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.”


CBS Deceptively Edits McCain Interview?

July 23, 2008

If this pans out to be true, CBS will soon be answering to angry Democrats much in the same way it had to answer to angry Republicans over “Rathergate.”

At issue is an interview between Katie Couric and Republican Presidential candidate John McCain. McCain is using the venue to tout his superior understanding and judgment on Iraq: a perfectly fair campaign claim. But McCain apparently went overboard and bizarrely credited the surge with an event that started happening two months before the US even started discussing having a surge.

In the final interview, however, this footage has been edited so that McCain answers a different question than he was asked, cutting out his mistake.

Read the rest of this entry »


Lazy Obama Editorial: Luke Boggs Phones It In

July 10, 2008

Conservative writer Luke Boggs was apparently so busy with other things this week that he decided to create his latest opinion column via cookie cutter. The result? The paint-by-numbers predictable “Obama’s frequent regrets may make us sorry.”

It’s a standard recipe in the world of political hit-pieces:

  1. take the latest random minor controversy about an enemy candidate.
  2. Claim that it’s part of a larger pattern demonstrating deep insight into a key character flaw.
  3. Use that flimsy premise as a free-associating excuse to repeat, for the 8000th time, every other gaffe or controversy you can think of from the past several years, just in case readers have forgotten all the other columns that have been written bemoaning each of them in loving detail.

If it almost seems to write itself, that’s probably Boggs and his ilk on both sides of the partisan divide have already written it and things like it a million times over.

In this case, the free association that ties everything together is “regret.” Boggs wants us to believe that there is something significant and unusual about Obama regretting things. It’s a crude fiction: pretending that Obama is more likely than any average person, or any average politician, to regret decisions (all leading to dramatic concluding fantasies of promised presidential pratfalls). It’s an especially silly premise in the current political/media environment, where the cycle of gaffe to controversy to apology/regret plays out with a new story for each candidate nearly every week.

But in trying to prove his point that Obama is almost pathologically regretful, it doesn’t take long before Boggs turns to what might be the new standard in utterly vapid, meaningless columnist drivel: the Google search hit comparison.

So what jumped out at me was how quickly Obama regretted his decision. And that, in turn, made me wonder how often the senator has regretted other choices. Answer: pretty often. (Googling “Obama” and “regrets” yields more than a million hits.)

In addition to demonstrating ignorance of how search engines work and the confounding factors, Boggs is so lazy that he didn’t even control his “study.” “Obama regrets” indeed nets 1,150,000 hits. But “McCain regrets” gets 902,000 hits, almost as many. Mitt Romney only has 79,200 regrets, making it truly a tragedy for America that he lost the Republican nomination. “Bush regrets” nets 2,370,000 (handily beating Obama, despite Boggs’ claim that Bush has a laudable lack of regret).

Boggs should get extra points for making Obama’s children the random jumping off point for his rant, while at the same time purporting to lecture nameless “humorless activists” for criticizing Obama’s decision to allow them an interview. How dare anyone accuse someone of exploiting children for political gain when he’s doing it!

As I’ve argued before, most people are wasting their time when they pretend that they can actually judge what the psychological or personal character of any given public figure is “really” like. Media snippets, scandals and sound bytes are not exactly deep wells of objective or comprehensive insight. The commentariat simply finds some simple, emotionalized caricature for each figure and then constantly reinforces it with selection bias and forced interpretation. But it’s rare that the initial slate of traits they pick has much merit, or really sets the candidate so far apart from any other.

And that’s just the regular journalists. Pretending that an outright partisan like Boggs can perform objective psychological analysis on someone’s character right in the midst of an election is even more ridiculous.

The sensible standard is simply to figure out whether a candidate’s political stances, party, and/or what he’s likely to do in office, all fit what you want out of the next 4 years. Treat attempts to pigeonhole politicians on anything but their political history and proposals with extreme skepticism, if not blanket disdain. Of course, if everyone approached politics that way, people like Luke Boggs, who trade in sub-rational “psychological analysis” instead of real policy debates, wouldn’t have a place in the funnypapers. Or, at the very least, they wouldn’t be able to meet their deadlines, now forced to put some real, time-consuming thought into policy analysis.

Update: According to Google, Boggs himself has only 26,300 regrets. But at least for the moment, this very post tops the results list.


McCain Needs to Win Over Hillary’s Voters, Not Hang With Hillary’s Wackiest Fans

June 20, 2008

As a follow up on my post about bitter Hillaryites, I wanted to highlight something FiveThirtyEight has noted about McCain’s recent strategy. He stands to win over millions of disgruntled Hillary Clinton former supporters. But if he’s really looking to woo the bulk of them, then he’s talking to all the wrong ones. The crazy ones. And worse, the crazy ones who are already rather obviously in the bag for him. When someone’s spent the time to found a group called “Party Unity My Ass” in response to Hillary’s primary loss, you can pretty much count on them not voting for Obama.

Instead of rubbing shoulders with fringe groups, McCain might do better by just focusing on his image as a experienced, middle of the road, policymaker: the sort of thing that drew many conservative Democrats towards Hillary in the first place. As xpostfactoid observes, McCain wasn’t just right on the Iraq surge by accident or because of inevitable party loyalty, as were many Republicans. He was right about it for all the right reasons.


Soldier Uses Koran for Target Practice

May 17, 2008

Front page of CNN: a U.S. soldier was caught using the Quran for target practice. Critics of the Iraq war and the occupation, I suppose, are meant to look at this incident as one more reason why it was all unjustified and needs to end asap.

Let’s be serious though. Specifically, this was a dumb, disrespectful thing to do, not to mention one harmful to the goals of the U.S. occupation. But statistically, it’s neither surprising nor notable that some young American men pull crude and silly stunts, especially given the tremendously stressful situation they’re in. And if you are in the position of having to achieve military goals with young American men, rather than robots, then this sort of thing is a known and generally inevitable cost of doing business. Add it to the long list of downsides to war and occupation, but don’t pretend that it’s particularly special to this war, this occupation, or this military.

And then there’s this:

Another military official kissed a Quran and presented is as “a humble gift” to the tribal leaders.

Assuming that this was a non-Muslim official acting in an official capacity, this seems to go too far in the other direction: respecting the fact that local Muslim believers think the Quran is sacred does not and should not require someone to participate or symbolically prostrate themselves to it. In some ways, that’s disrespectful in its own way: a causal kiss-and-make-up insincerity.

Also, while the middle of a war is probably not the time or the place where anyone wants to debate it, the story notes that what the soldier did is a crime, both in local law, and according to the U.S. forces’ commander, Jeffery Hammond. I can’t let that pass without pausing to note how absurd and unconscionable it is.

Finally, the story ends with a reaction from the Association of Muslim Scholars:

“As the Association of Muslim Scholars condemns this heinous crime against God’s holy book, the Constitution of this nation, a source of pride and dignity,” the groups statement said, “they condemned the silence by all those who are part of the occupation’s agenda and holds the occupation and the current government fully responsible for this violation and reminds everyone that God preserves his book and he [God] is a great avenger.” (emphasis added)

The first part of the bolded part is factually untrue, given this story. The second part is basically a threat of divine retribution. Both parts deserve little but scorn.

And besides, everyone knows that it’s Iron Man who is a great Avenger.