• How I Got Bigfoot to Work with the Minima Jekyll Theme

    This site is created with Jekyll using the Minima theme. The footnotes are created with Bigfoot. Sherif Soliman, whose site design I aped, made an excellent tutorial on getting Bigfoot footnotes to work in Jekyll.

    I’d just like to clarify one of his instructions. It took me weeks of frustrating trial and error to realize that the main.scss file referred to in Soliman’s instructions is not the same thing as the minima.scss file. The main.scss file should be copied to your _assets directory in your site’s root folder. Create one if you don’t already have one.

    My main.scss file initially looked like this:

    ---
    # Only the main Sass file needs front matter (the dashes are enough)
    ---
    
    @import "minima";
    

    I got Bigfoot working by adding "bigfoot-number" between the @import "minima" statement and the closing ; like this:

    ---
    # Only the main Sass file needs front matter (the dashes are enough)
    ---
    
    @import "minima",
    
    "bigfoot-number"
    ;
    

    Good luck!

    Notes:

    At the time of this writing, my Jekyll version is 3.8.2. My Minima version is 2.5.0. My Bigfoot version is 2.1.1.

    For the curious, main.scss seems to be where you would create and modify elements and classes like blockquotes or footers, or add a wrapper to make embedded videos responsive. The minima.scss file defines defaults for variables like font size, spacing, and text color.

  • A Point About Immigration to America

    In a February 2017 episode of This American Life, released shortly after the Trump travel ban, Benjamin Wittes of the Lawfare blog responds to an administration official who predicted that without more immigration restrictions, the U.S. will face “a situation where 20,30 years from now, it’s just a given thing that, on a fairly regular basis, there’s domestic terrorist strikes, that stores are shut up or airports have explosive devices planted, or people are mowed down in the street by cars and automobiles and things of that nature. These are realities that we’re living in today.”

    Wittes says this representation of Muslim immigration to the U.S. has “absolutely no empirical support” and is dismissed by most of the U.S. counterterrorism community.

    He’s correct of course. The threat of crime and terrorism from immigrants is vanishingly small in the U.S.

    However, the U.S. admits very few immigrants into the country. France and Belgium, for example, have far larger Muslim populations and have seen very different results.

    Now I’m not convinced that Europe’s poor results in assimilating their Muslim populations is entirely or even mostly due to Islam, so much as the relative lack of economic opportunity in those countries. I suspect that immigrants are far more likely to like their new home if they’re doing well there.

    So perhaps in this way, the U.S. is a far more powerful assimilation machine than Europe will ever be, and thus we have little to fear from a growing Muslim population. However, it’s dishonest to point to the tiny number of crimes committed by immigrants in the U.S. and suggest that we should not fear Muslim immigration when there are 3 million Muslims in North America and 43 million in Europe.

    I also get the impression that Muslims who end up in Southern Europe, for example, are there because it’s the closest refuge away from the violence of their native countries. They’re there because that’s as far as they were able to go with the resources they had. Whereas, Muslims immigrants to the U.S. were wealthy enough to make the journey and connected enough to navigate the bureaucratic hurdles necessary to achieve residency and citizenship. Such people are probably more likely to be amenable to American society and culture.

    That said, despite its much larger Muslim population and recent string of terrorist attacks, Europe is still not a sea of fire as predicted by the likes of Geert Wilders. But it’s still reasonable for the U.S. government and citizens to look at Europe and decide that they don’t want the increased social tensions and risk of jihadist violence that has accompanied its large Muslim population.

  • McCutcheon is Bad, But for Different Reasons

    I rediscovered this post I wrote this post for a class blog back in college in 2014. Since then, I think it’s become clear that money is no guarantee of electoral success, and yet, a small handful of people still exercise disproportionate influence in U.S. politics through their donations to candidates.

    To say “money isn’t speech,” is like saying “guns don’t kill people, people do.” To paraphrase comedian Eddie Izzard, I think the money helps.

    Money lets you amplify your speech, present your speech on different mediums, hire people to help you make your speech sound better. Speech made on your behalf by others costs money.

    When the New York Times endorses a candidate, that speech has tremendous monetary value. So should the Times be limited to endorsing sixteen candidates and no more?

    The amicus briefs that the American Civil Liberties Union and Brennan Center for Justice file in court cases cost huge sums to prepare. Should donors to those organizations be limited by either by dollar amount or by the number of other organizations which they are allowed to support?

    Photo of girl shouting.
    Even your throat lozenges cost money. Photo by Donald Judge.

    Because that’s essentially what the Supreme Court struck down in McCutcheon v. Federal Election Commission.

    The 2002 Bipartisan Campaign Reform Act put a $46,200 cap on contributions to candidates for federal elections, $70,088 per political party, with a $117,000 overall limit. These laws limited plaintiff Shaun McCutcheon to donating to a total of sixteen federal candidates. Why should he only be allowed to back his support of candidates with money sixteen times?

    That’s why I think “money doesn’t equal speech” makes a poor argument. And setting arbitrary limits on the amount of money one can spend on a candidate is a bad way to go about campaign finance reform. But it’s also clear that there is a problem with money and elections in this country.

    Loudspeakers and Bad Pizza

    (Bear with me for a moment.)

    There’s a man standing in front of a pizza joint. He shouts to passersby that the owners are evil, they adulterate the food, and treat their employees poorly. Some people listen, some ignore him.

    But then, the pizza joint owners hire someone with a bullhorn to stand next to the first guy and sing the pizza joint’s praises. It’s hard to hear what first guy has to say over the man hired by the owners.

    What if instead, the pizza joint owners hire one of those sound trucks. The man still only has his voice. What he’s saying about the pizza joint might be true, but it doesn’t matter because no one can hear him.

    Man with megaphone.
    "Ignore what that other guy is saying. He's like totally wrong." Photo by Garry Knight.

    Harvard law Professor Lawrence Lessig provides a much more concrete explanation of what happens when only the loudest (richest) voices are heard:


    Lessig dives even further here.

    The insidious problem with the McCutcheon decision is that if the townspeople in our analogy above were to pass a law that provided a mechanism by which they could more easily hear the man shouting in front of the pizza joint, perhaps by limiting the volume of voice amplification devices used in public, that would be unconstitutional.

    From page 18 of the majority’s decision penned by Chief Justice John Roberts:

    We have consistently rejected attempts to suppress campaign speech based on other legislative objectives. No matter how desirable it may seem, it is not an acceptable governmental objective to “level the playing field,” or to “level electoral opportunities,” or to “equaliz[e] the financial resources of candidates.”

    Since when do the justices of the Supreme Court tell the American people what is or is not an “acceptable governmental objective?” It’s one thing to strike down bits of legislation that an aggrieved party brings before the Court, but it’s quite another for Roberts to tell us what political goals we are and aren’t allowed to pursue.

    Campaign donations are largely spent on advertising, so what if we decided to ban political ads on television as the Danes have done? Well the Citizens United decision pretty much put the nail in that coffin.

    What if we had a public matching funds system? If Candidate A receives a $35,000 donation, Candidate B automatically gets $35,000. Everyone would be free to give as much as they like, so no one’s free speech rights are being infringed, but the overall amount of money spent on elections would be reduced. After all, why would you bother donating $35,000 to a candidate when his opponent will get the same amount?

    Dennis Nedry GIF from Jurassic Park.
    Dennis Nedry would’ve made a great Supreme Court Justice

    That won’t work either. As Roberts just told us, that’s not an acceptable governmental objective. Indeed, the Roberts court ruled in Arizona Free Enterprise Club Freedom Club PAC v. Bennett, matching funds are unconstitutional because people might feel discouraged from donating to a candidate if their donation (speech) will, as Adam Liptak put it in the article linked above, “give rise to counterspeech paid for by the government.”

    Okay then, what if we make it illegal for elected officials to accept campaign money or gifts or any favors so their decisions while in office won’t be swayed by the loss or gain of campaign cash. Or, what if, like judges, we require lawmakers to recuse themselves from votes in which they have a conflict-of-interest?

    Well, as Roberts explains on page 2 of the decision, you just don’t get it.

    We have said that government regulation may not target the general gratitude a candidate may feel toward those who support him or his allies, or the political access such support may afford. “Ingratiation and access . . . are not corruption.” […] They embody a central feature of democracy—that constituents support candidates who share their beliefs and interests, and candidates who are elected can be expected to be responsive to those concerns. [Emphasis mine.]

    You see, it turns out that the corrosive cycle in which lawmakers do what their biggest donors want, which leads to more donations and a tighter adherence to the wishes of their donors, simultaneously allowing said donors to enrich themselves through their governmental influence, all while the fundamental issues festering in this country (like campaign finance reform) go untreated—that’s not a bug, it’s a central feature of our republic and you’re not allowed to do anything about it.

  • Democratic Action vs. the Law

    Many Americans think of the courts as a mechanism to change the law when legislatures won’t. In the courtroom, an aggrieved minority can find justice.

    History does not exactly bear this narrative out, however.

    Courts may uphold the rights of a minority, maybe not. Not only is the argument that the judiciary exists to protect us from the tyranny of the majority suspect, but reversing state and local laws through the courts might also be counterproductive for the interests of the minority in the long-run.

    In 2015, the year of the Obgerfell decision, 55 percent of U.S adults favored same-sex marriage. The Supreme Court’s ruling caught up with public opinion, which had changed amazingly quickly in a decade, largely due to the work of activists working in civil society and popular culture.

    In the 1973 decision Roe v. Wade, seven people made abortion legal for the entire U.S. overnight.

    Two different issues, yes, but compare the progress made in the shift of societal attitudes on gay rights to abortion where as of last year, 40 percent of Americans believe it “should be illegal in all or most cases,” which is up slightly from where it was in 1995.

    The American civil rights movement also had its court victories, but it combined strategic legal battles with two decades of robust democratic action—public protests, boycotts, sit-ins, persuasive public writing—which culminated in a series of laws passed by Congress.

    Public attitudes on racial issues are certainly not where many activists today would like them to be, but it’s disturbing to consider where they might be if the question of legal racial discrimination in the U.S. had been decided in the courts alone.

  • Americans Don't Want Federalism

    When Rowan County Clerk Kim Davis defied the Obgerfell decision by refusing to issue marriage licenses to same-sex couples, many Americans asked “why hasn’t she been fired?”

    They were disappointed to learn that the Rowan County Clerk is elected and can’t be recalled by people who live ten states away, not matter how vociferously they express their outrage on the Internet.

    This is the problem with the United States today. The Founders created a federal system that delegated most governmental powers to the states. But 140 years ago, some Americans decided to make their stand on states’ rights with the assertion that they had the right to own other humans as property, thereby ruining federalism for the rest of us forever after.

    Unfortunately, politics in the contemporary United States mostly revolves around wedge issues in which roughly half of the country demands that the other half change its value system.

    So national politics has become a zero-sum game in which the Red Tribe and Blue Tribe fight for control of the federal government so they can use its power to ensure that people who live ten states away can’t smoke weed1, can’t own guns2, can’t get abortions3, and must bake wedding cakes for LGBT couples4.

    The U.S. constitution has a mechanism for creating laws that all of the states must follow. But passing amendments is hard. The last amendment this country ratified came about in an Hands-Across-America-style burst of aimless Gen-X do-something-for-the-sake-of-seeing-if-it-can-be-done hijinks. But the Laid-Back ’90s Man is not here anymore and probably wouldn’t be of much help in our age of identity politics anyway.

    What Americans actually seem to want is a set of federal commissars who are empowered to override state officials when they act in opposition to federal policies.

    True, federal judges often serve a similar role by reversing state laws and countermanding state officials. But the president only gets to pick them he’s lucky enough to have some retiring during his term. That doesn’t seem fair for the political tribe who’s candidate wins the presidency only have those black-robed geriatrics stubbornly fighting senility and death. Sometimes appointed judges even get uppity and start ruling with some semblance of independence!

    Commissars appointed and dismissed at the behest of the Executive Branch, on the other hand, would be far more efficient, fair, and, most importantly, devoted to carrying out the president’s mandate.

    Americans believe that power in U.S. system of government resides with the president anyway. Don’t you want the Federal Commissar of California immediately slapping down state officials who declare their jurisdictions to be sanctuary cities? Granted, if the Blue Tribe wins the presidency, you’ll have to put up with the Federal Commissar of Missouri mandating that abortion information be posted at crisis pregnancy centers.

    Don’t dismiss this idea too quickly. Not opting for the Federal Commissariat would necessitate wielding federal power over the states far more sparingly, employed only in specific, extreme situations with no other remedy. It would mean accepting that some of your fellow citizens wish to live under a different set of values than you. We can’t have that.

    1. Or must allow the smoking of weed. 

    2. Or must allow everyone to carry any gun anywhere they want. 

    3. Or must permit and subsidize the murder of babies, as perceived by the Red Tribe. 

    4. Or are permitted to exclude LGBT people from the marketplace and public life, as the Blue Tribe sees it. 

  • How I Got Backblaze to Work

    I know the content of this post this will be painfully obvious to many, but I’ve only recently un-dumbed myself when it comes to this stuff, and I hope I can help others in this regard. Off-site backups are an important part of your data protection triad.1 Ideally, software will conform to your needs and preferences. But cloud backup services are capricious beasts. Here are some lessons I’ve learned to get Backblaze working best.

    • Leave Backblaze on.

    • Leave it set in continuous backup mode.

    • Only have Backblaze backup drives that will always be plugged in.

    Previously, I disabled Backblaze from running automatically upon startup and set it to run backups only when I told it to. I don’t have any documents that I’m working on daily on this PC, just a handful of new files that accumulate in my Downloads folder which I organize and copy locally to an external drive once a week.

    During this weekly session, I’d have Backblaze backup both my main drives and my backup drives. I reasoned that I could just spin up Backblaze if need be. Say if I started a big project during the week, I could just run it while I work on that project. No reason to keep Backblaze running all the time, right?

    However, I’ve found that Backblaze doesn’t react well to being disabled on startup or being asked to backup drives that are spend most of their time unplugged from your machine.2 The latter two practices left me stuck on the “Producing File Lists” dance floor.3

    Backblaze uses minimal resources—5.4 MB memory and no CPU on my machine—unless it’s actively backing up stuff. After months of leaving Backblaze on whenever my computer is running, I haven’t experienced any slowing while working, not even while gaming, so go ahead and leave it running.

    My current backup process is largely unchanged except that I leave the client on as it’s intended to be. I also don’t include my local backup drives in the Backblaze backup anymore. Both the Backblaze backup and the local backups are copies the same main drives. If the main drives are hosed, then having an extra copy of that corrupted/ransomwared data isn’t helpful. In such cases, backup drives that remain unplugged except for the weekly backup session could be my salvation.

    Though a more likely scenario is that the interface between the chair and the keyboard accidentally deletes files on the main drives, which Backblaze would in turn delete from their servers after 30 days. Here too, local backup drives that aren’t plugged into the machine can be the safest bet. Redundant capability, not just redundant systems is best in your backup system. You want to have multiple solutions ready to solve the same problem.

    Other notes:

    If you’ve changed old files or added new files to be backed up but Backblaze isn’t finding them when you click the “Backup Now” button, there is something you can try as suggested to me by the Backblaze support team.

    1. Check the Settings to ensure the drives you want to backup are included.

    2. Click Apply then Ok to get back to the main screen.

    3. Then click on the Restore Options button while holding down the Alt key. This last step forces Backblaze to re-scan your system. Backblaze has always found my new files after this.

    Backblaze screenshot

    Of course, as with any cloud backup system, you should frequently login to your Backblaze account and visit the “Restore/View Files” page to ensure all of your stuff is actually being backed up.

    1. Three is two, two is one, one is none. 

    2. “Duh” you might reply, especially to that last part. To be clear, my external backup drives were plugged in when I’d manually run Backblaze once a week, but I’d find after logging into my Backblaze account that new files on these external drives were not backed up, even though the Backblaze client reported “You are backed up”/”Remaining Files: 0 files/0 KB. 

    3. The music only stops after you’ve bricked a hard drive because you’ve manually restarted your PC in frustration because your PC won’t shut down because Backblaze has taken over an hour to back up a 10 KB file. Did I mention I can’t use computers

  • Even Trump Can Blow Up the World

    Can the president of the United States blow up the world? It’s a dumb question to ask, but exploring the answer reveals a larger truth about the power of the American presidency. The answer should be “obviously not.” Of course no single person has such immense power and certainly that person could never be found leading a country founded in opposition to one-man-rule.

    But the headlines of a flury of explainers written earlier this year in response to presidential candidate Donald Trump’s statements about nuclear weapons gravely confirm the apocalyptic capabilities of the Chief Executive. However, the content of these articles, indeed even the expert (and nuclear-zero activist) who is quoted in each of the articles, present a more complex view.

    Of course no group of sane individuals would create a system that would allow a single individual to send weapons of mass destruction raining over the globe. So how does the system work?

    Presidential hopeful Hillary Clinton invokes the image of a “finger on the nuclear button” when arguing that Trump’s temperament makes him unsuitable for the the presidency. Even if your understanding of the procedure for launching nuclear weapons is derived entirely from popular culture, this characterization seems oversimplified.

    I mean, the president has to use a special red phone to call someone in a bunker or a submarine who also has a special red phone, who then must retrieve a set of keys which must be turned simultaneously in two different locks placed far enough apart such that one person can’t turn both of them, and then they can press the button, right? And there’s probably like fingerprint and/or eyeball scanners and/or some sort of voice identity confirmation somewhere along the way too.

    As near as I can tell, the president’s order to launch a nuclear strike must be confirmed by the Secretary of Defense (or their appointed alternates or successors). The SecDef cannot veto the president’s order. This order1 is then transmitted to the Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, who confirms their identities, then directs a pair of Pentagon officers to relay the orders, which are confirmed again by another military officer, to U.S. nuclear forces around the globe, along with codes to arm their nukes.

    So it seems that the president alone can set all of this into motion—assuming that everyone in the chain-of-command from the Secretary of Defense on down unquestionably obey. If presented with clear evidence of an incoming nuclear strike, I assume they would. But what would happen if an insane president ordered an unprovoked nuclear attack because he felt like it?

    The Secretary of Defense, assuming he too hasn’t gone mad, will refuse to second the president’s attack order. So the president relieves him, and then the secretary’s designated successor takes over, and he refuses too. And then he is relieved. This continues until the vice president and the majority of Executive department heads invoke the Twenty-Fifth Amendment and declare the president incapacitated.

    But say the mad president has filled his cabinet with madmen who will do his bidding? The Chairman of the Joint Chiefs and any other officer in the chain-of-command can refuse to carry out an unprovoked or disproportionate offensive nuclear strike, not just by invoking the laws of armed conflict, but Article II of the U.S. Constitution.2

    I suppose the mad president with his mad cabinet could attempt to control the military chain-of-command involved in launching a nuclear strike by purging the U.S. Armed Forces, replacing commanders of U.S. nuclear forces with dependable minions. But at that point, Congress would certainly impeach him, assuming the rest of the military doesn’t oust him first.

    The obvious response is that the U.S. and Soviet Union were, at various times minutes away from nuclear war with ostensibly “rational actors” leading both countries, so putting a crazy person in charge only increases the likelihood of catastrophe.

    I suggest, however, that it’s the “rational actors” who you gotta look out for. They practice their smart power assuming they are too clever to bumble into disaster. Indeed, we see from the 1979 NORAD incident, that rational actor Jimmy Carter was never even woken up so he could rationally decide how to respond to the (perceived) threat.

    Conversely, everyone knows the mad king is dangerous.3 Everyone around the him will work feverishly to avoid situations where the he could do harm. Everyone will be on the lookout for manifestations of his madness so they can remove him from power. Our heightened collective vigilance as we watch the mad king with dread would make us safer.

    But this is a silly point to make.What’s truly frightening about these nuclear close calls, is that the machinery of nuclear war quickly leaves the hands of both the madman and the rational actor. The launch moves forward on autopilot. We’re here in 2016 watching high-definition streams of the U.S. presidential debates on tiny pocket-computers because years ago, individual commanders in a bunker or a sub decided they weren’t given enough cause to kill millions of people.

    There are many compelling reasons not to vote for Donald Trump, but the fear of nuclear war should not be one of them. If you fear nuclear war, get rid of nukes.4

    1. The order specifies the types of targets the U.S. will strike, such as the opponent’s nuclear weapons and the accompanying delivery vehicles, military sites away from cities, military sites near cities, command-and-control centers, or a full-scale attack which presumably includes direct strikes on cities. 

    2. An unprovoked offensive strike by the United States would legally necessitate a declaration of war or at least an authorization for the use of military force by Congress. 

    3. I question the armchair psychologial analysis of Trump. It’s clear he uses belligerence as a tactic, which invites questions about his temperament and judgment, but I’m not convinced that he’s nuke-the-world-on-a-whim crazy as those who criticize him imply. 

    4. Nuclear war likely would not be the extinction event it’s often assumed to be. Cresson Kearny, a researcher at the Oak Ridge National Laboratory, wrote a book on the subject in response to hyperbolic and inaccurate anti-nuke propaganda such as the influential 1983 film The Day After


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