The Louisiana Flood: A Case Study in Opportunistic Sensationalism

Look, it’s not a palatable argument to have to make, but that’s what drives the pervasive media-driven sensationalism in this country.  So I’m going to have to say it:  The Louisiana floods, terrible though they are, do not even approach the caliber of disaster to which the media is slowly raising them.  It is not easy to stare human suffering in the face and argue that its severity not be overestimated, but this is precisely the issue with which the American public has been struggling for a very long time in a wide array of subjects.  And our inability to conquer the matter is causing such paralyzed public discourse that we are winding up with the likes of Trump as a serious Presidential candidate.

But let’s not get side-tracked from the case at hand:

At first, the Louisiana flood appears to have earned an amount of attention which media outlets have slowly begun to consider unacceptable.  Gradually, the media vultures saw their opportunity rise and now they’re landing all over the story.  USA Today calls the disaster the “worst disaster since Hurrricane Sandy” and self-righteously laments:

More than a dozen USA TODAY stories on the topic have performed average, at best. Readers simply aren’t clicking on them. Maybe this article will be the same.

Comparing the disaster to Hurricane Katrina, Fox News is predictably lambasting Obama for failing to drop everything and rush to Louisiana.  And this is a pattern raging through right-wing media outlets far and wide.  And don’t think the far left isn’t doing its part, blaming the allegedly insufficient attention on the relative poverty of the region or those ubiquitous oppressive ideologies inherent to Western culture…

So what is really going on?  Well, the number going around right now is that 40,000 homes were destroyed and 13 people killed in what ought to be considered a 1,000-year flood event.  So that’s pretty bad, alright.  Somehow, however, people seem to be dramatically exaggerating the cost of this disaster.  At least one guy (a meteorologist), representative of many, it seems, is throwing out a guess of a “multi-billion dollar” impact, but.. the Red Cross, the governor, and FEMA expect a $30 million cost.

So basically, all those claims of comparison to Sandy (whose flooding cost $8.3 billion across more than twenty states) and Katrina (a staggering $16.3 billion) are absolutely bogus.  Sandy destroyed 100,000 homes in Long Island, NY alone.  It killed 233 people and caused an estimated total of $75 billion in damage.  Katrina is even worse, killing 1,245 people and costing $108 billion in total damage.  Furthermore, the reason Bush was criticized so heavily during Katrina was on account of the utterly inept, horrendously delayed response from FEMA at the hands of Michael Brown, who had absolutely zero emergency management experience prior to being nominated for and appointed to his post as the director of the organization by Bush, himself.

This idea that the President of the United States needs to cut short his vacation to make a purely pro forma appearance  at the site of a disaster which is already being competently handled by FEMA is garbage.  To falsely equivocate this with Katrina, or to give the impression even that this disaster is of similar scope to the costliest two hurricanes in United States history is exactly as I stated in the title of this post:

Opportunistic Sensationalism.

Our country is succumbing to this nonsense left and right.  It is a fog intentionally generated by accidental conspiracy in which a huge variety of actors seek emotional leverage for their irrational ends.  The important consequence is that our public dialogue is extremely hindered by this nonsense.  On the left is generated obvious nonsense from the false notion of overwhelming “gun violence” to the absurd idea that one in four women is raped in college.  On the right is found false equivocation between the political parties and climate change denial.

The power given to the average individual in modern society to generate content of potentially dramatic influence is higher than it has ever been in history.  It is probably extremely predictable that this sort of irrationality saturation would occur, but it’s lamentable nonetheless.  Most importantly, we have to recognize it and handle it accordingly.  When it comes to dealing with one another in today’s society, perhaps now more than ever is required of us a Stoic commitment to control over our emotions whose response is so eagerly pursued by myriad, incessant broadcasts.

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Explaining Trump’s Rhetoric

Obama literally founded ISIS, Hillary is the most corrupt candidate of all time, Mexico will pay for a border wall…

What’s the deal?  Well, if you ask me, it’s not too hard to determine:

First:  He is a Terrible Businessman

Trump makes a fantastic Exhibit A in the case for the near-perfect insulation from failure afforded in American society by wealth.  After all, simply investing his initial gift from his father, a million dollars, in unmanaged index funds would have sufficed to make him even more wealthy today than he actually is.

To be a billionaire in America, one need only be given a million dollars which he can invest and forget about for a decade or so.  He can live with extreme privilege and leisure off of a fraction of the snowballing returns.

But that’s not what Trump did.  By all accounts he has spent a lifetime of heavy involvement in his wheelings and dealings.  Insofar as his goal was to be rich, he has failed miserably, generating for himself with all that work a net loss in comparison to the effortless alternative.  Insofar as the products of his work are judged on their merits, for their contribution to mankind, well, I doubt I need to provide any evidence that there’s just nothing noteworthy there at all.

Trump, in short, is a failure.  Nonetheless, thanks to the nearly unavoidable consequence of extreme wealth in our economic system, he is extremely wealthy.

So…How Does a Terrible Businessman Survive?

Well…about that insulation from failure afforded in American society by wealth…

Through his own bullshit rhetoric, backed by his (initially gifted) wealth, he has obtained gargantuan investments in his projects to the point at which others cannot permit his failure.  He generates dependency on his success in others through massive loans and investments on their behalf and then relies on those others to ensure the projects succeed.  When the substance of his contributions fail (which is more often than not), his investors are forced to dig him out lest they bankrupt themselves.

And so they do, time and again.  Investors in his buildings had to provide additional resources to push the projects through after his ill-conceived grandiosity all but doomed them.  Financial lenders have had to take losses on his loans and defer payments when he found his projects unsustainable.  At a smaller, more personal level, investors in his “Trump University” nonsense had to spend outrageous sums for attending, and this provided an extreme psychological incentive against their admission of being duped.  This being a weaker incentive than potential bankruptcy, those less able to withstand their loss (or more willing to admit their victimhood) at the hands of Trump would eventually file suit.

For individuals who had less investment from others at stake, this would have destroyed their lives; their lenders would’ve just sued them senseless to recover some acceptable fraction of the losses and called it a day.  But not Trump, who swindled so hugely that his investors could not afford such a massive loss and thereby had no choice; they dug him out, propped him up, and became begrudging accessories to his next con.  For their own sakes, they would join Trump in feigning his success, and that’s all Trump needed to maintain the momentum and image he would use to dupe the next fool.

An Explanation for Trump’s Constant Assault of Nonsense:  He is a Career Con-Man

Trump has lived his whole life running a marketing scam.  It’s an operation that has taught him that you simply never, ever even hint at anything less than the superlative.  Everything he has is the greatest, everything he does is absolutely amazing, and he’s always offering the best deal ever.  He has given some indication that he knows this is his strategy, as he’s been reported saying in closed meetings with Republicans that everyone needs to speak with ultimate positivity because opponents will grasp onto any possible admission of negativity or inferiority.

“It would great if you could say we had an unbelievable meeting. ‘Trump loves us. We love Trump.’ It’s going to be so good. Okay?” Trump said, according to a detailed account from a person who attended the meeting. “Honestly, if we could say it is great, we have a unified party, I’ll tell you what, you are going to see a difference immediately. That’s what I’m going to say.”

“If when we leave we could just go out and say, ‘We love Trump, he’s going to be great.’ I love you, we’re doing great. As a team, we can’t be beaten,” Trump said. “Say great things, because anything you say that’s even a little — well you know, they magnify it. Just say it’s great. You gotta say great things. Any little negativity that you have, they are going to blow it up twentyfold. You’ve got to be positive.”

In Trump’s court records (hat tip to the illustrious philosoraptor), his strategy is made pretty clear; he knowingly exaggerates every positive indicator of his success with recourse to the vague waters of opinion in which he can claim some sort of plausible deniability.  Did he invest $400,000, or $1,000,000?  Well, if you include his estimation of the value of his services…

And of course, in his book, “The Art of the Deal,” Trump makes it perfectly clear that he understands his own strategy:

“I play to people’s fantasies. People may not always think big themselves, but they can still get very excited by those who do. That’s why a little hyperbole never hurts. People want to believe that something is the biggest and the greatest and the most spectacular. I call it truthful hyperbole.” (pg. 58)

He is a standard-issue con  man with a lot of resources at his disposal.  This is how he’s always behaved.  He knows that aggressively asserting ANYTHING that people want to believe is going to enhance support for that position in those people who want to believe it.  If people want to believe they’ve stumbled across their chance to get rich in Trump University, well you ensure their commitment to attending TU by relentlessly assaulting them with person after person touting it as the absolute salvation they’ve been looking for.

Trump’s success depends not on the success of his projects, but the continued appearance of their success.  His bamboozled victims, investors strained beyond the capacity to permit or even admit failure, provide for him the growing backdrop of illusory success on which he relies to complete his next con.

Politics:  Trump’s Big Job

America is running the risk of finding itself at the bottom of this lifelong pyramid scheme.  Trump is running the same con now that he always has; the RNC has put in too many resources to change course, so Trump is relying on them to push him through while he continues his endless, unchanging swindle.

So when you wonder why he’s saying what he’s saying, think about the fact that he has already written a book featuring his admission of playing to the fantasies of those to whom he is attempting to sell whatever it is he’s selling at that time.

And if you wonder what kind of President he’ll be, think about the historic means by which he has compensated for his own failures.  You, as an American citizen, are the next victim in his sights, and it is you to whom the responsibility for digging him out of his next disaster will be shifted.

 

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A Hopeful Trend

It would be really, really good for America if this trend were to continue and Trump were to lose in a historic landslide.

Then maybe the Republicans would somehow be spurred into getting themselves together, eradicating the Trump-esque from amid their ranks, and forming a coherent, reasonable opposition party to the Democrats which hasn’t existed in this country for over two decades.

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America’s Crippled Political Discourse and the Trump Phenomenon

I have been thinking a lot recently about my attempts at fairly analyzing the two major scandals facing Hillary Rodham Clinton: the utterly-bereft-of-substance Benghazi “scandal” and the bona fide failure on her behalf that was the email server scandal.

For though I have concluded that, in a more perfect union, HRC would be denied the office of the presidency for her reckless disregard for information security purely out of what seems to have been a desire for personal convenience, I am left with what can only be described as an overwhelmingly obvious conclusion that no responsible individual could possibly cast a vote for Trump.

And this is a very, very difficult position to convey in our current political climate.  So, I’d like to offer some thoughts on why that is the case.

A Conclusion Up Front

I’ll put this up here to get quickly to a very important point; American political discourse has reached a point where the public is not willing to put in the effort required to judge between important matters of degree in suboptimal choices.  Perhaps the most important reason for this, I will argue, is that the Republican party has embarked over the last two decades on a relentless effort to instill in the American public a vicious loathing of the Democratic party by portraying them as insidiously, secretly treasonous dimwits who, in their buffoonish ignorance, hate American values.

The reason that this effort has any success, I argue, is that the American public is subjected to a woefully imperfect Democratic party whose genuine failures prevent the establishment of a categorical distinction between them and the Republican party.  This enables the Republican party to push the unfalsifiable position of the covert treachery of the Democrats with a mixture of repeated insinuation and overt claims to that effect, incessant, often false allegations of extreme wrongdoing, and genuine demonstrable failures to maintain a sense of plausibility in their portrayal of the Democratic party.

As a result, we have a system in which an obvious con man is being seriously considered for the office of President of the United States of America.  I am arguing that it is on account of the intentional corruption of American political discourse at the hands of the Republicans that Hillary Clinton’s genuine failures, worrisome and serious though they are, are somehow seen to eclipse the obvious, overwhelming evidence of Trump’s unsuitability for the office.

Given the partisan intransigence of the American public which is the subject of this article, perhaps this will be little more than a personal exercise in understanding and justifying my position, but I see no value in keeping such an exercise private, and I hope others will at least read and consider it.

As a disclaimer made necessary by the current political climate, allow me to make it clear that I have little affinity, and certainly no adoration, for the Democratic party.  Taken as a whole, I do not believe they are impressive, nor do I agree with many of the latest “social justice” issues they seem to so feverishly promote.  I share concerns of conservative friends about their unwillingness to critique the crazy far left and I, myself, often hold fairly conservative (or what used to be conservative) views about social issues.

However, at the same time, I just do not see how anyone can view all the available information and conclude that the Democratic party, in toto, is an inferior choice to the party which has led us under false pretenses into the most disastrous foreign policy debacle since Vietnam, and which has relentlessly corrupted our political discourse to push social policies aimed at the exacerbation of the severe problems with wealth distribution in this country which constitute perhaps the most pressing domestic issue of our time, adversely impacting just about everything in our society.

A Brief Introduction

Below, I will summarize four major issues with the Republican party which more or less prevent me from supporting them in their current state, much less with someone as willing to bullshit at every turn as Trump.  If his total disregard for the truth were not sufficient on its own to disqualify him from the presidency in my mind (say, if evidence were available indicating that HRC is equally bad, which there is not), I would still be tremendously disinclined to support the Republican party given its political behavior during my lifetime.

For a simple starting point in surveying the lay of the land before us, how about this:

Helpful infographic for disputing those who claim that Donald "The line of 'Make America great again,' the phrase, that was mine" Trump is better than/the same as Clinton

Yes, that little infographic (which simply grabbed the counts from the profiles of each candidate on politifact.org) shows recent Democratic candidates along with the more reputable Republican candidates firmly at the bottom. Now, one must consider that this is Politifact’s analysis of assertions which, in its staff’s judgment, are worthy of investigation on account of their importance to our public discourse.  They judge this by the prominence of the statements in our media, the statements’ repetition, and the apparent consideration they are given by the public.

Though Politifact is imperfect, it is adequate enough in my estimation as a rough statistical representation of the value of those more influential assertions made by our recent political candidates vying (in most cases; I guess that shouldn’t include Biden) for the most powerful office in the world.

So a plain conclusion is this: when you hear someone repeat one of Trump’s statements, you can expect a 75% chance that it is at least misleading, and a whopping 59% chance that it is outright false.  When you hear someone repeat one of Clinton’s statements, you can expect a 27% chance that it is at least misleading and a 12% chance that it is outright false.

And yet, Trump’s catchphrase for Clinton is “crooked Hillary.”  Despite his continual demonstration of his willingness to say downright anything to further promote himself and disparage others, he parrots allegations that she is among the most corrupt candidates in the history of American politics and Republicans continue to believe it is Hillary Clinton who is the more dangerous and egregious liar.

Something is very wrong with a country whose constituents are facing any semblance of a serious debate between these two candidates.  In my estimation, Trump is the only defense anyone needs (and rhetorically speaking, perhaps the only defense anyone should provide) for a vote for Hillary Clinton.

Emblematic Party Distinctions

I chose the four issues below because each of them meets two qualifications: (1) they are egregiously severe failures and (2) there simply does not appear to be correlate activity on behalf of the Democrats.  Remember, degree is important here, and I am entirely willing to be proven wrong, but in the process of this investigation we must maintain our awareness of a current propensity to fall victim to common political discourse failures which seek false equivalence.

That is, after all, what this is all about.  We must reason carefully in a noise-filled, careless environment.

Issue 1:  The Republican Poisoning of American Political Discourse

For basically my entire political life, the Republican party has seemed to be obviously batshit crazy, plainly and clearly interested in gaining political power over providing any actual plan or constructive use thereof.  Now, such an assertion should give any rational individual pause, for it reeks of dogmatism, does it not?  But in my decade of capable political awareness and rather in-depth investigation of issues facing the country, I have concluded time and again that this seems to be the case.

I thought I might go through the presidencies of Bill Clinton, George W. Bush, and Barack Obama to summarize the differences in character between the two parties, but again, the issue I’m addressing here is that such research has been done, the arguments have been made, the conclusions reasonably drawn that the republicans are intentionally intoxicating the political discourse in this country, and yet, such work has met with partisan ears in the American public which refuse to see any qualitative distinction between the two parties as anything other than partisan hackery.

So, if you really somehow disagree with this point of mine, despite Mitch McConnell making it clear that the primary goal of the Republican party was to prevent a second election of Barack Obama, and despite the Republicans joining in lockstep to declare unconstitutional the individual mandate which formed the centerpiece of their own previous legislative efforts in healthcare (and previously supported by many of those who signed the declaration), and despite the quite obvious distinction in character between prominent conservative and liberal entertainers (see, e.g.: Rush Limbaugh vs. Jon Stewart), I will refer you to Mann and Ornstein’s work (linked above), for there is no need for me to rehash their in-depth analysis here.

Issue 2:  Deception in Support of the Iraq War by the Last Republican Administration

It is clear that President Bush lied as part of the effort to encourage a war with Iraq.  The single lie to which I link was but part of an extensively dishonest campaign for the war, as evidenced by the Senate Select Committee report produced on the very issue.  If one seeks an explanation for the pursuit of a needless war of choice despite a lack of evidence connecting it to the September 11th attacks, one will quickly find the treatise signed by Cheney and Rumsfeld as part of the Project for the New American Century which argues that regime change in Iraq is the foremost strategic goal which should be adopted by America in pursuit of cementing its political dominance over the world.

In short: we know that the administration took great effort to deceive the American public into the Iraq war and we know that at least two of the most important actors in that war had previously signed assertions that regime change in Iraq was an extremely important goal for American foreign policy, regardless of other considerations.  I consider it beyond reasonable doubt that this belief, and not any rationale presented to the American people connecting Iraq to the terrorists responsible for the attacks on September 11th, was the driving force for the war.  In fact, if I had to wager money, I would wager that they honestly thought they would find weapons of mass destruction in Iraq despite a lack of evidence, and that they would use that to retroactively justify their previously unjustified position.  It didn’t work out.

Issue 3:  Torture

It is now clear that Bush and Cheney were aware of, and condoned the use of acts defined as torture per treaties to which America is signatory.

I cannot with sufficient emphasis convey my disgust and horror at knowing that America is now understood to be a force for the implementation and justification of such heinous behavior.  That the Republican party supported this activity and continues to defend it to this day has earned from me a contempt which I do not know can ever be removed.

And it worries me greatly that so few Americans seem concerned with this.  We are a country who will impeach a president for lies about oral sex, but we refuse to impeach leadership which deceives us into a disastrous war of choice and breaks extremely important treaties to torture its adversaries.  This is unbelievably shameful.

Issue 4:  Flagrant, Organized Hypocrisy Committed by the Republican Party

Though the Republican party consistently laments the mounting government debt (a genuine issue), it has contributed extremely heavily to the creation and maintenance of that debt.  The war described above is the single most costly political venture initiated by an American President in decades.  Relentless diminishment of the top-tier tax brackets in America by the Republicans have cost the government billions, if not trillions of dollars of revenue.  The Republicans only care to concern themselves with government debt when they are not in charge of the government.

Regarding healthcare, as mentioned in the up-front conclusion above, the Republicans joined in lockstep to declare the individual mandate unconstitutional, though it had served as a centerpiece in their own legislative proposals all the way back to 1989.  I have unsuccessfully sought a comparable demonstration of unified hypocrisy from the Democratic party in my lifetime.  This, to me, is extremely important, for it shows an unparalleled prevalence of a willingness to sacrifice integrity to gain political power in the Republican party.  When combined with a bullshitting con artist like Trump, this makes for an extremely dangerous proposition whose severity is perhaps unprecedented in American politics.

A Short End Note:  The Liberal Accessories

It saddens me greatly that this data is (or should be) very widely known, and yet a potentially election-winning portion of the country somehow nonetheless believes it a good idea to put this party in control with a demonstrable con man with no regard for the truth at its helm.

I fear that the Democrats and far-left liberals bear a significant portion of the responsibility for this.  Recent wrong-headed, yet broadly supported headline-making pushes for flagrantly irrational positions are driving the voting base of conservatives who largely consider themselves simple folks to oppose these floppy-headed dumbasses at any cost, and at this time that means to us, precisely, Trump.  They’re tired of being called racist at every turn, and they’re tired of being told men are women.  This is exactly the kind of bullshit liberals have been accused of supporting in the past, and it seems to be reaching an all-time high in today’s political climate.

Intelligent moderates and liberals must defeat this nonsense front and center.  The defeat must be public and conclusive, or Democrats will continue to provide legitimate fuel for largely illegitimate contempt.  This is exactly how the Republican rhetorical strategy of the past two decades has flourished and brought us to this point.

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Using systemd and Logical Volume Manager Snapshot Volumes During Fedora Operating System Upgrades

With the looming end of support for Fedora 22, I thought I might write this up:

I just successfully made use of this solution (based on instructions from the excellent ArchWiki) and I thought I’d provide documentation here since it’s really a fantastic means by which to more confidently engage the frequent large upgrades necessary for someone running Fedora.  It’s the best distribution (in my estimation), since you get access to the latest and greatest as soon as reasonably possible, but that comes with some necessary sysadmin work.  Hopefully, the below solution will ease your nerves a bit!

Brief Theoretical Outline

Solution Overview

Basically, LVM provides the capability to make snapshot volumes based on other logical volumes on your system.  This uses a Copy-On-Write (COW) method to copy data being overwritten in the original logical volume to the snapshot volume, allowing you to effectively maintain a set of data which can be used to reconstruct the original logical volume in its exact state at the point in time which the snapshot volume was created.

So, if we have a mechanism by which we can create snapshot volumes of the critical file systems on our server in consistent states (that’s very important, and I’ll explain the concern and the approach we take to work around it below) prior to our operating system upgrade, we have a means by which we can fall back in the event of a disaster.

Risk Assessment

This covers practically any real risk facing an OS upgrade, though a total destruction of one’s logical volume manager, of course, would render the solution inoperable, so it does not replace standard backup solutions.  Such a disaster would be rare, for even if the OS refuses to boot, one can still make use of rescue media to boot into a separate operating system and, from within it, manipulate the logical volumes in the failed production system in order to merge the snapshot volumes back into the original volumes and, thereby, restore the production system to its original state of operation.

Aside from a failure with the logical volume manager, itself, one could conceivably wind up with a corrupt boot volume (not LVM-managed by default in Fedora), and therefore one would need to be able to use the rescue system to rebuild the boot partition.  Again, this is not a common failure (it has never happened to me), but capturing the data in your /boot partition prior to the upgrade operation with a simple tar file and placing it on separate backup media may be a good idea.  Restoring the boot partition from backup is a lot easier than attempting to remake initramfs files and other data expected by the GRUB configuration on the production system in order to boot it.

Criticality of Separate Backup Solutions

The advantage, however, is that your standard backup solution can remain a simple backup of all of your important data which would, nonetheless, require a potentially lengthy rebuild of your operating system (and you should have instructions for yourself in the event you need to do that).  This is a real advantage since image-based or other whole-system backup solutions are often difficult and time-consuming to maintain in production systems which demand limited downtime (of which I consider my home server to be one; I’ve got big important things to do!).

So make sure your important data is backed up to an independent system or disk which is entirely disconnected from the system we’re working on; that way a failure on the production system cannot adversely impact the integrity of the backup.  You know, standard best practice.  In the worst case scenario, should the LVM-based solution offered here fail, you will be able to at least rebuild the production system from scratch and the backup data you keep.

Considerations for Individual Implementations of this Solution

Once the snapshot volume is created, LVM maintains it for you.  The only consideration you need to have is how large of a volume you would like to dedicate to the snapshot data.  Obviously, you need not create a snapshot volume larger than the original on which it is based (because even if you overwrote every bit of data on the original, you would never need to store more than that on the snapshot volume), but you can typically get away with a significantly less sizable snapshot volume if you don’t expect to actually overwrite all of the data on the original.

So, considering this information in the context of a large system upgrade, I can report that I am making use of only three logical volumes on my server:

  1. One 20GB volume mounted to the root of the file tree ( / )
    1. Only 1.3 GB of data exists here
  2. One 10GB mounted to /home
    1. Only 35 MB of data exists here
  3. One 20GB mounted to /var.
    1. About 7.6 GB of data exists here, but that includes some OS image files for use in guest domains.

I try to keep my system rather minimal (it’s basically a minimal Fedora Server installation with the Virtualization Platform added and little else), so consider that when observing the volume statistics presented above.

To provide adequate snapshot volume sizes for the above volumes, I plan to create a 5 GB snapshot volume for the root volume, a 1 GB snapshot volume for the home volume, and a 5 GB snapshot volume for the var volume.  This covers all of the data in those volumes, so even if we overwrite it all, we should have enough space in the snapshot volumes to cover it.

Instructions

Alright!  If you’ve determined what you need per the information provided above, and you’re ready to go all DevOps sysadmin on your own with the assistance of some guy on the Interwebs and all the guarantees that comes with (i.e. none), let’s commence!

Step 1:  Create the systemd Service Used to Create LVM Snapshots

First, we will configure systemd to create logical volume snapshots prior to the initialization of operating system components which may alter the contents of those volumes.  As noted above, this is to prevent the creation of logical volume snapshots from volumes on which active operating system components could be conducting work, for often the OS buffers data it intends to write to disk in your system’s RAM, but the OS considers the data to have been written and depends on that consideration for its successful operation.  That means that a logical volume snapshot taken of a volume to which buffered data has not yet been written will fail to include that data, so if you were to restore the logical volume from the snapshot data, your OS would expect data to be there which would not be available for restoration, and this would cause corruption that could render your system inoperable.

To address this, we’re going to order our operating system to create our logical volume snapshots prior to mounting the logical volumes during boot.  To do that, we make use of systemd’s awareness of targets, or stages of initialization.  For our purposes here, we are interested in local-fs-pre.target and local-fs.target.  The former target includes systemd actions explicitly scheduled to occur before local file systems are mounted (as described, for example, in /etc/fstab) and the latter includes systemd actions which take place to mount local file systems.

Our service we will author will instruct the OS, via systemd, to run the commands in it after the local-fs-pre.target actions have taken place, but before the local-fs.target actions (e.g. the local file system mounts) have taken place.  Our logical volume snapshots, therefore, will be taken before the original volumes are mounted, thereby ensuring their consistent states at the time of snapshot creation (the OS won’t be buffering data to write to them because they’re not accessible in a standard manner for such activity!).

Our service will be a file in /etc/systemd/system/ (with the other service files), and I have called it LVMsnap.service.  It goes a little something like this:

[Unit]
Description=Used to create LVM snapshots in preparation for an upgrade
Requires=local-fs-pre.target
DefaultDependencies=no
Conflicts=shutdown.target
After=local-fs-pre.target
Before=local-fs.target

[Install]
WantedBy=make-snapshots.target

[Service]
Type=oneshot
ExecStart=/usr/bin/bash -c '/usr/sbin/lvcreate -L5G -n root-`date +%F` -s fedora-server/root'
ExecStart=/usr/bin/bash -c '/usr/sbin/lvcreate -L1G -n home-`date +%F` -s fedora-server/home'
ExecStart=/usr/bin/bash -c '/usr/sbin/lvcreate -L5G -n var-`date +%F` -s fedora-server/var'

As you can see, the service requires that the local-fs-pre.target has been met before it executes, and it must execute before the local-fs.target is executed (so it will occur before local file system mounts).

The service type is a “oneshot”, meaning it simply executes the listed commands and calls it a day (it doesn’t involve any long-running daemon processes or the monitoring that comes with them).  The ExecStart commands might seem a little strange at first; why am I calling bash and executing the lvcreate commands rather than just executing the lvcreate commands directly?  Well, the answer is that systemd service files do not allow for cool stuff like command substitution in the command syntax, so my nifty little date +%F command used to generate a date string to serve as part of the snapshot volume name won’t work if you don’t call bash to interpret the command substitution and handle it for you.

But basically, you can take those lvcreate commands and modify the logical volume paths and sizes to suit your needs (I’m just showing the default strings one might encounter, as relevant to my system description above).  Go for it!

Since the creation and removal of snapshot volumes can happen in real time on your OS without adverse impact, feel free to test your lvcreate commands exactly as written (even with the explicit bash call) in your terminal from within a root context (I recommend sudo).  You can check the condition of the created snapshot volumes by using the handy lvs command.

If everything looks good, simply execute lvremove <volumeGroup>/<snapshotVolume> to get rid of it.  It’ll ask you if you’re sure you want to remove an active volume, and that’s fine; remember, the snapshot volume only holds data copied into it which we might want back at some point, so removing it will have no adverse impact on the running system.

Now the one remaining item that you might wonder about is the make-snapshots.target reference.  What is that?  We make it next!

Step 2:  Create the systemd Target Used to Call the LVMsnap Service

Now we’ll create the target file which we can insert into the series of targets executed by systemd at system startup.  Targets are basically references to sets of services, and systemd executes the targets in the order specified to systemd by the administrator (or OS designer).  The new target file will live in the same location as the service file (/etc/systemd/system/) and I have called it, as you might suspect, make-snapshots.target.  It looks like this:

[Unit]
Description=Invoke the LVMsnap.service to create system snapshots in preparation for an upgrade
Requires=multi-user.target

Very simple.  As you can see, I require the multi-user.target for this particular target to operate, but you can change that to graphical.target (or whatever) if that’s what how you typically boot your system (for, say, Fedora Workstation).

Step 3:  Enable the systemd Service for Use

I guess this could’ve been at the end of Step 1, or maybe it could’ve been Step 2; it doesn’t really matter, but make sure you do this (systemctl enable LVMsnap.service), or you may be looking through your systemd journal, staring at plain evidence that your target was reached, and wondering why it did not execute your service.  Well, if the service is disabled, systemd won’t run it!

Step 4:  Enjoy!

And that is it!  Now, to activate the target, you could either set it as the default before you reboot (systemctl set-default make-snapshots.target) or you could explicitly call the target in GRUB when booting (edit the linux line in your GRUB menu item with Ctrl+e and then add ‘systemd.unit=make-snapshots.target’ to the end).  I personally use the GRUB method, but if you’re managing the system remotely via nothing other than SSH, setting the defautl target temporarily could be an easier way to go.  Just make sure you set the default back to multi-user.target (or whatever) once you boot up, or you’ll be creating snapshot volumes every time you reboot.

I make use of this setup to give myself confidence in upgrading Fedora and now you can, too!  Let me know if you face issues (or see errors or whatever) and I’ll be glad to help.

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Upgrade Notes: Fedora 22 to Fedora 23

Well, despite the relatively complexity of my home server arrangement, I am happy to report that the Fedora team has succeeded in providing a distribution that smoothly upgrades without any additional administrative intervention!  Hooray!

Nonetheless, to be safe, I recommend making use of the wonderful Logical Volume Manager (really, truly one of the best system administration tools ever created, if you ask me, which you use by default with Fedora, unless you opted otherwise for some reason which I do not understand) to provide yourself with a robust fallback mechanism in the event that the upgrade goes awry.

But, if you needed some calming words from someone who just went there, I bring you happy tidings of success and another many months with the wonderfully stable, yet cutting-edge Fedora operating system.

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Brief Issue Analysis: Benghazi

Summary of Findings

  1. There is no evidence that officials attempted to mislead the public regarding the nature of the attacks on the Benghazi mission in the days following the attacks.
  2. There is no evidence of a “scandal” involving the administration’s handling of the Benghazi attacks.
    1. In fact, it might be reasonably asserted that the tone and quality of the report (as outlined below) combined with the obvious lack of any evidence for criminal or otherwise scandalous behavior on behalf of then-Secretary Clinton seem to support her assertions that she has been targeted by a right-wing conspiracy.
  3. For a benchmark comparison, the failures in the State Department which enabled the attack on the American Embassy in Benghazi, Libya are similar to, but less numerous and less severe than, those failures of the Bush administration which enabled the 9/11/2001 attacks (see table below).
    1. These failures are common in large organizations.  It is good for us as a country to learn from them and improve, and perhaps even to hold people accountable for the failures, but in my estimation it is hardly appropriate to argue, in either case, that the top-level leadership is unfit for duty based on either of these incidents.
  4. This is unrelated to political concerns here but:
    1. our actors, including Diplomatic Security Agents, CIA, and others engaged in combat on the ground in Libya behaved extremely admirably, showing on numerous documented occasions extreme self-control, excellent judgment, and a rejection of tactical advantage for the safety of civilians.  Reading their testimonies makes me very proud to be a part of this country.
      1. See I-97, for example, when GRS refused to fire upon attacking forces due to their close proximity to a household with civilians and children inside.
    2. Furthermore, local Libyan civilians were responsible for ultimately finding Stevens and transporting him to the hospital, all without knowing his identity, even going so far as to call numbers on his phone to report to someone he might know his location and status.  That is worth reporting.
    3. Finally, by all accounts, the love for Ambassador Stevens by the Libyan people, which he clearly reciprocated, strikes me as unique among Ambassadors (though if it is not, we truly have an amazing set of officials in them), and his loss is truly tragic.  His inspired among the Libyan people protests and condemnations of the numerous militias vying for power.

What did critics allege of Ms. Clinton and/or the Obama Administration?

Honestly, it is tough to determine.  The accusations seem to be centered around the idea that, though the administration knew the attack was a planned act by extremists, they told the public that it was a spontaneous protest turned deadly as a result of an Internet video.  Allegedly this was done in some sort of attempt to improve the appearance of the administration in the eyes of the public during an election year.

Aside from that primary allegation (which constitutes, I guess, the “scandal” portion of this incident), there are numerous allegations of other systemic failures (summarized in a table at the bottom of this brief) in the preparation for and response to the incident.

Are these allegations true?

The Benghazi report seems to justify the administration’s statements to the public if not merely by virtue of the confusion it documents within the administration…a confusion which they actually seem to have attempted to convey by saying repeatedly that their understanding of the attack would evolve, but that given available evidence, it seemed a violent response to a video was a likely explanation.

And indeed, having read the majority of the report, it seems even by proclamation of the attackers’ commanding officer that this series of attacks was conducted in response to the video.  It was, however, not part of a protest, but a planned attack, so the administration’s initial position was flawed, but not obviously intended as some sort of ruse to fool the public into…what?  Thinking we were caught off-guard?  No matter how this is viewed, it is clear that we were caught off-guard; the important details there, however, are that concerns over the safety of the Ambassador preceded his trip to Benghazi, and he himself determined that he should go in spite of the concerns.

So no, that primary allegation seems false, and the other allegations of failures can be judged in relation to a benchmark case (9/11/2001).  Those failures are both less severe and less numerous, it seems, than those failures which led to the events of 9/11/2001.  See the table at the bottom of this brief for a summary and comparison.

What was the relationship with the “Innocence of Muslims” video?

The Benghazi report notes that on September 10th, 2012 (one day before the attack), Leon E. Panetta informed President Obama that they were “already tracking an inflammatory anti-Muslim video that was circulating on the Internet and inciting anger across the Middle East against the United States” and that they “braced for demonstrations in Cairo and elsewhere across the region.” The focus of the discussion specifically included Tripoli, Libya due to intelligence indicating “demonstrations could erupt in those areas.”

Additionally, calls were actually made on Egyptian television, in Egyptian newspapers, and on social media to protest the denigration of the Muslim faith as depicted in a newly-released Arabic version of the trailer for “The Innocence of Muslims.” In response to this, and additional calls for protest of the imprisonment of Sheikh Omaar abdel Rahman (for participation in the 1993 World Trade Center bombing), a protest of about 2,000 demonstrators assembled at the US Embassy in Cairo on September 11th, 2012. There was even a call to “burn the embassy down,” referring to Cairo. This was a big deal in the State Department, and they coordinated with Egyptian leaders to order most of the embassy employees not to even come to work that day.

Once the protest was under way, AFRICOM (United States Africa Command) observed and became concerned that it would incite other protests in the region (including neighboring Libya).  However, to State Department staff located in Tripoli and Benghazi, there appeared to be little response to the video in Libya. They had, however, been monitoring for a response since September 8th 2012.

Ahmed Abu Khattala, the leader of Ansar al-Sharia in Benghazi, was captured by the US Army and the FBI in Libya.  Though interviewed State Department officials are shown in the House report to deny that any protest occurred whatsoever prior to the attack, Khattala has claimed that there were such protests and that the attack was in retaliation for the Innocence of Muslims video.

Who were the attackers?

According to the report: the attackers were a mix of local extremist groups, including the Benghazi-based Ansar al-Sharia, al-Qaida in the Lands of the Islamic Maghreb, and the Muhammad Jamal Network out of Egypt. Members of al-Qaida in the Arabian Peninsula, al-Qaida in Iraq and Abu Ubaydah Ibn Jarah Battalion also participated.

Any other important information about which one might not know to ask?

One really important piece of data to come from the Benghazi commission’s findings is that Ambassador Stevens was passionately involved in his job and it was he, himself, who rejected concerns about his safety in going (as testified by his Diplomatic Security Agent in Triploi). Additionally, he was identified (with his agreement) by the State Department as the only person who could go to Benghazi and get a clear picture of the political and security situation of the area.

A Note on the Quality of the Benghazi Report

Additionally, the quality of the Benghazi report is poor in comparison with the 9/11 Commission report.  The 9/11 report, when read, strikes the reader as a clearly bipartisan, respectful attempt at investigating the relevant incident.  It even begins with an observation of the benefit of hindsight and an explicit concern for appearing overly critical.  Though it is a bit melodramatic on more than one occasion, it appears free of grammatical and typographic errors and seems professional.

The Benghazi report, on the other hand, is fronted by an overtly partisan website that seems more like a right-wing conspiracy site on the Internet than an official product of the United States government.  These are actual press releases from the site:

In line with that, as one might suspect, the Benghazi report takes a castigating tone at nearly any opportunity, often undercutting its credibility on account of its seemingly obvious stretches for inappropriate conclusions.

Further, the report actually contains a noticeable number of typographic and grammatical errors.  Larger editing errors, such as quotations which are included both at the end of a section and the beginning of the subsequent section, or mislabeled Q-and-A sessions (with the Q or A incorrectly labeling the text) exist as well.

How does the Benghazi incident compare to other terrorist attacks against the United States?

Given that I have at my disposal two large studies composed on these issues, let us compare the 9/11/2001 attacks against the US with the Benghazi Mission attack. I found the failures involved to be similar in quality:

Issue 9/11/2001 Terrorist Attacks Benghazi Mission Attack
Poor dissemination of gathered intelligence ·         Information linking those involved in prior terrorist activities to future actors in 9/11 attacks was not shared between intelligence agencies
Poor response to actionable intelligence ·         No link was made between the arrest of an Al Qaeda operative in America (Zacarias Moussaoui) for seeking flight training for the purpose of using an airplane in a terrorist act to heightened indications of a large-scale Al Qaeda attack ·         Despite knowledge of the poor security situation in Benghazi (and the importance of the post to the State Department, as evidenced by the report), only three Diplomatic Security Agents were stationed at the post.

·         A Diplomatic Security Agent was informed the day before the attack that the Benghazi Mission was being photographed by a member of the local police force assigned to the Mission. It was reported to the Libyan Ministry of Foreign Affairs, but that was it.

Poor execution of extant mitigating practices ·         False statements on visa applications were not discovered

·         Fraudulent passports were not discovered

·         Actors were identified for searches by automated screening systems (CAAPS), but they were not searched

Poor understanding of threat ·         No preparation existed for suicide-missions aimed at turning passenger aircraft into weapons

o   This had been hypothesized by NORAD, but only in relation to aircraft hijacked from overseas locations

·         Upon arrival, Stevens was surprised at the deterioration of Benghazi and the large presence of competing militant factions.
Poor prioritization of issues ·         The threat from Al Qaeda was known for many years, and was identified during that time (by the 9/11 commission report) as perhaps the most dangerous foreign enemy facing the US
Poor military response ·         Even after the “shoot-down” order was given, pilots who were scrambled were scrambled too late and without knowledge of their targets or mission (seriously). ·         No military force was stationed near enough to Benghazi to provide any hope of a response time low enough to intervene in an attack of the kind under which the Mission came.

·         The Secretary of Defense’s order to deploy assets was not relayed to those assets until two hours after it was given.

Ineffective leadership ·         DCI Tenet issued a directive indicating “We are at war. I want no resources or people spared in this effort, either inside CIA or the Community”, yet it had no appreciable effect on mobilizing the CIA. ·         The Department of Defense placed its forces on “higher alert” on September 10th, 2012, but this effected no actual adjustment in its posture for assets that could respond to a crisis in North Africa.

 

 

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