Blessed Are the Peacemakers: For They Shalt Have .50cal Machine Gun Turrets

September 6, 2008

Missed this story when it first broke, but can you think of a reason for a local police department to have an armored personnel carrier with a mounted 50 caliber machine gun turret? Can you imagine them actually using such a thing in a residential neighborhood in the U.S.?

Probably not. The Sheriff claims that the vehicle will “save lives” and reasons that when “something like this rolls up, it’s time to give up.” I’m all for the police being appropriately armed, but give me a break. First of all, this thing is not going to have time to “roll up” unless the police are either conducting a pre-planned raid, or having a long standoff. And in either case, I very much doubt that an APC is going to intimidate criminals any more than twelve guys in riot gear and machine guns already can. .50cal machine guns are for closed firing ranges and war zones: places where you either want to have safe, human-target-free gun fun, or else turn real human beings into hamburger. They don’t belong in residential or urban police operations for anything short of Die Hard.

But wait: what if I told you that it all made sense because… because… Jesus!

Sheriff Lott stated that the name selected from the entries will be “The Peacemaker” because that is the APC’s purpose and the bible refers to law enforcement in Matthew 5:9 “Blessed are the peacemakers: for they shall be called the children of God”.

As DrugWarRant points out:

In all my reading of the beatitudes, I never once imagined Christ astride an Armored Personnel Carrier complete with a turret-mounted .50-caliber belt-fed machine gun, surrounded by apostles in SWAT gear, as he said to the crowd “Blessed are the peacemakers: for they shall be called the children of God.”


Double Standard for SWAT Shootings: Police Need to Address It, Not Just Deny It

August 14, 2008

I’m not sure I approve of the choice of examples, but the basic point made by Stephen Littau in this post is worth making: there’s a huge double standard when it comes to the actions of police officers and ordinary citizens that honest members of law enforcement need to seriously address and explain.

When an officer in the midst of a SWAT-style “dynamic entry” points a gun at an unarmed woman holding a baby and pulls the trigger, killing her, the fear and confusion of the situation alleviate all legal and moral culpability. In fact, they would only face 8 months in jail even if they were to be found culpable. Likewise if an officer fires through a door and hits civilians: it’s okay. Stuff just gets hairy on the job like that.

But when a citizen fires a gun at what they think is an assailant through a door, they not only face the death penalty, but often get it.

It’s true, of course, that every situation is different. Oftentimes the officers are noble people, and the civilians in question are not. But there is an undeniable overall pattern in which the very same mitigating factors are cited to completely exonerate officers in the line of duty, but yet are denied any role at all in the treatment of civilians.

Officers can’t have it both ways: the whole point of their “shock & awe” SWAT warrants is supposedly to surprise people (many of whom are sleeping and never hear the muffled cry of “police” through their walls and closed doors). The inevitable and predictable result is chaos and confusion. The police cannot deliberately and thoughtfully create such a situation and then claim that the chaos justifies anything they (trained professionals) happen to do. And they certainly cannot claim that excuse for themselves, but then at the same time maintain that ordinary citizens who often have no idea what’s going on are fully responsible for everything they do.


Church Killer Adkisson’s Reading List: O’Reily, Hannity, Savage

July 29, 2008

A few more details coming out about what Mr. Adkisson thought he was doing by showing up at a Unitarian church and opening fire with a shotgun.

According to the Knoxville police, Adkisson’s writings expressed that he believed the church was a legitimate target “because of its liberal teachings and his belief that all liberals should be killed because they were ruining the country, and that he felt that the Democrats had tied his country’s hands in the war on terror and they had ruined every institution in America with the aid of major media outlets.”

The church apparently was once attended by his ex-wife at one point, where she no doubt was thought to have picked up or practiced many of the ideas that Adkisson found so detestable. And the Washington Post’s “On Faith” has more on his obsessions:

Adkisson, who had served in the military, said “that because he could not get to the leaders of the liberal movement he would then target those that had voted them in office,” the search warrant states. Among the items seized from Adkisson’s house were three books: “The O’Reilly Factor,” by television commentator Bill O’Reilly; “Liberalism is a Mental Disorder,” by radio personality Michael Savage; and “Let Freedom Ring,” by political pundit Sean Hannity.

All three of these books are, of course, over-the-top, take-no-prisoners partisan screeds. I don’t want to endorse the idea that these writers caused Adkisson to do what he did. But all three of them are books that a madman who hates liberals would find much resonance and comfort in, and nothing to make him think twice.

They don’t counsel thoughtful realism. They don’t endorse moderation or skepticism in their condemnations. They don’t really even acknowledge that liberals might be sincerely mistaken: they instead paint pictures of near-perfect perfidy, depravity, and treason that are destroying and undermining every principle of good society. If you take everything they say seriously (something I don’t think any of those authors actually do themselves), then it’s not hard to see how one could conclude that the stakes are high, and the enemy unredeemable.

None of them endorse mass murder, of course, and so these authors can legitimately disavow any responsibility for what Adkisson, and Adkisson alone, decided to do. But at least off camera, I hope these authors feel at least a tiny bit of regret for a missed opportunity. At one point, they had his attention, and yet so thoroughly failed to make him think twice about his hatreds.

Instead, they simply gave him a tune to sing along with in his desperation. Nothing but reinforcement in his obsessive belief that all the evils in his life stemmed from a single source. For these authors, the grossly uncharitable and uncompromising rhetoric of political shock-jockery was at least partly just theater. Rants that just sounded too good, and were too effective as political spin, to be slowed down with caveats or compromise.

But, unfortunately, at least one person wasn’t in on the joke.


Prospective DNC/RNC Convention Protesters Already Extremely Annoying

July 19, 2008

Oy vey. Drudge and other media sources are starting to profile some of the groups planning on turning the upcoming party conventions into three-ring freak circuses, and I’m already sick of these people. Here’s a sampling of the bounty of bombastic banner-waving boneheads who think that strutting around in the street with posters is an effective way to accomplish anything but some decent exercise:

“We are completely peaceful,” said Rob Weiland, a 37-year-old courier from Denver and member of the group We Are Change Colorado. “We follow the ideals of Ghandi.”

Spectacular. Except that Gandhi was opposing the sometimes brutal colonialist exploitation of an entire country. “We Are Change,” on the other hand, are a bunch of 9/11 conspiracy nuts with a website so full of rambling YouTube nonsense that it crashes my browser (warning: website may crash browser).

Read the rest of this entry »


Texas Legalizes Abusive Exorcisms… Or Does It?

June 28, 2008

There’s been much dismay in the rational-o-sphere about a recent ruling by the Texas Supreme Court. The ruling concerns a case in which two “exorcisms” were performed on a minor, leading her to be injured and psychologically traumatized. The original jury held the church accountable, awarding the girl a few hundred thousand dollars. The Texas Supreme Court, on the other hand, found that the actions of the church were protected under the 1st amendment.

On the surface, this sounds like a pretty scary ruling: basically saying that a group can claim religious warrant for forcibly restraining someone against their will, injuring them, traumatizing them, and then get off scott free. But as I read through the full text of the opinion, the case looks decidedly more complicated.

Read the rest of this entry »


Smiley Face Serial Killer No Longer At Large?

June 11, 2008

Bwahahaha...hunhCNN’s Anderson Cooper laid out the case in hushed, grim tones in a story that even hit CNN.com’s “front page”: college-aged men all around the country have been drowning under mysterious circumstances since 1997. And as two retired NYPD detectives started to put the pieces together, they realized that “creepy” smiley faces have been found nearby at many of the scenes. And before long, the profile emerged: serial killer with a distinctive signature; preying on young, intoxicated men; and he’d been killing for more than a decade. It was enough to send chills down the spine of many readers.

Over at Skepchick, however, blogger Elyse has a different take: the hype just doesn’t pan out and the whole smiley conspiracy appears baseless. A case of impassioned officers trying too hard to make sense of too many tragedies at once, and improperly judging the statistical likelihood of several linked events.

And Elyse makes a darn good case too: one almost certainly similar to the reasons many local police departments have had for rejecting the “smiley face killer” connection. Her main points are as follows:

  • A conservative estimate of around ten thousand or so men have drowned between 1997 and today
  • Smiley faces are one of the most common pieces of graffiti found anywhere
  • Waterside areas are one of the most common places to find graffiti
  • The smiley faces identified at the various crime scenes share very little in common that could be regarded as a distinct signature-style: no distinctive shape, color, facial features, or design
  • Only 12 of the supposedly 40 linked cases, scattered all over several states, had faces anywhere nearby

Put all that together and you have something that isn’t even an eerie coincidence: it’s pretty much a mathematical inevitably that some feature, in fact, some piece of vaguely similar waterside graffiti would connect some drowning cases, especially if you could look at any case from 1997 to the present, pretty much anywhere in the country. If this is really all the investigators have to tie the cases together, it’s no wonder at all that the FBI isn’t impressed.

Their additional claim that each case has “mysterious” elements doesn’t help matters. While it’s statistically common that some young men in the U.S. will drown, it’s not at all a common or normal event in someone’s everyday life: some set of out-of-the-ordinary factors are likely to play into how each drowning happened, and in the cases where young men just vanished, and may have gone into the water alone with no witnesses, there will of course always be many unanswered questions about the circumstances.

Maybe there is a serial killer out there, or a cabal of them (an even more unlikely scenario that the investigators nevertheless seem to favor). But if so, they’ve managed to commit their crimes in a way that looks almost completely identical to what we’d expect to find if none of the cases (whether they were individually murders, suicides, or accidents) had anything to do with each other.


Drugging Patients Against their Will: Doctors and Nurses That Need to Lose Their Licenses

May 15, 2008

The Washington Post released a story today concerning yet another a disturbing practice that our government has quietly added to its repertoire: drugging deportees against their will with powerful anti-psychotics such as Haldol… all without a court order. Citizens or no, this practice is simply despicable, especially the seeming causal regularity of it. Many former victims of the Soviet Union will remember its own draconian use of Haldol on political dissidents.

The sad fact of the matter, however, is that the legal status of this technique is ambiguous. But for the doctors and nurses involved in these cases, things are a little more clear: they should lose their licenses to practice medicine. Practices like these simply are not in compliance with the ethical standards required to practice medicine in this country. The article doesn’t name names, but they should be fairly easy to figure out via FOIA requests.


Eight Year Old Requests a Divorce. Seriously. And It Only Gets Worse

April 14, 2008

I’m not now and never have been a cultural relativist. When you measure the success of a society by the degree and wide availability of human happiness and liberty, as well as the avoidance of screwupedness, some cultural, political, and ethical structures fail to measure up.

And arranged marriages, particularly those that involve promising children (almost always girls) to adults… they just aren’t a good idea. In addition to the simple tragedy of coercing and constraining your children’s future and choices, there’s also just the deeply creepy aspect of it… something which recently found its most horrible expression in Yemen recently.

Simply put, some guy, allegedly with mental problems, forced his eight-year old daughter to “marry” a 30 year old man. Yemeni law apparently allows the arranged marriage of underage girls, but restricts sex “until she is ready or mature.” This restriction, unfortunately, didn’t stop her unrepentant “husband”:

Thamer is in jail now. “Yes I was intimate with her, but I have done nothing wrong, as she is my wife and I have the right and no one can stop me,” he said. “But if the judge or other people insist that I divorce her, I will do it, it’s ok.”

What a gracious concession!

While Yemeni prosecutors are trying to line up charges against the two men involved in this scheme, the local laws on arranged marriage clearly demand some further examination.

Shatha Ali Nasser confirmed that item number 15 in Yemeni civil law reads that “no girl or boy can get married before the age of 15.” However, this item was amended in 1998 so parents could make a contract of marriage between their children even if they are under the age of 15. But the husband cannot be intimate with her until she is ready or mature,” said Nasser.“This law is highly dangerous because it brings an end to a young girl’s happiness and future fruitful life. Nojoud did not get married, but she was raped by a 30-year old man.”

And there’s nothing much more to say than that.


Eight-Year-Old Sniffs Marker: All Hell Breaks Loose

April 4, 2008

Zero Tolerance has struck again: eight-year-old Eathan Harris was recently suspended for the dastardly crime of realizing that Sharpie markers smelled sort of neat.

“It smelled good,” Harris said. “They told me that’s wrong.”

Well, they could have just told him. They could have just told him that it was a dumb idea, like sticking your pencil up your nose. Instead, they reacted as if he had been caught downing a malt liquor.

In his letter suspending the child, Benisch wrote that smelling the marker fumes could cause the boy to “become intoxicated.”

Really? And what do the experts say about this fear?

A toxicologist with the Rocky Mountain Poison Control Center says that claim is nearly impossible.

Dr. Eric Lavonas says non-toxic markers like Sharpies, while pungent-smelling, cannot be used to get high.

So, the voice of reason has spoken. The principal’s fears were unfounded, and given that his harsh treatment was based on those fears… oh, who are we kidding:

Adams County School District 50 leaders were unfazed by the poison control center’s medical opinion. “Principals make hundreds of decisions everyday based on our best judgment. And in that time, smelling that marker, I felt like, ‘Wow, that’s a very serious marker,’” Benisch said.

Yes, people do indeed get called to make decisions on their best judgment. But sometimes they are wrong. And maybe, in those cases, it would be nice to, maybe, correct the judgment after the fact, or apologize, don’t you think?

Nah…

I still find it amazing that we still live in a world in which people can happily, and without automatically feeling like fools, be unfazed by reality. And watch out folks: because that marker means business.

Note: Emphasis added to quotes. Emphasis is nearly always added. By me. In fact, if there is every emphasis that I didn’t add, how about I tell you THAT instead.


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