Crimes are forgiven. Debt is forever

Fake news

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.

Friday links! Why lie? edition


Were it not for Valentine’s Day, April Fools’ Day would be our most resented holiday. That shit divides people. Part of the problem lies in disagreement over what constitutes a prank. Merely lying to us is A) not exactly a holiday feat and B) minimally entertaining for us, the fooled. Now, the prank depicted above: that’s a foolin’. It’s startling, efficient, and—this is important—amusing once we realize we’ve been had. It’s not just a counterfactual statement you followed with “April fool!” Mark Twain recommended the truth on the grounds that the person who tells it has less to remember. Really it’s that invention is unnecessary. Today is Friday, and what has actually happened would strain credulity even at another date. Won’t you peruse the foolish truth with me?

Continue reading

Ed Schultz calls Laura Ingraham “a slut”

Ed Schultz calling his desk a "thick brown harlot."

Because I need to be able to go to sleep, I watch MSNBC as little as possible. My facade of openminded centrism is flimsy enough without the voice of Keith Olbermann in my head, analyzing politics in the exact same way he analyzed sports. I therefore barely understand who Ed Schultz is. He appears to be a liberal—sorry, “progressive”—iteration of Rush Limbaugh: a jolly but vaguely menacing fat man who yells the truth at you, assuming you already know everything that’s true. He is also the man who, on his Tuesday show, referred to conservative commentator Laura Ingraham as a “right-wing slut.” For the purposes of the discussion to follow, I ask you to accept two premises:

1) She is pretty tasty.

2) This is worse for Ed Schultz than it would have been for Rush Limbaugh.

Continue reading

Once Again with Tony Perkins

"Not even a little bit. Never. Not once. Why do you guys keep asking me this? Is it my lips? I know I have expressive lips."

Perhaps you’ve heard, but yesterday a district court judge issued an injunction that stops the enforcement of Don’t Ask Don’t Tell, thus A) ending decades of homophobic discrimination in the US military and B) reminding everyone that Congress isn’t the only damn branch of government. Tony Perkins is pissed. The Family Research Council President and lifelong crusader against gay rights, who is definitely not a homosexual, said in a public statement that “once again, an activist federal judge is using the military to advance a liberal social agenda.” First of all, I hope this doesn’t interfere with Mr. Perkins’s research. Second—”once again,” Tony? Let’s look at previous instances of judges using the military to advance a social agenda.

Continue reading