Abstinence Kills

More evidence that comprehensive sex ed is the only way to go:

Crushing news out of Uganda last week. The Bush administration's $1 billion experiment in using abstinence messages as the basis of HIV prevention has born its first fruit: In a public speech on May 18, Uganda's AIDS Commissioner Kihumuro Apuuli announced that HIV infections have almost doubled in Uganda over the past two years, from 70,000 in 2003 to 130,000 in 2005. And despite this chilling wake-up call, Bush has empowered Christian right activists to continue to push their abstinence-only agenda at a UN Special Session on HIV/AIDS, to begin next week. According to a State Department email...the official U.S. delegation is stacked with some of the very people who contributed to the debacle in Uganda.

This is an absolutely unnecessary and avoidable tragedy. When they were promoting condom use, the rate of HIV infections had been going down. It's quite possible that the $1 billion wasted on this program actually increased the rate higher than it would have gone had no programs been in place.

It's clear that, at least with regard to fighting AIDS in poorer parts of the world, abstinence programs simply don't work. Let's exercise prudence rather than prudery and do the truly moral thing: saving lives from the horror of AIDS is far more valuable than placating the regressive prejudices of mouth-breathing Christian radicals.


Media Bias and Democratic Health

There's a reason why the only "news" shows I watch on television are The Daily Show and The Colbert Report and why the bulk of my news comes from progressive blogs and international sources like the BBC, the Guardian, Der Spiegel and the various foreign papers sampled and translated by Watching America (that last is a great site, by the way, especially if you want to know how much the rest of the world hates us; all these links are provided in the sidebar).

It's not simply that I'm a partisan and think that "objective" reporting is an impossibility--I am a partisan, to be sure, but not a dogmatic one, and I maintain that objectivity always comes in degrees, that some sources are more neutral than others. The fact of the matter is that the corporate or mainstream media (MSM) is systematically biased. From Media Matters:

The dominant political force of our time is the media.

Time after time, the news media have covered progressives and conservatives in wildly different ways -- and, time after time, they do so to the benefit of conservatives.

Consider the last two presidents. Bill Clinton faced near-constant media obsession with his "scandals," while George W. Bush has gotten off comparatively easy.

Even many members of the media have stopped contesting this painfully obvious point, instead offering dubious justifications. Bill Clinton's "scandals" made for better stories than George Bush's, we are told, because they were simpler and easier for readers and viewers to understand. "Sex sells," while George Bush's false claims about Iraq are much harder to explain.

This excuse is simply nonsense.

First, what's so hard to understand about this? George Bush and his administration systematically distorted available intelligence to lead the nation to war on false pretenses. His administration has been marked by corruption, incompetence, lies, secrecy, and flagrant disregard for bedrock constitutional principles. None of that can be too complicated: Polls suggest that the majority of Americans believe all of those things.

Second, even if it were true that Clinton's "scandals" were easier for consumers of news to understand, the ease of explaining an affair would, if we had a serious and functional news media, be more than offset by the far greater importance of Bush's misdeeds.

Finally, this is such a grotesque distortion of the media's treatment of Clinton that it is difficult to explain by anything other than outright dishonesty. Reporters who offer the excuse that they and their colleagues covered Clinton "scandals" so much because sex sells, and is easily explained and understood, are cherry-picking. They are ignoring the obsessive coverage they gave to Clinton "scandals" that had nothing to do with sex, and that were not widely understood.

They are ignoring, for example, years of coverage of Whitewater, an obscure land deal in which the Clintons lost money and that was investigated by multiple independent counsels, congressional committees, federal agencies, and every news organization in the country -- none of which found any wrongdoing by the Clintons. Whitewater had nothing to do with sex, and nobody understood it -- probably because there was nothing to understand. And that's not even going into Travelgate, Filegate, Vince Foster's suicide, or the myriad other "scandals" the media covered that did not involve sex.

You should read the whole thing for more evidence of this double-standard.

I've discussed this with others before but I'd like to hear more from conservatives to see how contestable this point is. I know my position is not a disinterested one, so there may be something I'm not seeing or not paying attention to.

(I just deleted several paragraphs ranting against Bush. I don't think there's a need to dwell on how terrible he is; his crimes, at least the ones we know of, have been well-documented.)

There are at least two issues here (and in the article). First is an issue about irresponsible coverage in general. CNN is not E!; The New York Times is not The National Inquirer; Nightline is not The Tonight Show. They should stop acting like they are.

The press has a duty to act as the fourth estate. Democracies requires transparency, accountability, and an informed public if they are to avoid becoming tyrannies. But serving as public watchdog is not the same thing as snooping into people's private affairs. The latter is a dangerous distraction and an abdication of responsibility.

Thus, the sensationalism of the news is to be decried and not to be tolerated--and I think conservatives will agree with this point. Even if they don't believe in a fundamental right to privacy, they'll grant that tabloid reporting is a pernicious influence on our society.

But MSM bias extends beyond this. Some media corporations are actually led by individuals who are actively trying to promote Republican power because it means less regulation, lower taxes, and higher profits for them. Rupert Murdoch is only the most obvious example; there are also people like former CEO of GE (and thus of NBC) Jack Welch, who forced his anchors to call Florida for Bush in 2000.

Look, this is not an issue of liberal versus conservative. Politicians of any ideology, time, or place are highly vulnerable to corruption. The beauty of the American system is in the precautions it takes to distribute power antagonistically, to ensure that no individual or small group faces the temptation of absolute authority.

But the founders did not live in an era of instantaneous reporting and 24-hour news. They did not live in an age of robber barons and amoral multinationals. We need new measures to protect American freedoms, values, and ways of life.

This is not simply an issue of an impoverished public morality; proper moral development and education will only do so much. If people can get away with it, some will inevitably try to hoard as much wealth and social influence as possible. These are natural incentives and it's only rational to strive for them. We simply cannot trust human beings in any position of power to regulate themselves.

We need to sever the ties between private profit and public office. This mean breaking up media monopolies and oligopolies, public broadcasting, completely public campaign financing, and the balancing of secrecy and security with transparency and accountability.

From Machievelli's Discorsi, Spinoza's Tractatus Politicus and Locke's Two Treatises, through The Federalist and our Constitution, to Glenn Greenwald's How Would A Patriot Act?, great thinkers have advocated separation of powers, checks and balances, and the severance of private advantage from political power. If we wish to preserve our safety, stability, and liberty, we would do well to heed their words.


Another Painful Story

I feel like I've read nothing but bad news today. While I could proffer a plethora of infuriating links, I'll settle for just one on an issue that I feel strongly about--and rant about it.

The "War on Drugs"--second only to the "War on Terror" in BSQ, Bullshit Quotient--and its enforcers are at again, wasting precious government resources for no other reason than to promote unhappiness:

Two weeks from now, a South Carolina pain management physician will surrender at the Talladega, Alabama, prison to begin serving a 2.5-year sentence for drug trafficking, racketeering, and money laundering.

Dr. Michael Jackson is one of hundreds of pain management specialists arrested, charged and jailed by federal and state authorities for violating the Controlled Substances Act, designed to limit the dispensing of illegal prescription drugs by doctors and their use by patients.


"I believe and I hope that this case has sent a clear message to the medical community that they need to be sure the controlled substances they prescribe are medically necessary," said Assistant US Attorney Bill Day. "If doctors have a doubt whether they could get in trouble, this case should answer that."

"I've done everything by the book; I don't even have a parking ticket," Dr. Jackson said at sentencing. "I think this is just a mistake the government made."

The DEA and its state and local associates have been just as tough on patients. One, wheelchair-bound Richard Paey, has become a kind of poster child for patient prosecutions. A victim of multiple sclerosis, Paey was convicted in Florida's third attempt concerning his use of painkillers. The 45-year-old Mr. Paey turned down an offer of probation based on principle but has now been given a mandatory minimum sentence of 25 years in jail.

Paey's supporters say he was unable to find medical help to ease unbearable pain. He was not convicted of selling any medication, and even the prosecutor admitted he used the pills himself. In prison, he is on a morphine pump that administers more pain-killing medication than he was accused of taking before he went to prison.

Physicians' organizations say that one of the worst consequences of the DEA's campaign against Oxycontin is that doctors are being cowed into giving up the practice of pain management - precisely at a time when science is discovering more effective methods of palliative care.

This is utter bullshit. Heaven forbid that someone somewhere should try to do something about chronic pain! Oh no, somebody out there might be experiencing euphoria! We can't let that happen! Think about the children!

The article mentions there's a double-standard, since people like Limbaugh and Hollywood celebrities get off easy. Honestly, I don't give a flying fuck what Rush does in his spare time. If he needs to take pills to dull the anguish that comes with being a gigantic douchebag, more power to him. That's not the real issue here.

The War on Drugs needs to end. Oxycontin and marijuana do not pose a threat to our nation. In fact, I bet that if more people used them, the world would be a better place. George Bush was a fucking cokehead and he got to be president. I mean, come the fuck on.

I am sick of compromising on this issue. This is just fucking ridiculous. I don't care if legalizing marijuana leads every child in the goddamned country to start smoking it. It needs to be decriminalized. NOW. Get the fuck out of our goddamned motherfucking business. What I choose to put in my body is no one's business but my own.

Maybe if this fucktarded country weren't run by war criminals, soulless corporate shills, and amoral demagogues that the mouthbreathing herd thinks they'd "like to have a beer with", those of us with at least half a brain wouldn't need to use recreational drugs. I am so sick of this shit.

And breathe... ok, I feel a little better now. Too bad the whole "letting off steam" thing doesn't really work...

Really, this rant reflects a lot more than the stupid drugs thing. It's so aggravating to live in a nation that is not merely irrational, but actively anti-rational. I'm getting this close to becoming a revolutionary.


Incivility in Political Discourse (updated below)

If you haven't yet, check out the comments on the previous thread. Shakes' Sis actually stopped by and offered her input--and I haven't been this excited about a blog interaction since my spat with Roger Scruton however many months ago! I of course gave an unnecessarily long-winded reply (this is such a bad habit, but all too common amongst academics--he says, in the midst of a digression, as he writes another insanely long post), but I think I at least made some important distinctions.

But then today, I came across this post (via Majikthise [via Crooks and Liars]) which was not explicitly connected to the "big girl" fiasco, but should be.

Blogger Chris Clarke of Creek Running North was pointing out how stupid it is to insult wingnuts by drawing on personal features that have nothing to do with what they say:

A reader, after considering my post on civility, sent a note asking whether the notion of justifiable incivility might not pose the threat of blowback, of giving some in the left camp perceived license to offend the usual victims of ridicule in this society. The reader pointed out the recent rise of the cliché "clutching [his/er] pearls," [sic - MDE] used to signify either feigned or exaggerated outrage, usually targeted at a male in an attempt to mock. There is, after all, nothing men consider a greater insult than being called a woman. Witness the continuing use of the word "pussy" as a synonym for "coward." Gay men and lesbians come in for their unfair share of abuse by metaphor, and transgender people fare worse: Google on "Ann Coulter" and "Adam's apple" for examples of that latter one. I've written before about using slurs against the mentally disabled. And the racist invective unleashed by a few scattered blog commenters against people like Michelle Malkin — when there are so many other hammers she hands people to hit her with — continues to astound me, if only because she plays it to her advantage every time and the anti-Asian racist commenters still never learn that they're helping her. [links removed - MDE]

As he mentions, he writes elsewhere about how the same thing applies with terms of abuse associated with mental retardation (an interesting post in itself, although he draws on the typical "but who's to say what intelligence is, really?" trope that ignores any and all research on quantitative measures of intelligence).

In any case, this should all be read within the context of his statements on incivility generally:

My point: it is not civil to discuss things quietly and collegially while people are dying because they can't afford medicine. It is not civil to speak in even, chuckling sardonicism as one beleaguered wild place after another is paved for profit. It is not civil to calmly raise logical arguments against torture, against kidnapping, against using nuclear weapons on civilians to show our resolve.


I have joked that the civility trope is a self-defeating one for the right to adopt: no one can use civility as a weapon better than the left, for what is Political Correctness if not civility refined to a fetish? But the truth is this: it is easy to insist on civility from behind the neat stuccoed walls of the gated community. Whether it comes from right or left, a fetishized civility increasingly bespeaks a personal stake in the monstrous status quo. I prize humane discussion, and am happy to befriend people of good will with near complete disregard to their political opinions. As long as they do not show rabid hate, I am willing to presume the best of them.

But I have decided I no longer trust anyone who insists on others being civil. The bumper sticker from ten years ago said "If you're not outraged, you're not paying attention." That needs updating. If you're not outraged, then you've decided that the suffering that exists in the world is just fine with you, as long as you don't feel it.

And if you've decided that, you don't deserve civility. And if progressives call you on your shit in the strongest terms possible, that’s because we consider it the only ethical response.

What we're seeing is an interesting confluence of issues about political dialogue, its form and content. "Incivility" is talked about quite a bit these days--most recently, as Glenn Greenwald has been blogging, the hecklers of John McCain's speech at the New School's commencement have been demonized in a typically hypocritical way.

These issues need to be linked together. What is at stake is freedom of speech. One way of suppressing dissenting speech is to attack its form rather than its content--hurling an ad hominem is much easier than refuting a sophisticated argument. This tactic is especially advantageous in some cases because it's a way of changing the subject.

There are cases to be made that both left and right try to undermine free speech when they come across things they don't want to hear. On the right, this is done blatantly and unapologetically: criticizing our Commander-in-Thief is an act of treason that gives aid and comfort to the Enemy.

Here, though, we come across 2 sets of more ambiguous cases on the left. On the one hand, we have the use of language that is sexist, racist, homophobic, weightist, ageist, etc., used in attacks against conservatives. On the other hand, we have speech that is actively used to shut out the speech of someone with whom we disagree who has been given (we think unjustly) a forum, an opportunity to be heard.

My inclination, at least initially, is to oppose rhetorical tactics that address the form more than the content of someone's speech. However, I am well aware that this distinction is somewhat artificial and that form is never politically neutral. Similarly, I would like to be open to hearing different sides of issues, but not every POV deserves a hearing--some are wrong, others are incoherent, some are widely available, others are common knowledge. How do we know who should get a hearing?

Here, I think it would be helpful to make a distinction. Discrimination, contrary to what unthinking liberals say, is not always a bad thing. We make discriminations constantly in our daily lives anytime we evaluate things as being better or worse than other things. The controversies arise when we start evaluating persons rather than things.

But even here, contrary to the sentiment of slightly more thoughtful people, discriminations of people are fine and in fact desirable in some contexts. Under the law, all should be seen equally--discrimination is not appropriate here. But, we can, do, and should make moral distinctions among people.

It is appropriate, for instance, for the state to treat criminals (so long as the procedure that led to their conviction was just--this rules out racism and other biases motivating arrests and convictions as well as attempts at vigilante justice) differently than law-abiding citizens. This doesn't mean that we kill them or torture them but, depending on the offense, we may be justified in depriving them of their freedom for a time (there are issues here involving the death penalty that I'm not going to get into now).

Similarly, in some circumstances it is right to treat people we deem immoral differently than others. Is political dialogue one such circumstance?

The problem is, there cannot be a general answer to this, and here's why: the terms of political discussion can never finally be agreed upon. They must always be negotiated. So, for instance, when oil companies try to argue that there is a contoversy over global warming, or when Christalopithecans want schools to present "both sides" of the evolution debate, what we would normally take as an acceptable practice promoting open-mindedness and tolerance is not as it seems. In these matters, there is no authentic controversy. But these examples are too easy, because they are cases in which people can rightly be regarded as experts, and there is a relative consensus among these experts.

Take another issue like abortion. One side says that it should be up to the individual to make that decision. But the other side sees this as equivalent to leaving it up to individuals to decide whether they should kill someone who incoveniences them. This option, they purport, should be off the table.

If you look at what abolitionists in the pre-Civil War era had to say about slavery, you find some discomfiting similarities with the current anti-abortion movement. (Back then, the conciliatory attitude is what led to such things as the 3/5 Compromise.)

So it is not always clear when we should give the other side a fair hearing. Did the students and faculty of the New School unfairly silence McCain? I think not, especially since the speech he gave was also given to two other schools (including Falwell's Liberty University) and was available online. But many cases are more difficult, and I'm afraid the only conclusion I can reach is that these should be handled on a case by case basis.

(This post needs more revision, but I'll post it as is for right now.)

UPDATE: Let me just offer a few concluding thoughts. I read through Chris Clarke's post on mental disability and found some more interesting stuff there:

I am grateful for my intelligence. It allows me to support myself doing things I find interesting, itself a rare gift these days. More importantly, it allows me to find a huge number of things not only interesting but infinitely complex as well. But it makes as much sense to me to be proud of my mind as it does to be proud of a birthmark, or my shoe size. People who focus on their studies, who turn in homework on time or at all, who diligently push their test scores up to the high Bs or mid-As, in school, who spend mental sweat in the workplace trying desperately to keep their skills marketable: they have something to be proud of. I have the luxury of waiting around for inspiration to strike, and then getting a prodigious amount of work done in something very like a fugue state.

Based on this, he then argues that we should avoid calling our opponents "retards" or "imbeciles"; intelligence is not a measure of value.

I agree with the larger point, of course. Intelligent people are just as capable of hurtful deeds as they are of helpful ones, despite the halo effect that grants them extra worth in the eyes of most people.

However, I want to call into question this idea that some people deserve to be praised because they work hard. This is an unquestioned assumption for the vast majority of people. And, in a sense, it should be, because it encourages people to better themselves.

Nevertheless, if I'm honest with myself, I find it impossible to see diligence or a work ethic as significantly different from high intelligence. Intelligence is largely heritable (I think in twin studies its r value is around .7, which means it account for roughly 70% of all variation), but it depends upon environmental factors like nutrition and intellectual climate to develop to its full potential.

How different is this than diligence as a trait? It may not be as heritable, but some people are "naturally" more lazy than others. If I've got strict parents who incessantly tout the value of a hard day's work, chances are that I'll have a stronger work ethic. But I didn't choose my parents or my childhood environment. What's the real difference here?

Strictly speaking, I don't think anyone deserves praise or blame for anything--this follows from rejecting freedom of the will, as far as I can tell. But, in practice, I think it good to use praise and blame in ways that promote better outcomes, whatever "better" happens to mean.

Personally, I admire the extremely intelligent, especially if they put their intelligence to good use. I'm fascinated about how differently the smartest among us think about the world. And I'm envious. I don't accord intelligence moral worth, but I value it highly.

And I think most people do too. This is why there's so much controversy over IQ and other measures of intelligence. It provides a way of ranking people that runs contrary to our prevailing egalitarian sentiment. Smart people are encouraged to feel guilty about being smart and even to apologize for it. (I find it easier just not to talk about such things in front of dumb people.)

But we all know that people are not equal by ability. Some people are stronger than others, or faster, taller, smarter, more passionate, more charismatic, and even naturally happier than others. Probably no one is good at everything, but the differences don't by any means even out. Some people are winners in the genetic lottery (which tends to mean they also have better early childhood environments) and others don't fare nearly so well.

(This is where my inclination is to come in and start pimping the use of biotechnology to erode such inequalities. But people still believe that some good things are earned, and that it's cheating to get something for nothing. Well, life is not a zero-sum game. Who knows what we're capable of?)

So the real question here: what is it okay to criticize others about? I think Shakes' Sis is correct that we should not make fun of people because of physical characteristics they have no control over. And we shouldn't use terms that denote disadvantaged groups as pejoratives.

If you disagree with what someone says, you should respond to her arguments, not to her personal characteristics. Except, of course, if part of what's at stake are issues of expertise. Then there may be other relevant matters: is this individual regarded highly among her peers? does she fairly represent the views of others in her field? have her past predictions borne fruit? and so on. This is necessary as knowledge becomes more and more specialized, and less accessible to the lay public.

For my own sake, I will not relinquish use of my favorite epithet, "fucktard", a term elegant in its crudity, and the absolute perfect word to describe some current (p)residents of the White House. (Sometimes crass people deserve crass treatment.)

That's enough for now.


Oppression in daily living?

I've gotten myself into trouble over at Shakespeare's Sister. I was somewhat careless in my choice of words in this comment thread, and instead of making my point, I more or less impugned Sis' character for taking offense too easily. I feel like my input in that conversation has become counterproductive, so I just want to toy with some of my thoughts here.

Anyway, the issue is about the use of feminine terms as abusive. John Aravosis, on AMERICAblog (in a post that keeps changing locations so there's no point linking to it; see the sidebar for the mainpage), made the comment that Pat Roberts was acting like a "big girl" by saying that you have no civil liberties if you're dead (contrast Patrick Henry's impassioned: "As for me, give me liberty, or give me death!").

Now, this is an insensitive comment; Aravosis' response was even more outrageous. He starting deleting comments and banning people for the slightest offenses. Insofar as people were carping on something that was incidental to the point he was trying to make, it's understandable that he would be upset. However, he ended up acting like an ass, so I won't defend him.

The more general issue that I've spoken to concerns the notion of offensiveness. Why are some people offended by words that others (in roughly the same group or situation) take in stride? My thinking is that it's a mixture of one side being blind to obvious offenses, the other side creating offenses where there was no such intention, and a whole slew of cases somewhere in the middle.

Trying to argue a Stoic point, I suggested that it would be a good thing if individuals had some control over what offended them, so they could better choose their battles. This doesn't mean inaction. I'm not saying every offense should be written off as innocent. But I am asking, what does it add to become very angry at a slight? Wouldn't it be better if we had more control over our responses (at least upon reflection; initial reactions are often out of our power), all the while still fighting for the end of eradicating sexism and so forth?

I worry that people on the left have a nasty habit of being humor police and interpreting things uncharitably. Aravosis is a progressive. He should just have apologized, but are those who pressed the issue when they saw it upset him totally blameless? He obviously agrees with the end of gender equality, so why waste so much energy on showing him the error of his ways?

Personal responsibility is often invoked as an excuse for doing nothing to help others who should "take care of themselves". Nonetheless, to the extent that we can exercise such responsibility we are better people for it. We will be happier if we can learn not to get so angry with the world even as we make efforts to improve it. It may serve as a powerful motivator, but after a certain point, anger is just counterproductive.

In times like this, when it's easy to feel powerless, sometimes anger is our only recourse. Anger is appropriate in response to real evils. But who do we sway if we start bitching at people on our side for little slips of the tongue?

Part of the issue is also that I doubt the situation is as bad as some make it out to be. Women and other oppressed groups have made substantial strides forward. I worry that carping on little things could lead to an adverse reaction that threatens some of the victories these movements have attained.

If I call Democratic senators pussies, or Dubya a retard, I don't intend to disparage all individuals possessing female genitalia or the mentally disabled. (But, come to think of it, perhaps urging civility in people's responses to crude insults is hypocritical.)

Anyway, I'm quite possibly wrong about all this, but I don't like the self-certainty of those eager to see themselves as victims. Is the plight of women honestly so awful in the US today? If so, is semantics really a large part of this unfortunate situation?

But what do I know? My solution to most problems is that people should take more antidepressants. (This, in jest.)


The Ultimate in Introspection

This article from the NY Times is lengthy, but worth the read (h/t Jeff). It details the use of a new kind of therapy in which the patient is given a real-time fMR image of a part of their brain that's "causing" pain, which they then attempt to alter through the practice of certain techniques:

Over six sessions, volunteers are being asked to try to increase and decrease their pain while watching the activation of a part of their brain involved in pain perception and modulation. This real-time imaging lets them assess how well they are succeeding. Dr. Sean Mackey, the study's senior investigator and the director of the Neuroimaging and Pain Lab at Stanford, explained that the results of the study's first phase, which were recently published in the prestigious Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, showed that while looking at the brain, subjects can learn to control its activation in a way that regulates their pain. While this may be likened to biofeedback, traditional biofeedback provides indirect measures of brain activity through information about heart rate, skin temperature and other autonomic functions, or even EEG waves. Mackey's approach allows subjects to interact with the brain itself.

"It is the mind-body problem — right there on the screen," one of Mackey's collaborators, Christopher deCharms, a neurophysiologist and a principal investigator of the study, told me later. "We are doing something that people have wanted to do for thousands of years. Descartes said, 'I think, therefore I am.' Now we're watching that process as it unfolds."

Suddenly, the machine made a deep rattling sound, and an image flickered before me: my brain. I am looking at my own brain, as it thinks my own thoughts, including these thoughts.

Absolutely amazing. The invocation of Descartes is right on. I'm in the midst of writing a paper on Descartes and Spinoza and the passions. In Passions of the Soul, Descartes points out that our will does not allow us direct control over our body. So, for instance, I can't will to dilate my pupil, but I can will to focus on something far away, which then leads to that effect.

This is an attempt to cut out the middle man... sorta. It's basically the ultimate tool for learning techniques of self-control. As the article points out, something that take Buddhist monks 30 years to accomplish can now be jump-started, with possible lasting effect. So people with chronic pain, for instance, can learn to control their pain, by seeing what actually works!

This should provide a tremendous opportunity to increase reason's power in redirecting affect. It's truly astonishing the power we are gaining of recreating ourselves. We can alter our brain's chemistry, either through the use of pharmaceuticals, or through technologies like these. Someday, we may be able to rewrite the human genome, and edit out the nastiest parts of it. The opportunity to increase human happiness to unheard-of levels is one that we must not let pass us by.

If playing God is wrong, then I don't want to be right. I'd love to try this neuroimaging therapy myself. Just imagine looking at your brain in real time. What must be going on in there as the brain "looks" at itself? We still don't know nearly enough to answer that question.

But the possibilities are endless! It's enough to give one hope in a world that looks bleaker each day.


Why "the Good" are really the most evil...

Yesterday, I wrote about Haidt's The Happiness Hypothesis (HH) and alluded to some other topics of interest worth posting on. Let me begin with a pair of articles on a recent, frightening phenomenon taking place in America today (h/t Leiter):

If you've been waiting to get alarmed until the Christian fascist movement started filling stadiums with young people and hyping them up to do battle in "God's army," wait no longer.

In recent weeks, BattleCry, a Christian fundamentalist youth movement, has attracted more than 25,000 people to mega-rally rock concerts in San Francisco and Detroit, and this weekend it plans to fill Wachovia Stadium in Philadelphia.

The leaders of BattleCry claim that their religion and values are under attack, but amid spectacular light shows, Hummers, Navy SEALs and military imagery on stage, it is BattleCry that has declared war on everyone else. Its leader, Ron Luce, insists: "This is war. And Jesus invites us to get into the action, telling us that the violent--the 'forceful' ones--will lay hold of the kingdom."

The first rock band that performed, Delirious, got the crowd festive and up on their feet with lyrics that were projected on large screens so that everyone could join in: "We're an army of God and we're ready to die.... Let's paint this big ol' town red.... We see nothing but the blood of Jesus...."

Between musical acts, [Ron] Luce, the BattleCry founder, hammered away at the dominant theme of the night: his contention that "pew-sitters...passive Christians...the Christians who just want love, joy, peace..." were the problem, and that the world needed more radical and extreme God-worshippers—those who would be obedient and fully submit to Christ.

Luce would have us believe that everything went off track when the Bible-toting people of my grandparents' generation were replaced by the "pew-sitters" of the Baby Boom generation. These are the people who, according to Luce, just wanted to passively benefit from the "love, joy and peace" message of Christianity without actively surrendering their wills and their selves completely upon Christ's altar and working in His name.

Yeah, if only people would stop practicing "love, joy and peace." Wouldn't that make the world a better place....

During the afternoon preceding the May 12 rally, Luce and about 300 BattleCry acolytes (almost entirely youths) rallied in front of Philadelphia's Constitution Hall—the location having been chosen because Luce wants to "restore" the Founding Fathers' vision of a religious society (never mind that the Founders enshrined in the Constitution an explicitly secular framework of government).

I and about 20 people representing various anti-Bush, atheistic and anti-Iraq-war factions made our way into the rally and began interacting with the youths assembled. Some said openly that it was OK that George Bush's lies have cost the lives of thousands of Americans and Iraqis. Why was it OK? Because "God put him [Bush] there."

Now look at what Haidt says in his chapter on moral hypocrisy in HH:

People usually have reasons for committing violence, and those reasons usually involve retaliation for a perceived injustice, or self-defense.... [However, according to social psychologist Roy Baumeister in his book Evil: Inside Human Cruelty and Aggression,] we have a deep need to understand violence and cruelty through what he calls "the myth of pure evil." Of this myth's many parts, the most important are that evildoers are pure in their evil motives (they have no motives for their actions beyond sadism and greed); victims are pure in their victimhood (they did nothing to bring about their victimization); and evil comes from outside and is associated with a group or force that attacks our group. Furthermore, anyone who questions the application of the myth, who dares muddy the waters of moral certainty, is in league with evil. [HH 74-5]

Haidt then goes on to show how both sides in the "war on terror" employ this myth in their Manichaean rhetoric. And then:

In another unsettling conclusion, Baumeister found that violence and cruelty have four main causes. The first two are obvious attributes of evil: greed/ambition...and sadism.... But greed/ambition explains only a small portion of violence, and sadism explains almost none. Outside of children's cartoons and horror films, people almost never hurt others for the sheer joy of hurting someone. The two biggest causes of evil and two that we think are good, and that we try to encourage in our children: high self-esteem and moral idealism....

Threatened self-esteem accounts for a large portion of violence at the individual level, but to really get a mass atrocity going you need idealism--the belief that your violence is a means to a moral end. The major atrocities of the twentieth century were carried out largely either by men who thought they were creating a utopia or else by men who believed they were defending their homeland or tribe from attack. Idealism easily becomes dangerous because it brings with it, almost inevitably, the belief that the ends justify the means. If you are fighting for good or for God what matters is the outcome, not the path. People have little respect for rules; we respect the moral principles that underlie most rules. But when a moral mission and legal rules are incompatible, we usually care more about the mission. [HH 75-6]

This is why the rule of law is so vital, and why Bush is so dangerous, as Haidt points out, in his willingness to use "extra-judicial killings, indefinite imprisonment without trial, and harsh physical treatment of prisoners" in the war on terror (76)--and this doesn't even include the abuses of NSA wiretapping or Bush's frequent use of signing statements or the selective leaking of classified information, etc., etc.

The founders are probably rolling in their graves so much that we could hook up turbines to them and generate enough electricity to solve the energy crisis.

These are frightening times we live in. The tide may be beginning to turn back, but I shudder to think what would happen if another terrorist attack happened--nearly half the country is ok with what the NSA is doing as it stands.

Merry Fitzmas!

Finally, some good news!

...[Special Prosecutor Patrick] Fitzgerald served attorneys for former Deputy White House Chief of Staff Karl Rove with an indictment charging the embattled White House official with perjury and lying to investigators related to his role in the CIA leak case, and instructed one of the attorneys to tell Rove that he has 24 hours to get his affairs in order, high level sources with direct knowledge of the meeting said Saturday morning.


...Rove told President Bush and Chief of Staff Joshua Bolten, as well as a few other high level administration officials, that he will be indicted in the CIA leak case and will immediately resign his White House job when the special counsel publicly announces the charges against him, according to sources.


UPDATE (5/15): Apparently there's some suspicion that this report may be a fabrication or its sources misleading. See, for instance, here. Nevertheless, we should know soon enough.


Flourishing in the 21st Century: An Informal Review of The Happiness Hypothesis

Recently, I have been researching the passions for a couple of the seminar papers I'm currently working on. Among the books I've been reading for research is Jon Haidt's The Happiness Hypothesis. If you take my opinion at all seriously, and if I could but recommend one book to you to read this decade, it would be this one.

The premise is simple. From the dawn of civilization gurus, prophets, and sages (at least, so-called) have come forth with advice on how to live well, to prosper, to flourish. Even though they have their sources in societies as diverse as ancient India, classical Greece, and present-day America, many of the same themes emerge independently in different cultures: life is what you make of it, suffering makes us grow stronger, virtue is its own reward, and so forth.

Nevertheless, when you get down to the particulars, conflicts abound. In a modern world in which ancient wisdom competes alongside the latest self-help fad, what's a thoughtful person to do?

Answer: Put them to the test! See what actually does make people happy. Treat the claims as hypotheses, subject to systematic observation and experimentation, and figure out if they hold up. Fortunately for us, over the last century scientists in a variety of fields have been doing just that, in bits and fragments. Haidt just assembles the pieces.

Every chapter is full of insight, a brilliant synthesis of ancient religious and ethical doctrines, contemporary research in psychology and other sciences, and a rich narrative and compelling argument that tie it all together. Haidt masterfully weaves inspiring anecdotes about scientific and religious figures with hard evidence and well-supported theory to create a text truly in the tradition of the Nichomachean Ethics, the various handbooks of the Stoics, and Spinoza's Ethics (to name a few of my favorite sources of wisdom).

The book is not without its flaws; with such an extensive scope, he is bound to run into trouble spots, and some of the moves in his argument are perhaps too quick. Similarly, Haidt is maybe too harsh on modern (contemporary) philosophy--though this is not so unexpected since he spent his undergraduate years studying analytic philosophy, a discipline unmatched in its ability to suck the life out of even the most interesting of subjects (see The Philosophy of Sex: Contemporary Readings).

The Happiness Hypothesis is truly inspirational; it's a book that may very well change your life. In a not insignificant way, it has changed mine, although I'd already made steps in that direction in my studies of philosophy and social science.

So what does Haidt advise after combing the evidence? Well, why not just buy the book, or check it out from your local library and find out for yourself?

The short answer: Begin with the formula for happiness, taken from positive psychology:

H(appiness) = S(etpoint) + C(onditions) + V(oluntary activities)

The setpoint is your average level of happiness. Unfortunately, this is largely a product of your genes, although regular meditation, cognitive therapy, and antidepressants like Prozac can help if you're not one of the winners of the genetic lottery.

(Drugs are perhaps the most effective and require the least effort, although they work best with therapy and other means to cultivate better habits. Even if you're just dissatisfied with life, I highly, highly recommend them. See my past entry on Peter Kramer's Against Depression.)

"Conditions" refers to the relatively fixed features of your environment. Factors experimentally proven to increase happiness include: having enough money to satisfy your basic needs (beyond this, there is no correlation between wealth and happiness); having a strong social support network of friends and family; having choices and some degree of freedom in your decisions (or at least the appearance thereof); and something as mundane as avoiding traffic (commuting, but also the noise that comes with living next to a busy street, have a significant adverse effect on well-being).

In other words, it's far better to live in a small, quiet place close to family, friends, and your workplace than to live in that big house in the suburbs. Most Americans waste their time pursuing goods that they easily adapt to, i.e., get sick of. Consumerism, like any drug, requires more and more to produce the same effect over time. The American Dream is a lie--but most of us probably know this already.

Lastly, we come to voluntary activities. Aristotle got this one exactly right. If most of what we do in a day is simply a means to some other end, we are letting life pass us by. The best life is one in which what you need to do meshes seamlessly with what you want to do. In work and in love, in particular, we need to be able to be present in the moment, lose track of time, and become totally immersed in what we're doing, what Aristotle calls energeia and Csikszentmihalyi, the experience of "flow".

In terms of occupation, those who see their work as a "calling" are the happiest. Less focus on achievement, wealth, and status would do most people a lot of good. If you don't have that luxury, it is at least valuable to have more leisure time to engage in hobbies and other pursuits you do enjoy, and to spend quality time with family and friends. It's a shame that in our workaholic culture vacation time has become such a scarce commodity.

Above all, life requires activities that are meaningful, personally rewarding, and connected to some good greater than yourself, whether it be pursuing great ideas, working for the common good of your community, or having a personal relationship with the divine. This should be common sense, but so many people seem to favor having over doing, a mistake that could cost us our very well-being.

This is why unrestrained capitalism is so evil. I am sick and tired of a society driven exclusively by the "profit motive". What moron suggested that pursuing individual interest exclusively will lead to the common good? Oh, yeah, that Adam Smith guy. Well, he's wrong. If greed, ambition, and self-interest are all that motivate you, you are a sad person--in more senses than one, it turns out.

Much more could be said about this, but I will leave it to other posts on different subjects. In particular, I have not said enough about the Haidt's most Spinozaesque point, viz., the importance of knowing how your body and mind work in order to exert better control over your passions and activities (willpower alone is never sufficient). Nor have I spoken about his fascinating analysis of the "myth of pure evil" and the impoverished psychology of Manichaeism.

In any case, what are you waiting for?! Go read!


A Lesson in Sex Ed

There are a lot of things I'd like to post on, but being behind in my work, let me just make reference to this item (h/t Leiter), on a subject about which I think conservatives are dead wrong: sex.

One of the Christian Right's most cherished ideological victories since the 1990s has been the dominance of federally funded "abstinence only until marriage" programs now taught to millions of teenagers across the country.

New evidence, however, suggests that these same programs have contributed to soaring rates of unplanned pregnancies, out-of-wedlock births and, yes, abortions among women who are young or poor.


Not surprisingly, abstinence promotion has not decreased teen sexual activity but has led to an increase in unprotected sex. A recent Columbia University study found that 88 percent of teenage girls who take "virginity pledges" eventually have premarital sex-but are one-third less likely to use contraception when they do so.


U.S. teen pregnancy rates are double those in England and Canada, and nine times more than those in the Netherlands and Japan.

Research shows that when contraception is readily available, the rate of unplanned pregnancy drops. France offers free emergency contraception to teenagers, without requiring them to inform their parents, yet France has an abortion rate half of that in the U.S.

For the record, no scientific evidence exists to show that consensual sex between teenagers is harmful in any respect. [emphasis mine]

There are some more important facts in this short article, like how misleading and factually incorrect federally funded abstinence programs are, and how poor women have been the hardest hit. Read the whole thing.

On top of this, the article doesn't even mention the ideological, anti-scientific position of the FDA against emergency contraception or, even worse, how idiotic US policy is tragically promoting the spread of AIDS in Africa by disparaging condom use.

Ben and I have argued on and off about this for years. He thinks it's better for women to die than for more teenagers to have sex (i.e., he is against universal inoculation of girls with the HPV vaccine, HPV being a common cause of cancer in women).

He's aware of the ineffectiveness of the abstinence programs but he counters that the alternatives are also ineffectual. (I don't know the research well enough to adequately respond to this--and we should keep in mind that many of the effects studied are correlational only--but we should note that even if he's right, this is an argument against sex ed in general, not one in favor of abstinence "education".)

In our last conversation, though, I think I convinced him that comprehensive programs are worth funding, so long as they aren't blatantly encouraging teenagers to have lots of sex (abstinence should still be an option, perhaps even encouraged, so long as it is presented as a choice).

Nevertheless, he is still against teenage sex, as are many social and religious conservatives. This is why I emphasize the last line of the essay. Show me evidence that protected, consensual teenage sex causes problems, and maybe I'll reconsider my position.

To be fair, some of the arguments often given against discouraging teen sex--e.g., that it fosters an unhealthy attitude toward sexuality or that sex between teens can't be stopped because it's human nature--are inadequate.

What evidence is there that Victorian sexual ethics are unhealthy, in any sense (besides the negative effects associated with not using contraceptives, which is typically not what liberals making this argument intend)? Similarly, aggression among young males is also "natural" but that doesn't mean we shouldn't try to curb those impulses. Even Freud recognized that repression isn't always necessarily a bad thing.

When all is said and done, contraception and abortion are highly necessary measures that do more good than harm. Not only should their use be promoted (especially contraception), but they should be subsidized for those who can't easily afford them.


Unsustainable Ways of Life

This video is terrifying, but not without a glimmer of hope. It's the best video I've seen so far on the peak oil phenomenon, which--and let me go on the record in saying this--I predict will be the first of ATLTHIOL--Awful Things Likely To Happen In Our Lifetime--to profoundly alter our way of life.

The segments of the video on exponential growth are vitally important to understand, because a number of phenomena increase according to this function. In an environment with finite resources, the fall is even more precipitous than the rise is steep. This is a rather unhappy scenario.

But, there's some good news here. Global warming may not be so difficult to handle if we run out of oil before we can sufficiently pollute the environment to raise temperatures--Steven has made this point, I know, and I'm thinking he may be right. Nevertheless, we might still find ourselves facing significant climate change--I'm not sure how quickly the environment would "recover" if the rate of emissions substantially decreased.

Similarly, the problems of overpopulation will likely be pushed off--or, perhaps more accurately, the number of human beings which can be sustained on earth will just drop significantly. This means massive death and destruction, probably hitting the poorest areas of the world the hardest.

China's efforts at population control will probably be a global necessity. Contraception and abortion will probably lose most of its opposition. If we're worried about feeding our children--and ourselves--fetuses go way down on the ladder of importance.

Global economic depression is all but a foregone conclusion. A rise in totalitarian and fascist states, militarism, the threat of nuclear war--all of these loom ominously on the horizon of a time when people become desperate to survive. Technological and scientific progress may grind to a halt, and begin to regress.

Let's see... am I leaving anything out? Oh, yes, hope! It seems to me that energy corporations have impeded progress on alternative sources which might otherwise have become ascendant by now. The potential of so-called "free energy" sounds extremely promising. The video features a couple such individuals who have been working on such things.

And they don't even mention Blacklight Power, the company founded by Dr. Randell Mills, who claims to have found not only a way to generate energy more efficiently than fossil fuels by using water--that's right, our most abundant natural resource--but also an alternative to quantum mechanics in physics. The physics establishment is of course extremely skeptical--and I think skepticism is healthy in a case like this--his work has been replicated by independent groups (see, for instance, this article [pdf] from the Financial Times), so it gives me a lot of hope.

However, and this is key: it takes energy to find new sources of energy. We need to devote ourselves to finding a solution to this problem now. The currently viable alternative sources like solar, wind, and hydroelectric power probably won't be enough.

Ethanol and hydrogen fuel cells are dead ends--unsurprising, since they're the ones Bush supports--because the latter is merely a way of storing energy and the former requires more energy to convert biomass into fuel than it produces. Ethanol is actually worse to use than gas because of this. (These are claims made in the video, if someone has other information from different sources, I would greatly appreciate it if you shared them here.)

This peak oil thing could result in a slight downturn, a rough patch in the course of human history, or the dawn--or perhaps I should say "dusk"?--of a new Dark Ages. I honestly don't know what's going to happen; no one does. But things will almost certainly change dramatically, at least for a while.

There are some things we can do individually to prepare, like making choices to accustom ourselves to a different way of life: buying a hybrid rather than an SUV, for instance. Nevertheless, this problem will not be solved without extensive cooperation. I hope that we realize this before it's too late.


The Politics of the Common Good

(I really should be working on papers, but I stumbled across this stuff today and need to post about it while it's fresh in my mind.)

My colleagues in the deliberative democracy seminar will recall that one of the central tenets of any version of DD is that individuals do not enter discussion vying for their own interests, but rather for some notion of the common good.

It probably occurred to most of us that this notion is absent from contemporary interest group politics in America. We've rued this development, and yet we've failed to neglect the significant strategic advantage such sentiments could play politically.

The Republican worldview is a cynical one. Even the religious right sees most of us as damned to hell, and this world as a dangerous place full of evil people (which is why they need their guns to protect their family). What we get is social Darwinism, libertarianism, and a sort of "Fuck Everyone But Me" (to borrow an apt phrase from driftglass) politics.

Shakespeare's Sister recently posted on a related matter, trying to figure out what distinguishes progressives from conservatives and why we're always perceived as being reactive rather than proactive. I commented on this post, and ended up asking what she thought the "progressive movement" actually was, since I had a pretty good idea of what the conservative movement was but hadn't much heard progressivism talked about as a unified movement. She gave a thoughtful response, but not one that could be summed up easily.

And that's the problem, there isn't any easily articulable governing philosophy for progressive politics. Democrats and liberals are dominated by single issue interest groups that, while important, make us look fragmented and full of in-fighting. But there is another way.

This is where the political potential of a notion of the common good fits in. Michael Tomasky, in an essay entitled "Party in Search of a Notion" has proposed reviving the civic republican idea of shared sacrifice for the sake of something greater than self-interest as the unifying idea for the progressive movement. I highly recommend his article, although it is a long one. Here are some noteworthy excerpts:
For many years -- during their years of dominance and success, the period of the New Deal up through the first part of the Great Society -- the Democrats practiced a brand of liberalism quite different from today's. Yes, it certainly sought to expand both rights and prosperity. But it did something more: That liberalism was built around the idea -- the philosophical principle -- that citizens should be called upon to look beyond their own self-interest and work for a greater common interest.

This, historically, is the moral basis of liberal governance -- not justice, not equality, not rights, not diversity, not government, and not even prosperity or opportunity. Liberal governance is about demanding of citizens that they balance self-interest with common interest. Any rank-and-file liberal is a liberal because she or he somehow or another, through reading or experience or both, came to believe in this principle. And every leading Democrat became a Democrat because on some level, she or he believes this, too.


...[D]iversity and rights [the two current unifying themes among progressives] cannot be the only goods that Democrats demand citizens accept. For liberalism to succeed, they have to exist alongside an idea of a common good. When they don't, things are out of balance, corrupted; and liberalism is open to the sort of attack made by Stanley Fish on The New York Times op-ed page back in February. Liberalism, he wrote, is "the religion of letting it all hang out"; its "first tenet" is that "everything (at least in the realm of expression and ideas) is to be permitted, but nothing is to be taken seriously."

This is preposterous, and the column drew many angry (and intelligent) letters. But unfortunately, I suspect that many Americans -- not just people on the right, many not-terribly-political people -- believe that Fish described liberalism precisely. Anything goes, man, because we don't really think about how a given action affects the community; we just care about whether, in questioning that action, the community is trampling on the actor's rights. We're in an age today -- the age of Guantanamo, of withdrawal from the Geneva Conventions, and of illegal spying justified as executive necessity -- when rights must be guarded with special care. But to think of every mode of action in terms of whether it can be enshrined as a right is a habit of mind that can lead our fellow citizens not to take us as seriously as we want them to when we talk about these other very real infringements on rights.


The Democrats need to become the party of the common good. They need a simple organizing principle that is distinct from Republicans and that isn't a reaction to the Republicans. They need to remember what made liberalism so successful from 1933 to 1966, that reciprocal arrangement of trust between state and nation. And they need to take the best parts of the rights tradition of liberalism and the best parts of the more recent responsibilities tradition and fuse them into a new philosophy that is both civic-republican and liberal -- that goes back to the kind of rhetoric Johnson used in 1964 and 1965, that attempts to enlist citizens in large projects to which everyone contributes and from which everyone benefits.

His thoughts are backed up by this four-part series by John Halpin and Ruy Teixeira which details findings from extensive research on Americans' attitudes towards the Democratic Party and progressive politics. (Unfortunately, I have not had an opportunity to read this, but I plan to once I finish some of these papers.)

I stumbled upon these articles when I read another piece by Paul Waldman, who recently published a book entitled Being Right Is Not Enough: What Progressives Must Learn from Conservative Success. He largely agrees with Tomasky and Halpin and Teixeira, but offers something more concrete:
...I offer a variant of the "common good" idea, one that is likely to perform its political function more effectively. The answer to the question, "What do progressives believe at their core?" is this: Progressives believe we're all in it together.

One might ask, isn't this just a quibble over language? It is most definitely about language, but it's anything but a quibble. First and most importantly, my formulation implies its opposite: while progressives believe we're all in it together, conservatives believe we're all on our own and we're all out for ourselves.

Second, these ideas can be easily presented in vernacular, so that candidates and advocates can explain them without beginning to sound like philosophy professors. Part of the power of the Four Pillars of Conservatism is that nearly all conservatives believe in them, and repeat them--in speeches, in campaign ads and in the mission statements of conservative organizations.

Unlike "the common good," furthermore, the idea that we're all in it together doesn't necessarily imply personal sacrifice for others' sake--that you have to give something up to benefit the common good. If I'm selling Americans' altruistic instincts a little short in arguing that a more direct appeal to sacrifice has political limitations, so be it. But being all in it together speaks to finding solutions that benefit everyone--yourself included. It's not about setting aside our interests, it's about finding where our interests and our values converge.

Waldman makes some excellent points. However, I don't see his view as incompatible with Tomasky's main point. If we can first agree that the common good is where we want to go, then we can begin to discuss particular formulations thereof and make a decision. Waldman's is one possibility.

And I find it to be a compelling one: accurate and accessible. He anticipates a standard objection posed by the "freerider problem". Freeloading is a threat to any common good, and is an issue that conservatives have been able to exploit successfully (in a racially-charged context). By suggesting that we're all in this together, there's the implication that those who are in it only for themselves won't be tolerated.

I browsed the excerpts from his book available online, and thought he made some good points. In the book, he tries to oppose what he calls "The Four Pillars of Conservatism" (viz., small government, low taxes, strong defense, and traditional values) with five core progressive values (viz., effective government, opportunity, security, individual freedom, and progress) which, unlike the conservative alternative, has the advantage of being unified by a notion of the common good.

I'd say more, but I really need to get back to work. I leave the matter open for discussion, and again urge you to take a look at the various links I've posted.


Stephen Colbert: Great American Hero or Greatest American Hero?

For those of you who have not yet seen Stephen Colbert, formerly of The Daily Show and star of The Colbert Report, in his hysterical skewering of Bush and the press as the guest speaker at the White House Correspondents Dinner, here (from Billmon) is why you need to go watch it (or read it) right now:
Colbert's routine was designed to draw blood -- as good political satire should. It seemed obvious, at least to me, that he didn't just despise his audience, he hated it. While that hardly merits comment here in Left Blogostan, White House elites clearly aren't used to having such contempt thrown in their faces at one of their most cherished self-congratulatory events. So it's no surprise the scribes have tried hard to expunge it from the semi-official record -- as Peter Daou notes over at the Huffington Post.

Colbert used satire the way it's used in more openly authoritarian societies: as a political weapon, a device for raising issues that can't be addressed directly. He dragged out all the unmentionables -- the Iraq lies, the secret prisons, the illegal spying, the neutered stupidity of the lapdog press -- and made it pretty clear that he wasn't really laughing at them, much less with them. It may have been comedy, but it also sounded like a bill of indictment, and everybody understood the charges.

Unsurprisingly, since the press got ripped a new one, they've downplayed the significance of this event, and pretended that Bush's lame doppelganger act stole the show. However, the Internets will not let this satirical masterpiece go softly into that good night.

To do this in front of a hostile crowd, and say these things right to the president's face! Colbert must have some serious balls--I'm talking Liberty Bell-size. So why don't you go thank him for saying to WPE what we wish we all could?