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The Confederate Con and Today’s NeoConfederate Con

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I really like this essay by a white southerner who grew up around Ku Klux Klan relatives and who now realizes the Confederacy was a rich man’s con job on the South’s white working class, much as conservatism is a rich man’s con job on the South’s white working class today.

How did the plantation owners mislead so many Southern whites?

They managed this con job partly with a propaganda technique that will be familiar to modern Americans, but hasn’t received the coverage it deserves in our sesquicentennial celebrations. Starting in the 1840s wealthy Southerners supported more than 30 regional pro-slavery magazines, many pamphlets, newspapers and novels that falsely touted slave ownership as having benefits that would – in today’s lingo – trickle down to benefit non-slave owning whites and even blacks. The flip side of the coin of this old-is-new trickle-down propaganda is the mistaken notion that any gain by blacks in wages, schools or health care comes at the expense of the white working class.

Today’s version of this con job no longer supports slavery, but still works in the South and thrives in pro trickle-down think tanks, magazines, newspapers, talk radio and TV news shows such as the Cato Foundation, Reason magazine, Rush Limbaugh and Fox News. These sources are underwritten by pro trickle-down one-per-centers like the Koch brothers and Rupert Murdoch.

For example, a map of states that didn’t expand Medicaid – which would actually be a boon mostly to poor whites – resembles a map of the old Confederacy with a few other poor, rural states thrown in. Another indication that this divisive propaganda works on Southern whites came in 2012. Romney and Obama evenly split the white working class in the West, Midwest and Northeast. But in the South we went 2-1 for Romney.

Lowering the flag because of the harm done to blacks is the right thing to do. We also need to lower it because it symbolizes material harm the ideology of the Confederacy did to Southern whites that lasts even to this day.

One can love the South without flying the battle flag. But it won’t help to get rid of an old symbol if we can’t also rid ourselves of the self-destructive beliefs that go with it. Only by shedding those too, will Southern whites finally catch up to the rest of the country in wages, health and education.

The comment section on the other hand…..well, you’d better like mangoes.


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So, what it is you do all day?

I sort of disappeared a few years ago. I had a simple but difficult decision: stay and help GitHub to help grow the company or leave and help my family when they needed help most. In the space of a couple of weeks I quit my job, packed up my belongings, and moved out of San Francisco.

Ever since then, I’ve struggled to describe how it is I spend my time to my peers. Discussing the practicalities of caring for someone with a neurological disorder is not exactly small-talk worthy, nor is it something I particularly want to discuss with strangers. There’s also the unfortunate culture in technology that devalues everything unrelated to militant capitalism. If you’re not trying to make money, what are you even doing? Now add on to that the few that saw my vulnerability as an opportunity for leverage — and indeed — leveraged the fuck out of me. It’s all added up to be an interesting couple of years.

So when people ask what it is I’m doing, I’ve mostly kept it light. I tell people I’m semi-retired. It’s not entirely untruthful — I’ve spent a lot more time outside and doing fun things — but it’s a lot less than the whole.

That being said, I’ve been working hard for the past few months to find more space for me again. Which also means I’ve been thinking more about what’s next.

A lot of people talk about passion with regards to work — that feeling of endless energy one feels when their inner desires meet application. Work no longer feels like work, and all questions of is this worth it? and am I doing the right thing? feel silly and irrelevant. I used to have a lot of passion for software. Whatever I have now is different.

I feel torn between the endless opportunities I see in software and the disgust for what our industry has become. The rational part of my brain tells me you don’t have to be like those terrible people to work in software, but the emotional side of me sees what our industry is doing in practice and doesn’t want to be associated with it at all. You can still do good work and be employed by Exxon, but at the end of the day you’re still working for the oil industry. Is that who I want to be?

I’ve spent a lot of time asking myself why I am so frustrated with our industry, and I think I’ve narrowed it down to two common themes:

  • The routine manipulation of employees, gig or otherwise, through complicated legal structures (1099’d full-time employees, stock option agreements, expensive lawyers, employment/termination agreements, etc).

  • The routine manipulation of customers through complicated technical structures (selling data without permission, outright spying, bricking expensive hardware to avoid liability, etc).

To work or participate in the technology industry is an exercise in minimizing manipulation (or, if you’d like to be rich, maximizing it). This feels shitty in a tremendously heavy way.

What happened to the idea of building great stuff that people are happy to pay for? What happened to the idea of treating employees as people and not legal entities to extort? Were these fantasies of a naive 20-something Kyle, or a reasonable idea of how our industry should act? Why do the needs of the corporation always seem to outweigh the needs of people? Honestly, it’s all driven me a bit crazy. But more relevant to this essay: this shitty-ness has eroded my enthusiasm for building software.

That’s a bummer.

Something I have been very enthused about as of late is permaculture, or at least many of the ideas that circle around that particular label.

What I love most about permaculture is that it transforms the laborious step-by-step annual process of contemporary gardening into systems design. Instead of remembering to water each of your plants every day, you set up systems to capture water so you don’t have to irrigate. Instead of measuring out fertilization schedules, you design plant systems that provide the nutrients each of them needs. The end result is that it makes gardening a lot more like programming. It takes more effort up front but the result is a self-sustaining system rather than one that requires re-building each year. That means this year’s effort adds onto last year’s — constant effort results in ever-increasing production. Permaculture takes this idea and applies it to all of the ways we live. How can we apply systems design and the forces of nature to design a more self-sustaining house? How can we use these principles to design our neighborhoods?

The shape of America we know today — endless rows of almond trees and corn, factory farms, tract houses, and suburbs — has always felt a bit off. We face incredible challenges in the years ahead, and these existing structures are not serving us well. Our cities are not designed for people, our homes not designed for their climate, and our farms not designed for farmers. Like a hammer who wants everything to be a nail, we are a barrel of oil designing the world with petroleum-tinted glasses. And what happens when we expand to planets that doesn’t have such abundant petroleum? Wouldn’t it be productive to practice harnessing the implicit energies of a planet?

The engineer in me can’t stop thinking there’s got to be a better way.

Many environmentalists believe the answer lies in conservation and consumer choices — reduced energy use, less intensive farming, and voting with your dollar — but I’ve never believed those strategies to be sane. You cannot deny the third world and the poor the modern conveniences the rest of us have. We achieved those conveniences with petroleum, but that’s no longer a sane path. We must find a new method for the rest of us. I also believe that a world with abundant (and excess) energy is a world in which humankind thrives and advances. To practice energy conservation on a civilization-scale is to stick our heads in the sand and refuse to grow.

I believe we can live in comfort and abundance while also living in greater harmony with nature (aka not fucking up the planet for our children). This isn’t blind environmentalist ideals — it’s working in a way that leverages nature’s built-in energies instead of fighting against them. Fresh water is scarce, yet we fill our toilets with fresh water just to defecate into it. Homeless starve on the streets, yet we plant non-bearing fruit trees along our city streets. Our homes require constant air conditioning, yet we bulldoze the trees on the southern side of our homes. All in all we’re just making a lot of bad decisions right now. I see permaculture as a framework to make better decisions through design, but for the environment.

This is a big part of what’s next for me. Last year, I became part-owner in an old high-country cattle camp / working forest near Tahoe. This is where I want to explore more of these ideas and share them with others. We’re building a place to get away from the craziness of the modern world and explore examples of living in comfort & abundance in harmony with nature. Call it part working forest (growing trees for profit), part getaway, and part laboratory.

David and Alia enjoying springtime in Leaping Daisy's meadow.

It’s called Leaping Daisy. It’ll be a while.

Despite the first half of this essay, I’d be a liar if I said I wasn’t still interested in software. I’d like to think I’m just going through a rough patch in our relationship right now. Plus, Leaping Daisy sits under about seven feet of snow as we speak, so the winter leaves me with a lot of time alone with my thoughts.

For a long time, I was mostly interested in software that made money. Finding the sweet spot between customers, willingness to pay, and profitability is fun. But Venture Capital and their fleet of lawyers have become experts at warping and extorting these kinds of products. They’ve taken the fun out of making money. As such, lately my interests have been more ideological than profitable.

I’ve started and abandoned dozens of projects over the past couple of years — some silly, some ambitious, and some just plain dumb. So I’ll be honest: I’m not really sure what’s next here. I’ll say there are a few areas of interest that seem to keep popping up in my head:

  • Data Ownership, Privacy, and Cloud-less Software
    It feels as though we’ve embraced the cloud a little too much the past decade or so. While there’s tremendous benefits to centralized online services, there are also a great deal of downsides. Customers rarely own their data, companies routinely cooperate with state-run surveillance programs, and privacy & security continues to be a nightmare.

    There’s a lot of room to explore software that doesn’t take these tradeoffs as laws of nature, but rather design considerations as they should be. I don’t think it’s time to abandon the cloud, but I do think it’s time to explore ways we can engineer around its weaknesses.

  • Civic Engagement
    Thus far, most of the technological effort applied toward civic engagement has been centered around transparency, data, visualization, and hack-day type projects (unsupported software). While it would be reckless for me to say these types of efforts are a waste of time, they do not conform to my view of how government works in action. Psychology, emotion, and interpersonal relationships play a far greater role in shaping policy than any objective fact. Unlike many, I don’t see this as a problem or a bug. It’s just how large groups of people make decisions. We are not robots. We’re leaky bags of meat that have no inclination toward rationality.

    I want to know what happens when we take this view of humanity, leverage our skills in the soft sciences, and apply it toward civic engagement through technology. How do we take the lessons we’ve learned from social networking’s success to strengthen community bonds? How do we build better relationships between representatives and their constituents? Doesn’t it feel a little silly that we still have to call our representative (and talk to an intern) to voice our opinions? As it stands now, Facebook knows more about a district’s opinions and beliefs than its congressional representative does.

  • Tools for People
    More than ever, it feels as if the term “software” is an extremely poor description of the field as it exists in the real world. It seems more and more that we have three separate industries: tools for developers, tools for large corporations, and junk food for everyone else. Tools for developers are pretty good and steadily improving. Tools for corporations (think inventory software, check-in systems, etc) are made of anger and frustration. And then there’s the FarmVilles, Facebooks, Snapchats, and Snapchat Clones that dominate person-hours spent using software. I still find that most non-developers just use Excel (Google Spreadsheets) or exist in a constant state of frustration with their software tools.

    We’ve been very successful creating junk food for normal people, but we haven’t been very successful in creating software that helps normal people get stuff done. Software-as-a-tool has always been the way I envision software working best. Not software that maximizes use, but software that maximizes utility.

If you’ve got some interesting projects you think I should check out, let me know (kyle@warpspire.com is probably best). Note: if you’re funded for purposes other than defrauding VC firms, think phone calls are fantastic, or think that the words stock or options are enticing, I am probably not your target audience right now.

Oh, and hi everyone! It’s been a while. I’ve missed publishing, and I hope I can find time for more of it again.

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3 hours ago
Washington, DC
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More Tools: How To Be Heard

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  1. Call

    I'm not going to explain why calling is the single most effective way to reach your Congressperson. There are plenty of resources online to do that for me:

    (And if that's not enough, here.)

    I understand that getting on the phone can be a challenge if you're an introvert, but I can tell you this: The first call is terrifying, and after that it's easy. Unless something bizarre has happened at your Congressperson's office, you'll be talking to a staffer. They are generally friendly - I've only once had a staffer be impolite, and that was on a day when they were clearly dealing with a high volume of calls.

    Take a few minutes to write out a script before you dial. It can be very simple - remember that you're just trying to convey your opinion on one issue.

    "Hi, my name is Mark, I'm a constituent from Seattle, zip code 98***, I don't need a response. I am opposed to banning the sale of blueberries and I encourage the Senator to please oppose implementation of any such ban. Thanks for your hard work answering the phones!"

    And that's it. You are done.

    If you don't already know who your Senators and Representative are, go to whoismyrepresentative.com and look them up. Take a few minutes to store their numbers in your phone. Then schedule a little bit of time every day (I make my calls in the morning, before I start work) to exercise your civic duties.

  2. Fax

    I get it, sometimes you just really don't want to call. Maybe you have laryngitis. Maybe you're in a meeting and need to do something more subtle.

    Did you know that fax machines were even still a thing? They are, Congressional offices have them, and staffers read the faxes they receive.

    A fax gives you the opportunity to be a little more verbose. In fact, I have a daily reminder on my calendar to fax my Congresspeople every day around lunchtime. I don't always do it, but I will if there's an issue I want to be heard on that's not quite urgent enough to warrant a phone call.

    The service I use is FaxZero. They have a listing of current fax numbers for both the House and Senate. All you have to do is plug your text into a form and send. It's free (although I think there may be a limit of 5 faxes per day).

    ResistBot: I'm mentioning ResistBot here because the underlying technology it uses to send "daily letters" is faxing. You send texts and the service faxes those texts to Congress. Take at look at their FAQ and @botresist to get a little more information about how it works.

  3. Write

    If you can keep your message brief, use postcards instead of letters - postcards don't have to go through as much security examination as letters, so they'll get there faster.

    Writing to a district office (in your state) is better than writing a letter to a Congressperson's D.C. office. You should be able to find the correct mailing address on whoismyrepresentative.com.

    Postcard parties make a great excuse to get together with your friends and neighbors who are interested in being politically active! Recently I got involved with Ides of Trump, which coordinated postcard-writing events in bars and coffeehouses all over the country to urge Trump to reveal his tax returns. (They're planning more, and they have a Facebook group.) Why not host one yourself, on behalf of Swing Left or your local Indivisible chapter? Or find an event someone else is hosting on the Resistance Calendar.

  4. Town Halls

    Congress takes a short recess every few months, ostensibly so that Senators and Representatives can go home and meet directly with their constituents. However, as we learned during this year's February recess, many Congresspeople have gotten accustomed to not holding these meetings - for some, it's been years since constituents have called them to be present and accountable.

    But that time is over. This past February, Senators and Representatives who did hold town halls may have faced angry crowds, but those who didn't were shamed and dealt with angry constituents on the phones and at their offices. In cities across the country, Indivisible held 'mock' town halls - real constituents came and asked real questions, often speaking to cardboard cutouts of their Congresspeople, with the promise that a recording of the meeting would be sent to the Congressperson's office.

    With another short recess coming up in April, let's hope our Congresspeople shed their cowardice and come out to hear what we have to say. Two ways to find out when these town halls are coming up: 1) Get on your Senators and Reps mailing lists or check their websites. 2) Check the calendar at www.townhallproject.com

  5. Show up at their offices

    Visiting in person is always an option, although it may be hard to schedule. One of our Senators in Texas, John Cornyn, has regular open office hours for visitors at his D.C. office, making it easy for lobbyists to speak with him, but does not keep a similarly open schedule when he visits his home state, making it virtually impossible for his constituents to reach him. But you can always try - check your Congressperson's web site for a schedule and details on arranging an appointment.

  6. Protest/rally

    When you've done all you can, it's time to join forces with other people. Send up a collective signal by joining a march or rally, and join in solidarity with other voices in sending a message.

  7. The rest

    Word on the street is that Senators and Representatives don't actually read their @'s, it's probably just a lot of white noise for them, but if it makes you feel better to rant at them on Twitter or Facebook, by all means, go for it.

    Emails are collected by staffers and are grouped by subject rather than being read in detail. I don't think they're worth the time, but your mileage may vary.

    And online petitions are all but useless. It's never clear who reads them, and they are often a ploy to get your contact information. That's not to say they're always bad, just make sure you trust the organization you're sending your email address to.

So what should you call/fax/write/protest about?

Every day there's something new. So far this week I've called about Trump's income taxes, his Russian connections, healthcare, and immigration. Next week there will certainly be new issues. Here are some guides to help you keep up with them, and in some cases to help you put together your calling scripts:

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4 hours ago
Washington, DC
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RT @lauraolin: lotta introspection happening in the GOP right now https://t.co/dQjO0uU70v

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5 hours ago
Victoria, BC
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letssuperpanic:I was at an art museum and I saw this painting...



I was at an art museum and I saw this painting from 1625. It’s by Gerrit van Honthorst and is called “Smiling Girl, a Courtesan, Holding an Obscene Image,” and it basically is every person on this website. 

Lol reblog for butts lol

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6 hours ago
Earth, Sol system, Western spiral arm
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Saturday Morning Breakfast Cereal - Password

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Click here to go see the bonus panel!

The trick to passwords is to just reset them every time you need to log in.

New comic!
Today's News:
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11 hours ago
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2 public comments
13 hours ago
The trick to passwords is to just reset them every time you need to log in.
Beltsville, Maryland - USA
15 hours ago
I laughed

StarCraft remaster unveiled, and original SD version becomes free-as-in-beer

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Enlarge / It finally exists. (credit: Blizzard Entertainment)

A long-rumored StarCraft remaster for computers was finally unveiled on Saturday by Blizzard Entertainment, set for launch in "summer 2017." No pricing info was announced, but Blizzard has confirmed quite a few other details about the 4K-friendly release.

For one, it will be preceded by a patch to the 19-year-old StarCraft: Brood War client, and this new 1.18a client will reportedly not change the mechanics of the game. To prove that out, this patched version will still be able to connect to players using the existing 1.16 patch (which came out all the way back in 2009). Among other tweaks, like better compatibility with newer versions of Windows, the new patch will include two important updates: the ability to connect to and play against owners of the upcoming remastered version, and the change to a wholly free product. Once the patch goes live, the original StarCraft Anthology will be free-as-in-beer to download and play in both single- and multiplayer modes.

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13 hours ago
Remaster looks great, not sure what the authors gripes are about
Bend, Oregon
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