Eyes wide open.

I generally update this blog in the morning, when I’m useless anyway. I read the papers, start the coffee, drink the coffee, open the laptop and take my morning batting practice while I wait for the French Roast to work its magic. I generally try to be done by 10 a.m., and that’s when my day really begins, work-wise.

It turns out I’ve been doing it all wrong:

A young man I’ll call Alex recently graduated from Harvard. As a history major, Alex wrote about a dozen papers a semester. He also ran a student organization, for which he often worked more than forty hours a week; when he wasn’t on the job, he had classes. Weeknights were devoted to all the schoolwork that he couldn’t finish during the day, and weekend nights were spent drinking with friends and going to dance parties. “Trite as it sounds,” he told me, it seemed important to “maybe appreciate my own youth.” Since, in essence, this life was impossible, Alex began taking Adderall to make it possible.

Adderall, a stimulant composed of mixed amphetamine salts, is commonly prescribed for children and adults who have been given a diagnosis of attention-deficit hyperactivity disorder. But in recent years Adderall and Ritalin, another stimulant, have been adopted as cognitive enhancers: drugs that high-functioning, overcommitted people take to become higher-functioning and more overcommitted. (Such use is “off label,” meaning that it does not have the approval of either the drug’s manufacturer or the Food and Drug Administration.) College campuses have become laboratories for experimentation with neuroenhancement, and Alex was an ingenious experimenter. His brother had received a diagnosis of A.D.H.D., and in his freshman year Alex obtained an Adderall prescription for himself by describing to a doctor symptoms that he knew were typical of the disorder. During his college years, Alex took fifteen milligrams of Adderall most evenings, usually after dinner, guaranteeing that he would maintain intense focus while losing “any ability to sleep for approximately eight to ten hours.” In his sophomore year, he persuaded the doctor to add a thirty-milligram “extended release” capsule to his daily regimen.

This is the lede of a fascinating story making the rounds this week, from the New Yorker. Margaret Talbot’s piece on the off-label use of prescription stimulants and other ADHD drugs is both thrilling and terrifying, the idea that there could be real help for those of us who stumble through our lives unable to concentrate, even if we have to wheedle our doctors for it. Here’s the terrifying part:

Recently, an advice column in Wired featured a question from a reader worried about “a rising star at the firm” who was “using unprescribed modafinil to work crazy hours. Our boss has started getting on my case for not being as productive.”

Welcome to the new world. Please take your Adderall and get to work.

A few years ago I read a first-person essay by someone who’d taken Ritalin without a prescription, and described the effects as nothing short of revolutionary — the “better than well” sense of energy and focus that allowed the writer to not only work, but work better than he ever had in his life, to concentrate for long periods, to ignore distractions, to finish his novel. How easy it would be to become dependent on such a drug. How simple it would be to fit it into your life.

I can’t believe my generation spent all those years sitting around in smoky living rooms smoking pot, when we could have been swallowing Ritalin and accomplishing something.

(As you can tell, the French Roast is kicking in.)

It’s trendy to refer to our nation’s efforts against self-administered chemicals as “The War on Some Drugs,” or “The War on Some Classes of People Who Use Some Drugs.” You read stuff like this, and you see why it’s funny — because it’s true.

OK. It seems some of you are still back in yesterday’s thread, arguing about torture. Here’s a new starting place for that throwdown, a pretty fair-minded look at how, exactly, we determine what “high-value information” is and how it’s obtained.

If you’d rather take an easier road, torture drives Shep Smith to forget the cardinal rule of live broadcasting.

Meanwhile, why do people bring infants into homes with aggressive dogs? Why, why, why?

And now it’s 10 a.m., time to get to work. Fully engaged, but I could use some Ritalin.

Posted at 10:03 am in Current events, Popculch |

41 responses to “Eyes wide open.”

  1. John said on April 23, 2009 at 10:15 am


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  2. jeff borden said on April 23, 2009 at 10:18 am

    Shep Smith is probably the only honest man working at Fox News. He’s shown his independence before, most notably during Hurricane Katrina, when he was calling bullshit on the GOP talking points being spewed by the in-studio androids. He was out in the field, looking at the corpses floating in the street, while the hairdos in New York were prattling on about the yeoman’s efforts undertaken by FEMA. He must have stomach lining of asbestos to walk into that building full of loonies every day, but then, the paycheck must be mighty nice.

    Regarding the abuse of prescription drugs, there was a story published in the past year or so about parties where high school kids raid mom and dad’s medicine chest for a couple of pills, then take them to a party and put them in a bowl with the offerings by other kids. You just reach in, pop a pill and wait to see what happens.

    I guess the sensible solution is to put prescription drugs under lock and key in the home, rather than letting them sit on the medicine cabinet shelf. Or, as we discussed yesterday, you can always strip search every kid at school. That’ll work.

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  3. nancy said on April 23, 2009 at 10:22 am

    Regarding the abuse of prescription drugs, there was a story published in the past year or so about parties where high school kids raid mom and dad’s medicine chest for a couple of pills, then take them to a party and put them in a bowl with the offerings by other kids. You just reach in, pop a pill and wait to see what happens.

    This is an urban legend. Jack Shafer at Slate, aided by a certain gal researcher you might know, has been debunking this for a while now.

    Meanwhile, I want my mixed grill of Adderall, Ritalin, Provigil and anything else I can get my hands on. Time for a fruit salad…of brain drugs!

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  4. coozledad said on April 23, 2009 at 10:24 am

    I tried some D-amphetamine when I was in college. It is strange to realize there’s an alternate universe where you are capable of intense concentration and laser-like focus. I didn’t do it again, because I knew I was a natural candidate for speed-freakdom. I was too skinny as it was.

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  5. alice said on April 23, 2009 at 10:37 am

    I’m curious how the new brain drugs will fit into today’s “strip searches in grade school, A-ok (she might be smuggling baby asprin)” & drug testing before employment (do you have a current lifestyle polygraph?) culture we have right now. Adderall is fine but crystal meth is not?

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  6. Randy said on April 23, 2009 at 10:38 am

    There is always a situation in your life to merit the use of neuroenhancers, as far as I can tell. Just as the Harvard student justified needing them for better overall functioning through the week, I can remember, like most first-time parents with a newborn, having work days with marginal productivity after getting up throughout the night. It would have been really tempting to pop one of those at 6am and carry on with my day.

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  7. Jeff (the mild-mannered one) said on April 23, 2009 at 10:40 am

    Finish my novel? What drug was that again?

    It is very hard for a caffeine addicted schmuck like me to get any attitude up in the face of people using other less socially approved-of pharmaceuticals.

    But if it would get me 10,000 words gone and done (and coherent?), i want more info.

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  8. moe99 said on April 23, 2009 at 10:43 am

    White crosses helped me finish my honors thesis in college. Three days blazing away at the manual typewriter in my dorm room. Took me a week to recover. Also restarted my smoking habit, which took another 7 years to break.

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  9. jeff borden said on April 23, 2009 at 10:45 am

    Regardless of whether the prescription drug story is an urban myth, doesn’t it still behoove parents to keep these pills stored somewhere where teens can’t get at them? Maybe not.

    One of the earliest substance abusers I knew came to high school frequently in the late 1960s after knocking off a bottle or two of codeine cough medicine. His girlfriend was a clerk at the local drugstore and would let him buy all the Romilar or whatever he wanted.

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  10. nancy said on April 23, 2009 at 10:48 am

    Moe, some of my horsey friends used to take butazolidin — an equine anti-inflammatory — when they got aches and pains. (I think they did it mainly for laffs.) Bute is to ibuprofen what these new drugs are to your white crosses. What interests me about them is that many aren’t just plain old speed, but seem to have some sort of serotonin-boosting factor folded in. So it’s not just about being wired and jittery, but wide-awake and capable of concentration.

    I dunno. I should put this out of my mind. The last thing I need is another if-only in my life.

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  11. moe99 said on April 23, 2009 at 11:17 am

    Well, Nancy, in a twist on the old saw: “Just wait til you have kids,” my youngest son is a classic ADHD, inattentive type. He’s been tested multiple times and the docs are in agreement. Yet, in his first year of college, he threw away his prescription and tried to go it without the drugs because he feels a stigma attached to the diagnosis. I tried to tell him, it has nothing to do with whether he is a good person or not but rather similar to whether he has blue or brown eyes. To no effect. And from what I understand third hand(the colleges don’t provide parents with grades anymore–privacy concerns–even though we’re the ones paying the bill) he has done rather poorly academically. While all these ‘normal’ kids use it to enhance their performance and do it gleefully.

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  12. jeff borden said on April 23, 2009 at 11:28 am

    Perhaps the staffers left behind at the Chicago Tribune can use some of those wonder drugs. The paper cut 50 newsroom positions yesterday, including a few people I know. Nothing unusual, I guess.

    On the same day, however, it was revealed that Tribco executives are asking the bankruptcy judge permission to hand out $13 million in bonuses to upper management. The poor dears have been working so very hard under these terrible, terrible circumstances and it’s only fair they be rewarded.

    You cannot make this shit up.

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  13. Catherine said on April 23, 2009 at 11:52 am

    Guess what the drug of choice at my highly competitive women’s college was? Speed. You could not get a doobie to save your life, but something that helps you stay up all night writing papers AND lose weight? Bring it.

    Coffee is my drug these days, and as Jeff says, I’m less likely to judge the Adderall than to ask for more information.

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  14. Jen said on April 23, 2009 at 12:01 pm

    I guess I’m just behind on my substance abuse – I didn’t start drinking caffeine regularly until college. In high school, it was just water and juice. I’m just a prude, I guess. Though, I could use a boost today – I am highly unproductive.

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  15. MichaelG said on April 23, 2009 at 12:09 pm

    I’m off tomorrow. Furlough. I think I’ll go home tonight and self medicate with a nice G & T. Maybe two.

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  16. Catherine said on April 23, 2009 at 12:20 pm

    Gin, my second favorite drug. MichaelG, try it with kumquats instead of limes.

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  17. beb said on April 23, 2009 at 12:24 pm

    Moe at 11. My daughter is a bit like your son. She has ADD. Right now she takes the pill willingly, knowing that she’ll spacy out in school if she doesn’t. She’s in high school. But she really dislikes taking pain-killers or decongestants or any other harmless medicine. I can’t imagine her experimenting with the harmful kinds of drugs because she seems, overall, anti-medicine. I don’t know if she’s try to go through college within her ritalin but I wouldn’t be surprised, and for the same reasons as your son.

    As I often find myself easily distracted and unable to concentrate I suspect my daughter inherited her ADD from me. I’ve been tempted to try ritalin just to see what my day would be like.

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  18. Mindy said on April 23, 2009 at 12:50 pm

    The Labrador from hell was on Ritalin for a short time. It didn’t help him at all. I should have kept filling his script just to sell it and recover the cost of all the furniture he destroyed.

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  19. Julie Robinson said on April 23, 2009 at 12:53 pm

    ADD/ADHD runs rampant throughout our family on both sides. Both our kids have tried a variety of drugs along with therapy and life structures. All the drugs had side effects and one even made a child so ill we sought treatment and feared severe depression. But they also helped with the schoolwork. Both feel that their personalities are dampened and creativity hindered by the drugs. It’s an ongoing struggle and gives me great empathy for those who try to self-medicate. Now, who hid the chocolate?

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  20. Sue said on April 23, 2009 at 1:01 pm

    Have any of you heard the theory that the US is a nation of ADD/ADHD sufferers because we’re a nation of immigrants, and a majority of our forefathers came over because they were too hyper to function in the old country? That’s right, blame it on the parents.

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  21. Julie Robinson said on April 23, 2009 at 1:13 pm

    Sue, there might be something to that theory–ADDers also tend to be risk takers who are not satisfied with the status quo. Sums up the typical immigrant yesterday and today.

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  22. Joe Kobiela said on April 23, 2009 at 1:21 pm

    There is a great episode of South Park that has to do with riddelen and a.d.d. The cure was found to be the teacher telling the kids to SIT DOWN, SHUT UP, DO YOUR WORK.
    Perhaps, my kid that reads this knows which episode it is and find the link.
    Pilot Joe

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  23. Colleen said on April 23, 2009 at 1:42 pm

    As someone who is always tired, and could stand to lose a few gazillion pounds, speed sounds better and better all the time to me…..

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  24. Gasman said on April 23, 2009 at 2:17 pm

    As to the Bush torture program’s effectiveness; how effective could it be if they had to administer in 266 times to just two individuals? Those numbers seem to be absolute proof as to its ineffectiveness.

    As to the stunningly idiotic assertion that a lack of attacks since the torturing started is proof that it kept us safe, nonsense. In order to argue against this notion, we must disprove a negative. This tactic is evidence of the exceedingly desperate straw grasping that Bush & Co. have been reduced to. Using such stunning illogic, we could cite any data which happens to line up to our time line and claim that IT was responsible for a lack of further Al Qaeda attacks. To wit:

    – Bush signed the No Child Left Behind Act in 2002, maybe that’s why we’ve been safe.

    – Also in 2002, the Euro notes and coins were issued in France, Spain, Germany, Italy, Portugal, Greece, Finland, Luxembourg, Belgium, Austria, Ireland and the Netherlands. Maybe the Euro has been keeping us safe.

    – The UN Security Council unanimously establishes an arms embargo and freezes the assets of Osama bin Laden, Al-Qaeda, and the Taliban. That’s probably why they haven’t attacked us. Their checking accounts are frozen.

    – The International Criminal Court is established to prosecute individuals for genocide, crimes against humanity, war crimes, and the crime of aggression. Crimes committed on or after this date may be prosecuted by the court. Al Qaeda realizes that they might now be prosecuted, so that’s why we are safe.

    – Maryland defeats Indiana 64-52 to win the NCAA Men’s Basketball Championship at the Georgia Dome in Atlanta, Georgia. It is a well known fact that Al Qaeda has many Hoosiers among its ranks. They are still in morning over this loss. They’ve been disconsolate since, so they couldn’t possibly mount any attacks on us.

    I can cite as much evidence to support any of the above arguments as has been provided to date to support the torture-kept-us-safe argument. Only idiots advance such ridiculous tripe.

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  25. jeff borden said on April 23, 2009 at 2:37 pm


    I read early today two items on Andrew Sullivan’s site about the lead interrogator for the British and the lead interrogator for the Luftwaffe during WWII. Both excelled at wringing information from prisoners without resorting to violence. The British guy used the bullying technique, while the Luftwaffe guy was said to have never even raised his voice to a prisoner. The German interrogator was so good, in fact, that the United States asked him to lecture to our troops on how to conduct a good interrogation. Churchill, certainly no liberal shrinking violet, loathed torture.

    Torture probably does produce results. They’re just incorrect results. Given the stunning levels of incompetence on display with the last administration, maybe that was enough.

    I also see today that Mittwad Romney, who actually had been making some mild sense recently, is now saying any probe of the Bush/Cheney/Rove/Addington/Yoo/Bybee torture regime violates the spirit of bipartisanship President Obama campaigned on.

    Man, the GOP is a mess. It’s fun for a liberal to watch, but ultimately, this is no good. We need a strong opposition party, but it would be nice if it were not insanely regressive.

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  26. MichaelG said on April 23, 2009 at 2:42 pm

    Don’t knock it Gasman. It works. Every day I put a little mark on the sidewalk in front of the house to keep the elephants away. So far, in all these years, I’ve never seen an elephant in front of my house.

    Catherine, sounds interesting. Next time I’m at the store I’ll try to remember to get some kumquats. I’m pretty conservative about changing my drinks but I’ll try it.

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  27. Catherine said on April 23, 2009 at 2:57 pm

    Colleen, I know. The early stages of meth addiction look strangely attractive, too. I try to focus on the part where your teeth fall out.

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  28. Gasman said on April 23, 2009 at 3:01 pm

    What I’ve heard over the last couple of days is that the real rationale for the torture program was to get confessions confirming a Saddam Hussein/Al Qaeda link. It actually makes a great deal of sense. The torture seemed to be utterly pointless. It clearly never produced any actionable intelligence.

    Bush and Cheney were getting nervous that the lack of WMD was looking like they were wrong after all. If they could get someone to confess that Hussein and Al Qaeda were tight, that would justify everything that W & Co. did.

    Every single utterance by every individual in the Bush White House concerning torture was a damned lie. The conservatives on this site STILL go batshit at the merest mention of an inconsequential lie of Bill Clinton’s concerning oral sex. It is very amusing to see the tortured logic they produce to justify torturing humans. Some of the same folks that say gay marriage is utterly immoral and will end society as we know it seem to have no moral qualms with torture and think it is positively the most Christian thing to do. Curious.

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  29. moe99 said on April 23, 2009 at 3:12 pm


    One of the two guys we waterboarded so fiercely was mentally ill to begin with. I can’t imagine what state he is in now.

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  30. Rana said on April 23, 2009 at 3:31 pm

    the colleges don’t provide parents with grades anymore–privacy concerns–even though we’re the ones paying the bill

    You can request to see his transcript – it’s just that he has to give them permission to show it to you (or to anyone else other than the registrar or his professor, advisor and dean, for that matter).

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  31. joodyb said on April 23, 2009 at 3:54 pm

    repetitious, I know, but I continue to marvel that a man who spent nearly eight years in a “secure and undisclosed location” has turned into Mr. Chatterbox while ex-POTUS disappears into the void. Dick is spinning spinning spinning and still thinks Americans are too stupid to connect the dots. The GOP is afroth at this news cycle’s Condi revelation.

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  32. Gasman said on April 23, 2009 at 4:46 pm

    It’s clear that Bush, Cheney, & Co. knew damn well that they couldn’t just begin torturing folks without some kind of legal cover, so they had the nimble minds at the OLC come up with their now infamous documents. They thought their asses were covered. But, wait! No! There was actually a Republican lawyer with a conscience that tried to stop the OLC B.S., or at least go on record as opposing their “legal” advice.

    Philip Zelikow, then Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice’s policy representative to the NSC Deputies Committee, fired off his own memo, basically shooting down the tortured OLC docs. He writes about the whole sordid affair in this article in Foreign Policy Magazine. What was Bush White House response? They tried to destroy every single copy of Zelikow’s dissenting memo. How’s THAT for justice?

    They conspired to commit crimes. Then they lied. Then they lied about lying. The evidence of a conspiracy grows by the minute. They not only knew that they were in the wrong, they sought to erase any evidence that there was anything other than unanimous support for their illegal activities.

    Each new day brings startling new evidence that will all be fodder for the special prosecutor. Let the rule of law reign once again in our fair land.

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  33. Sue said on April 23, 2009 at 5:32 pm

    Came across this today at another site. I had forgotten about it. I don’t know, it seems appropriate today. Sorry about the caps.
    From Monty Python:


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  34. mark said on April 23, 2009 at 6:12 pm


    You should call the NYT, so they can retract the story nancy linked. I’m sure they will accept your self-proclaimed irrefutable truth and apologize for their shoddy reporting.

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  35. sisterlicious said on April 23, 2009 at 6:16 pm

    Plus ca change, Sue.

    I did speed for a semester in college. Yes, it was great stuff, at first. But it about made me psychotic toward the end, babbling and cantankerous because I was sleep-deprived and I majorly fucked up on a final exam I should have aced because it also made me overconfident. So if Adderall is white crosses times a hundred, I’d probably take a pass if it were offered recreationally.

    I understand it’s very effective for people whose demons won’t let them concentrate on everyday tasks, and under a doctor’s supervision it’s probably fine. And I hadn’t heard that it’s European genetics that makes us ill-suited for the world we inhabit today. It’s human genetics. For millions of years we were hard-wired for fight or flight. No wonder most of us prefer sedatives to amphetamines.

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  36. jeff borden said on April 23, 2009 at 6:31 pm

    The shot of Old Granddad bourbon (101 proof, bottled in bond) and the cold Dab beer at my elbow are exactly what I require at the moment, but I likely will need to up my dosage as the night wears on.

    Re: uppers/speed/coke, etc. I was thinking about a time many, many, many years ago, when I was at a party where a guest broke out some Peruvian marching powder and shared it with most of the other guests. While exiting the bathroom at about 2 a.m., I realized every single person in the living room was talking –loudly and insistently– about absolutely nothing of importance. You know, like the people on Fox News, though I recall everyone there being light years cooler than Bill-O, Sean Hannity, Glenn “Crazy Eyes” Beck, etc. It was an odd experience, though, and one that has stayed with me.

    God, can you imagine your average Fox host on speed? Then again, how would we tell???

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  37. moe99 said on April 23, 2009 at 7:10 pm

    You know what, mark? The issue is not whether torture is effective. The issue is that torture is wrong period. No if’s, ands or buts. It’s wrong.

    But it is so nice to see Dick Cheney, who while he was in power, was always in a secure location, now dogging the airwaves to whore for his ‘beliefs.’

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  38. Rana said on April 23, 2009 at 9:24 pm

    moe99 – thank you for saying that.

    It disturbs me how easily people lose sight of that, even when they’re supposedly arguing against it. Note: debating with your opponent over its effectiveness is accepting the premise that if it were effective, that might make it okay.

    It’s not okay. Ever. For any reason.

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  39. Gasman said on April 23, 2009 at 11:59 pm

    Other than “because we said so,” what evidence has been presented that torture works? Nothing. Nada. Zippo. There have been multiple military interrogators that have said flat out that the info they got after torturing was garbage. We know that our torture program has inspired disaffected Muslim extremists to join Al Qaeda to avenge Abu Ghraib and Guantanamo. We also know that the next U.S. servicemen or women to be captured will definitely face torture. That is the legacy of not living up to what we say we believe.

    If torturing is so necessary to our safety, why was it unnecessary for our first 226 years? Why is the rest of the world so appalled by our descent into barbarism?

    Go ahead. Keep defending torture. Which passage of the New Testament do you use to buttress your opinion?

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  40. Jeff (the mild-mannered one) said on April 24, 2009 at 7:48 am

    All hail the singularity — Gasman and i are in complete agreement when he says: “As to the Bush torture program’s effectiveness; how effective could it be if they had to administer in 266 times to just two individuals? Those numbers seem to be absolute proof as to its ineffectiveness.”


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  41. LA Mary said on April 24, 2009 at 11:07 am

    William F. Buckley took Ritalin pretty much all of his adult life. I think the combo of lots of expensive booze and Ritalin had a lot to do with his personality.

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