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Frank Atanassow
Terminus est.
Terminus est.

Frank's posts

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I was just thinking, "Is it just me, or does Donald Trump, Jr remind anyone else of Patrick Bateman?" A quick trip to Google proved I am not alone.

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DONALD TRUMP MAY select Jose Rodriguez, one of the primary architects of the George W. Bush torture program, to run the Central Intelligence Agency, according to a law firm with close ties to Trump... The suggestion that Rodriguez may head the CIA was made in a post-election prediction document published by Dentons, a law and lobbying firm where Trump confidant Newt Gingrich serves as a senior advisor.

Trump, as you probably know, has vowed to re-authorize waterboarding, and in fact believes the technique is not "tough enough".

Christopher Hitchens, who was incredulous that waterboarding actually constituted torture, once voluntarily underwent the process, which was executed by an American Special Forces team. Here is one clause of the indemnification contract he had to sign beforehand:

“Water boarding” is a potentially dangerous activity in which the participant can receive serious and permanent (physical, emotional and psychological) injuries and even death, including injuries and death due to the respiratory and neurological systems of the body.

You can read about his experience, entitled "Believe Me, It's Torture":

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Turing might not have committed suicide.

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I learned recently that the US Electoral College system was originally designed with the intent that the electors of each state would deliberate among themselves and vote independently. In other words, the intent was not only that voters would elect "able" electors, and electors would vote according to their own judgement, but also that electors would not vote as a bloc but independently, with each elector representing the interests of a distinct district.

According to Wikipedia, this changed almost immediately when parties emerged and:

Some states reasoned the favorite presidential candidate among the people in their state would have a much better chance if all of the electors selected by their state were sure to vote the same way – a "general ticket" of electors pledged to a party candidate. So the slate of electors chosen by the state were no longer free agents, independent thinkers, or deliberative representatives. They became "voluntary party lackeys and intellectual non-entities." Once one state took that strategy, the others felt compelled to follow suit in order to compete for the strongest influence on the election.

Madison and Hamilton vehemently opposed this new situation. Hamilton even drafted an Amendment that mandated the district plan, although I don't know what happened to it.

(I mention this out of historical interest, not because I think Hillary Clinton deserves the presidency because of the popular vote outcome.)

Like many of you, I suppose, I've been reading articles which are trying to make sense of the election. In particular, I've read several articles which blame urban liberals for neglecting rural conservatives, and portray the election of Trump is a knee-jerk reaction, or even an act of desperation. I'm not sure I'm ready to go along with this idea (and it doesn't let urban conservatives off the hook), but I did come up with a little analysis based on it.

First, when I compare European democracies with the American one (although we have seen similar right-wing trends rise here in the EU), I ask myself why such a style of government does not ever seem to succeed in the US. One notable difference between the US and EU countries is apparent: size.

I live in Utrecht, which is the third-largest city in the Netherlands. From the center of Utrecht, I could drive out in any direction and reach what looks like country within 20 or 30 minutes. When I lived in Germany, there was a forest just beyond our backyard. In the US, I lived in Los Angeles. To reach what looks like country from Santa Monica, I would have to drive probably at least 2 hours, and even then we're just talking about the outskirts of the urban sprawl, not real farmland.

America is a big place and, more to the point, it's spread out. The cities and the countryside are just too far away from each other to have much ongoing cultural exchange, so they cannot help but drift apart from each other. I'm not sure this is as much the case in Europe. Germany is a large country, but even there, if I take a train from Frankfurt to Munich, I get to enjoy the rolling hills and forests, but such a trip is interrupted regularly by urban centers. Small ones, sure, but in Europe it just seems like the towns are closer together, and less disparate in scale; when I'm in the country here, I never feel too far removed from the city.

Now, I have not traveled much in rural America, but I am sure that is not the case there. If you put me down somewhere random in Iowa, I'm pretty sure I would feel stranded and infinitely removed from civilization.

I went to college at Cornell, which is in New York, but in rural, upstate New York, in Tompkins County. Cornell has a beautiful campus with plenty of natural scenery, but, being Cornell and being populated by hordes of college students, it doesn't feel like the country. But step just outside of the campus into Ithaca proper and you are somewhere quite different. Ithaca has more of a small-town feeling and I think the locals regard students who stray from the campus somewhat as aliens. Moreover, the feeling is not infrequently returned, and it was not hard at all for me to pick out the students from the other residents when I ventured there.

The upshot of this situation is that the US is, to put it provocatively, not really one country, but two countries mingled together (I am reminded of the West Bank), and this has come to be reflected in the political parties. The election maps, which invariably show the urban centers in blue and the rural areas in red, agree.

What makes this a problem is that government, by which I mean the process of governing, naturally occurs in the cities, and thus necessarily apart from rural constituencies, with the consequence that it will tend to be biased toward urban constituencies, since it resides there. (Hence the rural, conservative insistence on local governance.)

This brings me to my second realization, which is that federal representatives of rural constituencies will nevertheless tend to be urbanites. In other words, even if you live in the country, you will be voting for someone who lives in the city -- because that's where the activity of government at the highest levels takes place. So you're always voting for someone who is not really like you.

What's more -- and here is where I stop being magnanimous -- perhaps conservatism doesn't really make sense in the city. A consequence of this would be that conservatism, the development of which would have been, let us say, understandable in a rural setting, reflects badly on that person when it instead develops or persists in a city. If you grow up in the country, among mostly whites, without as much access to information, diversity and schooling, then you have fewer opportunities to dispel your prejudices, and it doesn't say as much about your character. But if you live in the city and have all those advantages and still lean toward conservative values, then it says more unpleasant things about your character.

Now, if you agree with my last two points, then you ought to agree with their synthesis, which is that the rural conservative voter's options will tend to be very poor: they have to choose a candidate who shares their values but for the wrong reasons -- because the candidate must be urban but conservative values are misguided in an urban setting.

Of course, you could also consider the opposite proposition: maybe liberal values don't make sense in a rural setting. Maybe being liberal in the country does mean that you are lazy, arrogant and foolish. This suggests that a liberal representative would tend to make poor decisions for their rural constituencies.

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Evan Osnos of the The New Yorker details what to expect now.

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Trump's new campaign manager Stephen Bannon says his website Breitbart News is "the platform for the alt-right." Here's a guide to the alt-right, written by the Southern Poverty Law Center.

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A longitudinal research study of the rate of disappearance of 70 discreetly numbered teaspoons has found that the half-life of a teaspoon in the workplace is about 81 days. "Conclusions: The loss of workplace teaspoons was rapid, showing that their availability, and hence office culture in general, is constantly threatened."

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I'm not sure what to think about this...

On Thursday, Donald Trump said that Gonzalo Curiel, the federal judge hearing a fraud case against Trump, is biased because Curiel belongs to an association of Latino lawyers and is “of Mexican heritage.” According to the Wall Street Journal, Trump explained: “I’m building a wall. It’s an inherent conflict of interest.” (via Slate)

Given that Latinos make up 17% of the US population, if you take this at face-value, you can conversely argue that Trump's policies conflict with the interests of nearly 1 in 5 Americans.

If we added up all of his statements, I wonder how many Americans would be left who could, in his view, legitimately hold him accountable. I see this number tending toward zero, and I think he likes it that way -- Trump doesn't want anybody to be able to hold him accountable. But the flip side is that, by his own admission, he also doesn't represent the interests of any of those people. This is an undesirable quality for a candidate in a representative democracy.

It is one thing to issue statements and support policies which many people disagree with. It is another when you couple that with the claim that the people who disagree with you moreover cannot hold you accountable. It implies that you can decrease your accountability simply by offending as many people as possible.
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