiron Beta Prime by Jonathan Coulton (with Paul & Storm)
12/03/12: Kidnap the Sandy Claws by Lock, Shock, and Barrel
12/17/12: Christmas Is Interesting by Jonathan Coulton (with Paul & Storm)
12/24/12: Present Face by Garfunkel & Oates
12/09/13: The Hobbit Christmas Song by The Doubleclicks
12/16/13: 12 Days by Straight No Chaser
12/23/13: Christmas Eve Eve by Paul & Storm
12/22/14: Old City Bar by the Trans-Siberian Orchestra

Musical Monday Playlists     Musical Monday     Home

Wednesday, November 23, 2016

Musical Monday Playlist - Dream Five Year Mission Set

Left to right: Butler, Spurgin, Fark, Rittenhouse, and O'Connor
Based in Indianapolis, Five Year Mission is, quite simply, the best Star Trek themed band in existence. Composed of Noah Butler, Andy Fark, P.J. O'Connor, Mike Rittenhouse, and Chris Spurgin, the band was originally formed with the intent of writing and recording a song for each of the episodes of the original Star Trek series, including the originally unaired pilot The Cage (which was later reworked into the two part story The Menagerie). Thus far, the band has released three CDs consisting of songs about individual episodes up through The Immunity Syndrome, plus two more specialty CDs composed of songs all focused on a single episode: One for The Trouble With Tribbles, and another for Spock's Brain.

Between August 2015 and February 2016 I laid out what I would consider to be the best play set for the band, drawing from the songs they had released through that time period. As far as I know, this set has never actually been played, and nor is it likely to, as I believe some of these songs are songs that the band either no longer plays live, or has never played live. Even so, this is the playlist I wish they would play some time, and if I were the king of the world who could make such things happen, it would be.

08/24/15: Miri by Five Year Mission
11/30/15: Arena by Five Year Mission

Musical Monday Playlists     Musical Monday     Home

Tuesday, November 22, 2016

Musical Monday Playlist - Brandenburg Concertos

J.S. Bach
The Brandenburg Concertos are a set of six musical works Johann Sebastian Bach presented to the Christian Ludwig, the Margrave of Brandenburg-Schwedt as a group in 1721. Although the concertos were all given over as a gift to the Margrave in 1721, it seems likely that several of them were composed earlier. Accompanying the compositions, Bach provided a dedication, which reads in part

"As I had the good fortune a few years ago to be heard by Your Royal Highness, at Your Highness's commands, and as I noticed then that Your Highness took some pleasure in the little talents which Heaven has given me for Music, and as in taking Leave of Your Royal Highness, Your Highness designed to honour me with the command to send Your Highness some pieces of my Composition: I have in accordance with Your Highness's most gracious orders taken the liberty of rendering my most humble duty to Your Royal Highness with the present Concertos, which I have adapted to several instruments; begging Your Highness most humbly not to judge their imperfection with the rigor of that discriminating and sensitive taste, which everyone knows Him to have for musical works, but rather to take into benign Consideration the profound respect and the most humble obedience which I thus attempt to show Him."

Christian Ludwig
The concertos were exceedingly innovative works for their time, using a broad array of instruments in combinations that had never been tried before. Ironically, due to a lack of musicians available, it appears likely that Ludwig was never able to hear the concertos himself, and they remained unused until after his death in 1734, when they were discovered in the Margrave's library and sold for a relatively trivial amount.

This playlist is fairly straightforward: Bach wrote six Brandenburg Concertos, and the Freiburg Baroque Orchestra recorded performances of all of them. I posted them in part because one was played at my son's high school graduation, and in part because they are pieces of music that have inspired me over the years. I find them to be the perfect music to play when I am writing or working.


Musical Monday Playlists     Musical Monday     Home

Monday, November 21, 2016

Musical Monday - Fiddler on the Roof Pogrom Scenes


I'm going to talk about anti-Semitism.

There isn't really any music in this week's Musical Monday, although these scenes are drawn from the musical Fiddler on the Roof. The musical itself focuses on the life of Tevye, a poor Jewish milkman living somewhere in Russia some time between 1900 and 1905 (I believe one of the climatic scenes in the movie takes place during the 1905 Rebellion) with his wife and five daughters. Much of the play revolves around Tevye's attempts to secure good marriages for his three eldest daughters, and how the changing world around them comes to affect their little village and how his daughters rebel against their traditions.

Lurking in the background of this more or less happy story about how a poor man weaves his way through the traditional strictures of Jewish life, fantasizing about being wealthy enough to pray and study all day, and his daughters get progressively more headstrong, is and undercurrent anti-Semitism. Key in this part of the story is the figure of the Constable, who shows up in the very first sequence in this video, first to congratulate Tevye on the impending marriage of his daughter Tseitel, and then to warn Tevye of an impending "unofficial demonstration". When one watches this sequence, one can see the differing reactions - Tevye is horrified by this news, wondering if this means a pogrom is on the way. The Constable, on the other hand, doesn't think that the impending trouble is anything to worry about. The difference here is that Tevye's friends and family are threatened by the coming wave of violence, while the Constable's are not. This is relevant to the current United States: White citizens can afford to be sanguine about the prospect of a Trump administration overrun by "Alt-Right" fascists, while Muslim, Hispanic, Jewish, and African-American citizens really cannot.

The deeper truth revealed in these scenes is that the Constable does not think of himself as an anti-Semite. He likes Tevye, and says so. He thinks to compliment Tevye by saying he is a good person despite the fact that he is a Jew. The Constable doesn't want there to be trouble between Christians and Jews, and imagines himself doing a good deed by warning Tevye of the fact that trouble is coming. The harsh reality is that even though the Constable doesn't see himself as an anti-Semite, he is perfectly willing to go along with anti-Semitic orders to keep his job. After leading his men to attack Tseitel's wedding and engage in some vandalism (destroying some of the meager possessions the mouse-poor Jews in the story own), the Constable attempts to evade responsibility for his actions with a sheepish, "Orders are orders, understand?" The Constable still doesn't see himself as an anti-Semite, but to the people he attacked, does that distinction really matter?

Very few racists view themselves as such, just as very few anti-Semites see themselves as such. The Constable clearly doesn't regard himself as an anti-Semite. The Constable probably even thinks he's helping his Jewish neighbors by tempering the violence of the pogrom. The trouble is, he is still complicit. He still participates. He still lends the action legitimacy. He still condones it by implicitly saying that his job is more important than his neighbors. Further, his reaction when Tevye says it is too bad the Constable is not a Jew is revealing. He is an anti-Semite, he just isn't as much of one as other people - obviously he's not as bad as the official who shows up and orders the demonstrations to take place. But he is an anti-Semite just the same, both in thought and more importantly, in deed.

On a side note: Notice that Tevye doesn't challenge the Constable at all. Even though the Constable makes more than one comment that is clearly anti-Semitic, Tevye never speaks up, because it is clear that Tevye believes that doing so would be hazardous. It is better to let the Constable think you regard him as a friend instead of a rather dangerous predator. The Constable walks away from that first interaction thinking of himself as a great friend of Tevye, and despite the obvious anti-Semitic remarks made by the Constable in the exchange, Tevye lets him. When people who are racist, homophobic, or xenophobic assert that they can't be any of those things because their African-American, Gay, Lesbian, Muslim, or other minority friends have never called them out, realize that this is probably why. Minorities understand that their position is precarious, and it is often better to stay silent and just accept the kind of casual bigotry exhibited by the Constable rather than run the risks of confronting the bigot.

I believe this is going to be an issue a lot of people in the United States are going to have to grapple with in the next few years. We've already had a major news network air a program in which they talked about American fascists raising the question "Are Jews people", and the hosts of the show did not immediately condemn the question and answer, "Of course they are". Already, they have failed the test the Constable faced. I foresee that many Americans will face the decision that the Constable faced, and the question is how will they respond. Already millions of Americans have said quite loudly that they are willing to condone racism, sexism, homophobia, and xenophobia in a political candidate. How will Americans react when told to organize a registry for Muslims? Or to deport millions of their neighbors? How will Americans respond to the racism, anti-Semitism, and xenophobia of a nativist white supremacist movement empowered by a Presidential administration that has placed some of their people in positions of power? How will you respond? Will you be the Constable, and go along with the horror to get along and keep your position? Or will you choose a better, braver path?

I hope Americans rise to the occasion, because the alternative is too terrible to contemplate.

Previous Musical Monday: Anthem by Kate McKinnon
Subsequent Musical Monday: The Greatest by Sia Furler

Game, Movie, and Television Music     Musical Monday     Home

Saturday, November 19, 2016

Book Blogger Hop November 18th - November 24th: 179 Days of the Year Are Even-Numbered

Book Blogger Hop

Jen at Crazy for Books restarted her weekly Book Blogger Hop to help book bloggers connect with one another, but then couldn't continue, so she handed the hosting responsibilities off to Ramblings of a Coffee Addicted Writer. The only requirements to participate in the Hop are to write and link a post answering the weekly question and then visit other blogs that are also participating to see if you like their blog and would like to follow them.

This week Billy asks: Would you take a book with you when you go to your family's Thanksgiving gathering/dinner?

I pretty much take a book with me everywhere, so not only would I take a book to one of my family's Thanksgiving gatherings, I have taken a book to several of them. Given that I am going to need to avoid certain conversations this time around, I can pretty much guarantee that I will do it again this year.


Book Blogger Hop     Home

Friday, November 18, 2016

Follow Friday - Proculus Declared Himself Roman Emperor in 280 A.D. It Didn't Last Long


It's Friday again, and this means it's time for Follow Friday. There has been a slight change to the format, as now there are two Follow Friday hosts blogs and a single Follow Friday Featured Blogger each week. To join the fun and make now book blogger friends, just follow these simple rules:
  1. Follow both of the Follow My Book Blog Friday Hosts (Parajunkee and Alison Can Read) and any one else you want to follow on the list.
  2. Follow the Featured Blogger of the week - Books, Movies, Reviews! Oh My!.
  3. Put your Blog name and URL in the Linky thing.
  4. Grab the button up there and place it in a post, this post is for people to find a place to say hi in your comments.
  5. Follow, follow, follow as many as you can, as many as you want, or just follow a few. The whole point is to make new friends and find new blogs. Also, don't just follow, comment and say hi. Another blogger might not know you are a new follower if you don't say "Hi".
  6. If someone comments and says they are following you, be a dear and follow back. Spread the love . . . and the followers.
  7. If you want to show the link list, just follow the link below the entries and copy and paste it within your post!
  8. If you're new to the Follow Friday Hop, comment and let me know, so I can stop by and check out your blog!
And now for the Follow Friday Question: What is your favorite scary story?

It isn't the scariest book I've ever read, but I think I am going to go with Neil Gaiman's book Coraline. Even though it is aimed at younger readers, the book is still unsettling in so many ways, attacking childhood fears almost directly. The central theme of the book is love, but it is how love can be used as a weapon and then inverted into something horrible. The book touches on some of the most primal fears that children have - threats to their home, threats to their family, and laced them through with a creepy villain who explains that she is only doing all the things she does because she loves the protagonist. As the book progresses, it gets creepier and creepier, and the stakes rise as Coraline doesn't just find herself locked in a an alien place with her family at risk, she finds herself in danger of losing her very identity. Being scary and creepy isn't what makes this book so good, but rather that Gaiman takes things that are entirely mundane and transforms them into almost horrifying elements of terror. Everything about this book is almost perfectly crafted, and that is why it is my favorite scary book.


Follow Friday     Home

Thursday, November 17, 2016

Musical Monday Playlist - Cabaret

In the 2016 Presidential election, I wrote about the music from the movie Cabaret, using it to compare the Trump campaign to one of its closest historical precedents. Starring Liza Minnelli, Michael York, and Joel Grey, and set in Germany during the Weimar Republic, Cabaret shows people living out their fairly ordinary lives, and that is what makes the play so terrifying. In the background of the play, showing up every now and then, the Nazi Party is on the rise, and with only a few fleeting exceptions, the characters mostly ignore them. There are a few instances in which the performers at the Kit Kat Klub make fun of the Nazi adherents, and one notable albeit futile instance of open resistance, but for the most part, the characters all put the Nazi threat out of their mind and proceed with their lives as normal.

This, I believe, is paralleled by the rise of Trump, and the fact that most people seem to want to simply put it out of their mind and go on with their lives as if everything was normal. Make no mistake about it, Trump is an authoritarian, and if he were given the opportunity to impose the policies he has espoused and the leadership style he has favored in the past, he will be a fascist. All those saying "give him a chance" are merely playing out the part of the characters in Cabaret, who spent their time worrying about the details of their personal lives while the nation around them slowly caught fire.

In the weeks before the election I said that I feared that the election of Trump as President of the United States might mean the end of the U.S. Republic as we have known it. I still stand by that assessment. It is likely that we are about to see a remaking of the nation at a very fundamental level. Laws and practices that most people alive today have taken for granted as the basic foundations of the landscape of the country are up for grabs: The Voting Rights Acts, the Civil Rights Acts, the separation of church and state, a respect for non-Christian religions, the laws against neopotism and graft, the very existence of national parks - these and much more that people simply assume are facts of life in the U.S. are all likely to be threatened by a Trump administration. Effectively, with a pliant Republican controlled Congress, there is no law or policy that is not subject to revocation or alteration. With a Republican controlled Supreme Court, there is nothing at all that is safe.

The world is changing, and like the characters in Cabaret, many Americans are willfully oblivious to the coming storm.

09/12/16: Wilkommen by Joel Grey
09/19/16: Mein Herr by Liza Minnelli
09/26/16: Two Ladies by Joel Grey
10/17/16: Tiller Girls featuring Joel Grey
10/24/16: Cabaret by Liza Minnelli

Musical Monday Playlists     Musical Monday     Home

Wednesday, November 16, 2016

Musical Monday Playlists

Over the last couple of years, some of the Musical Monday selections I have made have been thematically linked, either by accident or by conscious decision making on my part. Over the next few days, I am going to gather these linked selections together into Musical Monday playlists that I will post links to here. I will probably post more in the future, and as I do, I will add them to this list.

Brandenburg Concertos
Cabaret
Christmas Music
Five Year Mission Dream Set
Halloween Music
Other Holiday Songs
Symphony of Science

Musical Monday     Home

Tuesday, November 15, 2016

Review - The Vengeance of the Witch-Finder by John Bellairs (with Brad Strickland)


Short review: While on vacation with his Uncle Jonathan, Lewis wakes a vengeful spirit that he tries to ignore until it becomes imperative that the two of them deal with it.

Haiku
On trip in Europe
Woke up an evil spirit
That tried to kill me

Full review: When John Bellairs died, he left two half-finished books and outlines for two more. Brad Strickland completed all four books, and one of the results of those efforts is The Vengeance of the Witch-Finder. The story is part of the Lewis Barnaveldt series, and one which actually features Lewis (as opposed to being one the books that feature his friend Rose Rita as the protagonist).

One oddity of the series is that Lewis, teamed with his uncle Jonathan Barnaveldt, and Rose Rita, teamed with the Barnaveldt's neighbor Mrs. Zimmerman seem to alternate in solving the various mystical mysteries featured in the books, but don't seem to work all together very often - almost as if Bellairs and Strickland had decided they needed an all-boy team and an all-girl team to feature but that the two sexes should be kept apart whenever possible.

Lewis and his uncle Jonathan are traveling through Europe, interrupting their visits to tourist sites to visit Barnaveldt Manor, the home of their distant English cousins. While there, Lewis gets to poking around the manor, and with the help of the housekeeper's son, accidentally releases something that would have been better left undisturbed. Like many youthful protagonists, Lewis decides against telling any adults about the brewing trouble, and he and his uncle leave to continue their tour of Europe.

Weeks later, Lewis and Jonathan return to Barnaveldt Manor, and find that what Lewis released was the spirit of an evil witch-finder who was alive during the English Civil War, and who wants to put all the Barnaveldt's on trial for witchcraft. The witch-finder was, of course, a practitioner of magic himself who dabbled in dark magic, unlike kindly Jonathan (who is a wizard, but only practices good magic). Lewis outsmarts the evil spirit, and all ends well.

The story seems a bit thinner than the works that Bellairs wrote when he was alive. The mystery itself is fine, but there is less material focused in on developing Lewis, Jonathan, and the other characters than in previous works. That may be at least partially due to the constraints Strickland worked under to complete an unfinished work, but it makes the book seem somehow incomplete. There is a little thrown in about Lewis' travels helping him to transform from an overweight, bookish boy into a "normal" boy who is athletic and plays baseball, but it is really only given cursory attention. It also seems somewhat out of place - earlier books established Lewis as an overweight, unathletic boy, and Rose Rita as a baseball playing tomboy - making them both essentially misfits. Further, the previous books also established that this was perfectly okay, even if some people thought less of them for that. Having Lewis transform into a "normal" boy seems to undermine that message to some extent.

While not as good as some previous books in this series due to a lack of character development, the mystery is still good, and Lewis (despite some foolish choices here and there) is a sympathetic and enjoyable protagonist.

Previous book in the series: The Ghost in the Mirror
Subsequent book in the series: The Doom of the Haunted Opera

John Bellairs     Brad Strickland     Book Reviews A-Z     Home

Monday, November 14, 2016

Musical Monday - Anthem by Kate McKinnon


Despite having a higher vote total than any U.S. Presidential candidate in history other than Obama, Clinton didn't get the votes in the right places, and did not win the Presidency. Instead, a man so completely unprepared for the position that he was apparently shocked when he was told he would have to hire new people to staff the West Wing will take the office in a little less than three months and thinks that the job is one that he can do from his preferred home in New York.

But, as McKinnon says, there is hope and reasons to keep fighting. I'm not going to sugar-coat the bad part here: A Trump administration is going to be horrific in many ways. If he is able to implement the policies he ran upon, the country will be damaged immensely. If his seemingly all-encompassing ignorance and incompetence hobbles his administration to the point where the government is running like it has an absentee landlord, a lot of people will discover in the harshest possible way just how much they rely upon a functioning Federal government. I'm predicting a substantial economic downturn and both domestic and international instability will ensue no matter whether the Trump administration is mendacious or incompetent. Either way, the next four years are going to be pretty lousy for everyone, including the people who voted for him.

That said, we should not give up. Trump may hit all of the marks of a neo-fascist, but he hasn't transformed the country into his own image yet, and he may be too much of a bumbling buffoon to get that done before things can be turned around. We still live in a republic, and we still get to vote. The question is where to aim our efforts. I think that the 2018 midterm elections are not really where Democrats should look. The House of Representatives is still gerrymandered to such an extent that Democrats can get six figures more votes overall in House races and still wind up vastly outnumbered in terms of numbers of representatives elected.

The Senate doesn't look great for Democrats either in 2018. Only a third of the Senate is up for election in each cycle, and the next time around there will only be eight Republican senate seats up for reelection, and twenty-three Democrats. The other two seats that will be up for reelection are independents who caucus with the Democrats, so they are also functionally Democratic seats. The Republican seats are also mostly in "safe" states for them, with the only one that could likely be threatened being Dean Heller's seat in Nevada. The other Republican seats are all in states like Texas, Arizona, Tennessee, and Mississippi, which makes reelection for those Senators seem likely. The Democrats, on the other hand, are not only defending a lot more seats, but are defending many of them in unfavorable states like Montana, North Dakota, and Indiana. To pick up seats, the Democrats would need to not only not lose any of the twenty-five seats they are effectively defending, but pick up at least two. At this point, I believe this to be improbable. On the other hand, who knows? The Trump administration may turn out to be such a disaster that it realigns the political landscape in a major way.

realistically, I don't think the 2018 midterm elections are really going to be the turn around that the Democratic Party needs. Where the Democratic Party needs to put is efforts is the State legislatures. This is the strategy that the Republican Party has pursued for the last decade or so, and it has paid off in big dividends for them. The real power State legislatures have is to draw Congressional districts and set voting rules. Because Republicans control so many State governments, they have gerrymandered the districts for representatives from the House of Representatives to heavily favor Republicans. Every State legislature that can be changed from a Republican one to a Democratic one before the 2020 census requires redistricting means one less State Congressional delegation that has been designed to favor Republican candidates. Every State legislature that can be changed from a Republican one to a Democratic one is a state in which the election laws can be crafted to encourage Americans to vote, rather than trying to keep them away from the ballot box. Plus, every state that flipped from a Republican legislature to a Democratic one would get the benefit of having a sane political party in control of the apparatus of government. There are going to be elections in every state in the union between now and 2020. Let's get out there and work to make sure that as many Democratic legislators as possible are put into office. It's what Hillary would do.

Subsequent Musical Monday: Fiddler on the Roof Pogrom Scenes

Kate McKinnon     Musical Monday     Home

Saturday, November 12, 2016

Book Blogger Hop November 11th - November 17th: TT178 Is the Tomb of Neferrenpet, Who Was Also Known as Kenro

Book Blogger Hop

Jen at Crazy for Books restarted her weekly Book Blogger Hop to help book bloggers connect with one another, but then couldn't continue, so she handed the hosting responsibilities off to Ramblings of a Coffee Addicted Writer. The only requirements to participate in the Hop are to write and link a post answering the weekly question and then visit other blogs that are also participating to see if you like their blog and would like to follow them.

This week Billy asks: Are the giveaways on your blog publisher-sponsored giveaways or giveaways of your own books?

I don't do giveaways on my blog. I probably could - I have publishers offer to send me books for giveaways every now and then, but like book tours, I'm just not organized enough to be able to commit to a giveaway. Most of this blog is run on the haphazard schedule that results from my having to frequently prioritize other commitments, so I just don't have the ability to give book giveaways the time and attention they really deserve. As a result, I just don't do them.

Subsequent Book Blogger Hop: 179 Days of the Year Are Even-Numbered

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Friday, November 11, 2016

Follow Friday - Every Positive Integer Is the Sum of at Most 279 Eighth Powers


It's Friday again, and this means it's time for Follow Friday. There has been a slight change to the format, as now there are two Follow Friday hosts blogs and a single Follow Friday Featured Blogger each week. To join the fun and make now book blogger friends, just follow these simple rules:
  1. Follow both of the Follow My Book Blog Friday Hosts (Parajunkee and Alison Can Read) and any one else you want to follow on the list.
  2. Follow the Featured Blogger of the week - Colletta's Kitchen Sink.
  3. Put your Blog name and URL in the Linky thing.
  4. Grab the button up there and place it in a post, this post is for people to find a place to say hi in your comments.
  5. Follow, follow, follow as many as you can, as many as you want, or just follow a few. The whole point is to make new friends and find new blogs. Also, don't just follow, comment and say hi. Another blogger might not know you are a new follower if you don't say "Hi".
  6. If someone comments and says they are following you, be a dear and follow back. Spread the love . . . and the followers.
  7. If you want to show the link list, just follow the link below the entries and copy and paste it within your post!
  8. If you're new to the Follow Friday Hop, comment and let me know, so I can stop by and check out your blog!
And now for the Follow Friday Question: Bookstagram Challenge: Fall Color Books Photo.




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Thursday, November 10, 2016

Random Thought - Third Party Candidates and American Elections

One thing this election conclusively settled is that a third party is never going to be viable in the United States.

If one were to tailor make an election perfectly crafted to buoy the prospects of alternative parties, the 2016 election would be pretty close to that model. Both of the major parties ran candidates that were unpopular among large portions of the electorate. There was allegedly a vast "anti-establishment" sentiment among voters.1 The Libertarian Party had two prominent former state governors heading up their ticket. The Green Party got a lot of press as a result of some rather ill-founded speculation about whether Senator Bernie Sanders would jump to their ticket after losing the Democratic Party nomination to former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton. The only thing that would have made this election riper for a third party surge would have been if the economy was in a recession, and despite the constant bleating from the right that the economy was somehow in sad shape, it was actually doing pretty well in 2016.

When the time came to vote, the Libertarian Party ticket garnered just over 3% of the popular vote, and the Green Party ticket had about 1% of the popular vote. This is better than they performed in 2012 when the Libertarians got about 1% of the vote and the Greens got about a third of a percent, but this isn't anywhere close to being a factor in the election.2 Neither of these campaigns managed to get to the magical 5% total that would have resulted in matching federal funds for the 2020 election.3 One also has to consider that these results were generated under almost ideal conditions for third party success. This is realistically the best that third party candidates can hope to do in a U.S. election. This is, in a figurative but very real sense, the ceiling for third parties in our current system.

The reason third parties won't work in the U.S. is due to the structure of U.S. elections. The U.S. uses what is called a "first past the post" system for most elections.4 This means that to gain any representation in an election, you need to obtain more of the votes cast than anyone else. Because members of the House of Representatives and Senators are elected from specific regions (Congressional Districts for Congressmen, and States for Senators), you have a collection of small elections, each of which must be won by garnering more of the the vote in those regions. U.S. Presidential elections are actually a series of mini-elections conducted in each State, and one must win more of the vote than any other candidate in each one to win them. You technically don't need to win a majority of the votes to win such elections, but you probably need to get close. This reality pushes political parties to try to muster a coalition that can aspire to encompass at least fifty percent of the total vote.

There are other voting methods used in other countries: Some places use ranked choice voting, where voters can list a number of candidates in their order of preference and then those choices are worked through as lower vote generating candidates are eliminated from contention. Under this system, for example, someone who favored the Green Party candidate could vote for them first, but rank, for example, the Democratic Party candidate second, so if the Green candidate didn't get sufficient votes to win, their vote would work to prevent a Republican victory. This would mean that people wouldn't be concerned with "throwing their vote away" and could vote for third parties as their first preference. This doesn't eliminate the fact that one would need to garner the most votes in order to win and election, but it does mean that third parties might be able to gain more support than they do now, as people might feel freer to support them knowing that their second preference would serve as a backup.

Another voting method is proportional representation, which can be used as a means of selecting a legislature. A modified version of this system is used in Germany (the German system is actually far more complex than that, but to detail it fully would take a lot of time). In this method, the voter selects a party, not a candidate, and when the votes are tallied, the available seats are distributed to the parties in proportion to their share of the vote. So if the Democrats got 45% of the vote, and the Republicans got 45% of the vote, they would each get 45% of the available seats. If the Libertarians got 5% of the vote, they would get 5% of the seats, and so on. This would mean that the small number of people who were interested in a third party would have representation in the legislature. It would be a small number of legislators, but they would likely be important in deciding who had the majority. This system wouldn't really work for electing a President, and wouldn't make sense for the Senate as it is currently constituted, but it could make third parties viable in the House of Representatives - although we would have to completely redefine exactly who Representatives actually represent. One might also note that even in such systems, the result is generally two-coalitions at odds with one another, with minor shifting between them in the middle.

Even though alternative voting systems are possible, for the foreseeable future, the U.S. will continue to use first past the post voting to decide its elections. This system almost inevitably drives the politics into a two-faction system. To have a chance at winning elections, you have to be able to reliably obtain 50% of the vote. Any party that does not will find itself forced to either expand its ranks to include sufficient voters to have a reasonable shot at getting to that mark, or they will wither away to fringe status in short order. This is exactly what has happened the handful of times that U.S. politics has seen third party candidates show signs of life.

The Election of 1860

Many third party proponents like to point to the election of 1860, sometimes accompanying this with the claim that "Lincoln was a third party candidate". This kind of claim is pretty much at odds with the actual history of the 1860 election.

In the early 1850s, the Whig Party, which had been the primary opposition party to the Democratic Party, collapsed. Presidents William Henry Harrison, Zachary Taylor, and Millard Fillmore were Whigs, as was John Tyler, although Tyler was expelled from the party over political disagreements during his presidency. The last Whig presidential canddiate was Winfield Scott, who ran in 1852.

Abraham Lincoln
In 1856, the Republican Party was already established, formed out of a sizable chunk of the former Whig Party with the addition of former members of the Free Soil Party and a collection of anti-slavery activists. The party chose John C. Frémont as its nominee, and despite receiving fewer than 1,200 popular votes in the entire Sourth, he managed to come in second with 114 electoral votes. After the elections, the Republicans held fifteen Senate seats and 90 seats in the House of Representatives. In the 1858 elections, the Republicans increased their numbers in the Senate to 25, and their seats in the House to 116 and took control of the House at the head of a coalition made up of Republicans and Southern opposition members.

By the time the 1860 election rolled around the Republican Party was well-established, and can't really be considered a "third party" in any meaningful sense. The Republican Party held a plurality of seats in the House of Representatives, and held the second-most seats in the Senate. The party also held thirteen of the thirty-one Governorships in the country. It was at this point that the party nominated Abraham Lincoln to run as its candidate for President.

John Breckinridge
The 1860 election was fairly unusual in that four reasonably serious candidates ran for President. As noted above, Lincoln ran on the Republican ticket. The Democratic Party had traditionally been the major party in American politics - the Whig Party had originally formed in opposition to the Democratic Party of Andrew Jackson's era - but internal divisions over the issue of slavery effectively split the party into a northern wing and a southern wing in this election. The northern wing nominated Illinois Senator Stephen Douglas to run for President, and the southern wing nominated Vice-President John Breckinridge from Kentucky.

The fourth candidate was John Bell, who was nominated by the Constitution-Union Party, an organization formed out of the shreds of the Whig Party that had not migrated to the Republican Party, and held as its guiding principle "The Union as it is, and the Constitution as it is". The party tried to simply ignore the slavery issue and instead focused on anti-Catholic and anti-immigrant policies. As the oldest candidate in the field, Bell wasn't really interested in campaigning much, and seems to have been hoping for no one to receive enough electoral votes to claim a majority and have the election go to a vote in the House of Representatives, where he thought his propects as a "compromise candidate" would make voting for him an attractive option.

Stephen Douglas
The election itself wasn't so much one election, as it was three regional elections. This is one of the reasons why the 1860 election is a terrible example to point to concerning the viability of a third party. Leaving aside the fact that the Republican Party cannot be called a "third party" with a straight face, the issue of slavery had riven the nation into very distinct regional entities. I am not sure that there will ever been an issue as divisive as slavery was in antebellum politics, and I certainly don't see one on hand today, or in the foreseeable future. The only southern state where Lincoln was even on the ballot was Virginia, and he only got 1% of the vote there. Bell and Breckinridge were effectively not on the ballot in several northern states, and where they were, they generally garnered between 1% and 5% of the popular vote. The only candidate to run a truly national campaign was Stephen Douglas, with the result being that there were really three regional contests: Lincoln v.s Douglas for the northern states, Bell vs. Douglas for the border states, and Breckinridge vs. Douglas for the southern states.

John Bell
Lincoln won outright, with 180 electoral votes, although he only had 39.8% of the popular vote. Breckinridge came in second, with 72 electoral votes, while Bell came in third with 39 electoral votes. Douglas brought up the rear with 12 electoral votes, carrying only the state of Missouri and getting some of New Jersey's votes. One thing to note is that despite his low electoral vote total, Douglas had the second most popular votes as a result of running a national campaign when the other candidates did not. In fact, at 29.5% Douglas gained almost as much of the popular vote as the 30.7% combined total for Breckinrige and Bell. Lincoln won every state that stayed in the Union during the Civil War except Missouri, Kentucky, Delaware, and Maryland, which also happened to be the handful of states that remained in the Union in which slavery was legal. Breckinridge won every state that formed the Confederacy except Tennessee and Virginia. Bell won Tennessee, Kentucky, and Virginia.

The key issue here is that there were very few places where there was a real three-way contest, and those were mostly either smaller states like California, or border states like Missouri and Kentucky. In most states, two of the candidates were completely non-competitive, and the race was really between the remaining two. This wasn't a four candidate horse race, it was three two candidate contests. I suppose a third party could try to follow this model, but it would have to focus on an issue that was of intense interest to a particular region of the country. The reason the Republicans dominated the northern states, and the southern Democrats dominated the southern states was that the country was riven by the issue of slavery, with the border states stuck literally in the middle.

On a further note, by the time elections were held again with a reconstituted Union in 1868, the Democratic Party was a single unit again, and the Constitution-Union Party had vanished, its members having been mostly absorbed into the Republican Party. As I said before, multi-party situations in the U.S. political system are essentially inherently unstable, and will generally quickly collapse back to two parties in relatively short order.

The Election of 1892

James Weaver
From 1864 through 1888, U.S. elections were essentially two-party contests between the Democrats and Republicans, with some minor parties garnering a few percentage points of the popular vote every cycle. In 1892, the Grange, the Farmers Alliance, and the Knights of Labor formed the Populist Party, and ran James Weaver as their candidate for President. Fueled by anti-banker and anti-railroad sentiment, Weaver's campaign wound up with 22 electoral votes, which is a pretty impressive accomplishment for a third party candidate, but he did so as a result of the quirky demographics of the country at the time. Weaver carried Colorado, Idaho, Kansas, Nevada, and North Dakota. Grover Cleveland, the Democratic candidate for President, and eventual victor, didn't even bother to run in four of those states. Outside of these western states, the Populist Party did quite poorly, usually running a very distant third.

By 1896, the Populist Party had effectively merged with the Democratic Party, as William Jennings Bryan ran as the candidate nominated by both parties. Bryan's campaign featured the famous "Cross of Gold" speech, but despite his eloquence, he lost to McKinley. Although the Populist Party was technically still and independent entity in 1900, they once again joined with the Democrats to nominate Bryan for President. By 1904, the Populist Party had been fully absorbed into the Democratic Party, and Bryan ran for the presidency a third time, but this time as just the Democratic Party's nominee. This is, in general, one of the almost inevitable fates of a third party in the U.S. political system. They can either grow big enough to supplant an existing party and become one of the two parties, whither away to irrelevance, or get coopted and absorbed by one of the existing two major parties. The Populist Party was absorbed by the Democrats, which transformed the Democrats into a party oriented towards farmers and factory workers.

The Election of 1912

Teddy Roosevelt
Although the election of 1912 technically featured a third party candidate, the "third party" was really the creation of, and vehicle for that candidate. In 1908, Teddy Roosevelt declined to run for the Presidency due to promises he had made in the 1904 election. Instead, he annointed William Howard Taft as his successor, and stepped aside. Taft won the Presidency, but his actions in office outraged Roosevelt, who decided to run for the Republican nomination in 1912. When Taft secured the Republicn nomination anyway, Roosevelt formed his own party and dubbed it the Progressive Party, although it was quickly nicknamed the "Bull Moose" party.

On the Democratic side, a contentious and deeply divided convention required forty-one ballots to select Woodrow Wilson as their nominee, but they didn't fracture into competing factions like the Republicans had. This proved to be a smart move, as the general election turned into a landslide victory for Wilson in which he garnered 435 electoral votes, while Roosevelt mustered only 96, and Taft won a mere 8.

The election of 1912 is an almost textbook example of why third parties don't succeed in the United States. At first glance, Wilson's victory seems overwhelming, but when one looks deeper into the numbers, one discovers that it was far less convincing than it seems. In fact, one can make the case that Wilson only won because his opponents split the vote. Had the Republicans not divided and run two competing candidates, and instead united behind one banner, the results would likely have been very different. If one combines the votes that went to Taft with the votes that went to Roosevelt, one finds that twenty-five of the states that Wilson won would have been won by a unified Republican candidate instead5. Those twenty-five states accounted for 260 of the electoral votes that Wilson won. Switching those votes to a unified Republican candidate and adding the electoral votes Taft and Roosevelt won yields a Republican total of 356 electoral votes to Wilson's new total of 175. Instead of a landslide Democratic victory, the election would have resulted in a landslide Republican victory.

Robert La Follette
An almost inevitable result of a meaningful third party candidacy is that their candidacy will cause the candidate with the most ideologically incompatible policy positions to win the election. Looking at the arguments that led to the internecine war between the Roosevelt faction of the Republican Party and the Taft faction of the Republican Party, it is clear that they were much closer to one another on policy than they were to the Democrats, but by splitting into two factions, they not only ensured a Democratic victory, they ensured an emphatic and overwhelming Democratic victory. One could argue that Roosevelt made a moral point by running against Taft in the general election, but that ignores the fact that elections are about deciding who gets to set the agenda and enforce their vision of the future. By taking this stance, Roosevelt created a situation in which Democratic priorities, not Republican ones, would take precedence over the next eight years. A third party almost has to collapse into one of the two major parties, much like the Populist Party of the 1890s did, or else it all but ensures that its political antithesis will control the levers of power.

As a final point, one might note that by the 1916 election, the Progressive Party had shrunk to irrelevance, with most of its members, including Roosevelt, being absorbed back into the Republican Party. In 1924, a revived Progressive Party that incorporated some of the Socialist Party that had been limping along in obscurity nominated Robert La Follette for the Presidency, and he secured 16.6% of the popular vote, but only managed to carry one state: Wisconsin. Calvin Coolidge, running on the ticket of a Republican Party that had evolved from the trust-busting days of Roosevelt into a much more pro-business organization, won a landslide victory. By 1928, the Progressive Party was gone.

There wasn't another serious third party candidate until 1968. Even the much ballyhooed run by Strom Thurmond as a Dixiecrat in 1948 only resulted in the candidate winning 2.5% of the popular vote.

The Election of 1968

In 1968, the Democratic Party was in disarray. Lyndon Johnson had declined to seek another term. Bobby Kennedy was leading the race for the nomination until he was assassinated on June 6, a mere six weeks before the Democratic National Convention. The convention itself was the site of violent confrontations between anti-war demonstrators and police as the party split into factions at war with one another. The convention finally settled on Hubert Humphrey as the party nominee.

The Republicans, on the other hand, held a straightforward convention and nominated Richard Nixon, who ran on a "law and order" platform. This was a stark contrast to the chaos of the Democratic convention, and the choice to make the "law and order" policy intended to comfort the heartland into the flagship of the campaign was not an accident. This was the election in which Nixon first employed the "Southern strategy" of appealing to Southern voters upset over the passage of civil rights legislation in the previous few years, although the strategy didn't pay off very well, with the segregationist George Wallace winning most of the Southern states.

George Wallace
The American Independent Party was founded in 1967, essentially to promote and protect the policy of segregation that was the law of the land throughout much of the South, and which was under attack as a result of the passage of the Civil Right Act of 1964 and the Voting Rights Act of 1965. Governor George Wallace of Alabama ran unsuccessfully for the Democratic presidential nomination, losing in large part due to his promotion of segregation. The American Independence Party seized the opportunity to pick Wallace as their flag-bearer, and handed him their nomination for the highest office in the land. On a side note, Wallace selected former Air Force General Curtis LeMay as his running mate, which proved troublesome for the candidate later when LeMay suggested using nuclear weapons in Vietnam.

The election resulted in a convincing win for Nixon in the electoral college, although the popular vote was a nail-biter, with only a 0.7% difference between Nixon and Humphrey. Wallace came in a distant third in the popular vote, with 13.5% of the total compared to 42.7% for Humphrey and 43.4% for Nixon. Like most third party candidates who have had any success, Wallace was an intensely regional candidate. Although he was on the ballot in all fifty states, he only had meaningful support in the pro-segregation states from the former Confederacy, winning Alabama, Arkansas, Georgia, Louisiana, and Mississippi. This seems to be one of the ways that a third party candidate can make inroads - if there is an issue that is of paramount concern in a particular region, they can win votes by running on that one issue. This more or less worked for the southern Democrats and the Constitutional-Unionists in 1860, and the Populists in 1892, and now Wallace in 1968. This doesn't seem to be a winning strategy though, and all of the parties that have adopted this strategy have either withered away or been coopted by one of the two major parties in relatively short order. The American Independent Party, for example, collapsed into irrelevance by the 1972 election where it gained 1.4% of the popular vote. It has never recovered.

The Elections of 1992 and 1996

H. Ross Perot
After 1968, there wasn't a serious third party candidate until 1992. John Anderson ran an independent campaign as a moderate alternative to Ronald Reagan in 1980, but only managed to claim 6.6% of the popular vote. In 1992, for reasons mostly relating to the North American Free Trade Agreement, a large proportion of the electorate became infatuated with Texas businessman H. Ross Perot. It is important to note that Perot wasn't really a "third party" candidate, as he didn't have a party backing his run for the Presidency (although a party was organized in six states in order to allow him to be placed on the ballot). Perot self-funded much of his campaign, and bought air time on the networks to pitch his candidacy in what amounted to political infomercials.

Perot's campaign alternated between moments of brilliance, and an almost benign incompetence. In the debates with George H.W. Bush and Bill Clinton, Perot did quite well. Many states require a candidate for President to name a Vice-Presidential choice to get on the ballot, and Perot chose his friend Admiral James Stockdale as an interim choice. Unfortunately, Perot never revisited that decision, and Stockdale did quite poorly when he appeared for a Vice-Presidential debate, at one point absent-mindedly turning off his hearing aid. Perot abruptly pulled out of the race in July, and then just as abruptly returned at the beginning of October. When he tried to explain why he mysteriously withdrew, Perot related a story about how "Republican operatives" were planning on disrupting his daughter's wedding. When combined with revelations about his fear that the Black Panther Party was going to assassinate him, Perot began to be seen as a somewhat unbalanced conspiracy theorist.

When the final results of the election rolled around, Perot gained 18.9% of the popular vote, but his support was thinly spread enough that he won no electoral votes. Bill Clinton defeated George H.W. Bush with 43% of the popular vote, which translated to a convincing 370 vote to 168 vote electoral college victory. One interesting footnote here is that despite winning more than 5% of the popular vote, since he wasn't running as the representative of a party, his success didn't make any new group eligible for matching federal funds in the subsequent election.

Perot ran again in 1996, and this time he had organized an actual political party named the Reform Party. Although Perot had little difficulty obtaining the Reform Party nomination, there was some controversy associated with it as supporters of former Governor Richard Lamm of Colorado accused Perot of rigging the selection in his favor and walked out of the convention to form their own party named the American Reform Party. This is one of the perennial problems with creating a stable third party: It seems that people who are willing to split from the major parties over relatively minor differences tend to also be willing to split from embryonic third parties over relatively minor differences. Perot did less well in 1996 than he had in 1992, winning only 8.4% of the vote.

That 8.4% number is important, because it means that the Reform Party met the 5% threshold to qualify for matching federal funds in the 2000 election. Pat Buchanan ran on the Reform Party ticket in 2000, and unfortunately for third party proponents, finished with 0.4% of the popular vote, behind even Green Party candidate Ralph Nader's total of 2.7%. By the 2004 election, the Reform Party was effectively defunct. The important point here is that getting access to federal matching funds is not the panacea that third party advocates seem to think it is. Getting matching federal funds will not alter the realities of U.S. elections and allow a third party to avoid the effectively inevitable fates that third parties face: They are either coopted by existing parties, or they whither to irrelevance. There has not been a meaningful third party candidate since the 1996 election, and there is no real prospect that there will be one in the near future.

Some third party advocates may take heart from this recounting of the effect of third parties on U.S. elections over the last one hundred and fifty years. They should not. From 1860 to now, there have been 40 presidential elections. Out of those forty, a third party candidate has had a meaningful impact in at most seven of those elections, and the number is only that high if you count campaigns like those of H. Ross Perot in 1996 and James Weaver in 1892 as being meaningful. Until U.S. elections are fundamentally changed, no third party will be able to establish itself for any substantial length of time, or have more than a moderately fleeting effect on elections.

1 This has been widely reported. To be fair, I seriously question how much actual "anti-establishment" sentiment there actually was. Yes, Trump won the presidential election, but those same voters kept the Republicans in control of the House of Representatives and Senate, voting to retain the overwhelming majority of legislators. The elections seems to me to have been not so much an "anti-establishment" election as it was a "conservative backlash" election.

2 There were other "third party" candidates in both the 2012 and 2016 elections, but they were even less of a factor than the Libertarian and Green party candidates. In 2012, all other third party candidates garnered about a fifth of a percent of the popular vote, while in 2016, they obtained about half a percent of the popular vote.

3 Allow me to point out the humorous irony of the "Libertarian" candidate touting the possibility of receiving a federal subsidy in the future as a reason to vote for him.

4 In 2016, Maine passed ranked choice voting for state elections, although federal elections will still be conducted under the "first past the post" system.

5 Specifically, the hypothetical Republican unity candidate would have likely won Colorado, Connecticut, Delaware, Idaho, Illinois, Indiana, Iowa, Kansas, Maine, Maryland, Massachusetts, Missouri, Montana, Nebraska, Nevada, New Hampshire, New Jersey, New Mexico, New York, North Dakota, Ohio, Oregon, Rhode Island, West Virginia, and Wisconsin.

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