Stubble sent me this video examining the comedic genius of Norm Macdonald, which is a good thing because I am burnt the fudge out. Consider this your Friday link. In its consideration of the moth joke and why Macdonald is not an anti-comic, it touches on some of the same themes as our discussion of the moth joke. Another element of Macdonald’s career that the video points out, though, is how successfully he presented smart material within the persona of an idiot rube. Some of it is the voice. But a lot of it is the way Macdonald manages to cover complex structures in a veneer of meandering confusion. He is doing something very specific and precise, even as he manages to make it seem like he is making it up and/or forgetting it as he goes along. In my opinion, this skill puts him in the tradition of Mark Twain and other humorists who developed the stock character of the wise hick. I don’t know if you noticed this, but I’m super into Norm Macdonald. Also I made a big deadline today, and I feel A) tired and B) good. I’ll see you guys on Monday.
My advice to you, sir or madam or whatever, is to never read the comments section of anything. It’s depressing. When we read the comments section, we imagine we are getting a cross-section of the general public, when in fact we are getting a cross-section of people who leave internet comments. This sampling error distorts our perception and convinces us that ordinary folks are even dumber than they actually are. I should know; I broke my own rule and have been reading comments on my Indy column all week, because such are the joys of satire. Here is the winner—this guy who believes Ben Jacobs wrote my column and is “a complete moron”:
“You just can’t fix stupid,” he says to the woman who tries to correct his spectacular misreading. This brings us to a rule even more ironclad than “don’t read the comments.” The people who call other people stupid are invariably really, really smart.
Anyway, this sort of thing amuses me, so I wrote another satirical column this week. It’s about Montana’s policy of revoking the driver’s licenses of people who have unpaid fines or court fees, and the class-action suit filed against it by the DC nonprofit Equal Justice Under Law. Their plaintiff is Michael DiFrancesco, who got a ticket for possessing alcohol when he was 14 and couldn’t pay his $185 fine, plus the fee for a mandatory substance abuse education course. As a result, he has never been eligible for a driver’s license. That would prevent him from getting a job—especially here in Montana, where everything is far apart and public transportation is poor—if he weren’t willing to drive without a license, which he has been. The ensuing citations have increased the amount he owes the state to just under $4,000.
If you read the comments on this article about his case in the Helena Independent Record, you will find the consensus view is that he shouldn’t have gotten a ticket in the first place. Among internet commenters, this passes as a penetrating insight. If you read their quote-unquote arguments, though, you will find few people arguing that the punishment for minor-in-possession-of-alcohol should be a $4,000 fine and suspension of driving privileges for ten years. Their position is not that minors who drink deserve whatever they get, but that minors who drink and don’t pay the fine deserve whatever they get.
What we are looking at here is a two-tier system of infractions. The punishment for MIP if you have $185 is a $185 fine. The punishment for MIP if you don’t have $185—or, in most cases, if your parents don’t have $185—is lifetime suspension of driving privileges, intermittent homelessness, and financial penalties that mount beyond 20 times the statutory fine. Compare what DiFrancesco has suffered as a result of drinking beer when he was 14 to what Greg Gianforte suffered for punching a reporter when he was 56. The difference in how these two people were punished comes down to how much money they had when they committed their crimes. You can read all about it in this week’s column for the Missoula Independent, in which I cite Gianforte as a paragon of civic responsibility and argue that the poor are getting a sweet deal. Perhaps the commenters will finally agree with me.
In the 21st century, the go-to move when someone expresses an unacceptable opinion is to try to get them fired. It’s a consequence of internet discourse: you can’t reach out and slap someone for, say, making a problematic joke about race and AIDS, but you can harness the power of social media to crowdsource complaints to their employer. When it comes to censoring bad speech, work is the new government. It was therefore kind of whiplash-inducing to see the original government—Government Classic, if you will—appeal to the power of ESPN to silence someone.
Monday night, SportsCenter host Jamele Hill tweeted that the president “owed his rise to white supremacy.” Conservative media has criticized ESPN for being too liberal, and the network duly chastised her for “inappropriate” remarks. Now seems like a good time to pause and point out that Hill’s tweets were probably unwise, from a career standpoint, but they are hardly inappropriate. There are good arguments to be made that Trump does owe his political success to white supremacists, and it’s appropriate for any American to criticize him for that. Anyway, despite this display of corporate submission, Sarah Huckabee Sanders said today from the White House briefing room that Hill ought to be fired.
Maybe there’s a precedent for a White House spokesperson saying in an official capacity that a critic of the president should lose her job, but I can’t think of one. It’s crazy, first of all, that the White House would even take notice. Huckabee Sanders’s remarks came in response to a direct question about Hill, but still—the obvious play is to say “who?” and move on. Setting aside the dignity-of-office issue, though, it’s nanners for the White House to single out one of the president’s critics and call for her to be fired.
Is ESPN supposed to understand these remarks as a request from the president? Will the most powerful man in the world be mad at the cable network if they don’t fire Hill? And if they do, what new era might it signal in American democracy? You don’t need bills of attainder when the executive branch can wreck the career of anyone whose criticism catches the attention of the president. Anyway, the important thing is that even as fundamental norms of American democracy break down, the Law of Trump Tweets remains inviolable:
I think I can say without exaggeration that I am in the busiest month of my life. There is no Combat! blog today, because I have expended my working day on remunerative labor and now must go care child. While I take a village, how about you gaze upon this photograph of a, um, heartfelt memorial to Diana, Princess of Wales. It was created by a team of volunteers using natural materials, so if you’re among those who “mercilessly mocked” it, in the words of Metro News, you are probably a bad person. Still, most memorials do not commemorate the date of the subject’s death and the date that the memorial was made. We know it’s 2017, you guys. On the other hand, they nailed the hair. We’ll be back tomorrow with something more substantial, or just a broken blood vessel in our eye.
There are two ways to read this poll. One is that a little less than half of straight people feel comfortable describing themselves as LGBT in the workplace, i.e. gay voice. Let’s hope that’s not how they understood the question. The other interpretation is that straight people have an idea of how safe it is to come out in their own workplaces, and it’s a lot sunnier than how their actually LGBT coworkers see it. Now is a good time to remember that online polls do not reflect broader trends. A full 27% of the respondents to this one identify as LGBT, which is about seven times the national average in the United States. That’s what you would expect from a poll about how you feel about describing yourself as gay. Gay people are more likely to click on that.
Yet a substantial number of straight people clicked on it, too—about three times as many as the LGBT respondents. Already, we see that we are sampling the opinions of a certain kind of straight person. They are not LGBT in their workplaces, but they feel like they know how it would go. Again, I guess it’s possible they didn’t read the question as a hypothetical and mean that they comfortably fake being gay at work, but one hopes a plurality of respondents aren’t doing that.
It’s likely respondents to this poll are imagining the experiences of their LGBT coworkers. More of them imagine that experience to be comfortable than report it as so. This result is similar to the result of this survey on blacks’ and whites’ views of racial discrimination. More white people say police are fair to black people. Fewer believe in blacks experience discrimination in stores and restaurants, or in that socioeconomic crucible we all know and love, the workplace. Black people and white people consistently disagree about the experience of black people by large margins.
When you put it that way, it seems obvious whom to believe. Maybe neither side is right. It’s probable that black respondents’ perception of discrimination against themselves is influenced by self-pity. That’s definitely been going on with white people. But at the risk of treating a premise like a conclusion: People who aren’t members of a particular group underestimate how much discrimination that group faces. Either that or black and LGBT people are just being babies. Somehow, that does not strike me as the likely explanation.