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Zero Competence

by John Grant

Three weeks ago saw the election of a new sheriff in our town, Sheriff Sharon, and immediately upon his appointment he instituted a fresh system of law enforcement which has excited criminologists and sociologists all over the country and brought plaudits from the highest in the land.

This principle is called Zero Competence, and one cannot but admire the brio and bravura with which Sheriff has put it into action.

I was lucky enough to bump into the Sheriff the other day and have a few words with him on behalf of Entertainment Geekly. He was supervising a lynching at the time, and that seemed as good a place as any to start.

I asked him if he did not feel that some among the community might regard the response of the law — to wit, this lynching, which was being carried out by his deputies — as being perhaps a trifle harsh.

"Whining, complacent, self-satisfied liberals will whinge about anything, given the chance," he replied as the smoke rose around the elderly woman tied to the stake. "They do whatever their Cuban paymasters tell them to do. But anyone who believes in the traditions that made our country great — Peace, Freedom, Democracy and the Love of God and one's fellow man — will see the sense in Zero Competence. Take this woman, for example."

He waved away a puff of oily smoke that came our way, raising his voice a little to be heard above the screams.

"To you she may seem just like a little old lady, Mrs. Greenstein, who's lost most of her marbles, but what she is in fact" — he prodded my stomach with a stiffened forefinger to emphasize his point — "is a suspected shoplifter. There was a can of Tibbles cat food in her shopping bag that no one in Shoprite could remember her having paid for — hell, she couldn't remember whether or not she'd paid for it — and so my men were called in. We could have charged her with Grand Larceny and Theft, of course, and brought her to trial, but that would have taken months, with no guarantee of a fair outcome. Much better for everyone and way less expensive — let us not forget the dollars of the taxpayer! — to get it all over with quickly, as my deputies and myself decided. I'm sure Mrs. Greenstein would have agreed with us as well if she'd had a tongue left in her head after the interrogation."

The smoke and the screams were becoming overpowering by now, so I suggested we moved inside, to the comfort and quiet of Sheriff Sharon's office, to continue the interview. He looked reluctant to leave the scene, but eventually assented.

Once we'd settled ourselves, I asked if he could explain the finer points of Zero Competence for the benefit of Entertainment Geekly readers, who might have been too preoccupied of late with ponderous matters like guessing Buffy the Vampire Slayer's chest measurement to have time to follow the minutiae of politics.

"Zero Competence is exactly what it says," he replied. "For far too long the spoon-fed parasites and namby pamby liberals, butt-fuckers the lot of them, have been expecting any measure of competence whatsoever out of their elected officials. They've been expecting the politicians to have the ability to solve problems and crises using peaceful, diplomatic, political means. Do they ever pause to think how much pressure this puts on the politicians? Of course they don't! The people of this great nation prefer to exercise their democratic right in favor of candidates who have difficulty working out how to get both legs into separate holes in their undershorts, then subject them to the intolerable stress of being expected to have an IQ so high you can't count it on the fingers of your two hands.

"So Zero Competence recognizes the reality of the situation rather than the airy-fairy dreams of the bleeding heart so-called liberals. It assumes that the average elected official has a total competence factor of zero, and works on from that assumption."

I accepted the glass of Ye Olde MacNewark Industrial-Strength Authentic New Jersey Taiwanese Scotch Whiskey he offered me and begged him to continue.

"Think of the unfortunate elected official," he said, his face crinkling into a genial smile strangely reminiscent of Saddam Hussein wondering what to do with a bucket of acid someone had given him. "He's still trying to work out if the number of votes he got is bigger than the number the other guy got — unless he's in Florida, of course, where the datum is less relevant — when along comes some self-styled do-gooder expecting him to use diplomacy. Diplomacy! What the hell does the word really mean, anyway? I went all through the Ms in my copy of Webster's Preschool Dictionary and it wasn't mentioned even once. It's just a term the fuckin liberals use to try and blind us to their plot to overthrow the government and stop child pornography, is all.

"As I was sayin — good stuff, this MacNewark, I think I'll have another bottle — your elected greenhorn official is just at the stage of figgerin how to keep the IRS in the dark about his kickbacks when some asshole asks him what he thinks about the Middle East crisis. Middle East crisis? You expect some guy with no brain and a highly suspect spinal cord to know anythin about a Middle East crisis? Hell, the last time he looked the Middle East was in Australia someplace. What hope does he have of workin out some way of gettin all these people to stop killin each other?

"And, more to the point" — here Sheriff Sharon fired a couple of shotgun blasts into the ceiling to make sure I was paying attention — "why the fuck should he? He's prepared to do everythin a democratically elected politician should do, such as line his pockets, shag a few interns, say that smokin's good for you and grant permission for the Hudson River to be used as an anthrax dump. What the hell else should he do? Start helpin run the country, or somethin?

"So his obvious answer — the only answer any honest, red-blooded man could give — is `Go nuke the bastards, and, er, on your way out ask my secretary to come in here and tie my shoelaces.'"

I smiled quizzically.

"But that's the principle of Zero Competence applied to politics," I ventured. "And I agree with it thoroughly," I added hastily as the Sheriff reached for the shotgun again. "But you're applying it here in our town to the practice of law enforcement."

"Course I am." He belched. Sparrows fell. "I'm no crypto- communist traitor to Freedom! I'm as incompetent as the next man — a good deal more so, in fact, or I'd never have got elected. So I'm applying at a local level the ideas that have proved so effective at an international level. How the hell can I tell who's innocent or guilty? And why should I be expected to? I treat everyone as equal — make sure you write that down about me. Innocent or guilty, I shoot 'em or lynch 'em anyway. If they're not guilty themselves, they're harborin the guilty, or sympathizin with them, or they might do. Which means they're guilty until proved otherwise.

"That's law. That's justice. That's fairness. That's what God tells me."

This all seemed completely logical. I was a little nervous, though, about my next question. I had no wish to be publicly disembowelled for treason. At the same time, I felt I had a duty to the readers of this proud journal. So I plucked up my courage — helped in no small measure by the sip of MacNewark I'd had before my glass had dissolved — and plowed ahead.

"At the moment you have Mrs. Arafat of the Community Council imprisoned inside her backyard outhouse by a platoon of the National Guard, denied food, water, or any communication with the outside world," I began.

"Why thanks," said the Sheriff with a plucky grin. "It's good to know my efforts on behalf of the community are gettin noticed."

He took a healthy gulp of MacNewark before continuing.

"Mrs. Arafat may talk about how she wants good relations between the Community Council and the forces of law and order, but she has a criminal record."

"And you say you're going to keep her there," I persevered, "until she stops the people of this town from mounting protests about irregularities in the matter of your election. Irregularities" — I courageously held up a hand to stop him from interrupting — "such as the way your campaign supporters machine-gunned anyone who said they didn't want to vote for you."

"My boys were just exercisin their democratic rights," said the Sheriff, fingering a hand grenade but allowing me to continue.

"So my question," I blurted, "is just this: How can Mrs. Arafat stop the protesters, who wouldn't pay her the slightest attention anyway, if you've blocked off all her communications with the outside world?"

"That, boy," bellowed Sheriff Sharon, "is her problem! She is the one who created this situation! It's a simple enough thing I'm askin of her, a perfectly fair deal: if she stops the citizens of our beloved burg from rampagin through the streets protestin about how she's locked up in her outhouse, she'll get a roll of toilet paper. But she adamantly refuses. She just hides in that outhouse of hers all day long, beggin pitch . . . pits . . . shit, this is good whiskey . . . piterfously for water. Does she think I'm too stupid to realize how inflammatory water can be?"

"I see," I said. Now that he'd explained it, everything made perfect sense.

All the way home, I pondered on how much Sheriff Sharon's policy of Zero Competence is needed, and on how much good it's been doing. In the past three weeks alone, crime rates have nearly quadrupled; clearly something had to be done, firm action had to be taken. Sometimes the consequences can be tough to take — such as nuking the primary school — but it's patently obvious whose small hands the blood is on. The protests on Main Street have escalated from scuffles and occasional acts of more significant violence to frequent murderous rampages; there's no answer to that except to strengthen the grip of the authorities.

As I bypassed an impromptu firing squad — the deputies had caught yet another seditious criminal overstaying his time on a parking meter — I thought about how noisy and violent our town has become of late.

Soon, thanks to the Sheriff and his Zero Competence policy, all will be quiet and peaceful again.

Very, very quiet.

And very, very peaceful.

The End