Deep in the long-grass: The timeline of the Fall

This will likely be the nerdiest insidest-baseball post that I will ever write. (Can one use “inside” in the superlative? American English for the win! Any word in any role!) One of the first-principles that undergirds the Racetrack Chronicles materials (as the background notes explain in more detail) is that I take the physics of the world seriously. In particular, the specifically-established time-delay: Signals are limited by the speed of light even though FTL technology allows ships to evade that limit. In this post, I will apply similar principles to find some order in the jumbled timeline of the last hours of the twelve colonies.


Before we get to the analysis, I must explain the context. This year, I have been writing a novel-length BSG prequel with the collective working-title Racetrack Chronicles. In July, work paused to await feedback on a private preview. In the meantime, I’ve been developing a second project in the same continuity; it has no working-title—because I am not writing it, just developing for now, thankyou—just a project index: BSG5. It has required an even deeper dive into the long-grass of the “RDM-verse.” 

One of the foundations under the text of the Chronicle is a document called the MCS, the “Master Continuity Spreadsheet.” It applies a dense thicket of math and ground-rules taken or inferred from canon to track deployments and careers of various characters (some of whom I ended up using, others not) over forty years, all the way back to Helena Cain’s birth on Tauron. It then presses forward from the Fall, noting the days on which various events occur—thankyou BSGW for the heavy-lifting—and assigning specific days to episodes where BSGW is unsure. (It will, doubtless, appear in the Chronicle‘s tolkene appendices.)

Buuuut… Thinking about what BSG5 would involve, about the mechanics of writing a political thriller (for such it would be) in a created world—“what do I need to know”—it became clear to me that even the MCS, with its carefully-considered detail, was inadequate. So I created a new spreadsheet called the PCS: The “Political Chronology Spreadsheet” and started filling in blanks. Based on “Bastille Day” and assuming a four-year Presidency, we can place the last election at 88.6 months before the fall, and if you keep working backward, you get to an election 616.6 months before the Fall, which lines up nicely with the articles being signed approximately 624 months before the Fall. So far so good, I thought. Furthermore: The articles of colonization are signed 52 years before the fall, and Serge Graystone avers that Caprica—which takes place 58 years before the Fall—takes place 1,942 years after the exodus from Kobol. So let’s assign that as a year: 58 years before the fall = 1942 A.E. in-universe date on Caprica. On that timeline, the Articles are signed in 1948 A.E., and a Presidential election follows in the same year (616.6 months before the Fall, to be precise). On a four-year cycle, we would see elections in 1948, 1952 (-568.6), 1956 (-520.6), etc., and assuming a de facto or de jure two-term limit, and assuming that Presidents were usually reelected, Richard Adar became the 7th President in an upset, defeating the 6th president’s bid for reelection in 1992. Given the show’s penchant for numerology, this has the happy result that Romo Lampkin becomes the thirteenth and last President. 

(Fun fact: In my background notes, every President is named, and those whose names will never be used on the page, at least conspicuously, have names like “Troughton” and “Pertwee.”)

At this point, I had a revelation: If “Bastille day” is .5 months after the Fall (12 days, actually, so a bit of a fudge), then Adar’s term expires 7.5 months after the fall. And that is “within the year” according to Laura—so, okay, for ease of math, let’s say that colonial elections take place on November 15, Caprica City date/time. The Fall therefore takes place on 7.5 months before November 15—April 1. I just about fell out of my chair: “OMG, the Fall was the original April fool’s prank!”

It isn’t; as you’ll see, that date can’t be quite right. But for now, tuck that away in your mind as our opening bid for the date of the attacks: April 1, 2000 A.E.

The timeline of the Fall.

The timeline of the Fall rises from three sources: the Miniseries, “Epiphanies,” and “The Plan.” When I started the third and fourth pieces comprised by the Chronicle, it became necessary to have a more specific understanding of the timeline, and when I put those sources under a microscope along with “Razor,” I became unhappy with the tensions ‘twixt an’ ‘tween. The biggest problem is that the Miniseries presents itself as showing a contiguous timeline over the course of one day: It is morning-stations on the battlestar Galactica, it is morning on Caprica, and we progress thence in linear fashion. That cannot be correct. At that time, I was able to brush past the difficulties for my purposes, and the gist of my in-house memo on the timeline problem is that in the Racetrack Chronicles continuity, we accept “The Plan”’s assignation of 7 AM Caprica City time (“CCT”) as the first stroke of the attacks.

BSG5 demands more precision. To find it, I sat down and watched all three sources back-to-back: Night 1 of the Miniseries, the first fifteen minutes or so of “The Plan,” and the Caprica flashbacks of “Epiphanies.” I made detailed notes, defined a “scene” as a block of contiguous in-universe time regardless of production and editing, and then disassembled each source scene-by-scene, creating a spreadsheet of 75 scenes and assigning each one its most likely local time regardless of where they appear in the running-order. Then I tried to reconcile those timelines into a single correct chronological solution. 

Let’s do something a little different and start with “The Plan.”

The first scene to discuss opens with a chiron that informs us that it is 14 hours before the destruction of the Colonies. Baltar and Six stroll along the Riverwalk in Caprica City; Baltar wears a black, pinstripe jacket and sunglasses, Six wears a fluffy blue jacket over a blouse with grey ruffles at the neck. They chitchat for a while until Baltar excuses himself and Six immediately meets One. They agree that the attack will take place at 7 AM the following day, Caprica City time, which means that this scene takes place circa 5 PM. The shadows are long, and the light is consistent for evening in Vancouver—Caprica City’s IRL counterpart—where sunset on April 1 is at 7:40 PM. (Indeed, generally, I should acknowledge my predicate that Caprica-normal = Earth-normal.)

The second scene to discuss is more complicated because it’s choppy. It is the scene in which the baseships jump into orbit and begin the attack. One of the troubling things about “The Plan” is that the attack feels very laggy; the Cylons lack the urgency one would expect in a carefully-coordinated surprise attack  planned by machines. But just as we have for the Miniseries, let us discard the assumption that the editing is linear and suppose that some scenes are taking place concurrently. If we clock just the screen time of the baseships jumping in and positioning themselves to fire—assuming that the stuff on the ground and the raiders engaging with the orbital defense forces happens while that action is taking place—it takes them about a minute twenty until the first launch that we are shown. And it stands to reason that that launch is in fact the first launch. This allows us to backform the timeframe: We can say that the baseships jump in at a Tori-Amos-approved 06:58:40, take 80 seconds to orient themselves, and then open fire at 7:00 AM precisely. The nukes take about 14 seconds until MIRV separation, and another 6 seconds until the first detonation. (How fast is that descent? Depends on the altitude of the baseships. The lower threshold for a Low Earth Orbit is 160km, whence descent velocity would be 8km/s. The terminal velocity of a modern ICBM appears to be 7kps, so we’re in the ballpark.)

Now let’s think about the Miniseries. While it appears to present us a single, contiguous, linear day in which it is morning on the Galactica and on Caprica, that cannot be so. As we will see, timing several scenes requires some attention to minute detail. Instead of following the on-screen chronology, then, let’s decompose it from the perspective of each piece on the board.

Six and Baltar

We first see Six in the Riverwalk district in the same clothes she wore with Baltar in “The Plan.” One shot gives us a clean, right-angled shadow whence we can infer the time: A woman behind Six stands 3 ⅛” tall on the screen and casts a perfectly perpendicular 4” shadow. The sun is therefore 38 degrees over the horizon, and consulting the chart for Vancouver on April 15, we see that it is either 10:25 AM or 3:55 PM. (Why April 15 not April 1? Wait one.) She arrives at Baltar’s house wearing the same clothes. Baltar is in the midst of an interview that follows the conclusion of a Pyramid game on Gemenon. He and Six have sex. We next see them strolling along the Riverwalk in the same clothes in which we saw them in the scene in “The Plan”; indeed, it is the same scene. Thus, this scene takes place at around 5 PM, which might initially make us think it slightly more likely that it was 3:25 PM when we saw Six strolling through the Riverwalk on her way to Baltar’s house.

The next morning, Six—who has changed her clothes—throws Baltar’s side-bird out of bed, and tells him that the Cylons are returning that day. It appears to be dawn; the light and shadows say that it can’t be earlier than 6:30 AM (again, the chart for Vancouver on April 15), and the fixed time of the attack tells us exactly when the scene ends. We cut away briefly, and when we return, some brief time has clearly passed: Baltar has dressed, and the sun is now low in the sky. No more than 10 degrees. And that’s why the attacks have to be circa April 15, by the way: On April 1, the sun would be only 1.7 degrees over the horizon at 7am, and wouldn’t reach 10 degrees until nearly an hour later. (That also pushes the date of the election back to November 30, for those keeping score.)

At any rate, this scene probably begins at 06:57:31. It runs 2 minutes 49 seconds before the first explosion (which—for the same dramatic reasons that demand that the first launch that we see must be the first launch—must be the first explosion, which we now know was 20 seconds after 7:00 AM. We cut away; it’s not clear how much time has passed when we return, but the pragmatics imply scant minutes. Baltar watches a local news broadcast that is still running until an enormous blast destroys both its studio and its man-on-the-scene, which is presumably the 50MT device that Adama will mention later. (If you want a visual on what that strike looks like, click here to see a 50MT strike on downtown Vancouver.) Fifty seconds later, another bomb detonates nearby, and 28 seconds after that, its shockwave destroys Baltar’s house and kills Six. (If the shockwave is travelling at about 2,000 MPH, as we should apparently expect—so the nuclear people say—the bomb dropped 15.5 miles away.) Some time later in the day, Baltar encounters Boomer and Helo, and escapes from Caprica.


Now let’s follow Laura Roslin. When she visits her doctor, wearing a red blouse under a purple jacket, the shadows cast by the windows are approximately 35 degrees, which implies that it’s either 10:05 AM or 4:15 PM. We cut to Colonial Heavy 798 leaving Caprica; it’s daylight, but impossible to say when during the day—file this question in the back of your mind for now. We learn that the flight to the Galactica will be 5.5 hours and that there is a thirty-minute communications delay; those seemingly-throwaway lines are cornerstones of my reasoning, allowing us to make several calculations (cf. the Racetrack Chronicles background notes). She arrives still wearing the same outfit. Note that we do not know when Laura left Caprica, nor the shipboard time at which she arrived, only that Doral is wearing the same outfit that he wore at morning-stations, that Adama is on-duty, and that Dee is off-duty. At any rate, Laura is shown to guest-quarters, and after some uncertain amount of time, attends the decommissioning ceremony in different clothes. At some time thereafter, Colonial Heavy 798 leaves the Galactica, Laura having changed back into her red blouse. The liner then flies for 2.5 hours, and is three hours from Caprica when news of the attacks reaches them.

But don’t forget about that all-important time-delay that Billy mentioned! The big unknown is how far the Galactica moved relative to Caprica during Laura’s stay; we have too little little basis for speculation, so we have to assume arguendo that her distance from Caprica is steady, even though it likely wasn’t. On that assumption, it follows that if a 5.5 hour flight from Caprica covered a thirty minute delay, the delay between Caprica and a point 3 hours out would be 16.36 minutes. Thus, news of the attacks could not begin reaching Colonial Heavy 798 before 07:16:21 CCT. Nor is it likely to be long after that; presumably news of the attacks spread fast, so let’s assume for sake of round numbers that the scene in which Laura exits the restroom and asks what’s going on probably took place at 07:20 CCT. Colonial Heavy 798 therefore left the Galactica at 04:50 AM CCT.


It is clearly morning-stations when we meet Adama; Gaeta greets him with good morning and “comm traffic from the midwatch,” which is the overnight shift in the Royal Navy parlance whence RDM drew heavily. For now, put a pin in the question of what time the changeover takes place. The XO appears to be going off-duty. Adama walks down to the hangar-deck, where Tyrol appears to be on duty. Walking-time aside, this appears to be roughly contiguous with the previous scene (Adama is still practicing his speech as he walks along the hangar-deck), and certainly takes place during the morning, because he greets everyone with a friendly “morning.” At some point during the day, probably still relatively early, we catch up with Starbuck again; she has showered since her jog, so at least some time has passed between the opening scene and this one. The Triad game is well underway and the CAG’s cigar has burned down a fair way. It looks like the pilots are on-duty; we’re in the ready-room, Helo and Boomer are present, they’re all in flight-suits. Tigh is in duty-blues not fatigues, implying that he hasn’t been back to his cabin to change since we saw him in the opening scene.

When Apollo arrives on the Galactica, Tyrol is on-duty; Boomer and Helo appear to return from some mission concurrently—but it is a cut. All this must take place at some time during the morning, because at the subsequent pilot’s briefing, at which Apollo, Boomer, and Helo are present, the CAG again greets them “good morning.” At some point, Colonial Heavy 798 arrives. As noted above, Dee is off-duty, and Doral is in the same clothes in which we saw him that “morning” (by Galactica time). Apollo visits Starbuck in hack (still in his flight-suit); her statement that she has been waiting most of the afternoon to use her joke implies that it is now at least mid-afternoon. Apollo then changes into dress-greys for the photo with Adama, who also wears dress-greys. Indeterminate time passes, but we next see Adama in dress-greys at the decommissioning ceremony (at which Tyrol appears to be off-duty), and Apollo in a flight suit in the cockpit, listening to Adama speak. Apollo is either still in the cockpit or back in it when Colonial Heavy 798 departs the Galactica—which must take place, as we have already seen, at 4:50 AM CCT.  

More time passes, and Gaeta is back on duty when the clear-text alert comes in; so is Tyrol, it appears. These events cannot take place before 7:30 AM CCT because of that thirty-minute delay between Caprica and the Galactica, and probably not much after it. Let’s say that it took Fleet Command two minutes to get the alert out, and the alert comes into the Galactica at 07:32, whereupon Gaeta reads it, rubs his eyes, re-reads it, and immediately calls Adama. Assume that Gaeta is efficient, and he buzzed Adama within ten seconds of receving the message; they then talk for forty seconds, and give Adama a couple of minutes off-screen to rush to the CIC and organize his thoughts. And assume that the flash alert went out within two minutes of the first strike. It is, therefore, 07:34:50 CCT when the action-stations buzzer sounds.

(Dee is in the CIC when we come in, but she wasn’t necessarily on-duty; the fact that she personally went to retrieve Starbuck when Adama gave that order suggests that someone else was duty CAPCOM and she simply attended the action-stations call.)

At any rate, we cut to the Galactica’s attack squadron, two hours from Caprica. It’s unclear why they wouldn’t have picked up the original clear-text alert, because there is less of a delay between Caprica and them than there is between Caprica and the Galactica, but if the Vipers lack long-range wireless communications, relying on the support Raptor as a relay, the fact that their support Raptor is piloted by Boomer may suggest an answer. (Note that Dipper doesn’t acknowledge the signal himself: He tells Boomer to.) Clearly they’re moving faster than Colonial Heavy 798, which throws our math off slightly, but not beyond tolerance. We can stipulate a delay of approximately eleven minutes to Caprica and sixteen back to the Galactica. Whether they got the original alert or not, their sequence begins with them acknowledging a signal from the Galactica, and in consequence, this scene, which on-screen precedes the one on Colonial Heavy 798 three hours from Caprica, must be out of sequence. It cannot begin sooner than 7:46 AM CCT—the thirty-minute delay for the news to reach the Galactica plus the sixteen-minute delay from the Galactica to the squadron—plus however long it takes for the Galactica to turn the news around. Dee picks up the phone after 2 minutes 40 seconds of seemingly-contiguous time after the action-stations buzzer, which supplies our answer: 7:54 AM CCT, 1959 Galactica time.


“Epiphanies” is a problem. Let’s work through the episode first. We open on Laura in her doctor’s office, the same scene that we saw in the Miniseries, and which we know from our analysis of the Miniseries was at either 10:05 AM or 4:15 PM CCT. The sun is much higher in the sky when she meets Stans at the Riverwalk—there’s no clean shot to measure, but eyeballing it, it looks like about fifty degrees, which says middle-of-the-day. She and Stans stroll along the Riverwalk negotiating. We later see two scenes between Laura and President Adar which appear to bookend the previously-mentioned scenes: One at which Laura says that she has made the meeting, and the other in which Adar says that he regrets how they “left things this morning” and asks for her resignation over what happened at the meeting with Stans.

The chronology would seem obvious. Taken with Laura recalling her doctor’s words during her meeting with Stans, we can say that Laura met Adar first thing in the morning, went to the doctor at 10:05 AM, walked down to the Riverwalk, dangled her feet in the water and reflected on her mortality, met Stans somewhere between 11 AM and 1 PM, and met Adar again in the afternoon. The pragmatics of Adar’s statement require that it is now afternoon, and Laura says that her perspective changed “a few hours ago,” the implication of which must be that it is her diagnosis that has changed her mind. This puts the meeting with Adar no sooner than 1 PM (if it were earlier, it would be “a couple” of hours ago not “a few”), and the sun over Laura’s shoulder is approximately 35 degrees, which would suggest no later than 4:30 PM. Here we have competing incentives: It would seem unlikely that Laura took several hours wandering around in a daze after her visit to the oncologist before meeting Stans, but on the other hand, the pragmatics of her statement to Adar that she “just” met with Stans urge a meeting with Stans later within its time-window and one with Adar earlier in its time-window.

Either way: Although the episode’s running-order cuts back to Laura and Stans, it seems very clear that there is one meeting edited in a non-linear manner, à la “Out of Gas.” (Proof: It is not until this cinematographically-subsequent scene that we see them striking the bargain to which she refers in her second meeting with Adar, so it must precede it chronologically.) Laura concludes her meeting with Adar, saying that she is “on her way to the Galactica” to represent the administration. It makes sense that she would go directly from Cavendish House to the spaceport, meeting Billy there. How long would that take? No way to know. But let’s say for sake of argument that an hour elapses between the conclusion of her meeting with Adar in “Epiphanies” and Colonial Heavy 798’s takeoff in the Miniseries. That gives us a departure window of between 2:10 PM CCT and 5:40PM CCT.

File that away for a moment, because before we leave “Epiphanies,” I mentioned a problem. It is this: Laura believes that she saw Baltar and Six on the Riverwalk during her meeting with Stans. She will later describe this as “just before” and “just prior” to the Fall. (“Revelations”; “Lay Down Your Burdens, part 2”; “Taking a Break from All Your Wories.”) She is almost certainly wrong.

When “Epiphanies” aired, the audience assumed that Laura’s glimpse of Six and Baltar is the same scene that we saw in the Miniseries. But it can’t be, because “The Plan” (written years later) says that that scene took place hours after the latest possible time for her meeting with Stans. For Laura’s memory to be true, we would have to believe that Baltar and Six were on the Riverwalk at lunchtime, made the trek back to his house, did the interview, had sex, and wandered back out to the Riverwalk in the same clothes in time for Six’s 5 PM rendezvous with Cavil, by which time Laura is almost certainly off-world. That’s a tall order. Baltar’s house does not appear to be in Caprica City itself; in Vancouvan terms, he seems to live in Belcarra. It is, to be sure, possible. We have seen that Six is on the Riverwalk in a time index that is either mid-afternoon or mid-morning, and having discarded the assumption that the Miniseries shows us contiguous time, we could suppose that we see Six walking to meet Baltar for lunch on the Riverwalk, allowing Laura to see them, and then they take separate paths back to Baltar’s house for their afternoon rendezvous, and finally back to the Riverwalk in the early evening. But “The Plan”’s insistence that the scene with Baltar and Six on the Riverwalk takes place at 5 PM creates a tension that is most cleanly resolved by a surprising conclusion: Laura’s “memory” of seeing Baltar and Six was the drug-induced false-memory that she worried people would think it was.

The Galactica’s clock

We can now, at last, turn to the question of the last hours of the colonies from the Galactica’s perspective. We can start with a few pointers:

  • In the opening scene of the Miniseries, the liaison officer is killed; he is officially “overdue” by morning-stations on the Galactica. All else being equal, we want to minimize the amount of time that passes between Gaeta relaying this to Adama and the attacks. If you hope to carry off a sneak attack, it would seem tactically queer to tip your hand by destroying an incidental target early.
  • Helo refers to a Pyramid game on Gemenon; surely it must be the same one that Kellan says just ended in her interview with Baltar, mid-afternoon CCT the day before the attacks. Helo expects people to have heard about the game, which presumably has the same delay as Caprica, more-or-less, and the way that he phrases the question not only implies that this is a game that was played the previous night, but it has a whiff of brag, insinuating that he was there for some of it. This could definitely work if Helo flew a Raptor courier to Gemenon late in “the day before” (by the Galactica’s clock).
  • Nothing is spoken, but the feeling in Adama’s cabin when he takes the call is profoundly evening. I can’t really specify why, but it feels late in the day.
  • A couple of things that I bring to the table from the draft of “Galactica” from the Racetrack Chronicles. In the background notes, I established a watch schedule for the Galactica, and so I want a solution that puts people on-watch when that schedule says they should be on-watch and not when not. And when action-stations is called, I have Racetrack and her little coterie of pilots in the galley; a character has just remarked that he has to stand a watch in twenty minutes, so, in a perfect world, I want action-stations to be called twenty minutes before my schedule calls for a watch change.

I won’t belabor this, but I want to give you a flavor of the kind of thing that I did looking for a solution that reconciled Caprica City time with the Galactica’s clock. Here’s a look into how my brain runs through these things.

We can’t know when that game ended or when Helo left. As an opening gambit, I posited that Helo was in town on a courier run and caught the first half of the game. Let’s say the game ended at 9 PM by the Galactica’s clock. And let’s further posit—stretching the timeline a little—that that’s 4:20 PM CCT, giving Six about half an hour to make it from the Riverwalk to Baltar’s Belcarra pad.  (This becomes tricky—maybe we should rethink whether it was the afternoon when we saw her before?) The Galactica’s clock would then be 4 hours 40 minutes fast from CCT. The attacks would take place at 11:40 AM Galactica time, and Colonial Heavy 798 left the Galactica circa 09:30 AM Galactica time. If it had left Caprica at 2:10 PM CCT the day before the attacks, it would have arrived on the Galactica five and a half hours later at 12:20 AM Galactica time, and, if leaving at 5:10 PM CCT, it would have arrived at 3:20 AM Galactica time. But this solution doesn’t work. Unless the timeline is completely bent, far beyond the point where we could be comfortable with it, Laura needs to arrive on the Galactica after morning- stations. We can move around the respective components, but once they intersect on Galactica, that’s the on-screen continuity.

I ran several different possible solutions, but in the end, I asked the obvious question: “Why can’t I just say it’s twenty minutes before watch x by the schedule, and try solutions for each value of x?” And the one that makes the most sense is: The Galactica’s clock is 12 hours, 5 minutes, 10 seconds ahead of Caprica City Time. As we saw earlier, it is 07:34:50 CCT when the action-stations buzzer sounds. If it is twenty minutes before First Watch, it is 1940 by the Galactica’s clock. And this solution works nicely. Gaeta and Tyrol were on-duty for the Morning Watch, and are back on-duty on the Dog Watch when word arrives. Racetrack and pals are off-duty during the Dog Watch, so they would have been off-duty during the Morning Watch, which is why we don’t see her in the Miniseries. (We do, actually: Racetrack wanders past the triad game to grab a snack before heading to her rack—you just never see her face as she walks behind the card-game.) Tigh, having been on duty for the Midwatch the preceding night, would be off-duty. And crucially, this solution works for the intersection between the two timelines, Laura’s departure from Caprica and arrival on the Galactica. It allows Laura to leave Caprica in-window at around 4 PM on April 14, CCT, and arrive on the Galactica at around 0937 on April 15 by Galactica time (9:32 PM on April 14, CCT).

There are a couple of downsides to this solution. The Pyramid game would have ended in the wee small hours by the Galactica’s clock, which means that Helo is working a punishing schedule to be back on-duty the following morning. Adama’s comment that he seems to remember a squadron of mark twos on the starboard flight-deck “yesterday” creates a problem that I will resolve in the third component of Racetrack Chronicles. And it does leave a mystery of why the Cylons destroyed the armistice station at least thirteen hours before the attacks. But, look, the Galactica is on a skeleton crew, so of course they’re busy; and I don’t know—One is a practical guy but numerology plays a big role in the mythos, so maybe Two felt that the symbolism of thirteen was poetic. But most importantly, this solution works better than any other. Any other solution has much steeper drawbacks.

(A brief word about the Pegasus‘ clock, because it illustrates why this stuff matters. In the fourth component of Racetrack Chronicles, I supplied the Caprica-Pegasus time difference, and I just plucked it out of the air to accentuate the point that time in the RDM-verse is tricky. Applying it here, I realized that the time-difference that I specified must be wrong: It calls for Pegasus time to be in the early afternoon when Shaw arrives, but Cain refers to chewing her out as a “midmorning snack.” The Pegasus‘ clock can therefore be no more than five hours ahead of Caprica City and I must correct my draft.)

The Last Hours of the Colonies.

“But wait,” you’re surely thinking! “Can’t we use that solution to disassemble the Miniseries, ‘Epiphanies,’ and ‘The Plan,’ and put their scenes back together in their correct chronological order?”


Yes. We. Can. Here’s the chart:

To make sure this works, I cut together the footage in this correct correct chronological sequence, starting with Laura and Adar and ending with Adama assuming control of the fleet. Unfortunately, copyright won’t permit me to make it public (I do intend to contact Universal and ask them). The bottom line is, the timeline disparities can be ironed out and the story does hang together (mostly—with a little fudge) within the ground-rules of physics. I continue to be very impressed by how well it all works together.


Musicam novam præsento. This is a short guitar instrumental piece that I recorded this week; it’s a little reminiscent of the kind of thing that I would do with backing tracks when I first started recording. If you’ve been following along with my music tag, there’s really nothing new in terms of production here, save that I tried to go much lighter on the compression, which I feel that I can overdo. I feel like this is an incremental improvement, there’s better separation between the instruments, but there’s still more build-up in the upper mids than I’d like. Room to grow.

The main rhythm guitar is the T12, there’s a bit of 7-string in the “chorus,” and the acoustic is a J200-style mic’d with an Audix CX112B pointed at the 12th fret and an MXL 990 pointed at the bridge. (The 990 is muddy, so taking the edge of trebly sounds is a good use-case for it.) The solo is my JPM 335 through a Digitech Bad Monkey. I did try a couple of experiments in the bass and drums. I plugged the bass into an amp (a solid-state Fender) rather than straight into the desk, and in addition to a DI from the line out, I stuck a subkick in front of the amp. I also approached the drums a little differently: It’s still MT Power Drums, but I rendered it as four tracks, one with kick only, one with snare only, one with “overheads” only, and then one with everything fed through TDR’s Proximity effect to emulate a room-mic. Then I treated the four tracks as though they were recorded drums for purposes of the mix, and I feel like the result is pretty good.

I think that the 335 and the mixture of electric 12-string and acoustic 6-string gives it a kind of 90s alternative/Britpopp feel, the organ and the delay on the guitar at the end are a little Floydian, and I like the harmonic minor run at the end of the solo with its flat seconds and fifths:


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).