Wednesday, November 30, 2011

The 25 least influential people alive


I figured the first page of this list of "the 25 least influential people alive" would just be a mirror, but no, you and I aren't even influential enough to be considered for the list.

Just how insignificant are these people? Well, the list includes both Barack Obama ("a man who should be the most transformational figure of the century ... wields all the power of a substitute teacher at night school") and John Boehner ("Boehner ... represents the self-fulfilling prophecy of open cynicism toward the U.S. government: a politician who was elected specifically to not give a shit").

Still, it's kind of funny, in a snarky kind of way. Just what the internet needs, more snark, huh?

Tuesday, November 29, 2011

History of English

Funny and interesting, don't you think?

Much ado about stuffing

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I blogged about this on Saturday, but I thought I'd post Jon Stewart's reaction, too, especially for the look on the face of Steve Smith, that Arizona Republican who seemed just giddy at the prospect of claiming Jesus Christ and "the greatest country in the world" as partisan political ploys.

Man, if only he could have implied that Barack Obama hates Mom and apple pie, too, huh?

Is Stewart right? Are we going to see a "war on Thanksgiving" now, in addition to that idiotic "war on Christmas" meme? Yeah, those poor, persecuted Christians, only 80% of the population or so...

Well, bring it on, you right-wing loons! I'm not giving up my turkey without a fight!

Governor vs teenage girl - no contest

(Emma Sullivan, on Twitter - via Yahoo)

A few days ago, I commented on Emma Sullivan, the Kansas high school student who got into a fight with Gov. Sam Brownback after noting how much the governor "sucked."

Obviously, there could be only one end to such an unfair fight. So yesterday, Brownback cut his losses and apologized.

Here's how Indecision Forever put it:
After a federal judge blocked enforcement of his state’s restrictive new abortion laws, conservative Kansas Gov. Sam Brownback was forced to stop spying on teen girls’ uteruses.

And (as we reported Friday) start spying on their Twitter feeds
Shawnee Mission East teen Emma Sullivan insulted Kansas Gov. Sam Brownback over Twitter while on a school field trip to the state capitol last week.

"Just made mean comments at gov. brownback and told him he sucked, in person #heblowsalot," she wrote to her 60 followers… But the humor was lost on members of Brownback's staff, who found the tweet while scouring social media sites for his name and demanded an apology through Sullivan's high school principal.

Sullivan, who now has 6,300 Twitter followers and has begun quoting Gandhi, says she hopes the principal will accept her decision not write an apology letter.

Upon hearing that she would not apologize, Gov. Brownback referred the matter to his insecurity guards, who promptly alerted the Kansas State Department of No Backsies. Fortunately, Sullivan was able to escape arrest at the last minute by getting a cootie shot from her friend Becky.

Since she is now rubber and he is glue, the insulting tweet successfully stuck to the governor, compelling him to issue a personal apology for blowing a lot
"My staff over-reacted to this tweet, and for that I apologize. Freedom of speech is among our most treasured freedoms," Brownback said in a statement.

Gov. Brownback has yet to confirm or deny reports that he suffers from Bieber Fever.

Hey, Brownback deserves this kind of ridicule, if for no other reason than he's got his staff monitoring comments on Twitter!

An 18-year-old girl posting rude comments to her friends probably isn't all that unusual, and it's certainly no concern of the governor's office, in any case.

According to ABC News, Sullivan now has more than than 10,000 followers on Twitter, compared to 60 at the time of her comment. Hopefully, the next tin-pot despot will think twice about this kind of attempted censorship.

Monday, November 28, 2011

"Spin" by Robert Charles Wilson

(cover image from

Tyler Dupree was 12 when the stars disappeared. He was in the backyard with his friends, Jason and Diane Lawton, at the time. And as it turned out, it wasn't just the stars.

Eventually, scientists discover that someone or something - these hypothetical someones are soon called the Hypotheticals - has placed a barrier around the Earth, a barrier which, among other things, causes time to advance very, very slowly on our planet.

Ten minutes here sees more than a thousand years go by in the rest of the universe. A year on Earth means that 100 million years have gone by elsewhere. And in 40 years or so - 4 billion in the rest of the solar system - the Earth will be completely destroyed by an aging, expanding Sun.

I don't like to give spoilers in my reviews, so I can't say too much about what happens after that. But the book starts in 4000000000 A.D. Most of it is set in the past, with Tyler writing about the events of his life, a life that was inextricably tied up with Jason and Diane.

First published in 2005, Spin won the Hugo Award for best science fiction or fantasy novel in 2006. There have been two sequels published since then. It contains some very interesting ideas - in addition to the great idea that's the premise - and I think that's how I'd describe it, as interesting.

My biggest problem with the book is that I don't like the characters. Yes, they're interesting. They're plausible. I even feel considerable sympathy for them. But I don't like them. To me, that's important. Many of my friends in the ClassicScienceFiction discussion group say they don't need to like the characters in a book. But usually, I do.

And I must say that I don't even like the human species much, as shown in this book. Our society doesn't seem to be very admirable. Our institutions - government and corporations mainly, since we never see scientists - are corrupt. Very few people are likable - and those mostly very minor characters.

The idea here was quite interesting, but I just had a hard time caring what happened. So what if the entire human species went extinct? It hardly seemed like it would be a big loss. I was interested to see where the story would go, but I didn't actually care. For me, that's a big deal, but it might not be for you.

Now, as I say, the basic premise of Spin was great, and there were other great ideas in the book, too. I liked the eventual identification of the Hypotheticals. There really is a lot to like here. But I had a few problems with the end of the book. Idea-based science fiction really needs to have a great solution, and I had a few problems with this one.

I'm not going to go into detail, because I don't want to give away any spoilers. But after everything else, I had a hard time buying the ending. Again, maybe that's just me. Most likely, it is. This book did win the Hugo Award, after all.

But the best thing I can say about Spin is that it was interesting. I hate to give it such a tepid review, but I really couldn't get any more enthusiastic than that. I'm glad I read it, but it really didn't grab me.

This was our November read (our modern SF pick) in the ClassicScienceFiction group, and most of our members liked it more than I did, I think. Well, tastes vary.

Curiosity is heading to Mars

Neat, isn't it? Curiosity was successfully launched two days ago, so it's still going to be eight and a half months before it arrives on Mars.

I hope everything goes well. It seems incredibly complicated, doesn't it? But here's Phil Plait on that:
I’ve heard some folks wondering why NASA is using such a crazy complicated way to land the rover. The reason has to do with the gravity and atmosphere of Mars, as well as the mass of the rover itself. Landing on Mars is difficult. It has just enough gravity to make it hard to land with just rockets; it would take a lot of fuel, and that means you have to lug that all the way there, which in turn means less mass available for the science package. Mars also has air, which means you can use parachutes, but the air is too thin to make it practical to use them all the way down like we do on Earth. So we’re stuck having to use both rockets and parachutes.

And if you think Curiosity’s landing is crazy, don’t forget that Spirit and Opportunity used giant airbags to literally bounce their way down to the surface! That method wouldn’t work with Curiosity, which is too big for airbags.

Airbags might have seemed bizarre, but they were - relatively - simple. This is far from simple. And the rover itself seems far from simple.

Of course, this means that it has more capabilities than Spirit and Opportunity. But it also means that there are more things to go wrong. Well, let's hope everything goes well. I'm ready to pick out the location for my new vacation home on the Red Planet.

Sunday, November 27, 2011

Hitchslap #25 - the cult of death

Feuding in Fox-land?

From New York Magazine:
Sarah Palin's announcement that she wouldn't run for president disappointed her legions of admirers — but it infuriated Roger Ailes. The Fox News chief wasn't angry  about the decision itself. Rather, he was livid that Palin made the October 5 announcement on Mark Levin's conservative talk-radio program, robbing Fox News of an exclusive and a possible ratings bonanza. Fox was relegated to getting a follow-up interview with Palin on Greta Van Susteren's 10 p.m. show, after the news of Palin's decision had been drowned out by Steve Jobs's death. Ailes was so mad, he considered pulling her off the air entirely until her $1 million annual contract expires in 2013.

After the announcement, he called Fox's executive vice-president Bill Shine into a meeting. Shine is the network's principal point of contact with Palin. Ailes told him she had made a big mistake. "I paid her for two years to make this announcement on my network," Ailes pointedly told Shine. Sources described the episode on condition of anonymity, given the sensitivity of the relationships.

Palin is said to have made her announcement on Levin's show because she's been upset that Fox News has given a platform to Karl Rove, one of her principal critics. "She isn't happy with Karl," one Palin adviser told me. "From day one, he hasn't been very nice." Levin had become Palin's biggest booster in the conservative commentariat, and Palin is known for rewarding loyalists, and punishing her detractors.

Shine was deputized to handle the matter. He spoke with Palin's agent, Bob Barnett, and told him that Ailes was furious with Palin's move and that she was at risk of being "benched." Fox still had to pay her, but they didn't have to give her airtime.

Anything that infuriates Roger Ailes is fine by me, and feuding among right-wing loons is all they deserve, wouldn't you say?

But I do think that Sarah Palin made a big miscalculation here. Oh, I never expected her to run for President, because she's making too much money right now on Fox. After all, that's why she resigned as governor, only halfway through her first term.

Being a governor was more work than she wanted, and far less lucrative than being a professional celebrity. Once she dropped that public service anchor, she was free to rake in the big bucks. Running for President would risk all that.

But her big mistake was to announce her decision at all, at least this early. Forget about where she announced it. That only matters to Roger Ailes. Just announcing it at all made people stop paying attention to her, and that's the kiss of death to a celebrity.

It hasn't helped that there are more than enough loons running for the Republican nomination already. But until she announced her decision, that didn't keep her from hogging the limelight. Remember when Palin went barnstorming around the country in her bus, taking media attention off the candidates themselves? (I'll bet that burned their butts, huh?)

The media were all breathless in their speculation - would Sarah Palin run, or wouldn't she? But as soon as she announced her decision, that was all over. All that attention has gone to the candidates, now. And for a celebrity, losing media attention is a disaster.

I suspect - assuming the above story is true - that this might be a big part of the reason for Ailes' anger. He's got a contract with a right-wing celebrity who is suddenly not such a celebrity anymore. And how can Palin say something outrageous enough to grab the headlines again, with people like Michele Bachmann, Rick Perry, Herman Cain, Rick Santorum, and Newt Gingrich spewing so much crazy themselves?

Saturday, November 26, 2011

Obama leaves Allah out of Thanksgiving address!

Disgusting, isn't it? Can you believe that Barack Obama didn't thank Allah even once? He didn't even mention Allah!

Oh, sure, he thanked the men and women who defend our country overseas. He also thanked the volunteers serving others on Thanksgiving Day. He thanked the Americans of the past, those "Pilgrims, pioneers, and patriots" who had faith in America in the darkest times of our nation.

But he didn't thank Allah! And the ayatollahs of our nation are not happy about it.

Obama talked about "unity," about "community," about "coming together as one people." But how can you have unity without a divisive religious message? How can you talk about coming together without explicitly excluding a large part of our people?

Come on! No one will want to support a club if just anyone can be a member! (And we all know how "those people" are.)

Here's Obama:
"But think about what's happening at this very moment. Americans from all walks of life are coming together as one people, grateful for the blessings of family, community, and country. If we keep that spirit alive, if we support each other and look out for each other and remember that we're all in this together, then I know that we, too, will overcome the challenges of our time."

Disgusting, isn't it? Where does he say that you'll burn in Hell if you don't bow down toward Mecca and pray to Allah five times a day? How can you have "unity" without that?

And so, after Fox "News" got the message out, right-wing tweeters throughout America have been rising up to say, "Hell no, we won't come together! Hell no, we won't keep that spirit alive! Hell no, we won't stop trying to force our beliefs on everyone else, even for a single day!"

Thank Allah!

The latest Kansas terrorist

I think I'll just let Dennis DiClaudio at Indecision Forever tell this:
Kansas Gov. Sam Brownback is, by all accounts, safe and relatively unharmed following a harrowing Twitter attack from an 18-year-old high school student last week.

Luckily, Brownback has a brave and astute staff ready to snap into action at the first sign of an online trolling
Emma Sullivan, a senior at Shawnee Mission East High School in Prairie Village, was in Topeka on Monday as part of Kansas Youth in Government, a program for students interested in politics and government.

During the session, in which Brownback addressed the group, Sullivan posted on her personal Twitter page:
Just made mean comments at gov brownback and told him he sucked, in person #heblowsalot
Emma Sullivan

Does anyone know if there are any al Qaeda sleeper cells operating in Kansas? Because I highly doubt that a high school student is capable of an act of terrorism so heinous on her own.

Don't worry, though. Sullivan is paying the ultimate cost for trespasses against her innocent governor…
On Tuesday, Sullivan was called to her principal’s office and told that the tweet had been flagged by someone on Brownback’s staff and reported to organizers of the Youth in Government program…

The principal "laid into me about how this was unacceptable and an embarrassment," Sullivan said. "He said I had created this huge controversy and everyone was up in arms about it… and now he had to do damage control… I'm mainly shocked that they would even see that tweet and be concerned about me," she said. "I just honestly feel they're making a lot bigger deal out of it than it actually was."

Sullivan said the principal ordered her to write letters of apology to Brownback, the school’s Youth in Government sponsor, the district's social studies coordinator and others.

Hopefully next time, Ms.Sullivan will think twice before exercising her First Amendment rights.

This isn't getting pepper-sprayed in the face, but maybe it's even more shocking. We can't even criticize our elected officials these days? (Only the Republican ones, I'm sure.)

What did they teach 18-year-old Emma Sullivan? They taught her that it's wrong to speak up, that she'll pay a steep price for exercising her right of free speech, especially if it's unpopular or makes powerful people unhappy.

They taught Sullivan to shut up, to be seen and not heard, to be, in other words, a typical American, apathetic and convinced that she's powerless.

Well, maybe the internet will teach Gov. Brownback that America is a democracy, that free speech is alive and well, and that the efforts of autocrats to undermine both will backfire.

How Europeans celebrate Thanksgiving

Yes, Thanksgiving is over, but I just saw this and thought it was funny. Here's another funny pic from QuickMeme that fits the season:

Friday, November 25, 2011

Turkey overdose

Life begins at conception

Call me "pro-life."

Happy Evacuation Day!

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This was on The Daily Show last week, but today is Evacuation Day (at least in New York), so I thought I'd save it until now.

It's not just funny, it's inspiring. This is our history. But how many of us knew it?

Besides, Sarah Vowell has a real point here:
"No, I want us to celebrate victory, Washington's triumphant return to the city he lost. Americans are always so excited about the beginning of a war. What if we celebrated how we used to be good at ending 'em?"

Thursday, November 24, 2011

Minecraft parody - creeper revenge

This is great, if you've played Minecraft. If not, you won't get it, I'm sure. And I don't know if I can explain it.

But note that this is the Minecraft world, more or less. That's part of the humor. The rest is all about creepers.

Creepers are monsters which are spawned in the darkness, but don't burn up in direct sunlight, like skeletons and zombies, and don't become passive during the daytime, like spiders. At any time, they can sneak up behind you and blow themselves up, killing your character and blowing a big hole in the environment - including anything you've carefully constructed.

They're the monster which Minecraft gamers love to hate. We've all experienced sudden, unexpected death from creepers. And it's not just death - after all, your character just respawns - and not just the chance of losing your entire inventory, but also the potential destruction of what you've worked hard to build.

Because Minecraft is very much a builder's game. Those buildings and sidewalks and other structures you see in the video are all constructed by the player from the basic raw materials of the world.

Imaginative players produce some very elaborate and beautiful structures in Minecraft. Did you see that streetlight? I would never have imagined building that, myself, but now that I see how it was done, it's definitely going in my next Minecraft world.

And a creeper can blow it all up in an instant. Of course, you can just build it again. You can even gather up, from the site of the explosion, the raw materials you'd used the first time, as well as your inventory items, if you can get back there from your spawn point quickly enough.

But it's still frustrating - and more than a bit funny. A moment's inattention and... BOOM!

Incidentally, Minecraft was finally released last week. Yup, all this hype, the huge fan base, the millions made by the developer - all that has happened while the game was still in development! Incredible, isn't it?

Markus Persson - "Notch" - started selling the game while it was still in alpha, so he could keep working on it. And the game's popularity is all based on word of mouth, gamers spreading the news to other gamers.

One month after reaching beta status, it had already sold a million copies. That reached 4 million copies this month, before the final game was even released. It's been a real gaming sensation and an inspiration to indie game developers everywhere.

Even though I knew all this, I was positively shocked at how many Minecraft parodies there are on YouTube. I mean, yeah, gamers love it, but... it gets this kind of notice? What's next?

Most of them are rather amateurish, of course, but you might also enjoy this one. It's clearly made by young people, but it's pretty impressive, isn't it?

PS. One other game-related note, if you happen to be reading this on Thanksgiving Day: GameStop (formerly Impulse, formerly Stardock) is selling Sid Meier's Civilization V today only for 75% off - just $7.49.

Note that the game runs on Steam, which I hate. That's the reason I haven't bought it before now. But I have bought a few games on Steam, when they get too cheap to pass up, and I think this will be another one. Really, this is too good to miss, don't you think?

Key of Awesome: Jack Bauer man-crush

Since it's Thanksgiving, and I'm going to be in a Muslim turkey-induced stupor for much of the day, I thought I'd just post a couple of parodies.

I've never actually seen 24, though I've heard enough about it to find this hilarious. Well, these Key of Awesome folks are always funny.

Are you eating a Muslim turkey?


The image above is from TPM's article about this, but I prefer the explanation from Indecision Forever:
You probably thought that you were going to enjoy a nice Christian Thanksgiving with your nice Christian family and your Christian friends in your Christian dining room tomorrow. But then… Surprise, Muslism!
A citizen activist and reader of my website wrote to Butterball, one of the most popular producers of Thanksgiving turkeys in the United States, asking them if their turkeys were halal. Wendy Howze, a Butterball Consumer Response Representative, responded: "Our whole turkeys are certified halal."…

Across this great country, on Thanksgiving tables nationwide, infidel Americans are unwittingly going to be serving halal turkeys to their families this Thursday. Turkeys that are halal certified — who wants that, especially on a day on which we are giving thanks to G-d for our freedom? I wouldn't knowingly buy a halal turkey — would you? Halal turkey, slaughtered according to the rules of Islamic law, is just the opposite of what Thanksgiving represents: freedom and inclusiveness, neither of which are allowed for under that same Islamic law.

Oh no! I don't want invisible Musliminess all over my Thanksgiving bird! Get it it off! Get it off!

I don't know about you, but [I] went out shopping this past weekend with three very specific prerequisites for my turkey: 1) That it be heterosexual, 2) that it had signed a pledge in opposition to all tax increases prior to its slaughtering, and 3) that it had been brought up in a good God-fearing Lutheran family.

Maybe I'd settle for an Jewish turkey. Maybe. But not like a liberal Jewish intellectual turkey or anything. If it wants to be slaughtered for my family and served with my sister's recipe for raisin and walnut stuffing, it best have had a literalist view of Biblical history, or no dice!

Heh, heh. Hilarious, isn't it? Well, you have a very scary Thanksgiving and watch out for the Muslim turkeys, OK?

But most of you, I suspect, will have to worry more about the Christian bull. And me? I plan to be a little atheist pig today. :)

Wednesday, November 23, 2011

Hitchslap #67 - the Richard Dawkins Award

The above video clip isn't the real "Hitchslap #67" video, but that one (which is available here) is an excerpt of this. Just over six minutes long, it's shorter than this. But it's also rather choppy. And the full thing is so good that I really wanted to post it here.

This is Richard Dawkins presenting the 2011 Richard Dawkins Award to Christopher Hitchens at the Texas Freethought Convention in early October, followed by Hitchens' own remarks. I posted a video clip of part of this previously, but it was an amateur effort which is no longer available on YouTube.

Christopher Hitchens is dying, and he's only a shell of his former self. Still, his personality shines through. And Dawkins is great, as always.

You might be interested in this video clip, too. It's a news clip about the Texas Freethought Convention from an Australian television station. Funny, huh? I didn't see or hear anything in the mainstream media here in Nebraska about the convention just a few states away.

And from what I hear, even Texas media paid little or no attention to the convention held in Houston. But Australia sends a news team? (Note that PZ Myers of Pharyngula is quoted in the clip, but isn't named. He's a celebrity in the atheist community, but not big enough elsewhere, I guess.)

Well, I could be wrong. But that's the only news story I've seen about the convention, outside the atheist community online.

Product placement

After seeing peaceful protestors effortlessly being sprayed in the face, are you thinking about getting your own Defense Technology 56895 MK-9 Stream, 1.3% Red Band/1.3% Blue Band Pepper Spray?

Well, at there's certainly no shortage of product reviews - 222 at last count. And most are very positive.

For example, from D-bag of Liberty, who gives it 5-stars:
Whenever I need to breezily inflict discipline on unruly citizens, I know I can trust Defense Technology 56895 MK-9 Stream, 1.3% Red Band/1.3% Blue Band Pepper Spray to get the job done! The power of reason is no match for Defense Technology's superior repression power. When I reach for my can of Defense Technology 56895 MK-9 Stream, 1.3% Red Band/1.3% Blue Band Pepper Spray, I know that even the mighty First Amendment doesn't stand a chance against its many scovil units of civil rights suppression.

When I feel threatened by students, no matter how unarmed, peaceful and seated they may be, I know that Defense Technology 56895 MK-9 Stream, 1.3% Red Band/1.3% Blue Band Pepper Spray has got my back as I casually spray away at point blank range.

It really is the Cadillac of citizen repression technology.

However, as usual, not all of the reviews are so positive. For example, here's pen name, giving it only 1-star:
I casually used this product to try to disperse a small band of non-violent campers who had locked their arms together. Although initially it seemed to be effective, it took two applications! The worst part is that the next day they multiplied exponentially! Now what?

One positive outcome, I did receive a paid vacation for my efforts.

Or KittyKat, who was also disappointed in the product:
At the college I work at there's this huge problem with students expressing their opinions. We thought this spray would put a stop to it, but it while it caused some discomfort and medical problems it hasn't silenced them. It looks like we're going to have to go back to plan A -- making college so expensive no one can come to begin with. It's a shame too, because we spent more on this spray than we pay most of our faculty.

And for you Fox "News" viewers thinking to buy this for kitchen use, here's Dan:
Despite Fox News anchor Megyn Kelly's assurance that this harmless vegetable mist is a "food product", I found it wholly unsuitable for eating. It caused an extraordinarily painful burning sensation in the mucous membranes of my upper respiratory tract and the tissue surrounding my eyes, resulting temporary blindness which lasted from 15-30 minutes, inflammation of the skin which lasted from 45 to 60 minutes, and upper body spasms which forced me to bend forward in fits of uncontrollable coughing that made it difficult to breathe or speak for between 3 and 15 minutes. While there are many pleasurable ways to ingest fruits of the genus Capsicum, a nice New Mexico-style green Chile sauce on a stuffed sopaipilla for example, I found this product unsatisfactory.

Well, opinions differ, but at least there's no shortage of product reviews. And no shortage of Defense Technology 56895 MK-9 Stream, 1.3% Red Band/1.3% Blue Band Pepper Spray, either, I'm sure.

But you might want to stock up before the Christmas rush.

Open your eyes

And yes, believe it or not, this is based on a real situation.

From Bikyamasr:
Women with sexy eyes in Saudi Arabia may be forced to cover them up, according to the spokesperson of the Committee for the Promotion of Virtue and the Prevention of Vice (CPVPV) in the conservative Gulf kingdom.

Spokesman of the Ha’eal district, Sheikh Motlab al-Nabet said the committee has the right to stop a women whose eyes seem “tempting” and order her to cover them immediately.

Saudi women are already forced to wear a loose black dress and to cover their hair and in some areas, their face, while in public or face fines or sometimes worse, including public lashings.

But if you think that's crazy, try this:
In 2002, the committee refused to let female students out of their burning schools in Mecca for “not wearing the proper head cover,” which contributed to a large number of dead.

15 young girls died in the fire and dozens more were injured. The CPVPV men banned the firemen and policemen from accessing the girls as “it is not okay for girls to be seen without their full Islamic dress in front of strangers.”

Open your eyes! Not all believers are this crazy - not even all Muslims, not even close. But is there anything but religion which would make people do such crazy things?

Tuesday, November 22, 2011

About pepper spray

From Speakeasy Science:
One hundred years ago, an American pharmacist named Wilbur Scoville developed a scale to measure the intensity of a pepper’s burn. The scale – as you can see on the widely used chart [above] – puts sweet bell peppers at the zero mark and the blistering habenero at up to 350,000 Scoville Units.

I checked the Scoville Scale for something else yesterday. I was looking for a way to measure the intensity of pepper spray, the kind that police have been using on Occupy protestors including this week’s shocking incident involving peacefully protesting students at the University of California-Davis.

As the chart makes clear, commercial grade pepper spray leaves even the most painful of natural peppers (the Himalayan ghost pepper) far behind. It’s listed at between 2 million and 5.3 million Scoville units. The lower number refers to the kind of pepper spray that you and I might be able to purchase for self-protective uses. And the higher number? It’s the kind of spray that police use, the super-high dose given in the orange-colored spray used at UC-Davis.

Shocking, isn't it? A few years ago, I was given a hot pepper - a really hot pepper - and I cut it up to use a little bit in cooking. I washed my hands thoroughly, and again a few hours later, when I went to put in my contacts.

But there was still enough residue on my hands that I couldn't do it. It was just excruciatingly painful when even some tiny, infinitesimal amount of capsaicin oil got in my eyes. I scrubbed and scrubbed, but I finally had to wait until it wore off naturally.

I can't imagine how painful it would have been sprayed in my eyes! And even that would have been far, far less painful than police pepper spray. This post makes another good point:
But we’ve taken to calling it pepper spray, I think, because that makes it sound so much more benign than it really is, like something just a grade or so above what we might mix up in a home kitchen. The description hints maybe at that eye-stinging effect that the cook occasionally experiences when making something like a jalapeno-based salsa, a little burn, nothing too serious.

Until you look it up on the Scoville scale and remember, as toxicologists love to point out, that the dose makes the poison.  That we’re not talking about cookery but a potent blast of chemistry.  So that if OC spray is the U.S. police response of choice  – and certainly, it’s been used with dismaying enthusiasm during the Occupy protests nationwide, as documented in this excellent Atlantic roundup -  it may be time to demand a more serious look at the risks involved.

The post continues with the very real risks of pepper spray, and that is certainly important. But here, I want to just think about the whole point of torturing peaceful protestors.

Yes, "torture." Pepper spray is designed to cause incredible pain. That's the whole point. It's a very useful product for taking down violent criminals when you don't want to use lethal force, but to spray in the eyes of peaceful protestors?

Pepper spray is useful for defense because it does cause such intense pain. But the police weren't in any danger at UC-Davis. No one was in any danger! These protestors were sitting on the ground, threatening no one.

Indeed, when that police lieutenant wanted to get into position to spray them in the eyes, he just stepped over the protestors! Obviously, he wasn't worried about them at all. It's abundantly clear that he considered them no threat. (If you haven't seen it, one of the video clips is here.)

Even after the spraying, the worst thing police faced was the crowd chanting "shame on you!"

This was nothing but the deliberate use of pain - in effect, torture - on peaceful American citizens. As with other examples of such things, it's an attempt at intimidation so people will be afraid of exercising their Constitutional rights, no matter what rights we might be guaranteed on paper.

Fox News leaves viewers knowing less than watching no news at all

From Fairleigh Dickinson University:
According to the latest results from Fairleigh Dickinson University’s PublicMind Poll, some news sources make us less likely to know what’s going on in the world. In the most recent study, the poll asked New Jerseyans about current events at home and abroad, and from what sources – if any – they get their information. The conclusion: Sunday morning news shows do the most to help people learn about current events, while some outlets, especially Fox News, lead people to be even less informed than those who they don’t watch any news at all. ...

For example, people who watch Fox News, the most popular of the 24-hour cable news networks, are 18-points less likely to know that Egyptians overthrew their government than those who watch no news at all (after controlling for other news sources, partisanship, education and other demographic factors). Fox News watchers are also 6-points less likely to know that Syrians have not yet overthrown their government than those who watch no news.

"Because of the controls for partisanship, we know these results are not just driven by Republicans or other groups being more likely to watch Fox News," said Dan Cassino, a professor of political science at Fairleigh Dickinson and an analyst for the PublicMind Poll. "Rather, the results show us that there is something about watching Fox News that leads people to do worse on these questions than those who don’t watch any news at all." [my emphasis]

Surprised? Somehow, I'm not.

Obviously, everyone gets news in some way, even if it's just in social conversation. But that Fox "News" viewers are particularly ill-informed - or, at least,  misinformed - is no news at all.

Well, that's what I would think, isn't it? And I'm sure on some matters they're well-informed, if quite often misinformed, by Fox "News." Ask them who the president is, and I'm sure they'll get that right. (Ask them about the president's background or policies and they'll likely believe complete lies.)

I'm predisposed to believe the absolute worst about Fox "News," and I think I've got good reason for that. But I value the truth, so I'm always going to take any poll result with a grain of salt, even when - maybe even especially when - I want to believe it.

Still, I'm always willing to laugh at Fox "News," and to criticize what they've done to American journalism. I don't need a poll to tell me they've been very bad for our democracy.

The pepper-spraying cop meme

From BuzzFeed, here's the pepper-spraying cop meme.

It really is pretty funny. Yeah, this is a serious matter, but we often use humor to deal with serious matters. And in this case, it might even be more art than humor.

Here are a few more of my favorites:

Tuition vs income

Click image to embiggen.

Not much to say about that, is there? But keep in mind that the "average" household income includes the super-wealthy, and their income has boomed in recent decades. The lower 99% have probably done much worse than that graph suggests.

Monday, November 21, 2011

What if the Super Committee fails?

From TPM comes this neat graph that shows what will happen if the Super Committee fails. Well, if Congress can't agree and simply does nothing, the deficit... will drop like a rock!

And note that only a small part of this will be from those spending cuts that are supposed to be automatic if the Super Committee fails. The majority of it, in fact, will come from rolling back Bush's tax cuts. Well, that's how we got here in the first place.

Here's TPM:
Between the looming expiration of the Bush tax cuts and other temporary tax provisions ($4.8 trillion), a large, scheduled drop in Medicare physician reimbursement rates ($300 billion), the soon-to-be triggered penalties for Super Committee failure ($1.2 trillion), and the resulting savings on servicing the national debt ($900 billion), deficits are set to drop by over $7 trillion automatically, unless Congress affirmatively stops it. That’s on top of the $1 trillion-plus dollars Congress banked in the debt ceiling fight.

As you can see, the “do nothing” approach practically eliminates the deficit by mid-decade. Congress’ preferred approach of whining about the deficit but then voting to make deficits higher blows up the budget very fast. [my emphasis]

Of course, there’s never been much of an appetite in Congress for letting these things happen. Republicans want to extend all the Bush tax cuts, Democrats want to extend most of them. Republicans and Democrats both want to protect Medicare doctors from a pay cut. And Republicans are already clamoring to repeal and replace the defense spending cuts in the Super Committee penalty.

This probably isn't anything we want to happen. It would likely dump us back into recession again. But if it's a choice between this and just the spending cuts - keeping the tax cuts for the rich, while slashing spending which benefits everyone else - well, let's hope that Congress can't agree on anything.

But that's almost certainly too optimistic. Even if the Democrats don't cave - and they always do, don't they? - they're still going to be eager to cut taxes on most Americans. If Democrats had a spine,... well, that's hard to even imagine. Let's just say that there's no chance this will actually happen.

QOTD: They deserved to die

Quote of the Day:
I was dismayed at one bit of conversation with Dr Rod Butterworth, head of the place. He was trying to explain how the bloody god of the Old Testament really wasn’t such a bad fellow after all.

“You don’t understand: all those people he had to kill, were horrible people. They deserved to be killed!”

To which I replied, “But that’s exactly the excuse Hitler used to murder the Jews!”

“No…” He seemed slightly nonplussed.

One of Mattir’s spawn was there, and she explained to him that it was true, that Jews were accused of blood libel, and the Nazis claimed they used Jesus’ blood in evil rituals.

“Oh, well, there probably were Jews who did that, who hated Christianity, and those Jews would have deserved it.”

You could have knocked me flat with a feather.

I pointed out that his god, according to his myth, exterminated the entire population of the planet, except for 8 people. Was he really arguing that all of those people, even the babies, were all so wretchedly evil that they deserved death?

He replied that yes, they did, because they refused to worship god, and god as their creator had every right to do with them as he will. - PZ Myers

The trouble with video games

What's the trouble with video games? According to Charlie Brooker at The Guardian, it's not the violence. It's that most of the characters are dicks.

Yeah, it's pretty funny - like his observation that Call of Duty: Modern Warfare 3 is "the most homoerotic tale ever told in any medium" - but he makes some valid points.

Still, you have to love the humor, too:
I don't particularly mind the level of violence in computer games, partly because it's absurd, and partly because I'm hopelessly desensitised. What I do object to is the dick-swinging machismo that infests games like this. If I had a penny for every time I've spent the opening moments of a game sitting in the back of a transport vehicle listening to a soldier called Vasquez repeatedly use the word "motherfucker", I'd have enough money to buy the Sesame Street game instead. And even that probably starts with Sergeant Grover warning Private Elmo that "Shit is about to get real".

Every soldier in every game I've ever played is a dick. A dick that sounds like a 14-year-old boy reading dialogue discarded from an old-school Schwarzenegger action movie for displaying too much swagger. They seem like a bunch of try-hard bell-ends, desperate to highlight their gruff masculinity. What, exactly, are they overcompensating for?

Well, for one thing, games are inherently wussy. The stereotype of the bespectacled dweeby gamer is an inaccurate cliche, but there's no denying games are far from a beefy pursuit. Which is why shooty-fighty games go out of their way to disguise that. Every pixel of Modern Warfare 3 oozes machismo. It's all chunky gunmetal, booming explosions and stubbly men blasting each other's legs off. Yet consider what genteel skills the game itself requires. To succeed, you need to be adept at aiming a notional cursor and timing a series of button-pushes. It's about precision and nimble fingers. Just like darning a sock in a hurry. Or creating tapestry against the clock.

In other words, Modern Warfare 3 would be nothing but a gigantic needlework simulation were it not for the storyline, which is the most homoerotic tale ever created in any medium, including Frankie Goes to Hollywood videos. Behind the military manoeuvrings, the human story revolves around people backstabbing, bitching, making catty asides, breaking off friendships and betraying one another. Ignore the gunfire and it's like a soap opera set in a ballet school.

Heh, heh. Maybe I think it's particularly funny because I don't play games like that. Of course, that's mainly because I lack the precision and the nimble fingers. I'd probably be terrible at darning a sock in a hurry, too!

So I have no first-hand experience with Call of Duty: Modern Warfare 3. But I've seen videos of the gameplay, and I don't think Brooker is too far off. And some of the modern games I do play really seem to reward dickishness.

I've been playing Fallout 3 lately, mostly because it was on sale for only $4.99 from Impulse (now GameStop). I loved the first two games in the series, but... well, that's a post for another time.

At any rate, Fallout 3 is all about killing, too (most of these games are). But frequently, the game will switch to this slow-motion closeup, so you can watch the head of your enemy explode in glorious detail. The violence seems designed to be positively orgasmic. Very macho, no doubt.

You can also get perks which will give you extra experience for murdering people in their sleep. And both good and evil characters can cut off the ears or fingers of their enemies to get extra cash.

I haven't played The Elder Scrolls V: Skyrim yet, but that game also switches to slow-motion video capture to show you every loving, bloody detail of your victims.

I posted this video clip  the other day, because I thought it was funny. You can put a bucket on the barman's head and then murder his sister right in front of him, and he won't react - not even when you remove the bucket - because he didn't see it happen.

And yeah, that is funny. But note the murder itself. (Note that the detail is far higher in the game than it is in that clip.) It's not that you can kill everything and everyone in the game that bothers me. That's pretty typical for computer games. But these days, killing is made to seem almost sensual.

One of my favorite bloggers has been playing the old (1988) game Wasteland, which was the precursor to the Fallout games and one of my all-time favorites. This comes from his final post on the game, and maybe it will help me indicate the contrast between then and now:

In Highpool, one of the small villages in the radioactive wastes, you do have the choice to attack and kill children who mock you. But if you do that, this is the message you get:
A child lies dead at your feet near his Red Ryder hat. A puppy crawls up whining and lays its head on the boy's chest.

Yeah, you can act like a dick, but the game shows you the results of that. Furthermore, Highpool turns into a ghost town, so there's nothing left there to benefit you later.

Earlier in the game, a child attacks your party - with his Red Ryder BB gun - after you're forced to kill his rabid dog. In most games, you'd probably kill him without even thinking about it. But in Wasteland, if you do think about it, you can just run away. You don't have to kill this upset child. You don't have to act like a dick.

I don't want to exaggerate this. No one is going to mistake a game for reality, and no one is going to start murdering real people, just because of what they've been shown in a computer game. That is not the problem, not even for children.

But games - especially multiplayer games - often seem to encourage people to act like dicks. Certainly, there are plenty of dicks around! You really can't avoid them (which is the main reason I don't play multiplayer games).

And that kind of behavior is catching. If your community is composed of dicks, you'll tend to become a dick, too. It goes the other way as well, to some extent, but it only takes a small minority of dicks to set the tone in a game.

Complaining about video games has become the national pastime of old-farts everywhere, and I hate to add to it. But even games with a lot of adults playing - and games specifically marketed as "mature" - seem to be designed for particularly dickish 13-year-olds.

Is it too much to ask for games that really are mature? For games that show the honest consequences of dickish behavior? At least for games that don't reward or encourage dickish behavior?

Edit:  Note that there are currently 633 comments to that Guardian article! No, I didn't read them all, only the first page. But still, some of them are pretty funny. For example:

Scaryduck: "MW3, where you get to be called a "fag" by enraged teenagers every 30 seconds. It's like being spanged over the head with a frying pan while somebody shouts YouTube comments at you."

Ratb0y: "I'll be sticking to Skyrim for teh foreseeable future. At least if my character in that is a dick it's because I did it for the amusement factor and not because the game railroads you into doing so. One achievement today was stopping some kid getting bullied through reasoning with his tormentor. Turns out she just wanted to kiss him all along. Bless.

"I then went and hit a dragon in the face with an axe repeatedly. Thus doing my bit for wildlife conservation."

TheLuckyC: "Another Call of Duty game, exactly the same - daft, repetitive action, idiotic storylines rejected by 24 as 'too ridiculous', zero characterisation, and patronising inspirational quotes upon death.

"And yet I'll still play the bloody game. What does that make me? An idiot, apparently."

Sunday, November 20, 2011

Katy Perry Firework parody

After lots of depressing stuff the last few days, I thought I'd post something silly, something that makes me laugh.

Incidentally, here's the original, with Katy Perry. It's almost as silly as this one. :)

GOP: Cut government watchdogs

Pepper spraying at UC-Davis

(photo from The Atlantic)

What do you think about pepper-spraying peaceful protestors, kids who are just sitting on the ground, threatening no one?

Yeah, they must have done something to provoke that, huh? But we have easy access to videos these days which show the truth.

Or jabbing peaceful protestors in the gut with batons? Did these officers look threatened to you? What was that all about?

Here's Glenn Greenwald at Salon:
The now-viral video of police officers in their Robocop costumes sadistically pepper-spraying peaceful, sitting protesters at UC-Davis (details here) shows a police state in its pure form. It’s easy to be outraged by this incident as though it’s some sort of shocking aberration, but that is exactly what it is not. The Atlantic‘s Garance Franke-Ruta adeptly demonstrates with an assemblage of video how common such excessive police force has been in response to the Occupy protests. Along those lines, there are several points to note about this incident and what it reflects:

(1) Despite all the rights of free speech and assembly flamboyantly guaranteed by the U.S. Constitution, the reality is that punishing the exercise of those rights with police force and state violence has been the reflexive response in America for quite some time. As Franke-Ruta put it, “America has a very long history of protests that meet with excessive or violent response, most vividly recorded in the second half of the 20th century.” Digby yesterday recounted a similar though even worse incident aimed at environmental protesters.

The intent and effect of such abuse is that it renders those guaranteed freedoms meaningless. If a population becomes bullied or intimidated out of exercising rights offered on paper, those rights effectively cease to exist. Every time the citizenry watches peaceful protesters getting pepper-sprayed — or hears that an Occupy protester suffered brain damage and almost died after being shot in the skull with a rubber bullet — many become increasingly fearful of participating in this citizen movement, and also become fearful in general of exercising their rights in a way that is bothersome or threatening to those in power. That’s a natural response, and it’s exactly what the climate of fear imposed by all abusive police state actions is intended to achieve: to coerce citizens to “decide” on their own to be passive and compliant — to refrain from exercising their rights — out of fear of what will happen if they don’t.

This is America. The right to peaceably assemble and "petition the Government for a redress of grievances" is guaranteed in our Constitution.

But what good is such a guarantee if you're too scared of the consequences to actually do anything? The Soviet Union had fine words about such things in its constitution, too. But heaven help anyone who actually relied on that!

The Atlantic has a whole series of similar videos here. Is this America? Well, maybe it's the America that invades innocent countries and tortures prisoners of war, but it's not my America. It's not the America I grew up believing in.

Yeah, we were that "shining light on a hill," weren't we? So what are we teaching the world these days? From Gawker:
Two people were killed in Cairo and Alexandria this weekend as Egyptian activists took the streets to protest the military's attempts to maintain its grip on power. And guess how the state is justifying its deadly crackdown.

"We saw the firm stance the US took against OWS people & the German govt against green protesters to secure the state," an Egyptian state television anchor said yesterday (as translated by the indispensable Sultan Sooud al Qassemi; bold ours).

Yeah—it gets harder and harder to maintain a moral high ground when videos like this and pictures like this are unavoidable. But American police haven't killed anyone! Indeed! That's definitely something worth bragging about: so far, cops here have only sent a single person to the hospital with brain damage. U.S.A.! U.S.A.!

(Note: My thanks to Jim Harris for the links. I hope you don't end up on some subversives list for that!)

The science of sarcasm

From the Smithsonian:
In an episode of “The Simpsons,” mad scientist Professor Frink demonstrates his latest creation: a sarcasm detector.

“Sarcasm detector? That’s a really useful invention,” says another character, the Comic Book Guy, causing the machine to explode.

The funny thing is that, later in the story, you learn that scientists really have developed a sarcasm detector:
It turns out scientists can program a computer to recognize sarcasm. Last year, Hebrew University computer scientists in Jerusalem developed their “Semi-supervised Algorithm for Sarcasm Identification.” The program was able to catch 77 percent of the sarcastic statements in Amazon purchaser comments like “Great for insomniacs” in a book review. The scientists say that a computer that could recognize sarcasm could do a better job of summarizing user opinions in product reviews.

The University of Southern California’s Signal Analysis and Interpretation Laboratory announced in 2006 that their “automatic sarcasm recognizer,” a set of computer algorithms, was able to recognize sarcastic versions of “yeah, right” in recorded telephone conversations more than 80 percent of the time. The researchers suggest that a computerized phone operator that understands sarcasm can be programmed to “get” the joke with “synthetic laughter.”

Now that really would be a useful invention. Yeah, right.

I'm sure you can't wait, huh?

Meanwhile, you'll be glad to learn that sarcasm is good for you:
Sarcasm seems to exercise the brain more than sincere statements do. Scientists who have monitored the electrical activity of the brains of test subjects exposed to sarcastic statements have found that brains have to work harder to understand sarcasm.

That extra work may make our brains sharper, according to another study. College students in Israel listened to complaints to a cellphone company’s customer service line. The students were better able to solve problems creatively when the complaints were sarcastic as opposed to just plain angry.

You see? I'm actually doing you a favor here. And yes, like all good things, sarcasm is more prevalent online:
We’re more likely to use sarcasm with our friends than our enemies, Pexman says. “There does seem to be truth to the old adage that you tend to tease the ones you love,” she says.

But among strangers, sarcasm use soars if the conversation is via an anonymous computer chat room as opposed to face to face, according to a study by Jeffrey Hancock, a communications professor at Cornell University. This may be because it’s safer to risk some biting humor with someone you’re never going to meet. He also noted that conversations typed on a computer take more time than a face to face discussion. People may use that extra time to construct more complicated ironic statements.

Now, I suppose you expect me to end this with a complicated ironic statement, huh?

Saturday, November 19, 2011

Hitchslap #37 - is religion good for the world?

How the GOP became the party of the rich

Here's a great article in Rolling Stone about how the GOP became the party of the rich.

It's quite long, but I highly recommend reading the whole thing if you want to know exactly how America got into this mess. It starts out in the 1980s:
The nation is still recovering from a crushing recession that sent unemployment hovering above nine percent for two straight years. The president, mindful of soaring deficits, is pushing bold action to shore up the nation's balance sheet. Cloaking himself in the language of class warfare, he calls on a hostile Congress to end wasteful tax breaks for the rich. "We're going to close the unproductive tax loopholes that allow some of the truly wealthy to avoid paying their fair share," he thunders to a crowd in Georgia. Such tax loopholes, he adds, "sometimes made it possible for millionaires to pay nothing, while a bus driver was paying 10 percent of his salary – and that's crazy."

Preacherlike, the president draws the crowd into a call-and-response. "Do you think the millionaire ought to pay more in taxes than the bus driver," he demands, "or less?"

The crowd, sounding every bit like the protesters from Occupy Wall Street, roars back: "MORE!"

The year was 1985. The president was Ronald Wilson Reagan.

Note that this was a Republican president. That's hard to believe these days, isn't it? But why? Taxes on the wealthy are far less today than back then.

How did this happen?
The staggering economic inequality that has led Americans across the country to take to the streets in protest is no accident. It has been fueled to a large extent by the GOP's all-out war on behalf of the rich. Since Republicans rededicated themselves to slashing taxes for the wealthy in 1997, the average annual income of the 400 richest Americans has more than tripled, to $345 million – while their share of the tax burden has plunged by 40 percent. Today, a billionaire in the top 400 pays less than 17 percent of his income in taxes – five percentage points less than a bus driver earning $26,000 a year. [my emphasis] "Most Americans got none of the growth of the preceding dozen years," says Joseph Stiglitz, the Nobel Prize-winning economist. "All the gains went to the top percentage points."
The GOP campaign to aid the wealthy has left America unable to raise the money needed to pay its bills. "The Republican Party went on a tax-cutting rampage and a spending spree," says Rhode Island governor and former GOP senator Lincoln Chafee, pointing to two deficit-financed wars and an unpaid-for prescription-drug entitlement. "It tanked the economy." Tax receipts as a percent of the total economy have fallen to levels not seen since before the Korean War – nearly 20 percent below the historical average. "Taxes are ridiculously low!" says Bruce Bartlett, an architect of Reagan's 1981 tax cut. "And yet the mantra of the Republican Party is 'Tax cuts raise growth.' So – where's the fucking growth?"

Republicans talk about job creation, about preserving family farms and defending small businesses, and reforming Medicare and Social Security. But almost without exception, every proposal put forth by GOP lawmakers and presidential candidates is intended to preserve or expand tax privileges for the wealthiest Americans. And most of their plans, which are presented as common-sense measures that will aid all Americans, would actually result in higher taxes for middle-class taxpayers and the poor. With 14 million Americans out of work, and with one in seven families turning to food stamps simply to feed their children, Republicans have responded to the worst economic crisis since the Great Depression by slashing inheritance taxes, extending the Bush tax cuts for millionaires and billionaires, and endorsing a tax amnesty for big corporations that have hidden billions in profits in offshore tax havens. They also wrecked the nation's credit rating by rejecting a debt-ceiling deal that would have slashed future deficits by $4 trillion – simply because one-quarter of the money would have come from closing tax loopholes on the rich.

We all know this, don't we? But how did we get here? Well, there's a long background to this, and it does start with Reagan:
That only changed in the late 1970s, when high inflation drove up wages and pushed the middle class into higher tax brackets. Harnessing the widespread anger, Reagan put it to work on behalf of the rich. In a move that GOP Majority Leader Howard Baker called a "riverboat gamble," Reagan sold the country on an "across-the-board" tax cut that brought the top rate down to 50 percent. According to supply-side economists, the wealthy would use their tax break to spur investment, and the economy would boom. And if it didn't – well, to Reagan's cadre of small-government conservatives, the resulting red ink could be a win-win. "We started talking about just cutting taxes and saying, 'Screw the deficit,'" Bartlett recalls. "We had this idea that if you lowered revenues, the concern about the deficit would be channeled into spending cuts."

It was the birth of what is now known as "Starve the Beast" – a conscious strategy by conservatives to force cuts in federal spending by bankrupting the country. As conceived by the right-wing intellectual Irving Kristol in 1980, the plan called for Republicans to create a "fiscal problem" by slashing taxes – and then foist the pain of reimposing fiscal discipline onto future Democratic administrations who, in Kristol's words, would be forced to "tidy up afterward."

There was only one problem: The Reagan tax cuts spiked the federal deficit to a dangerous level, even as the country remained mired in a deep recession. Republican leaders in Congress immediately moved to reverse themselves and feed the beast. "It was not a Democrat who led the effort in 1982 to undo about a third of the Reagan tax cuts," recalls Robert Greenstein, president of the nonpartisan Center on Budget and Policy Priorities. "It was Bob Dole." Even Reagan embraced the tax hike, Stockman says, "because he believed that, at some point, you have to pay the bills."

But that was only the beginning. That was when Republicans were still somewhat reasonable, somewhat responsible. That was before Republicans were actually willing to bankrupt America, in service to their ideology.
After taking office, Clinton immediately seized the mantle of fiscal discipline from Republicans. Rather than simply trimming the federal deficit, as his GOP predecessors had done, he set out to balance the budget and begin paying down the national debt. To do so, he hiked the top tax bracket to nearly 40 percent and boosted the corporate tax rate to 35 percent. "It cost him both houses of Congress in the 1994 midterm elections," says Chafee, the former GOP senator. "But taming the deficit led to the best economy America's ever had." Following the tax hikes of 1993, the economy grew at a brisk clip of 3.2 percent, creating more than 11 million jobs. Average wages ticked up, and stocks soared by 78 percent. By the spring of 1997, the federal budget was headed into the black.

But Newt Gingrich and the anti-tax revolutionaries who seized control of Congress in 1994 responded by going for the Full Norquist. In a stunning departure from America's long-standing tax policy, Republicans moved to eliminate taxes on investment income and to abolish the inheritance tax. Under the final plan they enacted, capital gains taxes were sliced to 20 percent. Far from creating an across-the-board benefit, 62 cents of every tax dollar cut went directly to the top one percent of income earners. "The capital gains cut alone gave the top 400 taxpayers a bigger tax cut than all the Bush tax cuts combined," says David Cay Johnston, the Pulitzer Prize-winning author of Perfectly Legal: The Covert Campaign to Rig Our Tax System to Benefit the Super Rich – and Cheat Everybody Else.

The cuts also juiced irrational exuberance on Wall Street. Giving a huge tax advantage to investment income inflated the dot-com bubble, observed Stiglitz, "by making speculation more attractive." And by eliminating capital gains taxes on home sales, the cuts fueled the housing bubble: A study by the Federal Reserve estimated that the tax giveaways boosted housing transactions by 17 percent through 2007.

Then came George W. Bush, "the first president of the Party of the Rich." Oh, it's ugly, it's real ugly. And it wasn't hard to see it coming. But the Republicans were pushing those "culture war" issues. And after 9/11, well, the country was willing to give them anything they wanted.

I'll let you read the details of that for yourself, if you can stomach them. I lived through them, and I'm just as angry now as I was then. In fact, my anger just keeps growing.
Taken together, the Bush years exposed the bankruptcy behind the theory that tax cuts for the rich will spur economic growth. "Let the rich get richer and everybody will benefit?" says Stiglitz. "That, empirically, is wrong. It's a philosophy of trickle-down economics that's belied by the facts." Bush and Cheney proved once and for all that tax cuts for the wealthy produce only two things: "lower growth and greater inequality."

The GOP's frenzied handouts to the rich during the Bush era coincided with the weakest economic expansion since World War II – and the only one in modern American history in which the wages of working families actually fell and poverty increased. And what little expansion there was under Bush culminated in the worst fiscal crisis since the Great Depression. "The wreckage was left by Dick Cheney, Grover Norquist and the gang," says Chafee. "This was their doing."

By driving the economy into the ditch, Republicans left the next president little choice but to drive up deficits in the short term by launching a massive campaign of federal spending to ward off a global depression. But even the $787 billion stimulus engineered by President Obama was hamstrung by his predecessor's ongoing giveaway to the wealthy: Republicans insisted that nearly 10 percent of every stimulus dollar be devoted to financing the annual "patch" to the Alternative Minimum Tax – the off-budget legacy of Bush's tax cuts for the rich. This was a $70 billion handout that inflated the cost of the stimulus package without stimulating anything – other than the paychecks of wealthy Americans.

From the outset of the Obama presidency, in fact, Republicans have engaged in a calculated, across-the-board campaign to protect the tax privileges of the wealthiest Americans.

There are things here, though, that I didn't know:
The battle reached a fever pitch over health care reform. To truly understand the depth of the GOP's entrenched opposition to Obamacare, it's crucial to understand how the reform is financed: The single largest source of funds comes from increasing Medicare taxes on the wealthy – including new taxes on investment income. According to the Tax Policy Center, Americans who make more than $1 million a year will pay an extra $37,381 in annual taxes under the plan. The top 400 taxpayers would contribute even more: an average of $11 million each.

Rarely in American history has a tax so effectively targeted the top one percent. "It took Republicans about four months to figure out how much they hated it," says McIntyre, president of Citizens for Tax Justice. Republican rage over the president's health care plan has far less to do with the size of government or the merits of the individual mandate than the blow to the investor class. If Obamacare remains in place and the Bush cuts for the wealthy expire as planned, top earners will be paying a tax of 23.8 percent on capital gains – more than they have at any time since Clinton cut the capital gains tax in 1997. Health care reform, griped The Wall Street Journal, was nothing but a "sneaky way" for Democrats to wage a "war on 'the rich.'"

There's a lot more to this article. Heck, it's eight pages long. Yeah, maybe that means few people will actually read it. But the details are important. We need to understand how we got here before we can figure out what to do now.
Indeed, since Republicans began their tax-cut binge in 1997, they have succeeded in making the rich much richer. While the average income for the bottom 90 percent of taxpayers has remained basically flat over the past 15 years, those in the top 0.01 percent have seen their incomes more than double, to $36 million a year. Translated into wages, that means most Americans have received a raise of $1.50 an hour since the GOP began cutting taxes during the Gingrich era. The most elite sliver of American society, meanwhile, saw their pay soar by $10,000 an hour. [my emphasis] ...

Far from creating the trickle-down economics promised by Reagan, the policies pursued by the modern Republican Party are gusher up. Under the leadership of Majority Leader Eric Cantor, the House's radicalized GOP caucus is pushing a predatory agenda for a new gilded age. Every move that Republicans make – whether it's to gut consumer protections, roll back environmental regulations, subsidize giant agribusinesses, abolish health care reform or just drill, baby, drill – is consistent with a single overarching agenda: to enrich the nation's wealthiest individuals and corporations, even if it requires borrowing from China, weakening national security, dismantling Medicare and taxing the middle class.

PS. In case you think this is entirely a rant about Republicans, note that there's a page about their Democratic enablers, too - including my own Senator Nelson, "corporate America's most dependable Democrat."

But this doesn't mean that "both sides" are at fault - and certainly not equally. Yes, there are very conservative Democrats who are also in bed with the wealthy. The Democratic Party is diverse.

But the Republican Party isn't. More and more, it's become entirely the Party of the Rich.