How I use iOS

In my previous post, I discussed how I use Wunderlist, and teased a post about how I use iOS. Much of what I’m going to say will be very familiar to anyone who listens to Cortex, because I’ve learned a lot from Grey, filtered through my own situation, but I think that there may be some value in this (if only that of concision) for some of you.


When I was in my twenties, I loved mucking around with Linux, building PCs—that sort of thing. Somewhere along the line, it lost its appeal. This isn’t a perfect analogy, but suppose your hobby in your twenties was hotrodding cars and tinkering with them: As cars have grown more dependent on electronics, I should imagine that the fun has drained out of them for the amateur mechanics. I still work with hardware all the time, but for utility not fun. It’s always with a view toward an end rather than being an end in itself, just as I might spend an evening under the hood installing a cold-air filter, but I wouldn’t take the engine apart for kicks.

The more that writing has occupied my time, the less interested I’ve become in how the motor works than whether it goes. I no longer feel any desire to personally compile a kernel, shell, program; I’m more interested in having a computing environment that lets me work efficiently rather than being work itself. And Apple products, famously, work. I bought my first MacBook in 2009 and my first Mac in 2011, but the iPhone 4s was the real gateway drug. That device fitted my brain like a glove. Everything about it was crisp and elegant and clean and simple—it felt like both the future and like a device that should always have been; quickly, it started to feel that it had always been. The 5c was, impossibly, even better. In 2015, Macs became my primary computing device, although I should say that the iPad (currently a 3, soon to be a Pro 9.7”) is probably my primary device at home. I don’t wear a watch, but if I were to start, it’d be an Apple Watch. (I don’t like wearing things on my wrist; it’s just a personal quirk.) Sold.

This “all in on Apple” approach was galvanized by Microsoft’s failed Windows 8 experiment, and sealed because it happened to coincide with the “summer of hell” to which I alluded in my Wunderlist post. One of my colleagues was out on maternity leave; it was a small department, so everyone had a lot more work to do, but as the generalist in the office (i.e. the person who didn’t have a specific focus on particular systems), a lot of it fell on me, and it became stunningly difficult to manage. I had to get organized. Wunderlist was the key, but applying Grey’s teaching from Cortex and adapting it to my circumstances made it very appealing to have one integrated system on many devices, because I no longer had the luxury of knowing where I would be at any given moment.

Setting up iOS.

I am picky about how I set up my iOS devices, and somewhat picky about how I set up Macs. (This post isn’t about what we will soon be able to call, to my delight, MacOS, but I can’t resist pointing out: On a MacBook, especially on a 2016 MacBook, you should not have the dock at the default size and in the default position! So much wasted screen!) The general principle, which I commend even if you decline the rest of my advice, and which applies to Windows just as readily, is this: Everything you use all the time should be immediately to hand, and everything else should be packed out of the way. You don’t want a lot of clutter. And you don’t want visual noise: You want a wallpaper that’s clean, non-distracting, and which provides good separation between the background and the icons. I’ll give you a pass for the lock-screen, but a family photo on your home-screen is no way to say “I love you”!

Those principles can be seen in the screencaps that I posted previously; add to those my poor old broken-screen 5c, which I sometimes use for a few hours in the evening while the 6 (will be an SE in a few days, actually) recharges if I don’t want to pull out the iPad:

iPhone 6 iPhone5 iPad

So we have a dark background on each—it’s a little more stylized on the iPad, but in both cases, the rule is: Dark background (when I remake the SHIELD wallpaper for the Pro, I will go darker), clean separation between the icons and the background, only regularly-used icons on the home-screen.

I have some rules that apply to any iDevice. Settings always lives in the top left-hand corner; the clock usually in the top right-hand corner. The second row (this gets a little hinky on iPad, because of course the icons move if you turn it around; I mostly use it in portrait) always contains Notes, Dropbox, and Gdocs. The bottom row always contains social media. Then there’s always at least one empty row to separate the dock, and three apps in the dock: Always Wunderlist on the right, always email in the middle. (I flirted with the Outlook app for a while, but Mail’s just a better fit for me; try several clients, you never know which will work best for you.)

  • Regarding Notes: The trick—it’s not much of a secret, but I’m always surprised by how few people seem to have this set up—is that you should be syncing Notes with iCloud on all your devices.  That’s what changes Notes from a scribble-pad (that’s what TextEdit and Stickies are for!) into a genuinely useful notekeeping system, especially when you remember that you can use it from any web browser in a pinch. 
  • Regarding Gdocs and Dropbox: I flirted with following Grey down the Byword path, but Gdocs meets all my writing needs comfortably, and while Byword is probably superior in some regards, it’s hard to imagine what benefit would accrue. It’s terrific to be able to write literally anywhere (confessedly you’re unlikely to want to tap out a novel on an iPhone!) and pick up again on any other device. The iPad is the primary writing device, and I’m currently using a Logitech Keys-to-Go bluetooth keyboard for it, which I would call “adequate,” although I’m comfortable typing on glass for light-duty writing.

The iPad and the 5 (which functions as an ersatz iPad Micro rather than a phone) each have a scanning app and Workflow in the top row and Google Sheets in the productivity row. I am auditioning InstaPDF, and it will probably replace TinyScanner. I am a marginal Workflow user; I use it for a few logging  operations, it manages my morning and evening playlists, and I have a few workflows to notify my wife of various things. Workflow is still relatively new, I’ve only been using it for a couple of months, but I think it’s well worth the incidental cost.

The iPhone is a little different. Calendar replaces Sheets, because, straightforwardly, I don’t use Sheets on the phone and I use the calendar all the time. Messages is on the home-screen and the phone app is on the dock because—well, because it’s a phone. I have a folder called “Health” which contains the apps for my MiBand (I know that I said that I don’t like wearing things on my wrist—I don’t, and I’m not happy; in a perfect world, I’d have an anklet for the MiBand) and for my wife’s fitbit (lives on my phone because she carries a flip-phone). The one that usually gets an eyebrow-lift out of people is the bottom right-hand corner. It’s important (especially on the Brobdingnagian 6) to have any apps that I might need to tap while driving or otherwise using the phone one-handed within easy reach of my thumb, especially apps that make noise (and thus may need to be silenced). The dot folder becomes a second dock, and currently contains a couple of radio apps, Music, Youtube, Overcast, and Workflow. Unibox (which I use for one of my email accounts—maybe we’ll talk about email next, but I have a rule that forwards anything from my manager to that account to minimize the chances of missing something from her) also lives here.

Finally, a look at my rarely-seen second screen:


This is another place where I want consistency. The top left-hand corner always has a folder called “Comms,” which contains any communications app that doesn’t live on the main-screen: Sype, Facetime, things like that. “Utils” comes next; it contains what you’d expect: It’s the toolbag. The App Store lives here, as do Gdrive, DeskConnect, PhotoShare (a Bluetooth file-transfer app that sometimes comes in handy because the iPad is wireless-only and not everywhere has it), and so on. Finally, “Extras” is  a home for everything else. The paradigm here is that if an app isn’t on the home-screen, I’m normally going to launch it with Spotlight rather than scrolling and tapping, but sometimes I scroll-and-tap, so I still want some basic organizational structure.

Odds and ends.

Speaking of Spotlight—and this is true on the Mac, too—my feeling is that Spotlight is for launching apps, period. It becomes a much more nimble tool if you go into its settings and remove everything else from its scope. I also encourage people to make use of both Do Night Disturb and Night Shift. DND is an obvious one: Schedule it overnight, be choosy about who’s on your favorites list. Night Shift arrived in iOS 9.3; it warms the color palette of the screen by a little or a lot in a way that’s easier  on the eyes in low light conditions. Find a balance that works nicely for you and schedule it to start around about the earliest possible time that you might go to bed and to end about the latest possible time that you might leave the house. (You can also find both of these in Control Center for ad-hoc situations.)

In fine.

Computers exist in order to allow humans to accomplish useful things. The computing device that is good and well-configured is the one that is as transparent as possible: The interface gets out of your way and lets you work without having to think a lot about what’s going on under the hood. (Well, mostly—all tech people periodically get into a “let’s fiddle around with the carburetor” mood.) You want to think about and look for apps that will actually help you accomplish things or improve your life, and arrange them in a way that’s clean, intuitive, and easy. That, plus consistency between devices, makes for an easy, smooth-sailing life in iOS-land.


How I use Wunderlist

Last summer, I was drowning. I had far too much to do, I knew that I needed help—or at least guidance—but I wasn’t sure what or where to get it. I found it in a podcast called Cortex and a tasklist app called Wunderlist. I liked the latter so well that I made a video urging its virtues! A year later, Wunderlist remains essential to my life, and I want to share some observations about how I use it.

General principles.

Before we even get to Wunderlist per se, I will tell you that my “task-list paradigm,” so-to-speak, is built on two foundation:

  • First: Have one task-list. You might have many lists of various kinds in your task-list system, but have one list of tasks. (I’ll get more granular about that concept in a moment.)
  • Second: Everything that I think of (or that I’m asked to do) that needs done can and should be thought of in either of two categories—either I am doing it right now, or it’s going on the task-list. Leave no middle-ground. “I’m walking back to my office and I’ll do it in two minutes” is not a third category: It falls into the second category. 

These two paradigms apply to any task-list system; I use Wunderlist, but you might prefer paper or an app like Omnifocus, but these two foundational principles apply to any system.

The next thing to say is that I have Wunderlist everywhere. It’s is installed on all of my iOS devices; the app lives in the bottom-right of the dock:

But I have the app installed on neither my home nor office Mac. That’s because I have it open in Safari on those devices; there’s a reason why, and we’ll get to it shortly.

Lists other than the task-list.


Now let’s talk about lists. I have one task-list and many other lists in Wunderlist. It’s easier to explain if we start with the latter. I have, for example, a list titled “Books, movies, and music.” Whenever there’s a movie or TV show that I might want to watch, or a song I want to listen to or buy, it goes onto the BMM list. It isn’t itself a task-list, but I might have an item or items on my task-list that relate to the BMM list—I might put “movie night” as an item on the task-list, for example. Movie night comes around, and I just pull up the BMM list. In the same way, I have a shopping-list for Menards; that isn’t a task-list either, but I might put “go to Menards” on my task-list.

This inevitably brings up a question: Why not just use subtasks? Why not just have a task “Go to Menards” and build a shopping list of subtasks within that task?” And the answer is that I do—sometimes. I just checked-off a task “Kroger” that had a shopping list in the subtasks this afternoon. So when do I use subtasks versus separate lists? It’s mostly intuition, but thinking about it a little, the primary question is the closeness of the relationship between the list and the task. Here’s what I mean. The Menards list, for example, has a dehumidifier on it, but I have no intention of buying it the next time that I go to Menards; it’s just on my DRADIS for things that I’m interested in looking at sometime when I’m at Menards with a few minutes to spare. By contrast, I had a task “go to Kroger” precisely in order to pick up specific items. Similarly, the BMM list isn’t a list of things I want to read or watch right now, it’s just things I’m interested in at some point, so it can’t easily attach to attach it to a discrete event. (You could make an argument that some lists—the BMM list, my list of software that I want to check out, etc.—really belong in Notes rather than Wunderlist, and that would and will be true if and when the number of items gets out of hand. Right now, I find that it’s small enough that I can manage.)

I also have a separate list called “Templates,” which stores checklists that are used often but at irregular intervals. Packing lists for various permutations of “going out-of-town,” “going out-of-state,” and “going out-of-country” live in this list; so do many tasks that are multi-step and for which I might forget a step if I don’t use a checklist, or that have many steps, such that if I’m interrupted during the process, working through a checklist lets me know know exactly where I left off in the process when I come back to it. Confessedly, this is one of those things where Wunderlist’s limitations force a bit of a bodge. The iOS app doesn’t allow you to copy lists. But the web interface does—there are actually several things that you either can’t do in the app or that are just easier to do in the web interface, which is why I use the web interface on my Macs rather than having the app installed on them. When I carry out a task for which I have a template, I just pull up Safari, copy the relevant item from the Templates list to my task-list (called “Primary” in my system, although you can call it anything you like so long as there’s only one of them), then tailoring its name if necessary.

(I have a couple of shared lists, but these are rarely-used right now, so I don’t have much to say about them. But I will observe from past use that if you have a minion of some kind who uses Wunderlist already, shared lists in Wunderlist are a great way to manage minions—and, I hope to be managed: Each Gru is in turn someone’s minion.)

The task-list.

So, finally, we turn to the task-list itself. I generally use the iPhone app to add and check-off tasks, and then fine-tune through the web interface if needed. For example, some tasks have due-dates, or need to be split into subtasks. Sometimes a task will recur. Sometimes it will turn into a template on completion: For example, we had not been on vacation recently, and had to take an unplanned trip to Missouri; my packing list for that trip was, when completed, moved to templates and fine-tuned to account for the things that got forgotten or unnecessarily included.

Most tasks, however, are short, sweet, and simple one-shots. If it comes to my attention during the morning that I have an errand to run at lunchtime, I’ll just add the errand to my tasklist, and check it off when it’s done. When appropriate, that task will get marked as important. Sometimes, I will have a single task “lunch” marked as important with several subtasks: For example, where I want to eat, the errands that I have to run, and a reminder that the south bridge will be closed this afternoon so I’d better take the north route back to the office. I use both due-dates and recurrence as necessary; I have a daily-recurring task called “Meds” for example, which has a subtask for each of my meds; I check off the ones I actually take and invariably mark the task itself complete so that it pops back up the next day. Ditto on a weekly basis for “laundry,” and biweekly (except for winter) “mow lawn.”

(Another nice feature about the web app is that it shows you a progress bar on the background of each task on the list.)

Perhaps worth mentioning also is a conceptual divide between tasks and long-term projects. Things on my task-list are, generally, things that I will (or should) be doing sometime in the immediate (or at least foreseeable) future; I have a separate list for long-term projects that I may get around to some time. A good example of the distinction might be a double-neck guitar that I’ve been building at a snail’s pace for a couple of summers now. If there were to be a list for it, that list might live in long-term projects, because on any particular day or in any particular month, I probably won’t do anything with it, and a fundamental concept to the way I approach computers (more on this in the next post) is that you want to put things you need in easy reach and banish everything else from sight. By contrast, on my tasklist, I have a task to buy a particular widget for that project; I’m not in any hurry, but I could buy it any time and my intention is to buy it whenever I get around to it. Thus, there is a kind of immediacy to the “buy widget” task that earmarks it for the tasklist that doesn’t apply to the project to which it technically belongs. This is admittedly a “feel” thing rather than a hard rule, but I think you do develop a feel for these things.

Finally, a word on notes. Sometimes I add notes to tasks—but not generally. Notes are used for lists in my “Podcast” folder; I have a list of potential show ideas and a list titled “show notes” into which I move whatever the topics we plan to talk about while recording, and there are often notes attached to items on that list which contains all the shownotes for the episode that we are recording next. But I usually use Notes or sometimes GDocs for that sort of notekeeping.

In fine.

So that’s my system. I don’t claim that it’s a brilliant or insightful one, or that Wunderlist is the only or even the best tasklist app; it depends on the shape of your brain. But it’s a system that works well for me, and I commend it to your consideration.

Next post: How I use iOS.

Background notes on my Racetrack / BSG story-cycle

Eons ago, man lived in harmony with the gods in the paradise of Kobol. Eventually, the twelve tribes of man left Kobol, and founded the twelve colonies: Caprica, Gemenon, Picon, and Virgon;  Leonis and Tauron; Scorpia, Sagittaron, and Libran; Aerilon, Canceron, and Aquaria. 

For millennia, the children of Kobol bickered and fought amongst themselves. But one day, a man distraught for loss of his daughter resolved that death should not be the end. He created life outside of its natural order, and thus came into being the Cylon: A race of robotic slaves who would rise up against their masters, convinced that God—not the long-dead gods of Kobol worshipped by man, but rather the one, true God—loved them, the Cylon, the children of man, just as well as He loved man, His children.

War raged; by necessity, the Twelve Colonies united against their common enemy. At last, an armistice was concluded, and the Cylons left the Colonies to search of worlds of their own. We now live in the golden age of man; not since Kobol have the nations of man known the peace and harmony that we now enjoy.

No one has seen the Cylons in over three and a half decades.

So opens the first draft of the novelette component of my Racetrack Chronicles story-cycle, a fiction project on which I’m working, set in the universe of Ronald D. Moore’s reimagined Battlestar Galactica. This is the “official myth” of the colonies, the Colonials’ self-perception of their history after the Cylon War. Chronologically, I open six years before the Fall and follow Margaret “Racetrack” Edmondson thence down to, ultimately, the end of “Daybreak.” Three very, very, very short teaser ficlets are out; more are on the way; the first short-story is in private beta; the novelette and second and third short-stories should appear over the summer and early fall.

In the background of the last two, you’ll catch glimpses of the broader Colonial world as I imagine it. But the Racetrack Chronicles collection is all about Racetrack; it is narrow, personal, and specific in its focus. You’re going to know this woman a lot better by Christmas. Once it’s done, though, I intend to broaden my focus, hoping to write something that will flesh out my vision of the worlds. For the most part, my continuity follows the geography established in the QMX map of the colonies (with two exceptions explained below), but I want to take a few minutes to outline that world, as I see it, partly to stake my claim, partly to whet your appetite. 

In my reading, the twelve United Colonies of Kobol are not the Federation (“Star Trek”), nor even the Alliance (“Firefly”); they are America in 1810. They are a vast, sprawling, diverse collection of societies. They are tied together by history, commercial intercourse, and a remote federal government on Caprica, and of course the silver chain of the Colonial Fleet, but ineluctably separated by immense distances and profound cultural and aesthetic differences. Communications are limited by the speed of light but the existence of FTL jump technology means that travel is not—and so most  information is conveyed on paper or digital media by FTL courier.

Not only are the worlds separated in time, they don’t line up: Fly from Aerilon’s southern continent (“Sporkshire” home to Gaius Baltar—no, it’s not literally called that, come on, but you know what I mean) to its northern continent (“Spireland,” home to Romo Lampkin and Abigail “Spitfire” Ainslie) and you go from Spring to Fall, but FTL jump to Caprica City, CA, and you end up in Winter. Colonial Day, the federal holiday, is thus early summer in Caprica City, but mid-spring in Falstone, PI, Racetrack’s hometown, and may well be midwinter  in Gareth “Nightlight” Lowell’s northern Aquaria, or high summer for Nicola Edmondson, esq., on Libran. Moreover, different colonies have slightly different gravities and different average temperatures. The diverse realities of life in the kind of society latent in the QMX depiction are the precise opposite of Star Trek‘s cloying uniformity. And that’s intriguing. 

The Cyrannus system in which the colonies are located comprises two pairs of binaries, the Helios αβ pair and the Helios γδ pair; sublight travel within each system is like long-haul flight IRL, and FTL jumps between systems are routine. But there is a constant flow of sublight traffic within each pair, and intra-pair travel takes about eight to ten days. There is also a flow of sublight traffic down the long axis between pairs (the “deep black”), along well-defined shipping routes (“Intercolonial Lanes”—the Galactica’s final pre-Fall cruise takes her parallel to “I9,” for example, en route from Helios Delta to Helios Alpha), a trek that takes between sixteen months and three years depending on speed. Because of the length of the latter, the lanes are packed with very large non-FTL ships, often serving as mobile manufacturing/processing platforms similar to the refinery towed by the Nostromo in Alien.

A word on canon

For purposes of the Racetrack Chronicles continuity, I accept three levels of canon. The A-canon is the word of the gods; it comprises only the show itself, as aired—that is, everything said and shown in the Miniseries and the four seasons, including “Razor,” but excepting “Hero.” (The latter is so riddled with errors and continuity headaches that I have written it off as a dream sequence.)  B-canon includes things like the show bible, the QMX map (linked above), etc., webisodes (“The Resistance” and “The Face of the Enemy”), extended cuts and some deleted scenes. B-canon materials are presumptively binding, except insofar as A-canon materials contradict them, whether explicitly or by necessary implication, as I’ll discuss in a moment. Finally, C-canon includes statements and commentaries by the production team, most deleted scenes, the dailies (should they ever emerge), interviews with actors, novelizations, Edward T. Yeatts’ “Lords of Kobol” series, and “The Plan.” C-canon materials are not binding, per se, but receive significant deference. 

Long-grass math on the geography of the colonies

Now we’re going to talk math. I think it’s pretty interesting math, but if that frightens you,  feel free to skip this and move on to the next subhead if you don’t want to know the long-grass details that undergird the geography that I’ve summarized above.

My vision of the Colonies is influenced by but not beholden to a slightly harder sci-fi ethos than the show depicts. Let me say up-front: I’m not interested in writing science fiction, and while there are certainly science fiction stories to tell in the BSG universe, the stories that I want to tell are about people. I don’t care how the FTL drive works; I care about Margaret Edmondson and showing you how she evolves from a damaged young woman from rural Picon into the Racetrack we know and love on the show. 

Nevertheless, it is important to realize that the background setting in which those stories will occur is science fiction, and we must tip our hat to science. I start from several canonical facts and the QMX map linked above. Let’s start with what canon tells us: As Colonial Heavy 798 leaves Caprica, Billy reminds Laura that there is a thirty-minute comms delay between them and the Galactica, and the pilot says that their flight-time from Caprica to the Galactica is “approximately five and a half hours.”

Consider what this tells us about the Galactica’s position. The comms delay puts her at approximately thirty light-minutes from Caprica. That’s because the maximum speed for a communication signal is the speed of light, with one exception: Quantum-state communications are conceivable, but since they would be instantaneous over any distance, the existence of a delay means that Colonial wireless isn’t based on QS. On a Sol-system scale, assuming for sake of argument that Caprica’s orbit is roughly analogous to Earth’s, that puts the Galactica about five light-minutes inside the orbit of Jupiter, which is consistent with what we see on screen. (This hard limit on communications speed combined with the availability of instantaneous FTL travel felicitously explains why, in a modern, technological society, the Colonial Fleet would rely heavily on hand-delivered, hand-signed paperwork, and adds what I think is an enormously interesting texture to the continuity.)

Now consider what it tells us about velocity. First, we have to clear away an obvious difficulty: We can conclude that Colonial Heavy 798’s flight doesn’t include an FTL jump, for two reasons. One, because if you’re going to make a jump, you’d just plot the jump from Caprica’s orbit to wherever the Galactica is. Two, because they have a Viper escort for the trip home; while it’s conceivable that the trip back to Caprica is longer than the outbound flight, it can’t include an FTL jump and it can’t be longer than it’s plausible to imagine sitting in a Viper cockpit. Thus, the reasonable assumption is—no FTL jump.

Therefore, second: Let’s assume that we can average Colonial Heavy 798’s velocity as distance over flight time. Jupiter’s orbit is approximately 4.2 AU from that of Earth, so the math on Colonial Heavy 798’s speed is: ((149597870 * 4.2)-(18,000,000 * 5)/5.5, i.e. (628,311,054km-90,000,000)/5.5 i.e. 538,311,054/5.5 = 97,874,737km/h. For comparison purposes, that’s 387 times faster the current recordholder for fastest human-built widget, Helios 2’s 252,792km/h: Very fast. But it’s not implausibly fast by sci-fi standards; it’s only one-eleventh the speed of light, and there would be no significant time dilation at that speed. For sake of rounding, let’s say that the pilot’s got his foot on the gas, and that Colonial liners would ordinarily cruise at 96,000,000km/h. (Hard sci-fi would point out that the human body would liquify under a fraction of the thrust necessary to achieve these speeds in a gravity-well, but again: This isn’t hard sci-fi, and we can look past that for the sake of science fiction, let alone human drama.)

Now let’s consider scale. The QMX map supplies some  details. The long axis between the two pairs is .16ly, and we can average the barycenter of each star to its barycenter at the ends of each end of the axis at 65SU (1SU = average distance of the Caprica-Gemenon barycenter from Helios Alpha = 150,000,000km). So the stars in each pair are 130 * 150,000,000km apart—19,500,000,000km. If we’ve clocked Colonial Heavy 798 at just shy of 98 million km/h, let’s round up and say that the Galactica cruises at a nice, round hundred million per hour. That gives us an approximate flight time of 199 hours across the short axis—just over eight days. That’s close enough that you can easily imagine both “United Colonial Postal Service” and long-haul shipping doing it sub light, but also far enough away that you can just as easily imagine “Colonial Express” and “Pan-Colonial” jumping between systems. The long axis (the “deep black”) is 1,513,684,544,800km between barycenters. Sticking with our hundred-million-per-hour benchmark, the Galactica would take 15445.76 hours or 643.57 days to make the cruise, sublight. That’s longer that the standard sixteen-month deployment. (Why sixteen months? You’ll find out in the first short-story.) But keep in mind, that’s barycenter to barycenter, and it doesn’t take alignment into account. Again, this is close enough that you can easily imagine long-haul shipping  doing the trip sublight (imagine mammoth tylium tankers-cum-refineries! As I mentioned above, I’m picturing the refinery towed by the Nostromo in Alien), but far enough away that the commercial intercourse of the twelve colonies would demand regular FTL travel. The scale fits the universe like a glove.

That’s the good news. The bad news is that because B-canon must give way to A-canon, the same math demands two corrections to the QMX map.

First, I have to flip Virgon and Tauron. It seems reasonable to assume that the Galactica can go much faster than a liner, if necessary, at least in interstellar space, but there are limits on what’s plausible. Shortly after events are set in motion in the miniseries, Gaeta says that “the main fight is shaping up over here, near Virgon’s orbit. But even at top speed, they’re still over an hour away.” And Adama observes they can approach the fight unnoticed by keeping Virgon between them and the fight. That is a problem if Virgon is where the QMX map shows, even assuming optimal alignment (i.e. the Galactica is near the orbit of Zeus and on its way out of the Helios Alpha system bound for the Helios Beta system. I can suspend disbelief for a lot, but I can’t buy that the Galactica (which has to be thirty light-minutes from Caprica, i.e. in the Helios Alpha system) could sail at subluminal speeds to the Helios Beta system in an hour.

Thus, in my continuity, I take QMX to have made a typographical mistake, flipping the positions of Virgon and Tauron. Getting the fundamental building blocks right is what makes it possible for an audience to suspend disbelief and come along for the ride, and flipping Tauron and Virgon is the solution that does the least violence. Nothing canonically insists that Tauron is in Helios Alpha, and canon seems to require that Virgon must be. If Virgon is just inside the habitable zone of Helios Alpha and the Galactica is between the asteroid belt and Zeus, it becomes conceivable that if the fight is far enough toward Zeus’ orbit that it can plausibly be called “near” Virgon’s orbit, and if the alignment’s just right, maybe the Galactica could make it there in an hour? It’s still stretching it, but it becomes close enough that the objection is, like the objections to raw speed, fundamentally a hard sci-fi objection, and, once again, this isn’t hard sci-fi.

Second, Ragnar must orbit the αβ pair not the γδ pair, again based on canon and inexorable math. Col. Tigh says that “the Ragnar station is at least three days away at best speed.” There is absolutely no way  that the Galactica could sail down the long axis in three days. If Ragnar is where QMX places it, then, assuming optimal alignment, she would have to sail the lion’s share of (1,513,684,544,800km – (110 * 150,000,000) = 1,497,184,544,800 in 36 hours. That would imply a “best speed” of 41,588,459,578kmh. That’s forty times the speed of light. Even if we set aside the physicists’ objections, the economists should have their hands in the air: If conventional engines could push a ship to FTL speeds, why would you ever develop a superluminal jump technology? It’s just not plausible. So applying math to canon demands a second correction of the QMX map for purposes of my continuity. The correction that does the least damage is to agree with their inference that Ragnar orbits a pair, and simply say that it orbits Cyrannus’ αβ pair rather than the γδ pair. That does it nicely—nicely enough that we don’t have to get too granular about the last piece of the puzzle: Assuming the same 110SU orbit, we can stipulate that the Galactica is no more than 16,500,000,000km from Ragnar. At the hundred-million kmh cruising benchmark we’ve been using, she would cover 3,600,000,000km in 36 hours, and it doesn’t strike me as so implausible that her maximum pedal-to-the-metal speed is four times faster than her cruising speed that I feel compelled to work out the precise math on that.

Notes on the fleet

The Colonial Fleet operates approximately 120 of its principal assets, “battlestars,” heavily-armed aircraft-carriers, plus numerous smaller warships including non-FTL littoral combat vessels, plus support vessels. While ships do sail solo, Battlestar Groups (commanded by an admiral) are anchored by larger Mercury-type battlestars, supported by one or more Valkyrie-type battlestars and a few destroyers and support vessels. All told, the fleet has in the vicinity of three to four hundred thousand men and women at arms, plus the permanent ground staff and admiralty. It is a lethal force run by men who have grown restful and indulgent, fattened by years of peace.

We know from the miniseries that the fleet comprises approximately 120 battlestars; for sake of argument, I say that they have 80 Valkyrie-types and forty Mercury-types. BSGwiki says that the Mercury-type has a complement of 2500, and it seems a reasonable guess that the Valkyries carry about 1600. That gives us 228,000 by themselves, and provides a maximum of 40 BSGs. But we want to include some slack, so let’s say there are 30 BSGs, each comprising a Mercury, two Valkyries, and support vessels. That leaves thirty battlestars (ten mercuries, twenty valkyries) available for solo assignments, plus special cases like the Galactica, and so on. At any given time, most of the fleet is at sea, on sixteen-month deployments, but between deployments they spend three months in a maintenance phase; offers are typically attached to a battlestar for a tour comprising two deployments and the down phase for training: The “front sixteen,” “down,” and “back sixteen.” (The commentary for “The Turning Point” will explain the math that drives that sixteen-month deployment.)

It seems reasonable to double and round the 228,000 deployed on battlestars to give us the total for the fleet: Call it a round half-million officers and enlisted, roughly the size of the U.S. Navy. And based on the U.S. Navy’s ratio of enlisted to officers (approximately 80% enlisted), we would expect an officer corps of around 100,000, which is small enough (especially when served by only two officer-candidate schools) that one can easily imagine that officers who went to the same school at the same time would recognize one another even if they don’t know (i.e. aren’t close with) one another, which accounts nicely for the little Apollo-Helo interaction at the start of the Miniseries.


There’s a lot of writing ahead. The Racetrack Chronicles are my focus for the next several months, but I intend to spend a lot more time fleshing out this universe.

Never Trump

Like Neoavatara, I, too, can tell you the effective date of my membership of the Republican Party: August 31, 2004. The party was, as I understood it, a coalition of conservatives and libertarians. I was new to the country, and when the future Governator spoke to the GOP convention, he specifically addressed immigrants, and as a still-wet-behind-the-ears immigrant, I sat up and paid attention. He explained that if you believe in these things (which I felt I pretty well believed in), then you’re a Republican. He said:

To my fellow immigrants listening tonight, I want you to know how welcome you are in this party. We Republicans admire your ambition. We encourage your dreams. We believe in your future. And one thing I learned about America is that if you work hard and if you play by the rules, this country is truly open to you. You can achieve anything. Everything I have, my career, my success, my family, I owe to America. In this country, it doesn’t make any difference where you were born. It doesn’t make any difference who your parents were. It doesn’t make any difference if you’re like me and couldn’t even speak English until you were in your 20s. America gave me opportunities, and my immigrant dreams came true. I want other people to get the same chances I did, the same opportunities. And I believe they can. That’s why I believe in this country, that’s why I believe in this party, and that’s why I believe in this president.

Now, many of you out there tonight are Republican like me in your hearts and in your beliefs. Maybe you’re from Guatemala. Maybe you’re from the Philippines. Maybe you’re from Europe or the Ivory Coast. Maybe you live in Ohio, Pennsylvania or New Mexico. And maybe—just maybe—you don’t agree with this party on every single issue. I say to you tonight that I believe that’s not only OK, but that’s what’s great about this country. Here we can respectfully disagree and still be patriotic, still be American and still be good Republicans.

My fellow immigrants, my fellow Americans, how do you know if you are a Republican? Well, I tell you how. If you believe that government should be accountable to the people, not the people to the government, then you are a Republican. If you believe a person should be treated as an individual, not as a member of an interest group, then you are a Republican. If you believe your family knows how to spend your money better than the government does, then you are a Republican. If you believe our educational system should be held accountable for the progress of our children, then you are a Republican. If you believe this country, not the United Nations, is the best hope for democracy, then you are a Republican. And, ladies and gentlemen, if you believe that we must be fierce and relentless and terminate terrorism, then you are a Republican.

I ceased to be a Republican on Tuesday, May 3, 2016, as the results of the Indiana primary came in and it became apparent that a plurality of Republicans had nominated Donald Trump, a common, boorish, vulgarian boob with a long string of failed “businesses” (I use the term loosely; I mean “cons”), and no discernible principles beyond the vague liberal consensus of his New York stamping-ground. He is neither a conservative nor a libertarian; to the contrary, he seems instinctively hostile to us and everything in which we believe. It was immediately apparent to me that there was no way that I could remain in the party that I’ve called home for more than a decade—because if Donald Trump’s a Republican, I’m not.

How this came to pass is for the historians. Nevertheless, I will make two observations on that point.

First, like others, I must confess some feeling of culpability. When Trump entered the race, we all laughed; we didn’t take him seriously. Instead of strangling his campaign at birth, we indulgently made fun of it. By February, however, it was clear that there was a real possibility of Trump winning, and it was at this point that I (among others) warned that the math was now clear: It was Trump or Cruz, and Cruz was the only plausible option. The tragedy of this year is that it didn’t have to happen. It happened because of a childish, petulant personal grudge: “Trump’s terrible, but I don’t like Cruz! Waaah! I’m going to self-indulgently carp about Trump and do anything except the one thing that might actually stop him, because I don’t like that guy!” This was unbearably jejune—for the fate of nations to turn on personal antipathy. Those who said “yeah, never Trump, but never Cruz either”: This is on you.

And second, I agree with Ben Howe’s observations. When the tea party happened, I was generally approving, but didn’t jump in because I was worried by the populist cast of it. Still, the tea party professed to be about small government and fiscal responsibility and conservatism, and yay for that. But what we’ve now realized is that the populist overtones and undertones were because a lot of people backing the tea party were actually just pissed about “too many brown people” and “bring back my obsolete jobs” and “cut government spending on things that benefit people other than me—no more NEA but don’t you dare touch my social security!” In hindsight, it should have been a massive red-flag when we started seeing tea partiers claiming that “social security isn’t welfare.” These people were backing a completely different play from us, and perhaps neither they nor we realized it at the time. So it’s not that they sold out for Trump, it’s that they were never actually the “strong Constitutionalists” and “small government advocates” that we associate with the tea party in the first place—they just mouthed those words without comprehending them. They were just kind of swept along and they assumed that we wanted the same things as the and vice-versa.

But however it happened, what matters is that it did; we must now react. Conservatives and Libertarians need to walk away from this catastrophe, make very clear to everyone in America that we’re no part of it and that he doesn’t speak for us, and then we either take the party back or burn it to the ground without trace, lest the valuable infrastructure we built fall into the hands of the boarders and mutineers. Because he is the Republican nominee, everything that is associated with the Republican Party will now be associated with him unless we explicitly, repeatedly, and loudly condemn him. This is an existential requirement for the conservative movement: We cut the cords and let this barge-fire sink on its own, or it drags us down with it. Nothing that was associated with Trump 2016 will be electable in America for years to come. A vote for Trump on one’s record will be like a vote for segregation; the only way conservatism can compete is if conservatives make absolutely clear that Trump isn’t us, we aren’t him, and he have nothing to do with him, and we are absolutely as opposed to him as any other civilized human being. And the only way that the GOP can survive as a vehicle for any kind of idea is if a sufficient number of Republicans similarly reject Trump—loudly, publicly, explicitly, and repeatedly, every day from now down to the general. Otherwise they’ll be wiped out and the party will vanish into the ashcan of history along with the people who supported Jim Crow.

This is also a test of character: The problem isn’t that Trump believes things that are wrong, the problem is him. This is about a man who is, to paraphrase something that Bret Stephens wrote last August—before an awful lot more evidence came in—appalling, and if a person doesn’t find him appalling, I doubt their judgment and capacity to recognize that which is appalling. He’s a common, boorish, vulgarian boob, an oafish, misogynist con-man, a rash, dimwitted degenerate bully who is, by the way, demanding control of American’s nuclear arsenal; if we can’t walk away from such a man, shaking our heads and saying “anathema sit,” that would speak poorly of us.

The best outcome for conservatives of the 2016 cycle would have been President Cruz. The second-best outcome is certainly not President Trump—and even if it were, that won’t happen. For all the reasons given above, disassociating this walking disaster from conservatism is our best possible shot if we want to have any hope of coming back from the wilderness in 2020. I detest the idea of a Clinton presidency; unlike the Trumpkins, I know exactly what that will means, but because of the choice they forced on the GOP, it is now the optimal outcome. Sometimes the best you can hope for is still really bleak. But that is where we are.

Finally, and relatedly, I want to address the practical upshot of #NeverTrump. It’s important that none of you kid yourself: We are going to elect Hillary Clinton as President of the United States. If that obnoxious result is too far beyond the pale, if that is in your judgment a worse outcome than Trump getting his short-fingered hands on the nuclear button, you’d better get on the Trump train. That said, I do want to underscore that not voting for Trump is not the same thing as voting for Hillary: Voting for Hillary is voting for Hillary. I hope that Indiana will be clearly in the Clinton column, freeing me to cast a write-in ballot. The idea of voting for her gives me hives. But if there’s doubt on that score, and if voting for Hillary is what it takes to keep Trump out, I’ll do it and I won’t feel bad about it for a second. We are in this mess in large part because of cowardice: Because the people I mentioned above were rhetorically against Trump but wouldn’t dirty their hands with what it would take to stop him. I will. Sometimes you gotta roll the hard six.

In fine: Trump is going to lose; he’ll probably lose forty states, he may lose 45 if Hillary gets a tail-wind. The only question is whether we allow his people to tether the ship of conservatism to this barge-fire, to drag us down with them when they sink without trace. Also, I don’t have to worry that Hillary might start World War 3, or nuke Chicago because someone tweeted some lese majeste comment about his royal Donaldness. (Ilya Somin has more on the merits question here.) We are going to have to take drastic action; at this point, I will drop my objections to the article five strategy (the republic-ending consequences now being moot), and I agree with Robert Tracinski that we need to start building a third party immediately. But the immediate upshot is this: Like I suspect millions of people who woke up as Republicans on Tuesday, I went to bed that night as an Independent. It’s this simple: Donald Trump is not a Republican, but if he is, I’m not.

Between Breaths

Musicam novam præsento. This is a sororal love-song to Layla Grant, the bright young gem whom “Nashville” takes an ugly, sadistic joy thrashing the life out of. Like “Tuesday A.M.,” this song pushes the analog emulation as far as I can go; unlike that song, it had a remarkably straightforward gestation. Those who just want the music, click through; as always, for those who like to know what’s going on behind the curtain, let’s dig in.

Start with the obvious: Yes, I brought in a singer for this one. My vocal wasn’t cutting it, so I called up Nate Mensah who came in and did a great job. I had woken up on March 27—having discussed Layla the previous day—with the first verse in my mind, and immediately went down to the studio and cut a demo; I had the basic tracks done by day’s end, and worked on lyrics for the second verse over the next couple of days. Nate came in once I had them down. He sang a couple of coverage takes, and we worked through specific lines that I didn’t feel were nailed in the coverage or where there were questions; for example, there were some articulations that he did a little differently from my guide vocal, so I had him give me a couple of takes his way and a couple of takes my way, leaving me free to decide later which worked better. (Usually his, but not always.) A specific example would be the articulation on the last words of the chorus: In the first chorus, I kept my articulation, but in the second, his way worked better to close out the vocal. At the mix, I added a little processing—some compression (VoS’ Thrillseeker LA takes a first pass, Minimal System’s Punch, a second), and some reverb (this time I used a Lexicon 480L plate from Big Gee’s IR collection; when I’ve tried it before, it hasn’t sat right in the mix, but here it does).

I don’t usually post lyrics—I tend to agree with Michael Stipe that a lyric is meant for the ear not the eye—but I’m very happy with these words:

You’re bent by the wind until you snap.
You’re broken down and pushed around, hurt til you break,
But still go on.
I’m amazed you take it all, forcing yourself forward like the pro.
You push past loss, rejection, heartache, still you seem to undertake
T’ forge on.

Between breaths—it can seem like eternity;
Between breaths—it’s cruel, this city!
It wrings the life and the blood from your breast;
Divided but undimmed you’re trapped between breaths.

This punishment has broken lesser women.
You’re shit-upon and run-around, terrorized, abandoned and betrayed.
If there’s a silver-lining anywhere, you’ll stumble right into the cloud!
But you never quit, you always stay, there’s an innocence to the naïveté
T’ carry on

I like that it doesn’t follow any specific meter; I like that it’s “like the pro” not “a pro”; I love that image “If there’s a silver-lining anywhere, you’ll stumble right into the cloud,” which makes me giggle and cry a little at the same time, which is of course very much the pathos of the character. I’m not wild about “lesser women”; my wife and I went back and forth on that line for quite a while—she really dislikes it—but the problem is that there’s no good alternative. It works better as “men,” but poetry has to give way to canon.

This is an unusually “thin” track for me; although I carried ~30 tracks out of post into the mix, there aren’t many layers at any given time. The piano came from a Roland JV30, played live, no MIDI. I tracked it with the Kurzweil too, which felt perhaps more authentic to the “Nashville vernacular,” but I adore that 80s chorused-piano sound (too many Genesis records at an impressionable age, I fear), and when it came to the mix, I went with my gut, and I think it plays. Like “Tuesday A.M.,” the core of the sound is an acoustic guitar and a mandolin, one on the left, the other on the right. This time, the electric guitars were a couple of Telecasters (my HRT and T12) into a Fender Greta as a tube pre, and a Strat for the solo, where I added a Digitech Bad Monkey, which is a fun TubeScreamer-style overdrive, and the Softamp FM25, which I haven’t used since “Still Alive.” It’s not right for every situation, but it works nicely here. The solo itself—I could probably have taken a few more passes and really nailed the timing, there’s a couple of places where it’s blurry, but I like this one and I like it as-is.

(There’s a passage in the solo—not the one you might think—that gave me fits in tracking. Pro-tip: If it’s not coming together, stop, pull out the metronome, pull it back to the speed where you can play the passage, and work up to 120% of tempo. You can do this. You’ve got this. Just work the system: The metronome is your friend.)

Softsynths are thin on the ground. There’s a Moog emulation bubbling under the track until the second chorus, and an organ that comes in right at the end, and that’s it apart from the drums, which are MT Power Drums with only very light processing; I did separate out the kick and snare from the buss for separate processing (no reverb on the kick, an additional, gated send for the snare), and so you have those plus the stereo buss into another instance of Thrillseeker LA. I also have the Lindell 6X-500CM over the snare and the guitar lead; I really like it but was more restrained in my use of it this time around. The bass is a 5-string Washburn P-bass recorded through a Bellari tube pre with some compression from Minimal System Punch; I added the Blue Cat Chorus under the solo just to thicken it up a little, and Softube’s Saturation Knob is set so that it catches just the parts where I’m playing with a heavier touch at the end.

As always, Sonimus’ SonEQ is my go-to mix EQ, and everything is fed through their Britson console emulation (I did not end up using, but want to plug, their Burnley 1073 emulation) and Ferox into VoS’ Density III and Ferric for just a little bit of mix buss compression. My stock mastering chain has gained a new toy since “Tuesday A.M.”: Kazrog’s KClip. I used it extensively on season one of the podcast, and here I finally get to use it for its intended purpose!

I feel that the mix could be a little better—it feels a little too airy and open—and maybe I’ll revisit it at some point, but for eight days’ work, I’m pretty happy with this.

That time when checklists will save your life

Several reviews for Atul Gawande’s book The Checklist Manifesto, which has been inching toward the top of my reading stack, mention that one might as well save one’s time and just read the 2007 article by Gawande whence the book sprang, The Checklist. The medical details in this article are heebie-jeebie-giving to the extent that they aren’t full-bore triggering (you’ve been warned), but I think that they point at which he’s driving is important and merits a recommendation. I’m a fan of checklists, based on the simple self-knowledge that when I’m under pressure, the risk of forgetting something important goes up, and indeed, the only thing that I’d change about Wunderlist is that it would be nice if it were easier to build simple, invocable checklists—possible in the current version, but only with a workaround.

Milestones: Antonin Scalia, 1936-2016

Our Hero has died, at the age of 79. 

If you seek a monument, look around: Justice Scalia was one of the most important American judges since Holmes—perhaps even since Marshall. He leaves behind him a monumental legacy. To paraphrase Justice Souter’s moving eulogy for the late Justice Brennan, what no one is doing today is saying goodbye to Justice Scalia; “the law as he saw it will transcend his own time,” and any time we will heretofore consider a legal question on almost any subject of any importance, our starting place will be a statement by Justice Scalia. For centuries to come, “we will either accept the inheritance of his thinking, or we will have to face him squarely and make good on our challenge to him. And so there are no goodbyes to be said now to [the justice, for] … we shall deal with him many times again.” But our friend is gone. Our mentor and hero is gone. 

In coming weeks, perceptive encomia to his career, jurisprudence, and profound impact on the law will be written. This post will be brief and personal.

Over the last decade, I have often used “Our Hero” as a sobriquet for Justice Scalia; that it’s tongue-in-cheek doesn’t mean that it’s a joke. I find myself thinking about one of the late Alan Rickman’s less-celebrated roles, Galaxy’s Quest‘s Alexander Dane. In the movie, broadcasts of an eponymous Star Trek knock-off have been received by an alien civilization that has mistaken them for Earth’s “historical documents.” Rickman’s Dane is an actor infuriated with the trappings of playing “Doctor Lazarus,” the show’s Spock character. But the aliens took the show seriously, and  one of them, Quellek, has taken Lazarus very seriously, seeing something of great value in his philosophy, and seeking to pattern his life and studies on him.  

I never met Justice Scalia, but ten years ago last month, his debate with Justice Breyer at American University changed my life. He gave me direction, focus, and  an intellectual toolkit that has shaped my approach to every question where we confront a text. He carried forward and refined the legal process mindset—actually took the class from Sacks, if memory serves—with its emphases on neutral principles, institutional competence, positivism, and a “soft realism” about what judges do that protected Scalia and his devotees from the temptations of so-called “strict construction,” which he routinely dismissed derisively. To this, he added his distinctive contributions: An insistence on textualism and “Original semantic meaning” Originalism. Ralph Rossum summed up his approach as “text and tradition”: Law comprises textual rules that are promulgated by the duly-authorized instruments for issuing those rules, the text controls, it means what it meant when adopted, and we do not lightly presume that longstanding tradition has actually been at odds with text all along without anyone noticing. We should not assume that our predecessors were stupid, and we should carry the flame forward, keep doing what we’ve always done. And, unsurprisingly for a man so focused on text, he was a himself a luminous writer; as was said of Holmes, even when he was clearly wrong—think of Brown v. Entertainment Merchants Association—he was wrong clearly.

What I learned from Justice Scalia is a mindset and a methodology that Judge Easterbrook has called “legalism.” Easterbrook is surely correct if he means to insinuate that the alternatives to the “legalist” approach are lawless; there is no alternative approach to legalism that is consistent with the rule of law. It begins with an assumption that when we approach legal problems, there is an objective “correct answer,” that has little or nothing to do with our subjective preferences. We ask questions such as, “what is the controlling principle? Where is that principle to be found, what is its derivation? Is this a principle that we will apply neutrally to other cases?” As has been said, we assume that where text controls, the original meaning of the text controls: The semantic content of the text as it would have been understood in the time and culture in which it was written sets the boundaries of our interpretation. We comprehend a hierarchy of authority in which there is the controlling material itself, but augmented by authoritative exposition and valuable commentary by people whose work may have great persuasive value that may in some cases compel deference. (We believe that there is peculiar authority and value to the early expositors of the text: The Federalist Papers, for example, but also the Commentaries of Justice Story and Chancellor Kent.) We reject the idea that we have the authority to change that which has been given, or that we should bend it to suit our own preferences—we reject that not because we think it ill-advised but because we think it illegitimate given the nature of the enterprise. We tackle problems using the approach and conventions of the Anglo-American legal tradition: We deal with things in writing, sewing together a patchwork quilt in which we seek to contribute only the thread of ourselves (in St. Francis de Sales’ felicitous analogy), we parse very carefully the authority and precise scope and holding of the materials before us, we ask questions and use hypotheticals to illustrate or probe the reach of principles. We think in terms of “If this is the right way to interpret the word x in section 3, it must have the same meaning in sections 4 and 5, and because it cannot have that meaning in sections 4 and 5, it presumptively cannot bear that meaning in section 3.” We think in terms of evidence: How do we know this? What is its source? We minutely account for the sources whence we drew that patchwork quilt’s components. I could go on, but the point is that this is a system for thinking about thinking—what kind of questions are controlling and how do we answer them.  

And these are lessons that apply far beyond the realm of law. Certainly they have political implications. (I was already well on the path toward conservatism by 2005—blame Newt Gingrich—but I became much more traditionalist because of the gravitational pull of Scalia’s thinking.) But religious, too: When I started to take religion seriously, it was natural that I approached it through the lens of text and tradition. Like the law, Christianity is a tradition full of many and variegated texts, and Justice Scalia had already taught me what you do with texts in a tradition. It should have been no surprise to anyone that, for example, I approached the “Luther Court”‘s sudden third-quarter left-turn with deep skepticism, or that I found the writings of the Church Fathers—in which we find the Catholic Church, in ovo but recognizable—of great importance, comparable in weight to Story and Kent. I didn’t know what the answers were when I went looking, but, thanks to Scalia, I knew what an answer is, and how one goes about finding it—what are the criteria? Would I be a Catholic today but for his influence? Perhaps; but if so, like a man who stumbles upon the right answer for the wrong reason (or no particular reason), it would been by blind luck, and would be a fragile, chancy thing.

(Intriguing, too, is that other devotees of Scalia who have subsequently become religious have likewise become Catholics. It’s certainly true that having a man like Scalia as an example to whom one can look and say “well, if someone as serious as Scalia can be a Catholic, maybe I should give it a serious look.” But it may be more than that. I think that George Kannar may very well have had it backwards: It wasn’t that Scalia’s meta-level religious assumptions biased his meta-level approach to law, it may well be that the precepts and analytical paths of legalism biases a person toward Catholicism.)

Thankyou, Sir, for your service. I would not be the man I am today without you, and if the world you leave is not better than the one you found, I dare say that it would be much worse but for your efforts.

Santo subito!

Iowa approaches

The Iowa caucuses are just under a week away. It’s not my place to tell anyone for whom to vote, but I will tell you that if I were in Iowa, I would be caucusing for Carly Fiorina.

I rank politicians—bishops, too, by the way—on an unforgiving scale: Rare indeed is one who makes it to “tolerable,” let alone “acceptable,” and only a thin cream at the very top will ever receive the accolade “adequate.” Fiorina is great. I am not only voting for her, I am supporting her, and that’s a very rare thing: To be able to affirmatively support a candidate who’s actually any good at all, rather than simply voting for one who is acceptable is off the beaten path of American politics. Unfortunately, I suspect that my reasons are too idiosyncratic to be of much help to other people. I am acutely aware of the gap between the kind of questions that I ask, the things that I find probative, and the things that apparently everyone else does. (We talked about that on episode six of the podcast in regard to Anglicanism. 1) Nevertheless, I wanted to offer a few comments, for whatever they’re worth. 

I support Fiorina because she is a great fit for my prejudices about how a President’s mind ought to work and what kind of personality a President ought to have. I grew up in Britain, where politics was largely fought in competing manifestos, before moving to the United States, where politics is largely fought in competing campaign promises; what 9/11 taught me, however, is that political promises are poor metrics for assessing a candidate’s suitability for office—and not for the reason you’re thinking. Once elected, officeholders are often overcome by events: President Obama by the financial crisis, for example, or the second President Bush by 9/11. Who would have guessed, when those men won their respective nominations, that those events would define their presidencies? I’m more interested in—I think it’s more important to know—how does this candidate think about the world? How do they process information? What are their instincts, what is their disposition? What’s their likely Myers-Briggs type? 

Seen through that lens, Fiorina is a very comfortable fit for me. In no particular order, she’s calm, intelligent, knowledgeable, quick, forthright, analytical, information-oriented, articulate, and has just the right balances of aggression and relaxation, curiosity and modesty. She has a pragmatic attitude and a conservative temperament. When she doesn’t know something, she seems inclined to woodshed until she understands it better, but without being overcome by the kind of “analysis paralysis” that besets President Obama. (On this, I share David Axelrod’s assessment that voters want a contrast with Obama’s placid, professorial passivity. 2 But there are many stops between that station and Ted Cruz’s arguably-excessive bellicosity.) Her background prepares her to delegate and run a large bureaucracy in a way that, for example, a Senator never could be. I cannot imagine her saying the kinds of things that Pope Francis says about ideas not mattering, or feigning ideological disinterest in the way that Obama does. She’s not a lawyer, but she seems to think (perhaps because her father was a ninth circuit judge, in an earlier time) as I do; we are, so-to-speak, melodies in the same key.

Having said that campaign promises are not strong metrics, however, I must add that they are indirectly useful because they can reveal a person’s substantive ideological views—and those do matter. So far as I can tell, hers are largely a good match for mine, save only that I am rather more pro-Russia than she is. (Politically, I remain in great part a product of Gingrich, Bork, Rehnquist, Hayek, WFB, the elder Kristol, the Sharon Statement, Goldwater, Rossiter, Kirk, Oakeshott, and, ultimately, Burke.) And in terms of the politics, she’s a pro-business, pro-life conservative; she isn’t a populist, but she’s a fighter, and in a climate in which the populists want a fighter, I think that they can get behind her; at the same time, I think that the way that she speaks about big government will keep the libertarians happy. So she checks off all the major constituencies within the GOP.

Lastly, it is not wholly without relevance is that I work for a women’s college that puts a lot of stress on women leaders—so duh I favor women leading. I also favor women stepping up and refusing to waiting their turn or await an invitation, no special privileges, no special pleading, just getting on with it and getting it done. No one invited Fiorina: She saw a problem and she ran toward it. That’s a good thing. That’s a leadership move. And while we’re on this point, I will say on a matter of personal privilege: If you support Mr. Sanders, that’s fine—but realize that you don’t then get to tell me that you’re more in favor of women’s leadership than I am when I’m voting for a woman to actually lead and you’re voting for an old white dude because he’s offering free stuff. The first and only valid meaning of “female leaders” is “females, leading.”

To my mind, Fiorina is the clear frontrunner and the obvious choice. Over to you.


  1. See Things old, new, borrowed, and blue.
  2. See Axelrod, The Obama Theory of Trump, The New York Times, Jan. 25, 2016, (op-ed).

Ramsey on the original meaning of “natural-born citizen”

One of my more popular posts from 2015 discussed the eligibility of Republican Presidential candidates Marco Rubio and Ted Cruz. 1 Unlike the attacks on President Obama, which turned on (spurious) allegations of fact regarding the President’s birthplace, the questions raised about Rubio and Cruz involve the discernment and application of law to established facts. As an originalist, 2 I read the presidential eligibility clause as taking “natural-born,” a phrasal adjective that had established meaning in English law by the time of the framing and substituting for the royalist “subject” the more appropriately-republican “citizen.” Under this approach, Senator Rubio is plainly a natural-born citizen, but Senator Cruz’s eligibility is a harder, murkier question.

Michael Ramsey, one of the foremost originalist scholars of our time, 3 takes up the issue a new paper posted at SSRN. 4 Like me (and contra the article by Paul Clement and Neal Katyal that I discussed in my post) Ramsey is unpersuaded by the conventional wisdom; his analysis tracks mine, in the main, although in much more detail, as you would expect. He discusses in much greater detail than did I not only the development of English law—both common law and statute—but also the alternative European view elucidated by Vattel, which he considers and dismisses as a possible source of the original understanding. He also provides a more elaborate explanation of why it is the gestalt of English law that controls, rather than common-law or statute law specifically.

Ramsey takes an unexpected turn, however, and adds a caveat that is relevant to Sen. Cruz’s situation. Ramsey argues that English legal history demonstrates that parliament had assumed the power to modify the common-law, declaring not only that certain persons might be subjects, but even natural-born subjects; from this, he concludes that because Congress is expressly granted the naturalization power, it has the authority to not only “naturalize” in the normal sense, but also to declare who shall be a natural-born citizen. 5 This explains, in Ramsey’s view, why the first Congress seemingly exercised that power in the Naturalization Act of 1790. 6 Nevertheless, that Congress can make natural-born citizens, Ramsey notes, doesn’t mean that it must, or that any particular naturalization statute (such as, oh, say, 8 U.S.C. § 1401(g)) can or should be read as doing so. 7

This is a serious, well-grounded argument. But I am not quite convinced. Ramsey is certain that there is one naturalization power; if Parliament not only made subjects but also modified the common-law on who was a natural-born subject, he assumes, these are each exercises of a single power, the “naturalization power,” which was then conferred on Congress, which may now likewise not only mint citizens but declare natural-born citizens. In support of this view, he observes that the statutes by which Parliament tinkered with the common-law of natural-born subjects generally used the term “naturalize” in their titles. 8 Nevertheless, it seems to me that insofar as the founding generation’s principal authority on the law of England was Blackstone, 9 it is surely of great moment that Blackstone first classified the people within the realm as aliens and natural-born subjects, and then grouped with the former aliens of modified status, i.e. those who had been denizenized or—vitally here—naturalized. 10 As my previous post observed, “[t]he first and most obvious point to take from [Blackstone] is that a ‘natural-born’ subject is distinct from the ‘artificial’ subject, whether denizenized or naturalized.” And critical now to add is that even if Blackstone’s description is mistaken, overstated, or oversimplified as a matter of English law, I am not sure that that would make a difference: Perhaps I am overstating Blackstone’s influence, but it is not the actual content of English law that undergirds the original understanding, but what Americans of the time thought that content to be, and Blackstone, I had thought, was their principal source. If for the framers the naturalization power was the power to make citizens of persons who were not natural-born citizens, it would be be difficult to conclude that the unadorned naturalization power given to Congress included the power to define who was a natural-born citizen.

Moreover, the 1790 act, it seems to me, isn’t definitive. Ramsey concedes that it may not be dispositive, because that provision could, after all, have been unconstitutional; such an interpretation is usually disfavored, but unlike, for example, the chaplains at issue in Marsh v. Chambers, the provision in the 1790 act was repealed only five years later and never returned. 11 But there is another reason to cock an eye at the 1790 act: It’s unclear whether Congress actually exercised the power that Ramsey thinks it did. The act can be explained (plausibly, albeit not necessarily convincingly) by a close look at the text: “[T]he children of citizens of the United States, that may be born beyond sea, or out of the limits of the United States, shall be considered as natural born citizens….” 12 That text is ambiguous on its face: Ramsey, like most commentators, assumes that we must parse it as “shall be considered as being natural-born citizens,” but it could also be parsed as “shall be considered as if natural born citizens,” which cuts the other way. A cursory search of materials from the first Congress does not immediately reveal other uses of the key phrase “shall be considered as,” let alone in a less ambiguous context, but the sole use of the phrase in the second congress seems (although not beyond cavil) to cut in favor of the latter. 13

But all this is to dispute over small things. Even if I were beyond persuasion on this difference, however (which I am not), Ramsey’s contribution is a serious and welcome one. Although it doesn’t resolve the remaining difficulties involving Sen. Cruz, it underscores that the question is not frivolous and points to the correct analytic approach. The best resolution of those difficulties, we will leave for another day.


  1. Dodd, Eligibility questions about Cruz and Rubio, Motu Proprio, March 23, 2015,, 5 MPA __ (2015).
  2. See generally Antonin Scalia & Bryan Garner, Reading Law § 7 (2012); cf. Dodd, Party like it’s 1899, Motu Proprio, Jul. 3, 2015,, 5 MPA __; Dodd, Judicial Conservatism and the Obamacare Cases, 2 MPA 26, 33 ff. (2012).
  3. I have cited his work before in, for example, For the record: Netanyahu’s visit, Motu Proprio, Jan, 29, 2015,, 5 MPA __.
  4. Ramsey, The Original Meaning of “Natural Born.” Available at SSRN: or
  5. Ramsey, pp.29-33.
  6. Id., pp.31-32.
  7. Id., p.34 n.126.
  8. Id., p.31; see id., pp.14-17.
  9. See, e.g., Washington v. Glucksberg, 521 U.S. 702, 712 (1997).
  10. See 1 William Blackstone, Commentaries on the Law of England 354, 361-62 (1765).
  11. Ramsey, supra, p.34 n.126.
  12. 1 Stat. 103, 104 (1790).
  13. See Journal of the Senate of the United States of America, available at, p. 365 (Jan. 10, 1792):

    And be it further enacted, That it shall and may be lawful for the Postmaster General to enter into contracts, for a term not exceeding five years, for extending the line of posts, and to authorize the person or persons so contracting to receive, during the continuance of such contract, according to the rates by this act established, all the postage which shall arise on letters, newspapers, and packets, conveyed by any such post; and the roads therein designated shall, during the continuance of such contract, be deemed and considered as post roads, within the terms and provisions of this act….

Russia: The good, the bad, and the ugly

This term, I look an economics class, and our final papers afforded an opportunity for me to revisit a subject that used to be nearer and dearer to me than time now allows: The travails of the Russian economy following the collapse of the Soviet Union, and the lessons for us of that experience. Demands of time and rubric (and, frankly, end-of-term exhaustion) mean that it’s not as good as I’d hoped—personally I’d rate it as “acceptable”—and it finishes a little flat, but I enjoyed getting back into this headspace and writing something outside of my wheelhouse. For my sins, I plead Gaiman’s Sixth Law: “Remember that, sooner or later, before it ever reaches perfection, you will have to let it go and move on and start to write the next thing. Perfection is like chasing the horizon. Keep moving.” Those interested can download it here.