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Current Affairs

Re: Ben Stein’s Gratitude:

I am 46 years old. In these years many experiences I claim, but your beautiful words left me with goose bumps all over. I thank you for reminding me of the many blessings given to me through the sacrifices of individuals I don’t know.
Daniel Wesley
Greer, South Carolina

Please pass my profound gratitude to Ben Stein for his article “Gratitude.” I will send it to my son who is spending Christmas in Baghdad.

God bless you, Mr. Stein. You truly know what it means to “support the troops.”

Here’s hoping for the beginning of peace in the Middle East, and the fulfillment of freedom and justice for the people of Iraq in 2005.
Sharon Johnson
(One of the Minnesota Moms of Jed Babbin’s article)

How much do we owe our soldiers, past and present? Indeed, more that we can ever repay. But at least we can show gratitude, respect, loyalty, support, benefits-and, absolutely, a heartfelt “Thank you!” and “Welcome home!” for their service and sacrifice. We also should remember the sacrifices of their families, particularly the spouses, but also the parents. God bless them all, the soldiers and their families.
C. Kenna Amos Jr.
Princeton, West Virginia

Kudos to you and your staff for having a great American like Ben Stein on this site. What a guy!
Dave Logan

Re: Shawn Macomber’s 50,000 Volts For Your Thoughts:

I would like to commend Shawn Macomber for having the courage to stand up for decency and common sense, and to face the wrath and hate-mail which is sure to follow. His article about the misuse of nonlethal weapons (particularly Tasers) by police in Florida and elsewhere performs a valuable public service, and I would like to thank him for having the guts to speak up on what will clearly be an unpopular issue.

Mr. Macomber does not, be it noted, accuse police of being thugs, or fascist pigs, or brute barbarians. He is merely suggesting that it is necessary, in a free society, to keep an eye on the enforcers of the Law, and to see to it that common sense and prudence prevail. He states “certainly it cannot be suggested that Police are misusing these weapons in every instance.” What Shawn is doing is pointing out several disturbing instances where these weapons HAVE been misused, and suggesting that we need a more sensible attitude. I wholeheartedly agree.

Tasers work by electrocuting the “victim,” triggering muscle spasms which quickly exhaust the person’s blood-sugar; when the sugar drops too low the person passes out. Granted, it certainly is more humane than shooting them, or breaking their jaw with a nightstick, but it is not a pleasant experience. It is completely unacceptable to use on small children, bound individuals, or the handicapped. There is real risk involved; an individual with a bad heart could go into cardiac arrest, or the person could have a stroke. This is acceptable to cut down risk to the officers on the scene provided there IS a risk. It is absurd and wrong to be using it on a 6-year-old child.

This is political correctness run amok! Teachers and School administrators are so afraid of lawsuits they call in the police rather than take a piece of broken glass away from a child themselves. The police are equally afraid, and so use the Taser rather than simply walk up to the kid and take it away from him. The police don’t want someone taking a snapshot of them bodily removing a pair of scissors from a guy in a wheelchair so they have to Taser him first! Where is the common sense, people? What kind of crackpot society have we become where the authorities electrocute the disabled and children?

We worry and fret about our treatment of Al-Qaeda terrorists, turning them loose to return to the front lines and attack our soldiers again while we defend the police for electrocuting our children! Let’s all get a sense of proportion! Shawn Macomber is right about this; we should be concerned. That doesn’t make us commie pinko peaceniks. I suspect the police actually WANT some guidance on what is expected of them. Supporting our police does not mean excusing every action. (My boss certainly doesn’t do THAT with me!) The police work for us; we have a duty to remain vigilant.

Eternal vigilance is the price of liberty. We fought against the arm of the law during the Revolutionary War because the British had gotten out of hand. Is Shawn so wrong to gently take these instances to task? Is a mild rebuke really out of order?

I think we should all thank Shawn Macomber.
Timothy Birdnow
St. Louis, Missouri

It must be really nice to sit back and watch others risk their lives so that reporters and the public can comment on their actions at a later time and date. Bitch, moan and groan about the use of less than and deadly physical force does nothing to further a discussion that need not be the lead story of reporters who have less than ideal knowledge concerning the use of force and not getting hurt or killed in the line of duty. I do not know the complete background of Mr. Macomber. He obviously knows even less about the use of force.

So what if an officer used a Taser to subdue a person in a wheelchair armed with a pair of scissors. Would Shawn the reporter care to enter this fray and disarm this person with his notebook? No smart ass remarks are necessary to make an officer’s life even more difficult than it is. I dare Shawn to undergo the complete hiring, training and background evaluations to become a Police Officer. I dare him to work alone on foot in some of the nation’s most dangerous areas. I dare him to use less than deadly force or prepare to use deadly physical force and be prepared to accept the media and societal consequences after using such force. If Mr. Macomber was a real man he would walk in an officer’s shoes and he would wilt at the end of the day assuming he survived it.

Perhaps we should use court opinions in regard to the use of force and apply it to reporting. You need not really know much about anything to become a reporter. Just ask Jayson Blair and the N.Y. Times. You need a lifetime to learn the rules, laws, paperwork and daily experiences to become a proficient, tactically aware officer.

Grow some testicles Shawn, get a real dangerous police job, and then you can offer an informed reasoned, articulate and accurate answer to the really pressing questions of professional law enforcement. The use of force is no joke. Ask the young Marine who shot a Terrorist in Fallujah? He acted reasonably and so did the officer that used Taser to disarm a man with a pair of scissors. Just because a person is in a wheelchair definitely does NOT make him or her any less dangerous. Just a bit less mobile. Care to dispute this observation, Shawn?

Hey Shawn care to compare surgical scars from my multiple line of duty surgeries. Eight in total including three grueling and life threatening spinal surgeries after being seriously injured by an emotionally disturbed person. That night I wish I had the option to use a Taser on the individual that tried to take my life. I ended up saving his. I don’t think you have the testicular fortitude to do what I had to do or what the officers you comment on had to do. Anytime, any weather, anywhere with anyone you will loose. Have a Merry Christmas, because there are rough men and woman here and abroad who stand at the ready to do violence so that you can sleep at night.
PO John Dineen NYPD (RET)
Bayside, New York

Bravo Mr. M! You’ve done it again! I remember some time ago I was watching a documentary on the more euphemistic — but surely more accurate — “less lethal weapons,” and having some thoughts similar to yours. Certainly if I could more expediently end a confrontation by shooting a deranged man with a beanbag, I would do so. I like quick, no risk (to myself) solutions to problems…heck, that’s the American way! I wondered silently about the possible up-tick in force applied by police if they were all to be armed with rubber bullets, beanbags, glue guns, tasers, or any of the other seemingly ridiculous contraptions featured in the documentary, and what that might mean for petty offenders and people caught in the wrong place at the wrong time. A moment later, the microwave dinged signifying that my nachos were done and I forgot all about the documentary.

A few weeks ago I purchased and played through a new video game called Half-Life 2. The game is played from a first-person perspective, and when the game begins you are ushered into a Gestapo-like police state. The police are everywhere, and in the beginning they are all armed with electrified clubs that don’t do any permanent damage, but certainly get the point across if you commit any heinous crimes like approaching a door you are not cleared for, or not picking up a piece of trash when the cops order you to. The police in this game — called “Citizen Protection” — terrorize the civilians and occasionally things get out of hand, which eventually leads to a slaughter of innocents by more heavily armed members of the team.

That got me thinking. Could the violence without consequence that the “less lethal” weapons provide lead to a more general acceptance of police violence? Once a greater level of police violence is accepted, could it quickly escalate into acceptance of police involved shootings for trivial crimes? Could we one day wake up in the world of Half-Life 2 without realizing how we got there? If the police now are tasing little girls for truancy and we accept it, it can’t be too far off that an adult male could be shot for a more serious crime…like shoplifting.

It seems to me that the central tenet behind conservatism as we know it is responsibility. I have great respect for what the police do for us every day, but I believe your central point is correct. The power wielded by the police comes with great responsibility, and someone must watch the watchers. I guess we are that someone.
Chuck Lazarz

Keep in mind a couple of separate ideas:

1. Up until about a year ago most departments did not have “use of force” reports for anything but gun use so to try to compare current levels to past levels is false.

2. Society in general has come to rely on the police to solve every issue. In other words, why didn’t the school official put on a pair of gloves and take care of the glass incident? Why were the police taking a truant into custody? The police officers of our society should be concentrating on criminal apprehension and enforcement. The officers should not be taking mentally ill to the state hospital, catching truants, or patrolling the halls of schools.

I am sure that you have never been a police officer but if you are capable imagine this: my 12 year old neighbor (this is true) is a pretty young girl. She is also 5’6″ and weighs 125, which is the same as many adult women. Now imagine you are charged with taking her into custody and she doesn’t want to go. Please, Mr. Macomber do it now, do it quickly, and above all do it with absolutely no pain, injury, or discomfort on her part….

I’ve been in the situation. Tasers may be misused and the police deserve to be watched but get the facts on each situation and broadcast them truthfully. Getting your facts from a newspaper is not the same as reading the reports or talking to the suspects or officers.
Mark Breckenridge
Austin, Texas

Just as I commended Messrs. Felder and Mason for being gentlemen because they went out of their way to voice disapproval of the whining backlash against the word “Christmas,” I “disrespect” (to use a slang term) the policemen who are mere trash — those who misuse Tasers. A policeman who is not a gentleman is a danger to all other police. The perfectly human relation to trash is to smash them across the face for attempting to pass themselves as humans. The trouble is that people who wear the same uniform as does a trash creature may themselves be mistaken for trash; occasionally, that condition may provoke battery and then gunfire. Wise policemen will take all legal steps to wholly rid their ranks of trash.
Nathan S. Lord

Shawn Macomber’s incarceration experience at the Republican convention has placed him among the rarest of political types, a conservative mugged by reality. I think it is only a matter of time until he moves over to the dark side.

As to Tasers, with the exception of the loudmouthed 14 year old, whose zapping might be justifiable as a long-term behavior modification approach, I agree with Shawn that his examples show the cops seem to have gone overboard with their new toys.

I suspect the crux of the problem is that because the Taser apparently leaves no lasting injury or damage, some policemen have decided that its use fits the definition of minimal necessary application of force in cases where it is plainly far more than the minimum. Rather than futilely trying to define every circumstance where a Taser can and cannot be used, the simple solution is to administratively treat each discharge of a Taser as the discharge of a firearm.

Once they grasp the consequences of firing a Taser — being pulled off active duty, investigated and face with a mound of paperwork — the use of it should taper down to what is roughly appropriate.
Glen Hoffing
Shamong, New Jersey

Back when I was patrolling the streets of Hillsborough County (Tampa), almost forty years ago, we had three options for handling a violent confrontation: the pistol, the baton, or going hand-to-hand. There were problems with all three methods. Avoid smacking a guy with the baton by wrestling him down, and he (or a bystander) registers a beef of “brutality.” When chemical sprays came into vogue, they gave the officer another tool for restraining combative suspects without risking breaking bones with the baton or reaching for the sidearm.

So it is with electric stun-guns (“Taser” is a specific brand, which uses compressed air to fire tiny, wire-trailing darts into the suspect’s skin). The electric current is a neural “interrupter,” which renders the subject incapable of muscle control. He collapses and is then restrained. Such devices help keep less-than-lethal confrontations less than lethal. They defuse situations before they can turn ugly — without doing serious harm.

As for the girl “throwing a fit” in back seat: yes, the officer(s) could have let her tire herself — and have been sued for negligently allowing her to do harm to herself. A hysterical kid, even if handcuffed, can wreak impressive damage upon herself by slamming her face into hard surfaces — it’s a police car, not a “rubber room.” Physically restraining her involves not just the risk of being bitten, but the seemingly-inevitable complaints of “sexual misconduct.” Damned if you do …
David Gonzalez
Wheeling, Illinois

Re: Christopher Preble’s Rumsfeld in the Crossfire:

In “Rumsfeld in the Crossfire,” Christopher Preble builds an argument on faulty logic and erroneous assertions. Iraq is hardly a “debacle.” It is messy — messier than many proponents believed it would be — but all wars are messy. However, the facts on the ground as reported in the alternative media are very different than the selective snippets reported by the mass media. The picture painted by those fighting the war and involved in reconstruction is one of hope, of promise — and can be seen by anyone with open eyes and open mind.

Preble can’t even bear to get his facts right when they conflict with his pre-conceived notions. For instance, the President’s words to the Sailors on USS Abraham Lincoln were not a “declaration of victory” in the war writ large, but a note of a job well done by the men of a capital ship, a mission accomplished by that particular group of servicemen on that particular deployment. Praise from the Commander-in-Chief should not be turned into an indictment of an overall operational war plan.

If he can’t get even the simple facts straight, why should anyone waste time reading through to his conclusions?
Kenneth Gorrell
Northfield, New Hampshire

To characterize the Iraq intervention as some sort of huge U.S. investment in a futile effort to nation build misses the mark. Rather it is entirely a matter affecting the vital national security interests of this country.

Let’s review the record. We had been in a low grade state of war with Saddam’s regime (policy of containment if you will) since the end of the Gulf War, complete with numerous unrequited attempts to extinguish his WMD program. Then we were visited with the horrific events of 9-11 wherein it became apparent that there was a network of terrorists out there who were willing and able to inflict incalculable destruction upon our country by any means necessary. Armed with this realization, it was no longer tenable to abide a Saddam Hussein regime that not only trafficked in WMDs but also had common cause with radical Islamic terrorists. Saddam was given an ultimatum to either satisfy our concerns about his WMDs or be forcibly removed. He chose the latter and military operations to remove him commenced. While Saddam himself has been captured and much of his command structure killed or captured, remnants of his regime and their terrorist allies remain to wreak havoc on a weak and disorganized Iraqi society. Meanwhile our military operations have morphed into what some would regard as a much maligned nation-building exercise. Herein lays the dilemma. It remains in this nation’s vital national security interests to assist the Iraqi people until they are able to gain the upper hand over the terrorists. To do otherwise would be to invite a return to chaos in Iraq so it once again becomes an enigma to the security of this country. Failure is not an option in this endeavor despite those who bemoan each and every setback along the road to victory in a war we must win.
Jerome J. Brick
Beaver Dam, Arizona

The war in Iraq was not a bad bet, but Rummy’s conception was flawed and the Army Chief of Staff was forced to retire early for daring to disagree with the secretary.

Rummy should be dumped and a new secretary of defense should be appointed who will listen to the field commanders and not try to micro manage the war from Washington as did McNamara during Vietnam.
Tim Sullivan

There’s a lot to like in your article. For example, your criticism of that William Kristol and your enumeration of the mistakes made in the Iraq conflict.

Let’s not get out of hand though — not everyone thought Iraq would be a cakewalk. And don’t forget making predictions about the future is difficult — even in our own predicable, familiar country no one foresaw the meteoric rise and equally rapid descent of Howard Dean as presidential contender. How come no genius in the media predicted that? And we have to prognosticate correctly in Iraq? Good luck. We can’t even prognosticate the weather.

Further, you must be joking when you mention “…an increasingly vocal conservative chorus anxious for a change of course in Iraq…” comprised of four of your fellow scribblers — Novak, Buckley, Will and Carlson. That’s four people out of a country of 300 million! That’s your idea of an “increasing chorus”? And what are their foreign policy credentials…oh, none? So, you must be joking, right? Journalists have policy responsibilities in our government? Government officials value their inputs when developing policy? What hubris!

Mr. Preble, you’ve hit a home run, tripped over third base, and never got to the plate.
Douglas Herz
Pleasanton, California

Re: William Tucker’s Hollywood’s Twisted Psyche:

Re Men in Black, I think William Tucker didn’t quite get the joke. The joke running through the movie is all those conspiracy buffs out there with their “black helicopters”. And I would think that a conservative would appreciate the conceit that the National Enquirer is far more accurate that the mainstream media and that aliens hide out in NYC and government bureaucracies (the Post Office).

As for Family Man, why is it that much different from It’s a Wonderful Life, Mister Destiny, or Oh God! You Devil, a rumination on the paths our lives take — despite brain dead critics who insist upon turning even the most harmless entertainment into a political tract.

I enjoyed your article and agreed with much of what you had to say. However I don’t know how you couldn’t like Men In Black. If you set aside all the other victim movies I really loved this movie. Funny, innovative and I’m a big fan of both actors. It was a little gross in places but I didn’t think it was for small children anyway. I really liked Family Man. For the amount of time it had to tell a story I thought it did a good job. I am one of those people that always wonder at the ridiculous way some of the heroes in movies go along with what people want them to do or what’s being done to them and of course it’s usually women who are the victims. Sometimes Hollywood is just pathetic in trying to get across their warped views, but it’s amazing how people manage to ferret out the wheat from the chaff in spite of that.
C. Benson

You actually used “Ay-yi-yi” and made it a sentence. It was appropriate too. You all do a good job of writing creatively, and I like what you all do.

Thanks, and Merry Christmas
Chuck Panarella

Re: The “Arnold’s Expenses” letters in Reader Mail’s Holiday Moderation:

I agree with letter writers that California’s Proposition 71 is a waste; however, contrary to at least two commentators, the cost is $3 billion, not $6 billion. Since this is a common blunder, it is worthwhile to point out why: a little economics goes a long way. When we buy a $100,000 home with a mortgage at, say, 10% for 10 years, the cost of the home is $100,000, not $100,000 plus interest payments. The reason is that the postponement of immediate payment allows us to invest the money at 10%, thereby compensating us for the interest we pay for postponement. To take the simplest possible case, suppose I buy a home for $100,000 and agree to pay for it ten years later at a 10% annual interest rate, which equals a total of approximately $260,000. Is the cost to me $260,000 ? No! Because I can invest the $100,000 at 10% and will thus accumulate at total of $260,000. The present value of the cost to me is exactly $100,000. Why borrow? To overcome cash flow problems or because I can invest the $100,000 at a rate higher than 10%. There are, of course, many complications in dealing with government bonds, but the essential analysis is basic: don’t add interest payments on to loan value to compute cost.
David Sisk

Re: R. Emmett Tyrrell, Jr.’s Christmas Blessings:

Allow me to point out to you, and anyone else who is at all shy about wishing people a “Merry Christmas,” the following information. “Federal law (5 U.S.C. 6103) establishes the following public holidays.…December 25 Christmas Day.”

This means, if I interpret it correctly, that wishing someone, in fact anyone, “Merry Christmas,” is sanctioned by U.S. Federal Law.

In that light, I wish you,

Joyeaux Noel! Meli Kalikimaka!, Froelische Weinachts! Nollaig Shona Dhuit! Boun Natale! Go Jul! Feliz Natal Wesolych swiat! Feliz Navidad! S rojdestvom! Vrolijk Kerstfeest! Mo’adim Lesimkha! and, Merry Christmas!

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