Everybody likes a good procedural. If the fundamental elements of the dramatic formula work their magic even once, then all the necessary ingredients are present, and it can work a hundred times more with the most trivial variations.
So, instead of Columbo, or Monk, or Perry Mason, why not pitch a new show in which every episode always begins with the shooting death of a large, unarmed black man in his late teens by a man of some other race. The footage will be grainy and with rapid, frenetic shifts in the camera position so that it’s never quite clear to the audience what really happened.
The stories all take place in the town of Gini, Virginia, with the intro sequence showing a large sign displaying: “Welcome to Gini – Proud to be a Diverse and Vibrant Community.”
The mystery exists for the characters of the show as well, including the same collection of random members of the community, but that doesn’t stop them at all from losing their damned minds and immediately jumping to unjustified conclusions. There’s always a team of four detective special agents tasked to investigate these, ‘sensitive matters’.
Three of them are old timers who hate each other’s guts and who go by the collective name, “three blind mice” which is an allusion to the metaphor about blind men describing an elephant.”
You’ve got Senior Agent Irving Trunks, with good connections in politics and a steamy relationship with his journalist gal pal. Rumor has it that he’s on the take along with some of his powerful friends in high places. That might be why he tends to leave certain critical bits of information out of his reports, and also why a certain scummy lawyer is always receiving early tip-offs and can get to key witnesses before anyone else knows they exist.
But somehow Trunks is Mr. Teflon – nothing sticks – and the accusations never seen to hurt his career. Trunks is frequently having private, conspiratorial conversations about the case with the competent but very politically ambitious District Attorney who is always sensitive to public opinion and obsessing about winning the next election as a white guy in diverse, vibrant Gini. He and Trunks seem to have a certain … understanding.
Next up is Agent Mohammad Tusk has two brothers in federal prison for mysterious reasons which are never made clear, and since he’s gotten the special treatment from the TSA one too many times he’s got a serious grudge against all symbols of authority. He used to work as an inspector general in IA – internal affairs – and he’s seen every kind of bad a bad cop can be and earned no friends and a hell of a lot of enemies in the process. So naturally he’s got a chip on his shoulder a mile long towards those idiot bastards on the beat.
And then there’s Agent Sean Patrick Ryan O’Tayle, a fourth generation cop who has lost three male relatives and members of the force – to include his own father – to fatal encounters with criminal scumbags. His great-grandad was one of the last marshals in the Old West, and he’s a real ‘law and order’ kind of guy and a devout Catholic family man. He’s kind of punchy, and a choke-hold-first, ask-questions-later kind of guy, but he’s got a sensitive side and his hidden secret is his deeply paranoid fear that he’ll follow his father into an early grave and leave his wife a widow to take care of their 7 kids. That is, unless he’s always the quicker draw, like great-grand-pop was.
But there’s also, “The New Guy” – a transfer from the big city. Turns out that New Guy – something they will continue to call him no matter how many season extensions get greenlighted – is a real glasshole. He’s always wearing some big, fancy, high-tech monocle augmented-reality device that, he says, “Gives me access to all the information,” and, “Allows me to see every angle clearly and simultaneously.”
It’s also got a special feature – the “Bayesian Anticipated Baseline Engine” or “The Babe” which talks to New Guy in a computer-cold but somehow still sexy Scarlett Johansson voice. The Babe uses open source social media, government data and statistics, and that great source of accurate undernews – amateur bloggers – to notice patterns and derive the best guess as to what really happened given the initially limited amount of information.
Like in Columbo, “The Babe’s” first guess at the answer is almost always right, it’s just a matter of collecting the evidence. In the middle of the show, some new piece of information will seemingly prove The Babe to be completely wrong, and the Blind Mice will enjoy giving the New Guy a ruthless ribbing for it, but then, “The Twist!”, and that piece of information will turn out to be fraudulent and The Babe wins again. Catchphrase, “Always play the odds, gentlemen.”
But let’s get back to the beginning of the show. After the initial incident footage, we watch the detectives receive their mission brief at headquarters from The Chief. “We don’t know all that much yet. Got a 911 call late last night from a man who said he shot Tyrone Washington dead in what he claimed was a random act of violence gone wrong. A few witnesses disagree. We’ve got him in a holding cell right now, but there’s not much to go on. Finish reading these preliminary reports, get your butts out there, and solve this case!”
Back at the desks, Agent Trunks takes only the most cursory glance skimming through the case file, senses an opportunity, gets that sinister gleam in his eye, and says, “Unarmed black male teenager gunned down? Hell, ain’t it obvious? Hate-crime homicide; open and shut. What more do we need to know? Now, if you don’t mind, I’ll be by the digital sender making calls to by girlfriend, a scummy lawyer, the District Attorney, and a buddy on capitol hill for … um … no particular reason.
Agent Tusk noticed the guy in the holding cell is a Federal Air Marshal who used his service handgun to shoot Tyrone. “Says here he shot Washington with military-grade frangible RRLP rounds – reduced ricochet, limited penetration – the kind of thing they give to Spec Ops forces for close-quarters combat in urban terrain. What the hell do you need that on a plane for, or while walking around in a vibrant neighborhood late at night? Good grief, everyday is September 11th to these wackos. Talk about overkill; are we becoming a fascist police state or something? Just crazy.”
Agent O’Tayle is not having it. He adjusts his taser holster slightly and says, “Oh, come on. A man’s got a right to defend himself, and normal bullets would do more damage and pose more hazard to bystanders. I did a tour in the Marines before joining the force, and I can tell you don’t know jack about military equipment. Anyway, this guy’s a Marshal and that means he’s one of the good guys putting his life at risk protecting the rest of us, knows how to control himself and handle a weapon, and has probably got a spotless background. I say we give him the benefit of the doubt here, especially given that nasty scar on his jawline. Also, you know the kind of neighborhood Tyrone lives in, bullying thugs for life all over the place, muggings and fist-fights every night. Says here Tyrone’s got a sealed and expunged juvie record, but we don’t have a copy of it. What do you think was in there? Parking tickets? Overdue library books? No way Mo.”
New Guy has The Babe hack into the files, check out the relevant facebook and twitter accounts, look up some crime statistics, and download all the surveillance videos with 24 hours and 10 miles of the incident scene. The Babe, cool and calm as ever, says, “Analysis shows a 90% probability that Tyrone was in the wrong, but only a 10% probability that use of deadly force was necessary and disengagement and safe retreat was impossible.”
The three blind mice all scoff at this pronouncement in their own characteristic ways.
Gradually, over the course of the hour, the mystery will unravel piece by piece. But not before the scummy lawyer, the journalist, the politician, and the District Attorney have incited the locals and stoked up a riot with their sensationalist and mendacious coverage of the incident. The riot completely distracts the Three Blind Mice who proceed to debate the relative merits of the protestors and their behavior.
But the New Guy trudges on, doing the Yeoman’s work of actual investigation and collection of evidence, and eventually proves The Babe correct. But only after it’s too late. The DA got reelected by putting the Marshal on trial and ruining his life, the Journalist won a Pulitzer, the scummy lawyer gets priceless free publicity and makes a fortune in the settlement, and so forth.
When the New Guy announces his findings, the three blind mice try to walk back their most extreme incorrect assertions to avoid embarrassment, but mostly they just complain about The Babe’s invasion of privacy and unauthorized disclosures of confidential information, and then they shrug their shoulders and try to forget the whole, nasty business.
Until the next episode, where it all happens all over again! And again, and again. It’s tragic and kind of depressing sometimes, but always hugely entertaining. Come on, you know you’d watch it.
What’s the name of the show? What else? ‘Bonfire!’ (Tom Wolfe, Executive Producer) with an image of a silhouette of the town of Gini in the midst of a raging conflagration as the logo. It’s supposed to symbolize what happens to a community when the incitement machine gets busy spinning its narrative.
I can’t do any better than Steve Sailer has done in commenting on the facts and coverage of the Ferguson incident, so please donate to him. (See 1, 2, 3, 4, 5 and pay special attention to his list of media narrative fiascos for new episode screenplays for Bonfire!) It seems that these events are now a permanent part of our cultural landscape and there’s nothing anyone can do about it apparently. There is too much to gain politically and in eyeball indoctrination time, and no one pays any price for making mistakes, or just lying and making things up.
But what I would like to comment on is the nature of how those conversation occur and how our discourse about these matters tends to proceed. Which is with complete incoherence and more permanent irreconcilability than between Israel and Hamas.
Arnold Kling has his famous “Three Axis Model” of politics which he expressed at length in his short book, “The Three Languages of Politics” (buy it!)
The Three Axis Model says that our three major ideological factions tend to have obsessive-compulsive one-track minds, and process every political and governmental issue within that particular frame of analysis. They are all wearing blinders and using both high and low-pass filters to block out any inconvenient truths and to try to force the real world to conform to some false mythology that allows them to press their agenda forward.
These frames are so incomparable that they are essentially orthogonal axes. What is most salient for one faction is inconsequential for another. People are literally “talking past one another.”
Another way to visualize it is that three separate trials are going on. Each judge is examining the same underlying event but pursuing entirely different causes of action related to it. Thus the questions of which facts are material and relevant to an essential element, and which lines of inquiry are productively probative of those facts, are entirely different. One judge is conducting a murder trial, and another is trying to determine the disposition of the priceless antique murder weapon. Most of the time, each judge is focused on their particular priority and neither judge probably cares very much about what is happening in the other case. If they try to discuss their cases over lunch, they will bore the hell out of each other, because they just couldn’t care less about the other issues.
So, for any major media event of this kind, each faction – Progressives, Libertarians, and Conservatives – will first decide what agenda item is most important to them, then tend to take a very selective sample of the facts, stretch them to fit their preferred ideological version of reality with their own good goods and bad guys, and thus tell stories that differ greatly from each other and also with reality. Procrustean Rashomon.
Because they care about different things, none of these ‘conversations’ can ever go anywhere but in endless pointless circles. If there were direct contradictory claims and a shared standard of judgment (a ‘shared language’ or ‘axis’ to use Kling’s terms), then one could have a classic debate with the potential of resolution on the basis of logic and evidence. But when the standards differ that kind of resolution is impossible.
Kling has written his own brief three-axis post about Ferguson, and in the show outline above, Trunks represents the Progressives who mostly care about social injustice and are obsessed with trying to tell a story of an America teeming with murderous white racist men. Tusk or O’Tayle will try to point out to Trunks that it really doesn’t make sense to the oppression narrative that the ‘protest’ against ‘racist police’ would manifest itself in the mob-like destruction and looting of private storefronts which had nothing to do with the incident. To liberal Trunks, this is inherently excusable and completely besides the main point.
Tusk represents the Libertarians who despise state coercive power and authority so much and so generally they find it hard to think straight about the mere practical trappings of that authority when donned by the individual agents of that authority, and so they are going on and on about the visual impressions of observing police equipment and tactics about all of which they are really pretty ignorant. They are also trying to complain about the same events as the Progressives – if on somewhat different grounds – and distinguish themselves from the Conservatives because they know the most important thing in life is to not be affiliated with them and thus targeted by the Progressive attack machine once that hornet nest gets stirred up.
And O’Tayle represents the Conservatives who mostly care about preserving law and order via deference to state authority, who don’t believe in the Progressive narrative about homicidal hate-criminals, and who probably isn’t very sympathetic to the plight of welfare-dependent underclass communities and the volatile thugs that tend to emerge from them.
The larger point is that all three blind mice have valid points to make if the others cared or would be willing to hear them, but they’re not. When O’Tayle tells Tusk that officer Darren Wilson was dressed in normal police clothes when the shooting occurred, Tusk says that’s not the point. But everything everyone says in never ‘the point’ for everyone else.
So the formula is probably fixed for all time, they will go on and one talking past each other in exactly the same way, and Bonfire! will be extended for more seasons than General Hospital.
At least until we get some New Guys.
Or at least, until every non-black man in America gets the message that they cannot shoot an unarmed black man under any circumstances, no matter how justified, without completely ruining their own life and finding themselves at the center of the big top in a modern-day inquisitorial circus.
Not that this will stop the shootings, but that the market for unregistered drop-guns will probably explode and everyone who thinks they need to carry a weapon will start carrying two. You know, one for each of ya.
And actually, to whatever limited extent they had to do so, they arguably already have gotten the message, which is why the prestige press can’t ever find a case that actually fits their narrative and why these events always turn into such media fiascoes over and over.
One final note about the nonsensical charges of ‘militarization’ of the police that mirror the work of Mainstream Libertarian Writer (Cato, Reason) Radley Balko and his two books, Overkill: The Rise of Paramilitary Police Raids in America, and, Rise of the Warrior Cop: The Militarization of America’s Police Forces.
Even Ross Douthat – one of my favorite writers – finds himself overwhelmed enough by his hollywood-primed intimidation by the Soldier-like appearance of contemporary police uniforms and military-origin of their equipment, that he links to a picture of ‘heavily-armored‘ police on PBS, amongst other things. Yes, some civilian police have armored vehicles all over the world, and for good reason, but no, cops don’t drive main-gun ‘tanks’, Ross.
UPDATE: Oh God, Ross, there you go again. Complete proving my point. Grenade launchers? Tanks? Really? Come on.
When Ross repeats ‘Grenade Launcher’ (three times!) he means to evoke Rambo’s high explosives, but police are only ever equipped with tear-gas, and the safest way to distribute it a good distance into a riotous mob is by means of indirect fire for which you need a tube propulsion chamber, that is, unless Ross would prefer police to throw actual ‘grenades’ (ooh! that sounds scary too!) or aim them directly at peoples faces. Your call, Ross. Police have used riot control gas in less safe and effective ways for decades and no one calls it ‘militarized’. A real military with real ‘tanks’ meaning to take out a massed formation would use this:
Ok, if the police start carrying those, I’d agree that it’s, “Time to take their toys away.”
Ross goes on:,
The only recent calm on Ferguson’s streets came after state cops started walking through the crowds in blue uniforms, behaving like police instead of storm troopers.
Heh, I beat him to the punch on the Stormtroopers, see below! Predictable. Oh, and those blue uniformed policemen were walking through a crowd of members of the Bloods criminal gang, of which Michael Brown was most likely a member.
Well, despite the time-tested and always effective technique of neutralizing looters and vandals by walking down a street in the middle of the day, in front of a million cameras, and with the firearm with which the press is more comfortable, the calm was, alas, short-lived for reasons unknown.
“Peace and justice took a very different turn after dark,” Johnson said. “Molotov cocktails were thrown, there were shootings, looting, vandalism and other acts of violence that clearly appear not to have been spontaneous, but premeditated criminal acts.”
And the Chief did more than just walk around:
St Louis County Police confirm at least 200 of their officers are on scene and helping handle the situation. They confirm the Domino’s Pizza on West Florissant was set fire and burned. [The Domino’s Pizza in Ferguson are popular KKK hang-outs that totally had it coming, as everybody knows.] They also confirm multiple businesses vandalized and looted. Unbelievably, County Police told Fox 2 News that its officers were at the Ferguson Market earlier when looters showed up, but were ordered to “Stand down” by incident commanders at the scene and basically withdrew and allowed the looters to have their way with the store.
Um, who’s the ‘tomfool police’ now, Ross?
But there may be trade-offs here: In an era of atomization, distrust and economic stress, our punitive system may be a big part of what’s keeping crime rates as low as they are now, making criminal justice reform more complicated than a simple pro-liberty free lunch.
To anyone who has never actually worn that clothing or equipment, or been around people who have, it looks scarier than a typical policeman’s garb with an ordinary protective vest despite carrying an incredibly deadly .45 but in a holster and magazines on a belt.
But that’s only because we’re used to seeing them that way, and not because it makes any actual difference.
I’m sure a visitor from the United Kingdom to the U.S. in 1946 would be taken aback when seeing a normal, armed post-war U.S. police officer, but that’s just status-quo bias, reacting to any deviation from the baseline to which one has calibrated their expectations.
To anyone that has ever worn this ‘scarier’ equipment, it looks like no big deal at all, just a different configuration that is a lot more practical, comfortable, and effective which is exactly the reason a Soldier dresses that way. In fact, most Soldiers would want to carry a .45 for close-quarters combat like many cops do, but they have to settle for lower stopping power M-4/AR type carbines and 9mm handguns.
Cops are not Soldiers. Because there is some overlap in the tools and techniques best suited to their work does not have any special meaning. Cops cannot aim mortar tubes, throw high-explosive grenades, operate crew-served weapons, forward-observe to adjust indirect fire, call for close air support, operate tanks or artillery pieces, be prepared to operate in the presence of WMD contamination, or provide higher-echelon level logistics.
The problem is that, when you put the entire modern kit together, a cop looks enough like a Star Wars stormtrooper to a journalist that they can’t keep their heads screwed on right. What they should do is consider the devices one by one and try to actually prove that it will make a positive difference by taking it away.
Let’s consider body armor for example. What frankly amazes me is all the talk about ‘body armor’ being ‘militarization’ and having something, somehow to do with what happened to Mike Brown. Check this out:
176,000 results? It’s only been a few days! When will it hit half a million?
But we’re just talking about protective vests. Of course they look military because they all do the same things, are made out of the same stuff, and tend to look the same way. The implication is that somehow life will be better if we just take these vests away or deny the police the ability to wear them. Ok, now where do people explain the mechanism of how that works. Zero out of 176,000, guaranteed.
Here’s a link to the terrifying Business Insider piece, which fails to make even one logical claim. No one can be surprised by any silly thing Exum says anymore, but Szoldra should be ashamed for this:
“If there’s one thing I learned in Afghanistan, it’s this: You can’t win a person’s heart and mind when you are pointing a rifle at his or her chest.”
Yeah, I’m betting that when you were in Afghanistan, you also learned that when in those situations in which you might need to point a rifle at someone’s chest, it’s best to be dressed and equipped just like that. And the problem is that it’s hard to know when you’re going to be in that situation, which he can learn from the latest Green-on-Greene incident.
Gee, I wonder how someone like Agent Trunks – operating on the Progressive axis of politics and describing a delusional alternative reality would try and explain that shooting to Tusk and O’Tayle?
But it’s still unclear whether the gunman had Taliban ties and whether he slipped through the military’s screening process, said Philip Mudd, a CNN counterterrorism analyst and former CIA official.
[Yeah, he also works for Soros-funded New America Foundation. Just back from a trip to Cuba, Google’s Eric Schmidt is Chairman of the Board, and Obama pal Anne-Marie Slaughter is President and CEO. Recent blog post – “Does America Need a Tahrir Square?” Oh, that sounds like a great idea. After all, it worked wonders for Egypt. Find the right Ferguson formula one day and we just might get one!]
“I don’t think we should look and make judgments about the vetting process too quickly,” he said. “You would think on the surface that maybe he was recruited by the Taliban. That’s not necessarily the case.”
Witnessing the horrors of war sometimes inspires soldiers to turn against their onetime allies, he said.
“He might have seen something in the last months or years… and sometimes there is an emotional switch that turns on after their recruitment, after their vetting, that leads them to say, ‘I want to do something about this. I’m going to kill someone in the U.S. military,'” Mudd said.
I’m thinking they didn’t teach Mudd that insight of killer-profiling at the FBI Academy.
Looks like I can find all the Bonfire! script writers I want at CNN and NAF. They’re pros at fiction there.
UPDATE (28-AUG-2014): I would like to recommend that everyone read two things. 1. The high-quality dialogue between myself and Vladimir in the comments sections below, and 2. Richard Epstein’s “Lessons From Ferguson“, which is the most level-headed, reasonable, and accurate essay I’ve seen any Libertarian write about the matter. Indeed, it is a kind of a <i>cri de coeur</i> of one of the most brilliant, prominent, and thoughtful Libertarian public intellectuals that the ‘new class’ has very much lost its way.