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Early Morning Thoughts on the Day After

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Because, like I suspect a great many people, I couldn’t get to sleep tonight.

1. Well,I certainly missed that turn of events, didn’t I? To be fair to myself, pretty much everyone missed it — apparently even Trump’s pollsters thought he was going down in defeat last night — but I’m not responsible for other people, I’m responsible for me, and, well: Missed that one totally. I never thought Trump would win the election. I was wrong. He won it. My being wrong is on me.

Would he have won it with a different opponent? Would he have won it if the Supreme Court hadn’t gutted the Voters Right Act? Would he have won it if a significant number of people hadn’t voted for third party candidates? Or if James Comey hasn’t done his little email stunt in the last couple of weeks? These are interesting questions that don’t change the fact that in this reality, Donald Trump is the president-elect. The woulda, shoulda, coulda of things is irrelevant to that.

2. With that said, it is of note that the polling for this election cycle was essentially disastrously wrong, and — again to be fair — it was pretty much only Nate Silver of FiveThirtyEight who warned people that if it was wrong, that the predictions for the race would fail in basically the manner that they did. Silver and his site predicted the outcome incorrectly just like everyone else, but he gets credit for saying “if I’m wrong, this is how that’s going to work” and as far as I can see pretty much nailing that. So, yay, Nate Silver? I would have rather it gone the other way and we all had a post-election laugh at his over-cautiousness. But it didn’t, and once again Silver is the smartest dude in the room, for what it’s worth.

Be that as it may, there is clearly something systematically wrong with how polling is being done. If poll after poll had Clinton leading in states she went on to lose, and often leading by more than a margin of error, then something’s going on. I don’t mean in a conspiratorial, “the polls are being manipulated, man!” sort of way. Again, it’s something systematic in how the polls are conducted and who they are reaching (and probably also something to do with this particular election cycle in itself). How does that get fixed? I’m sure someone will tell us. Maybe Nate Silver.

Much of my confidence about this year’s election was rooted in the polling, which had been reasonably accurate for the last few election cycles (both presidential and congressional), and like I said, while I own my own mis-estimation and being wrong, it’s also a fact that I was wrong along with a whole lot of people, including people for whom polling is their actual job. It’s a discomfiting place to be.

3.It will be no surprise to anyone I’m unhappy with the result of this election. Donald Trump was manifestly the worst presidential candidate in living memory, an ignorant, sex-assaulting vindictive bigot, enamored of strongmen and contemptuous of the law, consorting with white nationalists and hucksters — and now he’s president-elect, President-Elect, which is appalling and very sad for the nation. I don’t see much good coming out of this, either in the immediate or long-term, not in the least because if he does any of the things he promises to do, his impact will be ruinous to the nation. Add to the fact that he’s the GOP candidate, and the GOP now will have the White House, Congress and will appoint the next Supreme Court justice, and, well. There aren’t any grownups in the GOP anymore, and we’re going to find out what that means for all of us.

Here are some of the things it could mean: A conservative Supreme Court for decades, backtracking on climate change, the repeal of Roe v. Wade, Wade, curtailment of free speech, loss of medical insurance to millions, tax policy that advantages the wealthy and adds trillions to the national debt, punitive racial policies, the return of torture as a part of the military toolbox, and a president who uses the apparatus of the US to go after his personal enemies. And these are only the things Trump has said he’s ready to do — we don’t know what else he will do when he’s literally the most powerful man on the planet, with a compliant complaint legislature and judiciary.

The GOP conceit is that somehow they will be able to control Trump, which is a theory that’s worked so well up to now. More realistically, I think the best that can be hoped for is that Trump simply becomes apathetic and bored and leaves actual governance to others, i.e., the Dubya maneuver. This didn’t work particularly well then, but it might be marginally better than the alternative. But no matter what, I don’t have much optimism for the next four years.

4. I’m a well-off straight white man, which means of all the segments of the population, the Trump years will likely punish me the least — I may have to adjust my investments so I don’t lose tons of money when the stock market tumbles (or just be willing to ride it out, just like in 2008), but otherwise, in the short-term at least, I’m likely to be fine. I can’t say the same for my friends and loved ones who are women or minorities or LGTBQ or who struggle financially to make ends meet, or some combination of all of those. I wish I could say to them that it’ll be fine and that they’ll be able to ride out the next four (or, God forbid, eight) years, but I can’t. Trump, himself racist and sexist, brought a bunch of racists and sexists and homophobes to the dance, and now he’s obliged to dance with them. Things could get pretty ugly for everyone who isn’t a well-off straight white man. Things are likely to get ugly.

A lot of my friends are scared of Trump’s America, in other words, and they should be. As Maya Angelou once said, when someone shows you who they are, believe them the first time. Donald Trump has shown us over and over again who he is; the worst of his supporters — the ones who will now feel like they have free rein reign to indulge their various bigotries — have shown us who they are, too. And while not every Trump voter is among the worst of people, they share the responsibility of having made anyone who isn’t straight, and white, and male, and well-off, less secure, less safe, and more frightened. That’s what they bought for us when they pulled the lever for Trump.

5. And we have to face up to fact that it was white people who brought Trump to us — Trump got the majority of white men and white women who voted. We can parse out why that was (and we can talk about how the minority vote was suppressed), but at the end of the day, the fact remains: Trump will be in power because white people wanted him there.

If Trump’s administration indulges in the racism, sexism and religious and other bigotries that Trump and his people have already promised to engage in, we can assume it’s because his voters are just fine with that racism, sexism and religious and other bigotries — even if they claim to have voted for him for other reasons entirely. After all, Trump didn’t hide these things about himself, or try to sneak these plans in by a side door. They were in full view this entire time. If you vote for a bigot who has bigoted plans, you need to be aware of what that says about you, and your complicity in those plans.

I voted against Trump — voted against him twice, in fact, since I also voted against him in the primary — and I voted against him in no small part because I found his bigotry shameful, and still do. I am proud that he did not get my vote; I’m as proud of that vote as any I’ve offered up. And as an American, I have no plans to take his bigotry lying down. I hope you won’t, either.

6. That said, it might be a little much to ask people to stand and fight today. It was a long night, and a depressing night, for a lot of us. Take a day. Or two. Or a week. Or however much the time you need for yourself to get your head around this thing.

But at the end of that time, I hope you come back to us. Looking at the numbers as they stand right now, Trump won by just about 300,000 votes  Clinton got at least 100,000 more votes than Trump out of about 120 million individual votes cast. There’s a lot of us who will stand with you, when you’re ready to stand again with us. There’s work to be done over the next four years and beyond. We need to get to it.


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"As Maya Angelou once said, when someone shows you who they are, believe them the first time."
Boulder, CO

Trump: Tribune Of Poor White People - The American Conservative

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I wrote last week about the new nonfiction book Hillbilly Elegy: A Memoir of a Family and a Culture in Crisis by J.D. Vance, the Yale Law School graduate who grew up in the poverty and chaos of an Appalachian clan. The book is an American classic, an extraordinary testimony to the brokenness of the white working class, but also its strengths. It’s one of the best books I’ve ever read. With the possible exception of Yuval Levin’s The Fractured Republic, for Americans who care about politics and the future of our country, Hillbilly Elegy is the most important book of 2016. You cannot understand what’s happening now without first reading J.D. Vance. His book does for poor white people what Ta-Nehisi Coates’s book did for poor black people: give them voice and presence in the public square.

This interview I just did with Vance in two parts (the final question I asked after Trump’s convention speech) shows why.

RD: A friend who moved to West Virginia a couple of years ago tells me that she’s never seen poverty and hopelessness like what’s common there. And she says you can drive through the poorest parts of the state, and see nothing but TRUMP signs. Reading “Hillbilly Elegy” tells me why. Explain it to people who haven’t yet read your book. 

J.D. VANCE: The simple answer is that these people–my people–are really struggling, and there hasn’t been a single political candidate who speaks to those struggles in a long time.  Donald Trump at least tries.

What many don’t understand is how truly desperate these places are, and we’re not talking about small enclaves or a few towns–we’re talking about multiple states where a significant chunk of the white working class struggles to get by.  Heroin addiction is rampant.  In my medium-sized Ohio county last year, deaths from drug addiction outnumbered deaths from natural causes.  The average kid will live in multiple homes over the course of her life, experience a constant cycle of growing close to a “stepdad” only to see him walk out on the family, know multiple drug users personally, maybe live in a foster home for a bit (or at least in the home of an unofficial foster like an aunt or grandparent), watch friends and family get arrested, and on and on.  And on top of that is the economic struggle, from the factories shuttering their doors to the Main Streets with nothing but cash-for-gold stores and pawn shops.

The two political parties have offered essentially nothing to these people for a few decades.  From the Left, they get some smug condescension, an exasperation that the white working class votes against their economic interests because of social issues, a la Thomas Frank (more on that below).  Maybe they get a few handouts, but many don’t want handouts to begin with.  

From the Right, they’ve gotten the basic Republican policy platform of tax cuts, free trade, deregulation, and paeans to the noble businessman and economic growth.  Whatever the merits of better tax policy and growth (and I believe there are many), the simple fact is that these policies have done little to address a very real social crisis.  More importantly, these policies are culturally tone deaf: nobody from southern Ohio wants to hear about the nobility of the factory owner who just fired their brother.

Trump’s candidacy is music to their ears.  He criticizes the factories shipping jobs overseas.  His apocalyptic tone matches their lived experiences on the ground.  He seems to love to annoy the elites, which is something a lot of people wish they could do but can’t because they lack a platform.  

The last point I’ll make about Trump is this: these people, his voters, are proud.  A big chunk of the white working class has deep roots in Appalachia, and the Scots-Irish honor culture is alive and well.  We were taught to raise our fists to anyone who insulted our mother.  I probably got in a half dozen fights when I was six years old.  Unsurprisingly, southern, rural whites enlist in the military at a disproportionate rate.  Can you imagine the humiliation these people feel at the successive failures of Bush/Obama foreign policy?  My military service is the thing I’m most proud of, but when I think of everything happening in the Middle East, I can’t help but tell myself: I wish we would have achieved some sort of lasting victory.  No one touched that subject before Trump, especially not in the Republican Party. 

I’m not a hillbilly, nor do I descend from hillbilly stock, strictly speaking. But I do come from poor rural white people in the South. I have spent most of my life and career living among professional class urbanite, most of them on the East Coast, and the barely-banked contempt they — the professional-class whites, I mean — have for poor white people is visceral, and obvious to me. Yet it is invisible to them. Why is that? And what does it have to do with our politics today? 

I know exactly what you mean.  My grandma (Mamaw) recognized this instinctively.  She said that most people were probably prejudiced, but they had to be secretive about it.  “We”–meaning hillbillies–“are the only group of people you don’t have to be ashamed to look down upon.”  During my final year at Yale Law, I took a small class with a professor I really admired (and still do).  I was the only veteran in the class, and when this came up somehow in conversation, a young woman looked at me and said, “I can’t believe you were in the Marines.  You just seem so nice.  I thought that people in the military had to act a certain way.”  It was incredibly insulting, and it was my first real introduction to the idea that this institution that was so important among my neighbors was looked down upon in such a personal way. To this lady, to be in the military meant that you had to be some sort of barbarian.  I bit my tongue, but it’s one of those comments I’ll never forget.  

The “why” is really difficult, but I have a few thoughts.  The first is that humans appear to have some need to look down on someone; there’s just a basic tribalistic impulse in all of us.  And if you’re an elite white professional, working class whites are an easy target: you don’t have to feel guilty for being a racist or a xenophobe.  By looking down on the hillbilly, you can get that high of self-righteousness and superiority without violating any of the moral norms of your own tribe.  So your own prejudice is never revealed for what it is.

A lot of it is pure disconnect–many elites just don’t know a member of the white working class. A professor once told me that Yale Law shouldn’t accept students who attended state universities for their undergraduate studies.  (A bit of background: Yale Law takes well over half of its student body from very elite private schools.)  “We don’t do remedial education here,” he said.  Keep in mind that this guy was very progressive and cared a lot about income inequality and opportunity.  But he just didn’t realize that for a kid like me, Ohio State was my only chance–the one opportunity I had to do well in a good school.  If you removed that path from my life, there was nothing else to give me a shot at Yale.  When I explained that to him, he was actually really receptive.  He may have even changed his mind.

What does it mean for our politics?  To me, this condescension is a big part of Trump’s appeal.  He’s the one politician who actively fights elite sensibilities, whether they’re good or bad.  I remember when Hillary Clinton casually talked about putting coal miners out of work, or when Obama years ago discussed working class whites clinging to their guns and religion.  Each time someone talks like this, I’m reminded of Mamaw’s feeling that hillbillies are the one group you don’t have to be ashamed to look down upon.  The people back home carry that condescension like a badge of honor, but it also hurts, and they’ve been looking for someone for a while who will declare war on the condescenders.  If nothing else, Trump does that.  

This is where, to me, there’s a lot of ignorance around “Teflon Don.”  No one seems to understand why conventional blunders do nothing to Trump.  But in a lot of ways, what elites see as blunders people back home see as someone who–finally–conducts themselves in a relatable way.  He shoots from the hip; he’s not constantly afraid of offending someone; he’ll get angry about politics; he’ll call someone a liar or a fraud.  This is how a lot of people in the white working class actually talk about politics, and even many elites recognize how refreshing and entertaining it can be!  So it’s not really a blunder as much as it is a rich, privileged Wharton grad connecting to people back home through style and tone.  Viewed like this, all the talk about “political correctness” isn’t about any specific substantive point, as much as it is a way of expanding the scope of acceptable behavior.  People don’t want to believe they have to speak like Obama or Clinton to participate meaningfully in politics, because most of us don’t speak like Obama or Clinton.

On the other hand, as Hillbilly Elegy says so well, that reflexive reverse-snobbery of the hillbillies and those like them is a real thing too, and something that undermines their prospects in life. Is there any way for it to be overcome, other than getting out of the bubble, as you did?

I’m not sure we can overcome it entirely. Nearly everyone in my family who has achieved some financial success for themselves, from Mamaw to me, has been told that they’ve become “too big for their britches.”  I don’t think this value is all bad.  It forces us to stay grounded, reminds us that money and education are no substitute for common sense and humility.  But, it does create a lot of pressure not to make a better life for yourself, and let’s face it: when you grow up in a dying steel town with very few middle class job prospects, making a better life for yourself is often a binary proposition: if you don’t get a good job, you may be stuck on welfare for the rest of your life.

I’m a big believer in the power to change social norms.  To take an obvious recent example, I see the decline of smoking as not just an economic or regulatory matter, but something our culture really flipped on.  So there’s value in all of us–whether we have a relatively large platform or if our platform is just the people who live with us–trying to be a little kinder to the kids who want to make a better future for themselves.  That’s a big part of the reason I wrote the book: it’s meant not just for elites, but for people from my own clan, in the hopes that they’ll better appreciate the ways they can help (or hurt) their own kin. 

At the same time, the hostility between the working class and the elites is so great that there will always be some wariness toward those who go to the other side.  And can you blame them?  A lot of these people know nothing but judgment and condescension from those with financial and political power, and the thought of their children acquiring that same hostility is noxious.  It may just be the sort of value we have to live with.  

The odd thing is, the deeper I get into elite culture, the more I see value in this reverse snobbery.  It’s the great privilege of my life that I’m deep enough into the American elite that I can indulge a little anti-elitism.  Like I said, it keeps you grounded, if nothing else!  But it would have been incredibly destructive to indulge too much of it when I was 18.  

I live in the rural South now, where I was born, and I see the same kind of social pathologies among some poor whites that you write about in Hillbilly Elegy. I also see the same thing among poor blacks, and have heard from a few black friends who made it out as you did the same kind of stories about how their own people turned on them and accused them of being traitors to their family and class — this, only for getting an education and building stable lives for themselves. The thing that so few of us either understand or want to talk about is that nobody who lives the way these poor black and white people do is ever going to amount to anything. There’s never going to be an economy rich enough or a government program strong enough to compensate for the lack of a stable family and the absence of self-discipline. Are Americans even capable of hearing that anymore? 

Judging by the current political conversation, no: Americans are not capable of hearing that anymore.  I was speaking with a friend the other night, and I made the point that the meta-narrative of the 2016 election is learned helplessness as a political value.  We’re no longer a country that believes in human agency, and as a formerly poor person, I find it incredibly insulting.  To hear Trump or Clinton talk about the poor, one would draw the conclusion that they have no power to affect their own lives.  Things have been done to them, from bad trade deals to Chinese labor competition, and they need help.  And without that help, they’re doomed to lives of misery they didn’t choose.  

Obviously, the idea that there aren’t structural barriers facing both the white and black poor is ridiculous.  Mamaw recognized that our lives were harder than rich white people, but she always tempered her recognition of the barriers with a hard-noses willfulness: “never be like those a–holes who think the deck is stacked against them.”  In hindsight, she was this incredibly perceptive woman.  She recognized the message my environment had for me, and she actively fought against it.

There’s good research on this stuff.  Believing you have no control is incredibly destructive, and that may be especially true when you face unique barriers.  The first time I encountered this idea was in my exposure to addiction subculture, which is quite supportive and admirable in its own way, but is full of literature that speaks about addiction as a disease.  If you spend a day in these circles, you’ll hear someone say something to the effect of, “You wouldn’t judge a cancer patient for a tumor, so why judge an addict for drug use.”  This view is a perfect microcosm of the problem among poor Americans.  On the one hand, the research is clear that there are biological elements to addiction–in that way, it does mimic a disease.  On the other hand, the research is also clear that people who believe their addiction is a biologically mandated disease show less ability to resist it.  It’s this awful catch-22, where recognizing the true nature of the problem actually hinders the ability to overcome.  

Interestingly, both in my conversations with poor blacks and whites, there’s a recognition of the role of better choices in addressing these problems.  The refusal to talk about individual agency is in some ways a consequence of a very detached elite, one too afraid to judge and consequently too handicapped to really understand.  At the same time, poor people don’t like to be judged, and a little bit of recognition that life has been unfair to them goes a long way.  Since Hillbilly Elegy came out, I’ve gotten so many messages along the lines of: “Thank you for being sympathetic but also honest.”

I think that’s the only way to have this conversation and to make the necessary changes: sympathy and honesty.  It’s not easy, especially in our politically polarized world, to recognize both the structural and the cultural barriers that so many poor kids face.  But I think that if you don’t recognize both, you risk being heartless or condescending, and often both.  

On the other hand, as a conservative, I grow weary of fellow middle-class conservatives acting as if it were possible simply to bootstrap your way out of poverty. My dad was able to raise my sister and me in the 1970s on a civil servant’s salary, supplemented by my mom’s small salary as a school bus driver. I doubt this would be possible today. You’re a conservative who has known poverty and powerlessness as well as wealth and privilege. What do you have to say to your fellow conservatives?

I think you hit the nail right on the head: we need to judge less and understand more.  It’s so easy for conservatives to use “culture” as an ending point in a discussion–an excuse to rationalize their worldview and then move on–rather than a starting point. I try to do precisely the opposite in Hillbilly Elegy.  This book should start conversations, and it is successful, it will.  

The Atlantic‘s Ta-Nehisi Coates, who I often disagree with, has made a really astute point about culture and the way it has been deployed against the black poor.  His point, basically, is that “culture” is little more than an excuse to blame black people for various pathologies and then move on.  So it’s hardly surprising that when poor people, especially poor black folks, hear “culture,” they instinctively run for the hills.  

But let’s just think about what culture really means, to borrow an example from my life.  One of the things I mention in the book is that domestic strife and family violence are cultural traits–they’re just there, and everyone experiences them in one form or another.  I learned domestic strife from the moment I was born, from more than 15 stepdads and boyfriends I encountered, to the domestic violence case that nearly tore my family apart (I was the primary victim).  So predictably, by the time I got married, I wasn’t a great spouse.  I had to learn, with the help of my aunt and sister (both of whom had successful marriages), but especially with the help of my wife, how not to turn every small disagreement into a shouting match or a public scene.  Too many conservatives look at that situation, say “well that’s a cultural problem, nothing we can do,” and then move on.  They’re right that it’s a cultural problem: I learned domestic strife y648from my mother, and she learned it from her parents.  

But to speak “culture” and then move on is a total copout, and there are public policy solutions to draw from experiences like this: how could my school have better prepared me for domestic life? how could child welfare services have given me more opportunities to spend time with my Mamaw and my aunt, rather than threatening me–as they did–with the promise of foster care if I kept talking?  These are tough, tough problems, but they’re not totally immune to policy interventions.  Neither are they entirely addressable by government.  It’s just complicated.

That’s just one small example, obviously, and there are many more in the book.  But I think this unwillingness to deal with tough issues–or worse, to pretend they’ll all go away if we can hit 4 percent growth targets–is a significant failure of modern conservative politics.  And looking at the political landscape, this failure may very well have destroyed the conservative movement as we used to know it.

And what do you have to say to liberals?

Well, it’s almost the flip side: stop pretending that every problem is a structural problem, something imposed on the poor from the outside.  I see a significant failure on the Left to understand how these problems develop.  They see rising divorce rates as the natural consequence of economic stress. Undoubtedly, that’s partially true.  Some of these family problems run far deeper.  They see school problems as the consequence of too little money (despite the fact that the per pupil spend in many districts is quite high), and ignore that, as a teacher from my hometown once told me, “They want us to be shepherds to these kids, but they ignore that many of them are raised by wolves.”  Again, they’re not all wrong: certainly some schools are unfairly funded.  But there’s this weird refusal to deal with the poor as moral agents in their own right.  In some cases, the best that public policy can do is help people make better choices, or expose them to better influences through better family policy (like my Mamaw).  

There was a huge study that came out a couple of years ago, led by the Harvard economist Raj Chetty.  He found that two of the biggest predictors of low upward mobility were 1) living in neighborhoods with concentrated poverty and 2) growing up in a neighborhood with a lot of single mothers.  I recall that some of the news articles about the study didn’t even mention the single mother conclusion.  That’s a massive oversight!  Liberals have to get more comfortable with dealing with the poor as they actually are.  I admire their refusal to look down on the least among us, but at some level, that can become an excuse to never really look at the problem at all.

In Hillbilly Elegy, I noticed the parallel between two disciplined forms of life that enabled you and your biological father to transcend the chaos that dragged down so many others y’all knew. You had the US Marine Corps; he had fundamentalist Christianity. How did they work inner transformation within you both? 

Well, I think it’s important to point out that Christianity, in the quirky way I’ve experienced it, was really important to me, too.  For my dad, the way he tells it is that he was a hard partier, he drank a lot, and didn’t have a lot of direction.  His Christian faith gave him focus, forced him to think hard about his personal choices, and gave him a community of people who demanded, even if only implicitly, that he act a certain way.  I think we all understate the importance of moral pressure, but it helped my dad, and it has certainly helped me!  There’s obviously a more explicitly religious argument here, too.  If you believe as I do, you believe that the Holy Spirit works in people in a mysterious way.  I recognize that a lot of secular folks may look down on that, but I’d make one important point: that not drinking, treating people well, working hard, and so forth, requires a lot of willpower when you didn’t grow up in privilege.  That feeling–whether it’s real or entirely fake–that there’s something divine helping you and directing your mind and body, is extraordinarily powerful.  

General Chuck Krulak, a former commandant of the Marine Corps, once said that the most important thing the Corps does for the country is “win wars and make Marines.”  I didn’t understand that statement the first time I heard it, but for a kid like me, the Marine Corps was basically a four-year education in character and self-management.  The challenges start small–running two miles, then three, and more.  But they build on each other.  If you have good mentors (and I certainly did), you are constantly given tasks, yelled at for failing, advised on how not to fail next time, and then given another try.  You learn, through sheer repetition, that you can do difficult things.  And that was quite revelatory for me.  It gave me a lot of self-confidence.  If I had learned helplessness from my environment back home, four years in the Marine Corps taught me something quite different.

The other thing the Marine Corps did is hold our hands and prevent us from making stupid decisions.  It didn’t work on everyone, of course, but I remember telling my senior noncommissioned officer that I was going to buy a car, probably a BMW.  “Stop being an idiot and go get a Honda.” Then I told him that I had been approved for a new Honda, at the dealer’s low interest rate of 21.9 percent.  “Stop being an idiot and go to the credit union.”  He then ordered another Marine to take me to the credit union, open an account, and apply for a loan (the interest rate, despite my awful credit, was around 8 percent).  A lot of elites rely on parents or other networks the first time they made these decisions, but I didn’t even know what I didn’t know.  The Marine Corps ensured that I learned. 

Finally, what did watching Donald Trump’s speech last night make you think about this fall campaign, and the future of the country?

Well, I think the speech itself was a perfect microcosm of why I love and am terrified of Donald Trump.  On the one hand, he criticized the elites and actually acknowledge the hurt of so many working class voters. After so many years of Republican politicians refusing to even talk about factory closures, Trump’s message is an oasis in the desert.  But of course he spent way too much time appealing to people’s fears, and he offered zero substance for how to improve their lives.  It was Trump at his best and worst.

My biggest fear with Trump is that, because of the failures of the Republican and Democratic elites, the bar for the white working class is too low.  They’re willing to listen to Trump about rapist immigrants and banning all Muslims because other parts of his message are clearly legitimate.  A lot of people think Trump is just the first to appeal to the racism and xenophobia that were already there, but I think he’s making the problem worse.

The other big problem I have with Trump is that he has dragged down our entire political conversation.  It’s not just that he inflames the tribalism of the Right; it’s that he encourages the worst impulses of the Left.  In the past few weeks, I’ve heard from so many of my elite friends some version of, “Trump is the racist leader all of these racist white people deserve.” These comments almost always come from white progressives who know literally zero culturally working class Americans.  And I’m always left thinking: if this is the quality of thought of a Harvard Law graduate, then our society is truly doomed.  In a world of Trump, we’ve abandoned the pretense of persuasion.  The November election strikes me as little more than a referendum on whose tribe is bigger.

But I remain incredibly optimistic about the future.  Maybe that’s the hillbilly resilience in me.  Or maybe I’m just an idiot.  But if writing this book, and talking with friends and strangers about its message, has taught me anything, it’s that most people are trying incredibly hard to make it, even in this more complicated and scary world.  The short view of our country is that we’re doomed.  The long view, inherited from my grandparents’ 1930s upbringing in coal country, is that all of us can still control some part of our fate.  Even if we are doomed, there’s reason to pretend otherwise.

The book is Hillbilly Elegy. You really, really need to read it.

UPDATE: Best e-mail I’ve yet received about this interview:

Mr Dreher, I am writing to thank you for the impressive and thoughtful interview of JD Vance on his book. I am not a conservative. I am a black, gay, immigrant who has been blessed by the dynamic and productive American society we live in. So I am not the average reader of the American Conservative. I came to your article through a friend. So I just wanted to share how refreshing I found to have two white men being able to speak about class, their family experience and acknowledging an experience that is often not visible in our society. The poor rural south that you described and the communities that Mr.. Vance write about are familiar to me. Born in Haiti, growing up in Congo, Africa. I recognize that poverty, I recognize the marginalization and I SO APPRECIATED the conversation about individual agency! That is ultimately where the American dream (if it exists) lives. That deep belief that I as an individual am not a victim and can engage with the world around me! That has been my American lesson. That is the source of the dynamism of this society! Thank you!

UPDATE: Y’all might know that we draw from Shutterstock, a provider of stock photography, for most of our illustrations. That one above was the only one I could find on short notice that showed a normal-looking person at a Trump rally, up close. I thought, “You watch, in real life, that lady is probably rich.”

Sure enough! A reader just wrote:

Your article is excellent and I enjoyed reading it. The woman whose photograph you used is [name, hometown], a friend of my family. She is a multi-millionaire and her daughter went to Mar-a-Lago for birthday parties many years ago. I love the irony of this and thought you would get a laugh.

I did!

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tfisher
1221 days ago
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brico
1224 days ago
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+1
Brooklyn, NY
superiphi
1224 days ago
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Good chewy article.
Idle, Bradford, United Kingdom
skittone
1224 days ago
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I need to read this book.

They Have To Be Monsters

4 Comments and 20 Shares

Since I started working on Discourse, I spend a lot of more time thinking about how software can encourage and nudge people to be more empathetic online. That's why it's troubling especially hard to read articles like this one:

My brother’s 32nd birthday is today. It’s an especially emotional day for his family because he’s not alive for it.

He died of a heroin overdose last February. This year is even harder than the last. I started weeping at midnight and eventually cried myself to sleep. Today’s symptoms include explosions of sporadic sobbing and an insurmountable feeling of emptiness. My mom posted a gut-wrenching comment on my brother’s Facebook page about the unfairness of it all. Her baby should be here, not gone. “Where is the God that is making us all so sad?” she asked.

In response, someone — a stranger/(I assume) another human being — commented with one word: “Junkie.”

The interaction may seem a bit strange and out of context until you realize that this is the Facebook page of a person who was somewhat famous, who produced the excellent show Parks and Recreation. Not that this forgives the behavior in any way, of course, but it does explain why strangers would wander by and make observations.

There is deep truth in the old idea that people are able to say these things because they are looking at a screen full of words, not directly at the face of the person they're about to say a terrible thing to. That one level of abstraction the Internet allows, typing, which is so immensely powerful in so many other contexts …

… has some crippling emotional consequences.

As an exercise in empathy, try to imagine saying reading some of the terrible things people typed say to each other online to a real person sitting directly in front of you. Or don't imagine, and just watch this video.

I challenge you to watch the entirety of that video. I couldn't do it. This is the second time I've tried, and I had to turn it off not even 2 minutes in because I couldn't take it any more.

It's no coincidence that these are comments directed at women. Over the last few years I have come to understand how, as a straight white man, I have the privilege of being immune from most of this kind of treatment. But others are not so fortunate. The Guardian analyzed 70 million comments and found that online abuse is heaped disproportionately on women, people of color, and people of different sexual orientation.

And avalanches happen easily online. Anonymity disinhibits people, making some of them more likely to be abusive. Mobs can form quickly: once one abusive comment is posted, others will often pile in, competing to see who can be the most cruel. This abuse can move across platforms at great speed – from Twitter, to Facebook, to blogposts – and it can be viewed on multiple devices – the desktop at work, the mobile phone at home. To the person targeted, it can feel like the perpetrator is everywhere: at home, in the office, on the bus, in the street.

I've only had a little taste of this treatment, once. The sense of being "under siege" – a constant barrage of vitriol and judgment pouring your way every day, every hour – was palpable. It was not pleasant. It absolutely affected my state of mind. Someone remarked in the comments that ultimately it did not matter, because as a white man I could walk away from the whole situation any time. And they were right. I began to appreciate what it would feel like when you can't walk away, when this harassment follows you around everywhere you go online, and you never really know when the next incident will occur, or exactly what shape it will take.

Imagine the feeling of being constantly on edge like that, every day. What happens to your state of mind when walking away isn't an option? It gave me great pause.

The Scream by Nathan Sawaya

I greatly admired the way Stephanie Wittels Wachs actually engaged with the person who left that awful comment. This is a man who has had two children of his own, and should be no stranger to the kind of unbearable pain involved in a your child's death. And yet he felt the need to post the word "Junkie" in reply to a mother's anguish over losing her child to drug addiction.

Isn’t this what empathy is? Putting myself in someone else’s shoes with the knowledge and awareness that I, too, am human and, therefore, susceptible to this tragedy or any number of tragedies along the way?

Most would simply delete the comment, block the user, and walk away. Totally defensible. But she didn't. She takes the time and effort to attempt to understand this person who is abusing her mother, to reach them, to connect, to demonstrate practice the very empathy this man appears incapable of.

Consider the related story of Lenny Pozner, who lost a child at Sandy Hook, and became the target of groups who believe the event was a hoax, and similarly selflessly devotes much of his time to refuting and countering these bizarre claims.

Tracy’s alleged harassment was hardly the first, Pozner said. There’s a whole network of people who believe the media reported a mass shooting that never happened, he said, that the tragedy was an elaborate hoax designed to increase support for gun control. Pozner said he gets ugly comments often on social media, such as, “Eventually you’ll be tried for your crimes of treason against the people,” “… I won’t be satisfied until the caksets are opened…” and “How much money did you get for faking all of this?”

It's easy to practice empathy when you limit it to people that are easy to empathize with – the downtrodden, the undeserving victims. But it is another matter entirely to empathize with those that hate, harangue, and intentionally make other people's lives miserable. If you can do this, you are a far better person than me. I struggle with it. But my hat is off to you. There's no better way to teach empathy than to practice it, in the most difficult situations. particularly toward those who appear to have none.

In individual cases, reaching out and really trying to empathize with people you disagree with or dislike can work, even people who happen to be lifelong members of hate organizations, as in the remarkable story of Megan Phelps-Roper:

As a member of the Westboro Baptist Church, in Topeka, Kansas, Phelps-Roper believed that AIDS was a curse sent by God. She believed that all manner of other tragedies—war, natural disaster, mass shootings—were warnings from God to a doomed nation, and that it was her duty to spread the news of His righteous judgments. To protest the increasing acceptance of homosexuality in America, the Westboro Baptist Church picketed the funerals of gay men who died of AIDS and of soldiers killed in Iraq and Afghanistan. Members held signs with slogans like “GOD HATES FAGS” and “THANK GOD FOR DEAD SOLDIERS,” and the outrage that their efforts attracted had turned the small church, which had fewer than a hundred members, into a global symbol of hatred.

Perhaps one of the greatest failings of the Internet is the breakdown in cost of emotional labor.

First we’ll reframe the problem: the real issue is not Problem Child’s opinions – he can have whatever opinions he wants. The issue is that he’s doing zero emotional labor – he’s not thinking about his audience or his effect on people at all. (Possibly, he’s just really bad at modeling other people’s responses – the outcome is the same whether he lacks the will or lacks the skill.) But to be a good community member, he needs to consider his audience.

True empathy means reaching out and engaging in a loving way with everyone, even those that are hurtful, hateful, or spiteful. But on the Internet, can you do it every day, multiple times a day, across hundreds of people? Is this a reasonable thing to ask of someone? ask? Is it even possible, short of sainthood?

The question remains: why would people post such hateful thingsin the first place? Why things?Why would they reply "Junkie" to a mother's anguish? Why ask the would they ask a father of a murdered child to publicly prove his child's death was not a hoax? Why would they tweet "Thank God for AIDS!" AIDS!"?

Unfortunately, I think I know the answer to this question, and you're not going to like it.

Busy-Work by Shen, owlturd.com

I don't like it. I don't want it. But I know.

I have laid some heavy stuff on you in this post, and for that, I apologize. I think the weight of what I'm trying to communicate here requires it. I have to warn you that the next article I'm about to link is far heavier than beyond anything I have posted above, maybe the heaviest thing I've ever posted. even on this blog, ever. It's about the legal quandary presented in the tragic cases of children who died because their parents accidentally left them strapped into carseats, and it won a much deserved pulitzer. It is also one of the most harrowing things I have ever read.

Ed Hickling believes he knows why. Hickling is a clinical psychologist from Albany, N.Y., who has studied the effects of fatal auto accidents on the drivers who survive them. He says these people are often judged with disproportionate harshness by the public, even when it was clearly an accident, and even when it was indisputably not their fault.

Humans, Hickling said, have a fundamental need to create and maintain a narrative for their lives in which the universe is not implacable and heartless, that terrible things do not happen at random, and that catastrophe can be avoided if you are vigilant and responsible.

In hyperthermia cases, he believes, the parents are demonized for much the same reasons. “We are vulnerable, but we don’t want to be reminded of that. We want to believe that the world is understandable and controllable and unthreatening, that if we follow the rules, we’ll be okay. So, when this kind of thing happens to other people, we need to put them in a different category from us. We don’t want to resemble them, and the fact that we might is too terrifying to deal with. So, they have to be monsters.

This man left the junkie comment because he is afraid. He is afraid his own children could become drug addicts. He is afraid his children, through no fault of his, through no fault of anyone at all, could die at 30. When presented with real, tangible evidence of the pain and grief a mother feels at the drug related death of her own child, and the reality that it could happen to anyone, it became so overwhelming that it was too much for him to bear.

Those "Sandy Hook Truthers" harass the father of a victim because they are afraid. They are afraid their own children could be viciously gunned down in cold blood any day of the week, bullets tearing their way through the bodies of the teachers standing in front of them, desperately trying to protect them from being murdered. They can't do anything to protect their children from this, and in fact there's nothing any of us can do to protect our children from being murdered at random, while at school any day of the week, at the whim of any mentally unstable individual with access to an assault rifle. That's the harsh reality.

When faced with the abyss of presented with evidence of the crippling pain and grief that parents feel over the loss of their children, due to utter random chance in a world they can't control, they could never control, maybe none of us can ever control, the overwhelming sense of existential dread is simply too much to bear. So they have to be monsters. They must be.

And we will fight these monsters, tooth and nail, raging in our hatred, so we can forget our pain, at least for a while.

After Lyn Balfour’s acquittal, this comment appeared on the Charlottesville News Web site:

“If she had too many things on her mind then she should have kept her legs closed and not had any kids. They should lock her in a car during a hot day and see what happens.”

I imagine the suffering pain that these parents are already going through, reading these words that another human being typed to them, just typed, and something breaks inside me. I can't process it. But rather than pitting ourselves against each other out of fear, recognize that the monster who posted this terrible thing is me. It's you. It's all of us.

The weight of seeing ability to see through the fear and beyond the monster to simply discover see yourself is often too terrible for many people to bear. In a world of hard things, it's the hardest there is. And we could sure use each other's help and understanding in the process.

[advertisement] At Stack Overflow, we help developers learn, share, and grow. Whether you’re looking for your next dream job or looking to build out your team, we've got your back.
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tfisher
1314 days ago
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Brentwahn
1305 days ago
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Great article on human empathy and why we sadly often avoid exhibiting it.
Sydney, Australia
Courtney
1315 days ago
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Probably the most thorough answer to "but why would someone write that?!"
Portland, OR
blakeyrat
1316 days ago
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Maybe get Discourse to actually work without 50,000 bugs before trying to change the world with it. (The key to empathy? Markdown! Apparently.)
toddgrotenhuis
1306 days ago
Feel better?
kerray
1316 days ago
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Humans, Hickling said, have a fundamental need to create and maintain a narrative for their lives in which the universe is not implacable and heartless, that terrible things do not happen at random, and that catastrophe can be avoided if you are vigilant and responsible.

We are vulnerable, but we don’t want to be reminded of that. We want to believe that the world is understandable and controllable and unthreatening, that if we follow the rules, we’ll be okay. So, when this kind of thing happens to other people, we need to put them in a different category from us. We don’t want to resemble them, and the fact that we might is too terrifying to deal with. So, they have to be monsters.
Brno, CZ

UC Davis spent $175,000 to scrub its 'pepper spray episode' from web searches

3 Comments and 13 Shares

Photo: Brian Nguyen, The Aggie.

Looks like the geniuses who run UC Davis never Googled the words “Streisand Effect.”

(more…)

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tfisher
1331 days ago
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This is literally the only thing I know about UC Davis. Is that what they were aiming for?
popular
1331 days ago
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ttroxell
1331 days ago
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lol
San Francisco
fxer
1332 days ago
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They'll never take our Casual Pepper Spray Cop memes
Bend, Oregon
1324 days ago
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Halt and Catch Fire

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I have a bunch of TV I keep meaning to watch that I tend to “save” because I know it’s going to be a good show and I don’t want to waste it on times when I just want junk food.

One of those shows is Halt and Catch Fire. It’s like Mad Men, only it’s set in the 80’s and it’s about the computer revolution.

I am generally attracted to anything computer related, but there tends to be a few stereotypes you encounter when dealing with technology. You wind up with things like Silicon Valley where the only female programmer you see is a girl dressed in pink whose business is “Cupcakes as a Service” who is wandering the crowd asking if anyone knows Java. You also get the main character, Cameron Howe, in HaCF who is the female super genius hacker chick who drinks and swears like a man.

Cameron is a cool girl. She lives off of pizza and orange soda while managing to weigh ninety pounds. She doesn’t wear a bra. When she gets stuck on a bug she sleeps around with people to get unstuck. She wants to name the operating system after Ada Lovelace and has people telling her she is the next Grace Hopper. She’s a manic pixie dream girl.

The second stereotype is a lot more flattering than the first stereotype. However, it is a stereotype. It is somewhat damaging. There is this idea that if you’re a girl in technology you have to follow a certain mold. You have to be cool. You have to be a nerd and play video games. You have to be attractive in a certain way. Above all else, you have to be better than everyone else. There is more scrutiny paid to you if you are a girl who is a programmer and you can’t just be a good generalist and blend in to the background. You have to be a super star. You have to be flashy.

I benefit from these stereotypes. I happen to enjoy geek culture. I am interested in hard things like OpenGL that most people don’t try or don’t make time for. I am a red headed extrovert who likes to generate attention for myself. I fit a certain mold and I benefit from the positive stereotype.

If Cameron was the only female character in HaCF, then I would not be writing about it. There is another female character in HaCF who I think is far more revolutionary than Cameron: Donna Clark.

tumblr_n7pz8huk9J1qfdofwo1_250The main hardware engineer in the show is her husband Gordon. They met while both of them were going to Berkley studying engineering. She wrote her thesis on data recovery. Donna works for Texas Instruments and is a kick ass engineer in her own right.

She is also a mom. She and Gordon have two daughters.

Donna is a character you never see on TV. She is a working mom in an intense field.

Even though Gordon is a main character on the show, it spends a lot of time from Donna’s perspective. While Gordon is complaining about how hard his job is, he is coming home to a hot meal that his wife made after an equally hard day at work. Except when she gets done with her job, work is not over. She keeps working after coming home. She has to care for the kids and keep her family afloat. Her parents lend her husband money and set him up with business connections to allow him to pursue his dream even though it is tearing their family apart.

Excuse me, I need to call someone to make sure my house is still standing.

Excuse me, I need to call someone to make sure my house is still standing.

At one point in the first season, Donna has a business trip. She will be gone for one night. She leaves lasagna for the family and does everything she can to make things as easy as possible for everyone while she is gone. She comes back to find blood all over the floor, the sink completely disassembled, her children unattended, and her husband digging a giant hole in the back yard.

Compare Donna Clark to Skyler White from Breaking Bad. Even though Walter White is a murdering drug dealer, the show is designed for you to root for him. Skyler is vilified by fans of the show for being a killjoy bitch for cramping Walter’s style.

Someone has been hitting the lead based solder a little hard recently.

Someone has been hitting the lead based solder a little hard recently.

Compared to Skyler, we see a lot of what Donna has to put up with. We see her spinning plates trying to keep the family together while her husband throws the family into chaos. Gordon isn’t seen as this wunderkind genius whose every whim should be indulged and pampered. He is seen as an unstable, sometimes pathetic man who is being used by the people around him for gifts he has that he can’t control on his own.

We need more Donna Clarks on TV.

Back before everyone started playing the start-up lottery and tech became a casino, you had women who were engineers and mothers. It was a solid nine to five job. You had to be stable and reliable and it was possible for women to be mothers and engineers. That is far less tenable now.

There was a company board member I talked to at one of my previous jobs who I feel exemplifies the problems we are currently seeing in tech.

This guy was married with daughters. He also worked in the Bay area while his family lived elsewhere. He was telling me about how he only sees his family one day every week or two because he’s traveling all the time. I was upset for his wife and asked if it was hard. He told me he was used to it. I was annoyed and clarified I meant was it hard on his wife and kids. He smirked at me and said, “Well, they got used to it.”

I got the impression from this person that he figured I was doing programming as a hobby. I mentioned how one morning I made frozen pizza for breakfast and he said, “Hey, enjoy that while you can before you get married remarried and have some kids.”

It was just assumed that I was going to get married and have a family. This was just something I was doing to keep a roof over my head until that happened.

I felt that this person saw no point in cultivating me. I think he saw doing anything to cultivate me would be a waste because I was just going to marry someone and fulfill my purpose of being a caretaker.

This attitude really fucking sucks, and not just for me.
worldPossible
I sacrificed a lot to be a programmer. I decided I wanted to be a programmer because it was something I didn’t understand and it bothered me. If I found a job that paid me to do it, cool. That was icing on the cake. I wanted to learn it and master it because I wanted to know it. I sacrificed my marriage and my mental health and my social life to push myself to get where I am right now. This isn’t some hobby that I am doing while I am waiting around to find some guy to give me children.

I would like to get married again and have a family, but I don’t want to do those things if it means I am lobotomized. I don’t want to be an effective single mom because the father of my children is never home. I don’t want to be with someone who assumes I will just give up on all of my hopes and dreams to make theirs possible.

Let’s say I found someone who would respect me for my hopes and dreams. Let’s say I find someone who wants to split the parent teacher conferences fifty fifty and will watch the kids while I go and speak at conferences. They won’t be able to do that.

Programming isn’t a job anymore. It’s a lifestyle. It’s a cult.

After people figured out that four people in a basement could create companies that are worth ten billion dollars, suddenly tech became a cult. You don’t just have a job, you are working on something that will change the world. You are expected to dedicate body and soul to this grand and noble scheme that will result in millions of dollars for other people.

It’s not okay for you to tell your boss that you are leaving in the middle of the afternoon to take your child to the doctor. You can’t say that you don’t want to fly to China for two weeks because you want to be home to tuck your kids into bed.

hacf-s1-kerry-bishe-QA-120One reason everyone wants young guys as programmers is because they don’t care about this stuff yet. People say it’s because they are more up to date with the technology or that they are prodigies or whatever else, but it’s all bullshit. It’s about finding the most exploitable people you can to get as much out of them as you can until they break.

It’s just assumed that you either will never get married or if you do that your wife will make this life possible. Your wife will watch your children while you are gone 300 days out of the year. If you are a woman and you have kids, people will assume that you are going to be the one to care for them and you’re not cultivated because you’re not going to be okay with being gone 300 days out of the year.

This system sucks. It sucks for everyone. It sucks for the women who don’t have opportunity because everyone assumes you are on the mommy track. It sucks for guys that they spend most of their lives working to support a family they never get to see. This system only benefits sociopaths.

As long as mothers are invisible, then no one has to bother thinking about how fucking broken this system is. Everyone goes along with it and won’t question it because they’re afraid of being cut off from it or seen as a trouble maker.

Bill Watterson, the creator of “Calvin and Hobbes”, was notorious for refusing to sell out. He never licensed Calvin and Hobbes. No one had little stuffed Hobbes dolls next to their Dogbert dolls in their cubicle. No one has mugs with Calvin on them. He didn’t care about making a bunch of money. He didn’t care about being famous or being a public figure. He wanted to do the work that fulfilled his soul. He had an amazing quote about how he chooses to live his life:

Creating a life that reflects your values and satisfies your soul is a rare achievement. In a culture that relentlessly promotes avarice and excess as the good life, a person happy doing his own work is usually considered an eccentric, if not a subversive. Ambition is only understood if it’s to rise to the top of some imaginary ladder of success. Someone who takes an undemanding job because it affords him the time to pursue other interests and activities is considered a flake. A person who abandons a career in order to stay home and raise children is considered not to be living up to his potential — as if a job title and salary are the sole measure of human worth.

You’ll be told in a hundred ways, some subtle and some not, to keep climbing, and never be satisfied with where you are, who you are, and what you’re doing. There are a million ways to sell yourself out, and I guarantee you’ll hear about them.

To invent your own life’s meaning is not easy, but it’s still allowed, and I think you’ll be happier for the trouble.

Take the trouble.
halt-and-catch-fire-episode-103-pre-980x551

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tfisher
1433 days ago
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reconbot
1425 days ago
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Donna is my favorite
New York City
Courtney
1432 days ago
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"After people figured out that four people in a basement could create companies that are worth ten billion dollars, suddenly tech became a cult. You don’t just have a job, you are working on something that will change the world. You are expected to dedicate body and soul to this grand and noble scheme that will result in millions of dollars for other people."

Yep.
Portland, OR
fxer
1433 days ago
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Bay area startup scene != entire IT industry. People inside the bubble often forget, or don't realize, that.

Also Kerry Bishé as Donna Clark is fantastic.
Bend, Oregon
Courtney
1432 days ago
IT also isn't the entire tech sector tho
acdha
1434 days ago
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“This system sucks. It sucks for everyone. It sucks for the women who don’t have opportunity because everyone assumes you are on the mommy track. It sucks for guys that they spend most of their lives working to support a family they never get to see. This system only benefits sociopaths.”

I'd say “… and venture capitalists” except that it's getting awfully hard to tell the difference
Washington, DC

A question about how to detect whether Windows Update needs the system to be restarted turns out to be the wrong question

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A customer wanted to know whether there was a way to detect that Windows Update has recently installed an update that requires a reboot. They explained that their computers are running dedicated software, and the customers are not technically-savvy, so they want to display the "You need to reboot" message more prominently, and let the user choose the best time to reboot. "We have been checking a variety of registry keys, and we have found that the set of keys to check is quite extensive and varies depending on the nature of the update that was installed."

There is a fairly straightforward way to check whether Windows Update is waiting for the system to reboot, but we asked for more information about the customer's scenario. Fortunately, the customer was willing to share.

These computers are in a hospital running critical medical software. The software runs 24/7 and must not reboot without user consent.

If these are critical machines, then asking whether Windows Update is requesting a reboot is the wrong question. By the time you get the answer "Yes", you are already in trouble: If you reboot the computer as soon as a reboot is required, you interrupt the machine's critical functioning. If you postpone the reboot, then you leave the computer in a nonstandard configuration wherein an update is partially-installed, and that nonstandard configuration may compromise the machine's critical function.

In this specific case, the idea would be to change the design from "Install the update, and then postpone the reboot until a convenient time" to "Wait for a convenient time, then install the update and reboot immediately." Here's a sketch of how it could work. (Note: This is a sketch, not a fully-analyzed scenario. Do not implement this design on your critical medical systems before independently validating its efficacy to your satisfaction. In fact, as a general rule, you should not use blog posts as the sole basis for software design decisions for critical medical systems.)

  • Set Automatic Updates so it does not install updates immediately. Either disable it, or set it to download updates without installing them.
  • Ensure that users do not have permission to alter these settings or to initiate the installation of updates independently.
  • Periodically check whether there are new updates available. The Searching, Downloading, and Installing Updates script on MSDN is an example of how you can use the Windows Update Agent API to answer questions like this.
  • If there are updates available that do not require a reboot, you may choose to install them without interrupting service. You can use the Installation­Behavior.Reboot­Behavior property to determine whether a particular update guarantees that it can be installed without a reboot.
  • If there are updates available that may require a reboot, inform the user that the computer will be unavailable while the updates are installed and let the user choose when to install those updates.
  • When installing the updates, display a message indicating that the computer is unavailable.
  • When installation is complete, reboot immediately.

The important things are that (1) you treat the installation of the update and the reboot as a unit, and (2) you don't start the install+reboot process until the user confirms that they are okay with the system being temporarily unavailable.

Thanks to my colleague Mark Phaedrus for providing the raw materials from which this article was constructed.

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