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  • On Rural White People

    I’m the only one I know who predicted Trump could win this thing.  I think it might have been because I was his target demographic, a poor white person who lost his livelihood to outsourcing.  I was ran out of the suburban area I went to college in due to disability and forced to live in a town of ~500 where there were no jobs except a janitor one (which after years finally swallowed my pride and took).  This is when I started working remote for outsourcing wages since there weren’t any local clients, something I continue to do to this day even after having moved away from that town eight years ago.  So I understand where Trump supporters are coming from.  Some thoughts:

    White privilege doesn’t really help the majority of rural white people all that much.  Our media is urban centric and focuses on the white people whose white privilege has gotten them all kinds of amazing things but generally those people had wealth and connections in addition to whiteness.  White privilege dosn’t feel like it confers any benefit at all for the average rural poor white.  This is because for these people white privilege is experienced not as additive but as non subtractive.  Yes, things would be worse if they were a different race but they are already very bad and it would take a ton of introspection or thousands of dollars of therapy (which they don’t have) to see how they could be worse.  Also drug sentencing in rural areas is actually worse for all races than it is in the city so some white guy busted cooking meth and thrown in the slammer for 15 years is not really feeling the “white privilege” thing.  Also, in small towns, getting any job above janitorial or food service depends on your connection to the few families that control most of the wealth in your town.  Most poor whites don’t fare much better than minorities in pleasing these families.  The flip side of white privilege is that when we fail, it’s all on us.  We get no sympathy from the culture or the media.  Poor whites are one of the remaining groups it’s OK to make fun of.

    Poor rural whites are sick of condescension and contempt from the elites.  It doesn’t appear to them that the people occupying most of the surface area of the country might have something of value to say.  Polite society bemoans the rise of the alt right without realizing it’s serving a demographic everybody else seemed to have forgotten.  I don’t agree with much the alt right has to say but I do agree with them that the elite are arrogant.  It might not be something that is politically correct to say but it’s true.  We talk to them but they don’t respond and aren’t willing to “stoop to our level”.  Political correctness is a blessing but can interfere with honest, forthright discussion.  For example, frank and honest discourse on race that goes beyond 140 characters is messy and often involves a lot of political incorrectness.  It’s like sausage being made, not pretty at all and sometimes produces bad results.  But being forthright about one’s racism (which is verboten in the culture at large) is the only way a poor white is going to make any progress away from it.  For example, the state’s denial of the Medicaid expansion of Obamacare.  If people were more forthright about it being so the poor blacks wouldn’t get healthcare maybe a lot of the poor whites would have seen through the logic and objected.  But instead everyone is tiptoeing and trying to be politically correct as possible while simultaneously taking the course of action that is the most hurtful to all involved.

    Poor whites often don’t have the social support of the church anymore.  There has been a precipitous decline in church attendance by poor whites over the last 30 years.  A lot of this has to do with the encroachment of the prosperity gospel into mainstream Christianity.  Poverty is stigmatized and shamed enough in America as it is, the church was the last bastion where it wasn’t, until the people worshiping the dollar got a hold of it.  Even churches that don’t explicitly practice the prosperity gospel have the implicit idea of “God’s plan” to prosper you, and if your life isn’t going according to that plan you are looked down upon.  In rural America there are less governmental social supports so when one loses the church they lose a whole lot more than their urban counterparts.  The precipitous decline of hospitality and community happening throughout America is also felt more acutely in rural areas as there really isn’t much opportunity to form new social bonds.

    Poor whites don’t have any forces countering the bad information they take in.  Where there is solidarity there is a check on bad information.  For example the black church can counter narratives seen in the media with better ones.  It is an open secret that the poorer you are, the more bad information you are exposed to on a daily basis (and because you’re poor you also have less tools to fight it).  This makes sense because power comes from utilizing good information as powerlessness comes from utilizing bad information, and those in power will do everything in their power to keep the powerless powerless.  For example for me going to the indigent clinic where they say a back ache will just go away if you wait it out, and then taking the bus home and seeing a Michigan Lottery ad in the red ticker.  TV is the worst for this, all kinds of predatory lenders and other shady people advertise on the shows they know poor people watch.  Denying that there is truth always serves the oppressor.  Because power is spoken to truth rather than the other way around.

  • my dad says part 2

    One of the things my dad used to say is, “it’s only money”.  Basically we have always been poor (at least for Americans) and so much of what one needs to advance in life requires significant financial outlay.  For example going to school to get another degree or even getting a therapist that specializes with adults on the spectrum.  I was also thinking about this today because there is a great recipe API I could use to make a site for people with food allergies but its cost structure is such that I could never make the site free.



    The second had to do with actively verses passively failing.  Basically existentially trying and failing feels worse than not trying at all.  People talk about taking “social risks” and such but they don’t often speak of the emotional fallout of repeated failure.  It took me seven years to find friends here and some of those years I just quit trying.  It was just luck, not effort, that brought me the few friends I do have.  Getting back to the point people romanticizing trying often gloss over the fact that some people (especially as you get closer to the bottom) are going to fail so much that for them it would have better if they hadn’t tried at all.  Not something I’d put on a motivation poster but true.

  • my dad says

    My dad is a smart man.  He is not a writer but has said some good things.

    He said Steve Jobs was so good because he could create novel things and it didn’t matter that everyone else copied them because by then he would be on to the next novel thing.  On the Edmund Burke quote, “The only thing necessary for the triumph of evil is for good men to do nothing.” he said, “today there are less good men” and I couldn’t disagree with him.  And he had an idea for products to somehow show the percentage paid for on them (perhaps with a bumper sticker with a graph or superimposing a color on the part of them not paid for).

  • being opaque

    Skimming this article on tech diversity, something that has always bothered me as an aspie is how opaque people are.  How they’ll use a whole ton of words to say nothing.  I think by and large conservatives are less opaque than liberals.  This isn’t necessarily a good or bad thing but I think it explains why a lot of times the two camps feel like they are talking past each other.  One of my favorite founts of wisdom Gordon Livingston is a conservative and a good example of not being opaque.

    I’m also not saying not being opaque means ones words are full of integrity.  Un opaque words are easier to parse for people who don’t pick up social cues so even if they are flat out lies they get latched on to.  But I think when one is opaque and lacks integrity it is seen as more sinister than people who just flat out lie to your face.


  • Not So Different Than Young People

    Great comment on a NYTimes article on elderly life hacks:

    Once you are elderly, I am 72, you realize that you are not so different from younger people. You still have your desires, creativity, enjoyment of life, brains, resilience, sociability, love of beauty, love of life.

    It’s only from the outside that we seem different. Inside, we’re the very same people, a little slower perhaps, a bit more pain perhaps, a chronic condition or two, but the same.

  • On Facts

    From an After the Fact New Yorker article:

    Lynch thinks we are frighteningly close to this point: blind to proof, no longer able to know. After all, we’re already no longer able to agree about how to know. (See: climate change, above.)

    In England, the abolition of trial by ordeal led to the adoption of trial by jury for criminal cases. This required a new doctrine of evidence and a new method of inquiry, and led to what the historian Barbara Shapiro has called “the culture of fact”: the idea that an observed or witnessed act or thing—the substance, the matter, of fact—is the basis of truth and the only kind of evidence that’s admissible not only in court but also in other realms where truth is arbitrated. Between the thirteenth century and the nineteenth, the fact spread from law outward to science, history, and journalism.

  • The Death of Eleanor

    This is a short story by Shawn Pfister from her compilation My Vampire Prom Date and other stories.  This is some good young adult fiction, you should pick it up, especially for someone in junior high or high school.

    The Death of Eleanor

    Nobody seems to remember anything about Eleanor’s death, but that never stopped the rumors from starting. I remember how and when they started. Nobody can state the facts. When asked they always start with, “Well, I heard…” In fact, the only consistency to the rumors is that it happened a few weeks before summer ended the year we graduated from high school.

    I know what happened, but nobody ever asked me. I was Eleanor’s friend and most people didn’t want to upset me by bringing something like this up. The rest assumed that I had something to do with the murder and were afraid to ask for fear of their own lives. I could only assume that’s why nobody ever asked her family, either.

    The rumors were plentiful. Each more elaborate and interesting than the one before it until eventually Eleanor became a legend in our small hub of a town. And of course, this being a small town rumors spread faster than Colleen Smith on prom night, but then, that’s a completely unrelated rumor.

    Eleanor wasn’t all that pretty and she wasn’t popular and she didn’t wear trendy clothes and the boys—well, everybody really—didn’t even seem to know she existed. Eleanor didn’t have many friends, it was just Eleanor, Becky and me. Then Becky started to drift away until she wouldn’t even say hi to Eleanor in the hallway at school.

    Eleanor’s family was very poor and everybody knew that she wouldn’t be going to college because she had to help support and take care of her three younger brothers and two younger sisters. Her dad was an alcoholic and couldn’t keep a job for more than a week to save his life and her mother couldn’t support the family on her own just working days at the local gas station. Eleanor had been working at the Piggly Wiggly since she turned fifteen and all of her money went towards putting food on the table.

    But one Monday near the end of the summer Eleanor didn’t show up for work. This didn’t seem to bother old man Walker, the manager, even though she had never missed a day or called in sick in her life. But it was his assistant manager Carl Turner’s job to call missing employees. He called her house and spoke with her father who informed him that Eleanor never came home from work the Friday before, but he hadn’t called the police. His wife had told him why, but he forgot.

    Colleen worked with Eleanor at the grocery store that summer and she overheard Carl’s end of the conversation and picked up enough information to start the rumors. They were small at first: Eleanor was sick, she had run away, she had been beaten by her father. Those rumors barely went past the checkout girls.

    But, as the days turned into weeks with no sign of Eleanor, the rumors took a turn for the worse and people started to get interested in them. Eleanor was dead, she had been killed by her father in a drunken rage and then the rest of the family covered it up to save him from yet another court date.

    The police even showed up at Eleanor’s house one day and had a long conversation with her mother over Kool Aid and Oreo cookies. The cops never investigated further, people started to suspect that they were involved, too. People started to avoid Eleanor’s family, speaking in a hushed whisper when they were around.

    I went on to college a month after Eleanor disappeared and expected the rumors to die down after a short time, but when I came back for school breaks the rumors were still going. Apparently there wasn’t much going on to take over Eleanor’s spot on the gossip train. Mr. Johnson’s garage had burned down, but that was explained and even rebuilt pretty quickly and so people lost interest. The local Amoco had been broken into, but they found the two kids that did it.

    Nothing was as interesting as Eleanor had become, especially since they still had yet to find a body.

    Eleanor’s mother and I got together every once in a while to share the rumors that we had overheard. Nobody would speak to either of us directly because of our relationships with Eleanor and because some of the rumors placed the blame on us. Between the two of us we pieced together the rumors that we overheard when people didn’t know we were there or didn’t know who we were. And of course, after a year or two, everybody knew who we were.

    The rumors varied. She had been hit by a car one or two counties over, depending on which version you heard, and left to bleed to death in a ditch and then get buried unidentified in an unmarked grave.

    She had been kidnapped, raped and murdered by some drifter passing through town, sometimes by Mr. Walker even, because he was a forty something year old man that never married and never dated. Eleanor once told me, as she was on very sociable relations with Mr. Walker, that he had a partner who lived in the city that came by every once in a while. She had even met him once or twice.

    She had hung herself on a tree in the woods, shot herself over by the duck pond and her body had fallen in, slit her wrists in the woods. Every time she killed herself it was somewhere where nobody would find the body easily or it would have been found.

    My favorite rumor was the one that stemmed from Eleanor’s mother and me always being seen together in the coffee shop: Eleanor had caught the two of us having an affair and threatened to tell her father so we killed her and hid the body. That was one of the more outlandish rumors and wasn’t a very popular one, but we assumed it was why nobody would talk to us.

    The most commonly accepted rumor though, is the one about her father killing her in a drunken rage. It made sense, she had been known to come to school sometimes with bruises and to some it was a logical conclusion that the abuse turned fatal. Nobody seemed to remember the autistic fifteen-year-old brother that was built like a linebacker and sometimes had to be tackled to the ground to prevent him from hurting one of the little kids.

    The really funny thing is that the rumors never died. Even after I graduated college four years later they were still going strong, new ones even, some involving government conspiracies and aliens from outer space. In life nobody knew who Eleanor was, but in death she was a legend, a hero, a martyr. I guess what kept the rumors going for so long was that her body had never been found. Even after all these years nobody found it while hiking in the woods or swimming in the pond, both of which became much more popular activities after Eleanor disappeared. People just wanted to be the one to find the body so that they could be as popular as Eleanor.

    What really happened to Eleanor was nowhere near as dramatic, complicated or painful as the rumors had built it up to be. Eleanor did what the rest of us could only dream about: she got out of this God-forsaken town. The rest of us either stayed after graduation or came back after college. It was only Eleanor that was gone and there was never any explanation as to why.

    But I remember what happened that Friday night perfectly, although nobody ever asked me. I remember how Eleanor’s mother and I had picked her up from the Piggly Wiggly and she hugged Mr. Walker good-bye. I remember the bus stop where we waited for the Greyhound to come and take her and her one tattered suitcase away to the city.

    People didn’t know this about Eleanor, mainly because none of them ever spoke to her, but she was smart and had won quite a few scholarships and what those couldn’t take care of, financial aid did. She wanted to leave a few weeks early so that she could find a job and settle into the room she was going to be renting from Mr. Walker’s partner.

    We had told Eleanor’s dad about her going after we got back from dropping her off. He had been opposed to anyone in his family going to college, after all he had never gone and look how he turned out he’d always told Eleanor. Of course, he probably was drunk and didn’t remember, or had been drunk when Carl called from the grocery store, or both, because he couldn’t even remember that his daughter had left town three days after it happened.

    Eleanor has still got a few more years left at school. She’s going to be a doctor, but she’s not sure if she’s going to come back here to practice or not. She still sends most of her paycheck home to help with her family. We still write to each other and I’ve even been to visit her once in awhile, but she doesn’t have the money to come back, even for vacations, she just stays and works. But she did come back once for her father’s funeral. Nobody recognized her and it was the only public appearance she had made since she died. Everyone just thought she was a cousin or something.

    She knows about the rumors and thinks they’re funny. Whenever she calls she starts the conversation with a giggle and “How did I die this week?” I think a part of her likes that she’s so popular, because nobody had ever paid attention to her when she was alive.

    From: My Vampire Prom Date and other stories.

  • Men in their 30’s verses women in their 30’s

    Psychology is not dispensed in age appropriate ways.  For example as a 35 year old male for someone to tell me not to let my vocational failure define me is laughable.  Pass 30 as a male and what’s on your W2 does define you and determines whether you make guy friends or have success dating.  And I find this sort of comforting, knowing however messed up my head is that number is all that matters.  Now a 35 year old women does not have it so good.  What is going on in her head has more ramifications on how people see her and ultimately how her life turns out.  It’s on her to make her brain perform the tasks to build a life and that makes for higher rates of mental illness because the world is very cruel to women, more cruel to them than men (or at least cruel in different ways).

  • Attitude is a Loss

    The further one is away from privilege the less effect what’s in their head has on how successful they become.  This is because attitude is like a product key and privilege is like having the entire piece of 50 Gigabyte software already downloaded (as to lack of privilege which is like having to download it using dial-up).  With privilege you’re sitting on a gold mine, you just have to flip the switch to make it operational.  Not to say that being successful is easy even for privileged people, just that their efforts (like at their full time decently paid employment, marriage-bound relationships, fancy degrees) are credited as effort by those around them.  Someone with a disability that is volunteering some, fighting depression, and going to the gym twice a week to stem their dwindling leg muscle mass is probably putting forth just as much effort as the first person but society does not see it as effort because it doesn’t fit the narrative of the protestant work ethic where socially sanctioned evidence of gain must be seen.  Just keeping one’s head above water is almost a mark of shame in this society.

    When you are far from privilege the attitude of those in power over you is what is most important (attitude basically becomes a coefficient of how much power you have).  If they treat you well and pay you justly, your life will go well.  If they don’t, it won’t.  In Old Testament times there were good kings and bad kings and the subjects kind of just fell in line behind them.  It’s only been a recent phenomenon to even have a second thought about the attitudes and feelings of those without power.  Nobody since the dawn of time has ever cared how those far from power felt or thought, it’s just that now we have the social sciences to thank for forcing us to pretend they matter.  Nobody in any position of power gives a shit about how you feel.  They never did and they never will.  Don’t expect apologies from any of the forces that bilked you into believing that they did.

  • Dachau Notes

    This is a compilation of my notes from visiting the Dachau concentration camp when I went to Germany last fall.


    Dachau concentration camp lies just outside of Munich, Germany in the heart of Nazi territory and was the first concentration camp, serving as a model for all subsequent camps.  It was housed at an abandoned munitions factory and opened in March of 1933 initially to house political prisoners.  It was liberated in 1945 by the Americans who had a base there until the 70’s.  They were going to bulldoze it but survivors stood up to keep it as a memorial.  The camp and its satellite locations were set up for munitions slave labor as there was a shortage of Germans for these jobs.

    Hitler really wanted to study art in Vienna (a watercolor of his was purchased for 390k by a Chinese collector).  He didn’t get in to art school so moved to Munich.  He tries to overthrow the local government and gets five years in prison where he writes Mein Kampf but ends up only serving five months out of the sentence.  His platform revolves around scapegoating minorities (and he gave out free soup for a little while).  Hitler becomes chancellor in 1933.  Shortly after a fire breaks out in Berlin and it’s blamed on the communists.  The Nazis fire decree takes away due process, if one is a danger to society they can be dealt with.

    Upon entry to Dachau the prisoners were told (didn’t get it all), “you have no honor, you have no protection, you are shit, I am the devil”, and beaten by the guards.  They were flogged and had to count out their floggings.  If they missed a count they started back at 1.  All their cloths were taken away and they were given uniforms with pockets in the shirts.  If they dared put their hands in these pockets (even when it was freezing cold) they were subject to harsh discipline.  All their hair was shaved off in a matter of three minutes (which basically meant they were cut up a lot because nobody can shave one’s hair off in three minutes time).  This was to take away their identity as hair is a way people express who they are.  They were never referred to by name, only by number.   There was a specific pecking order for the different types of prisoners which the Jews were at the bottom of.  Women were sent to the SS brothel to be raped.

    The prisoners were subject to various miseries.  They would have to stand at attention for hours in the freezing cold and one infraction by an individual prisoner would cause the whole group to have to stand longer.  Prisoners were constantly starved, living on 1,000 (and later 600) calories a day (we watched a film that was so graphic it wasn’t permitted to be shown until 2004; it made horror movies look rather tame, these people looked like walking skeletons).  Prisoners each had a bowl and a spoon and if theirs got lost or stolen they didn’t get to eat at all and starved to death.  There was an SS bakery next to the camp and the scent of the bread would waft to the prisoners standing at attention, a pioneering use of psychological torture.  Prisoners would get showers but the guards would turn them freezing cold and then scalding hot.  As they were coming in to breakfast they’d see their fellow prisoners up high on a beam tree pole hanging, a painful torture where one’s full weight is borne by their shoulder sockets.

    Dachau has that famous gate (recently stolen) with the words inscribed that translate “work is freedom”.   Some prisoners tried to kill themselves by running over the barbed wire and electrocuting themselves on the electric fence.  The prisoners did get two days off—Christmas and Hitler’s birthday.  Every year they would release around 1,000 prisoners who could go back in to society and let others know what happened to you when you resisted the Nazis.  The Nazis were mavericks of propaganda; long before Photoshop they knew how to manipulate images.  To make a poster for casting prisoners in the harshest of light they didn’t just snap a photo, they waited to take it until a time of day when the sunlight was such that it cast more shadows on the faces to make them seem harsher.

    Taking all this in I’m thinking, “I guess the Nazis were worse than I thought”.  And they’re Nazis.  They didn’t have much lower to go.  Amidst all this horror an exhibit that stood out to me was a map of all the camps showing the German companies (including BMW) that used the prisoner’s slave labor.  Like today’s companies they were all about profit and when Hitler came along and gave them a deal, letting them seize property of people the Nazis didn’t like and use prisoner slave labor, they weren’t going to complain.  Prisoners of different specialties would be matched with camps dealing in that specialty.  There was a lot of shuffling of prisoners between camps (where they were transported in horrendous conditions, basically train cattle cars where many of them died).  IBM sold the punch card system that helped the Nazi organize everything.  People’s skin was used for riding saddles.

    There was a crematorium at Dachau that we got to see inside of.  It takes ten to twenty minutes to burn a human body.  By the time the camp was liberated there was a huge pile of dead bodies because the crematorium didn’t have any fuel to burn them.  In 1942 Operation Reinhard stepped up the extermination of the Jews.  Death camps were created in Poland specifically to exterminate Jews, 2 million of which were murdered.  Dachau actually had a gas chamber we got to walk through that supposedly was never used (Dachau was a prototype camp so they modeled the others after it).

    People with disabilities didn’t fare well either.  The Nazis had a program called T4 where the disabled were sent to hospitals where health professionals killed them.  They were called useless eaters, people that were a certain amount of drain on society each year.  They would do medical experiments on the disabled and prisoners, for example making Soviet prisoners sit in ice water to study hypothermia or giving gypsies malaria.

    There were 555 escape attempts at Dachau.  Even after liberation some prisoners died because of a typhus outbreak and many were so starved they could no longer take in food.


    Inside gas chamber that supposedly was never used (I am not so sure I take the Nazis’ word for it)



    Later that day after seeing Dachau we went to Oktoberfest.  The CEO of BMW was actually hanging around right by our table.  I was so close to him I could have touched him.