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Elf M. Sternberg
Rod Dreher over at the American Conservative has a hair-pulling pair of letters today from readers that he has entitled Creating The White Tribe. Let's forgo the important observations that there has been a "white tribe" in America since at least Article 1, Section 2, paragraph 3 of the United States Constitution ("Representation and direct taxes shall be apportioned ... according to a whole number of free persons ... and three-fifths of all others persons.") and look through these complaints.

His first writer complains that he's "very lower middle class," and yet "If you listen to the left, I'm swimming in privilege." Another says that the "histrionics on the left have made me more racist, more sexist, and more homophobic than I've ever been in my entire life."

LBJ's observation still rings true: "If you can convince the lowest white man he's better than the best colored man, he won't notice you're picking his pocket. Hell, give him somebody to look down on, and he'll empty his pockets for you." These men are looking for someone to pick their pockets. The second admits he was already homophobic, sexist, and racist, the recent show of strength by others has only made him more committed to his straight, white, masculine view.

Neither writer has ever been told that he has to speak for his entire group, or had someone come up and say, "Why do white guys riot after they win a baseball game?" or "Why do white guys commit so much domestic violence?" Cops have never used their skin color as a proxy for a threat. If they get violent with the police, the odds of their coming out alive are signficantly highter. Now they're being asked to defend themselves, and... they can't. They just can't. The best they can manage is a pipsqueak, "Well, I'm not the bad guy here, I can't be, I'm poor."

So what? Black people are overall more poor. Women are overall more poor. The system maybe isn't serving these guys, but it's actively suppressing others. If you don't think that's privilege, well, I don't care about your problems.

I wanted to say I get these guys. And in a way, I do. I understand the wish for "the warm embrace [of a white tribe] that tell me it's okay to be a white guy." But I'm also a man with morals and ethics that tells me that there's a difference between heritage and kyriarchy, and mistaking one for the other is what got us here in the first place.

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A (now deleted) Tweet from an alt-rightie demanded to know, "Please explain how millions of pink hats were manufactured and delivered with military precision all on the same day!"

Two years ago, I went to visit a friend who was stuck at home caring for her husband, who had recently had a heart attack and was bedridden but recovering. The walk from the bus stop to her home was about four blocks, and when she asked me how I was I said fine but that my ears were freezing.

She made us tea while we caught up, and then pulled out a bag of yarn and a crochet hook. It's something she does. About twenty minutes later she presented me with a lovely hat long enough to cover my ears.

I still have it, too. It's not pink. I bet the biggest problem in making so many hats for the march was securing the yarn in the first place.

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Joe Wright has an excellent blog post about Anti-If Patterns that I naturally believe everyone who write programs ought to read, but there’s a detail that’s missing that I think is absolutely crucial to getting anti-if programming correct.


Types.


Yeah, you can yawn and leave now, if you don’t care. But I’m with Guido von Rossum on this, that once your software reaches a certain size the only way to stave off chaos is to demand more of the programmer up front, and that demand comes in the form of requiring programmers to understand the shape of the data, and to make sure that the pieces being passed between units of code fit perfectly.


Wright glances off the issue in his second pattern, “Use polymorphism instead of switch().” This is a common piece of advice, although it really only works when you have more than one switch statement; at that point, your switch statements are collections of methods that apply to different objects.


It’s his first (Boolean Params) and fourth (Conditional Expressions) patterns where he falls down a little. The most critical issue in both of these is the shape of the data. “Boolean Params” is just “Conditional Expressions” written as a lookup table. If we play the classic programmer exercise of zero, one, or many, a lookup table is a conditional expression taken from the “one” state to the “many” state. It is therefore absolutely critical to put your foot down and state for the record, In any conditional expression, for all sub-expressions, all left-hand values must share the exact same type, and all right-hand values must share the same type.


If this isn’t the case, you’ve created a way to sneak if back into the system, with separate code paths that must be unit tested. And down that road lies madness and unreliability.

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Let's set this up correctly: The Ku Klux Klan is, among other things, a legitimate sect of Christianity. It claims that it has honest, Christian beliefs that are wholly compatible with the Bible. This is the same reading that slave owners held and taught their children and their slaves. (In truth, there are two separate and incompatible readings. Curse of Ham readers believe non-whites are descendents of the cursed of Noah's son Ham and are thus fit for enslavement; Sixth-Dayers believe non-whites were created before Adam and Eve and are therefore beasts of the field, suitable to be used for the benefits of true humans.)

This reading of the Bible was believed, to some extent or another, by half of all Americans between 1815 and 1861. We think of America as split on the question of slavery, but it really wasn't. Instead, it was split on the question of having to watch cruelty in real-time. The northern states still had banks, and stock markets, and investors who bought up slave camps (and the slaves that went with them) in tranches that created market bubbles much like the housing bubble of 2007. The American North's money-men were perfectly happy, one way or another, to participate in the cotton trade— at the time, the single largest commodity in the world. Thousands of men, women and children were whipped and beaten daily to pick and haul ever more cotton to feed the economically driven maw of the world's first major industrial product.

The Klan is one of the few surviving Christian sects that still explicitly subscribes to a particular reading of the Bible based on the inherent superiority of one race over others. But we shouldn't think the Klan is particularly aberrant; the Klan today only believes what half of all Americans believed 180 years.

Restaurant owner Lester Maddox believed what the Klan believed. He was a legitimate Christian man whose reading of the Bible was no different from that of half of all Americans a few generations prior. In 1964, after the passage of the Civil Rights Act, he refused to grant three black men seats in his restaurant, claiming that being forced to do so was a violation of his sincere Christian beliefs. The judiciary has no legal power to judge the validity of a man's sincere Christian believfs, and given the just a few generations prior, half of all Americans held the same sincere Christian beliefs, the commentariat likewise had no moral argument to make.

The law, however, does have a say in what businesses do. Businesses depend upon the state, not necessarily the other way around. Business cost the state, and are empowered by the state, and are entirely creatures of the state. The state has the authority to put limits on what a business can and cannot do. And one thing the state agrees upon is that if you open a business to serve your community, you serve all of the community, without exception.

Maddox closed his restaurant rather than serve black human beings. He claimed that the Civil Rights Act made him "a slave to bureaucrats," and that his own civil and religious views were being persecuted.

In the coming months, we're about to see a huge wave of anti-LGBT legislation that is modeled on Lester Maddox's losing proposition: that being required to serve gay people deprives business people of a vital civil right: the right that they may conduct their business without their private religious views being compromised. But in 1964, the courts considered that argument, an argument that was more popular then than the anti-LGBT argument is now, and they dismissed it.

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Of all the legendarily blue states predicted to fall to the GOP in the coming years, no one would have believed that Washington State would be among them. Few even considered the possibility that reliably liberal Washington would fall under the GOP's sway and yet, I predict that's exactly what's about to happen.

Over the past couple of weeks, internal party district level votes have been taking place to see who runs the institutional Democratic party. Both parties are essentially clubs designed to support their interests, and their interests are politicians and legislation that support their causes. To join the Democratic Party in whole you have to go to meetings, pay dues, and do all the other things that you do when you join any other fraternal organization. The organization is arranged as districts aligned with the districts of the state-level legislators we support and send to Olympia. Districts are the proving grounds for people to show their mettle as organizers and wonks, either to move up in the party or to garner support for their run at a seat of government, and every two years the districts vote to see who'll be the chair, vice-chair, secretary, etc.

Despite red-heavy eastern Washington, the majority of our citizens live along the I-5 corridor from Everett to Olympia, and they overwhelmingly vote for urban, liberal interests. It's only the distribution of districts by territory that gives the Washington State GOP its lopsided authority over the legislature, but it also explains why the governorship is typically in Democratic hands.

Throughout the bitter campaign season, Washington State was one of those fever-dreams of Bernie Sanders fans. Bernie supporters unfamiliar with party dynamics, Roberts Rules of Order, or even mere civil decorum, flooded the Democratic general membership meetings. The Sanders supporters were enraged when he lost, and that rage and bitterness was fueled by reports that the DNC favored Hillary Clinton. It was further inflamed by rumors (and only rumors) that the DNC sabotaged Bernie's chances.

Now that the election is over, Washington's Democratic "blue corridor" is undergoing its own reorganization, rewarding those people who best led the party to its own victories in the state, the legislature and, yes, even at the national level. Right?

Wrong.

The Washington State GOP cannot believe what is happening to the Washington State Democratic party this week. They keep hoping no one will pinch them and wake them up from their fantastic dream. In a fit of madness beyond their wildest hopes, the Democratic I-5 corridor is self-destructing. Bernie supporters are flooding memberships and voting out everyone who supported Hillary Clinton, Jay Inslee, and every other Democrat who won a seat somewhere in Washington State. They've announched they're going to change the district-level organizational rules to be "more fair" (sound familiar)?

The 2018 elections are pretty damn critical. They're the elections that decide who will be in power when the 2020 census is taken. They're the elections that decide who will be in power when the state carves up its electoral districts, as every 10 years the census reveals population change and drift.

The Washington State Democratic party of 2018 will be in complete disarray; the Sanders people will be leaving in disgust that change isn't happening or fast enough, because they were new to the process and many of them don't understand what "the long haul" of politics is really like. The glad-handing narcissists who step into the power vacuum and promise to guide them to the promised land will stop really working their leadership positions as power and prestige leech away. Even if the state leadership retains some semblance of sanity, many of the districts will be playing "Resistance" to both the GOP and the Democrats, taking their votes and supporting and going home. It doesn't take many of them; if even one in ten screws with the organization, that's a lot of support that's about to disappear.

Meanwhile, expect the GOP to pour lots of green fuel into this fire. This chaos gives them the opening they want, and they'd be fools to let it go. They'll do everything they can to distract us: anti-gay legislation, anti-union legislation, reductions to urban support without concomittant reductions of urban taxation. They'll try their damndest to keep each segment of the broad coalition known as "democracy" focused on their issues, to the neglect of the coalition itself.

Just in case, you know, you had hope for sanity.

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In a great article on the opiod addiction problem, Johann Hari points out that the real story about opiod addiction isn't about opiod availability. If it were, we'd see it everywhere and we don't. Instead, it's in those places where people are the most detached from their communities, where their communities are falling apart, and where there isn't a lot of hope that things will get better. This is consistent with the Rat Park experiments, and is the basic truth about drug addiction: it's a relief from pain.

Then Hari says that cracking down on the distribution of pain management drugs never works and results in more pain to those who legitimately needs it. He then say:
Starting in the early 2000s, Switzerland assigned addicted people to clinics where they were given opiates under supervision by a nurse. Crucially, they were also given extensive social support to turn their lives around, including therapy and help finding a job or housing. They gave you the drug, and at the same time, they dealt with the underlying pain that made you feel you needed the drug in the first place.
Unfortunately, I've become convinced that America is a fundamentally cruel country. The Democrats have members who are not, but both parties are in the thrall of America's tradition a cruelty, one that is deepely embedde in our psyche. We started as a country that made its first and greatest fortunes with slaves; our primary exports were tobacco and cotton, both reaped with unimaginable human cruelty.

There's going to be no help for our drug addicts. Without more real human, Christian, Buddhist, or Muslim charity, there's not going to be.

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A recent article in The New York Times fetishizes a specific kind of 'hard work':
One recent morning, I sat near two young men at a coffee shop here whom I’ve known since they were little boys. Now about 18, they pushed away from the table, and one said: “Let’s go to work. Let the liberals sleep in.” The other nodded.

They’re hard workers. As a kid, one washed dishes, took orders and swept the floor at a restaurant. Every summer, the other picked sweet corn by hand at dawn for a farm stand and for grocery stores, and then went to work all day on his parents’ farm. Now one is a welder, and the other is in his first year at a state university on an academic scholarship. They are conservative, believe in hard work, family, the military and cops, and they know that abortion and socialism are evil, that Jesus Christ is our savior, and that Donald J. Trump will be good for America.
To which I want to add a hearty Fuck You, You Fucking Fuck.

This weird reverence for young men who "work hard" yet happen to be far away from urban infrastructure is one of the most infuriating parts of the whole "working class" thing. When I was "about 18," I worked in a warehouse, hauling boxes, cataloging the contents, and doing inventory. The warehouse was in Florida, was broiling hot even on the best of days, and was a distribution point for specialized pharmaceuticals for nursing homes. I sometimes went on courier duty. I met the nurses at the receiving stations, and I saw cops taking violent, mentally ill people to the one clinic that specialized in that work. I know a nurse who got stabbed.

I moved boxes until my back ached.

I've worked in warehouses three times in my life. Once for the pharmaceutical group, once for an international air freight company, and once for Levis jeans. The latter two were in Seattle, and in the winter those warehouses required gloves. I drove a forklift. I still moved boxes until my back ached. On Friday nights, I went home at 3am. At Christmas, I went home later.

I have had the usual plethora of young-person menial jobs. I have washed dishes in a restaurant. I have delivered pizza. I have worked in warehouses to make ends meet. And yes, I went to college and did well and got on with my life. I have two children and 30 years later am still married to my college sweetheart.

I believe in hard work and family. I believe in a police force that embraces a vision of themselves as guardians of the peace and sustainers of the dignity of the citizens they serve, not warriors for the status quo. I believe in a military that does its duty with honor, and responsible civilian control.

A lifetime of experience has also taught me other lessons: that abortion is a woman's decision and not mine, that corporations and the people who derive their wealth from them will do anything, sacrifice any honor or reputation, to avoid responsibility when their actions harm others. That if you're not independently wealthy and have at least **five years** worth of savings in the bank, you should always vote for a social safety net to support you and yours. That the government is the only institution that *can* be said to be responsible for all the people, even when it manifestly is failing to be so, and that paying your goddamn taxes is the way take responsibility for helping others.

So seriously, NYT, take this weird fetishism of young, rural, white guys "working hard" and shove it in your ear hard enough to hit brain matter. You know who work hard? I work hard. You know who works harder? The 40-something Russian immigrant women who vacuum the floors of my cozy office at 2AM. The laborers who hump garbage, and laundry, and pallets of food, and all the other stuff needed to keep the city running.

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When I was 13 years old, I laid my hands on my first true computer. It was a DEC PDP-11/44, later upgraded to a PDP-11/70, running RSTS/E and the BASIC/PLUS shell environment. Live every teenage boy, I started out by writing video games. Bad ones, naturally, since all we had was the ANSI escape codes on a black-and-white monitor. And while my code kinda worked, there was a statement in the BASIC language that escaped my insight. DIM.


DIM A(100)


I really didn’t “get” what this statement meant or why it was necessary. Indexing didn’t make any sense to me at all. There wasn’t anyone to explain it to me, and the magazines and books I had weren’t helping. It was literally a year before I finally had an epiphany: DIM was creating a row of boxes in which to store things, and the index numbr let me say which box I wanted. Variables were no longer just storing things; they were storing things that pointed to other things.


I had to visualize it before I understood it.


Djikstra once said that “As potential programmers, students who have had prior exposure to BASIC are mentally mutilated beyond hope of reconstruction.” While that may sound a little harsh, I suspect there’s some truth to it. For years that need to be able visualize what a program was doing before I could trust that it was correct hampered me from moving forward with a lot of different and interesting projects. To this day, I still feel like I need concrete, working examples of something before I understand what it’s doing.


It gets worse when I’m working with highly abstract material. Learning to trust that singly linked lists do what they’re supposed to do was actually hard for me. It took more than a dozen tries, and to this day if we get past five links of responsibility I have to find a way to abstract the thing I’m working on into a singular concept, beating it into my brain that it’s okay, that chunk of code is going to do what I want it to. I want to know down to the electrons flowing through the wires what’s going on with my code.


A friend of mine, a highly accomplished mathematician in his own right, is fond of the notion of notation as a tool for thought, and that getting past the need to visualize is a critical stage in mathematical thinking. That’s probably true, and I fear I’ll never get past that critical stage. Indeed, at my age, it may already be too late.


That’s not going to stop me from trying, of course. I am not going to treat programming as applied demonology, which is what most developers do these days.  Giving is just not in my nature.

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While thinking about superaging and how ongoing difficult, discomforting effort is what keeps our brains from deteriorating, I had a horrifying thought. It sometimes seems as if our senators and congressmen in their 60s, 70s and even 80s are surprisingly spry and nimble-minded, for all their ideologies are cast in concrete. Maybe the reason for that vigor is just that being a politician, whether they're meeting with constituents or negotiating with backers, involves being constantly in difficult, and distressing situations far outside anything vaguely resembling the human comfort zone.

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I had to drive into work this morning, so AM Radio it was. 770 KVI is Rush Limbaugh's channel, but before he's on they have a "morning drive" show with two clowns who aren't quite as crazy as most right wing talk show hosts.

This morning, the hosts were talking about the recent article on superagers, people who remain mentally fit and vibrant in their 70s and 80s. It turns out the secret to retaining your brain's faculties as you age is to exercise your brain, hard. Like, for hours on end doing things that suck. The practices that make your brain better and stronger "are not inherently enjoyable."

One of the hosts objected. "Wait, wait, I worked hard my entire life so that I could sit back and retire. So I could hire someone else to do that work. And that's the whole point of working hard, so you can relax!"

The other host said, "Yeah, well, your brain's gonna get thin if you do that."

"But I don't need it anymore! Why do I care?"

That... just seems like such a weird attitude. I mean, I get that now that once you've got age, experience and (presumably) enough money to retire, you don't have to do the scutwork; you don't have to engage in the repetitious, dilatory bullroar work that characterizes most of our current economic life. But that just means you've got the foundation to do more, to move higher, to step outside the comfort zone of your work and teach to others, seek out new modes of expressing what it is to which you've dedicated your life's work, and expand the circle of knowledge and human reach.

Anything else, and you've already declared yourself to be a waste.

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