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.


Measles Making a Comeback as Vaccine-Hysteria Builds

July 16, 2008

Measles has already become a resurgent epidemic in England, and now, via Orac, I see that the once nearly-eradicated disease has gained a new foothold in the US as well: 127 cases since this May, springing up in 15 different states. According to the news coverage, that’s the largest spike in cases we’ve seen in a decade.

What gets me is that children in the Third World are literally dying in the hundreds of thousands because of lack of access to vaccines. It’s only here in the states that we even have the luxury to indulge in fact-free scare campaigns against vaccinations. Few people here have any sense of the real cost these sorts of diseases bring with them:

“What you have to remember is that 250,000 children die from this virus every year,” Alvarez added. “So, vaccinations have to be a priority for parents because at the end of the day if you get measles, you can live through it, but in some particular cases you’re going to have complications.”

About one in five measles sufferers experiences more severe illness, which can include diarrhea, ear infections, pneumonia, encephalitis, chronic neurological deficits and even death.

Instapundit Glenn Reynolds has a nice article summing up the problem for anyone not clear what the stakes are, and why the “anti-vaccination” movement is so potentially dangerous. Reynolds doesn’t mention, however, that his presumably preferred Presidential candidate, John McCain, is unfortunately pretty definitively on the wrong side of this issue.


FDA to Crack Down on Phony Cancer Cures?

June 17, 2008

Apparently the FDA has decided to start targeting internet businesses that have been making bogus medical claims about alt-med cancer cures. If so, it’s about time. I’m not against adults being allowed to imbibe whatever they want to believe will help cure them. I’d counsel strongly, strongly against it, but I don’t think it should be against the law. Companies, however, that prey on desperate folks like this deserve little mercy.

The letters criticized unproven claims made about these products including the ability to “destroy the enzyme on DNA responsible for cancer cells,” and the power to “neutralize” carcinogens. One product’s Web site had a testimonial claiming it had cured a patient’s skin cancer in three days, according to one of the letters.

I’m not even sure what “the enzyme on DNA responsible for cancer cells” is supposed to mean, exactly. I wouldn’t be surprised if the person who wrote it has no idea either. And that’s precisely what’s so screwed up about this entire market. While I’m sure some part of these sellers are sincerely convinced that their powders, chemicals, and rubs have some sort of cancer-fighting powers, they don’t actually know that they do. They believe. Alternative medicine is nothing more than medicine that hasn’t been vetted or tested to see if it actually works.

And in this context, that’s no better than handing someone a gun and telling them that it isn’t loaded… when they haven’t actually bothered to check. As good ole’ Abe Lincoln once said:

It is an established maxim and moral that he who makes an assertion without knowing whether it is true or false is guilty of falsehood, and the accidental truth of the assertion does not justify or excuse him.


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 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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