Norm MacDonald

Did I miss something?  After Norm MacDonald’s death this week, I kept reading about what a great comedian he was.  I had never liked him much but I wanted to be fair:  I hadn’t paid a lot of attention to him.  Maybe I missed something.

Here’s one of his jokes.  He tells us that during a medical examination of Arnold Schwarzenegger because of a faulty heart valve some of the doctors were concerned because they became turned on during a routine examination.

That’s it.  That’s the punch line.  The audience, on SNL (which is live) didn’t laugh much either.

He also joked about a custody battle between a mother and her ex-husband who was transgender.  It was witless, crude, and dismissive.  It was the kind of joke back-slapping conservative males made and enjoyed at the time.  [Well, well: I now read that Macdonald was a Christian.  It’s possible to be politically progressive and Christian, but clearly Macdonald was your standard, off-the-shelf conservative hypocrite, mocking feminists, poor people, and gays, perhaps with slightly more subtlety than Dennis Miller, while nursing a gambling addiction.]

Again, in front of a picture of Bill and Hilary Clinton: “here’s a picture of the first bitch”.  No joke– just calling Hilary Clinton a bitch.  In another segment, he calls her a liar.  Again, no joke– just calling her a liar.   On an episode of “The View” he accused Bill Clinton of being a murderer.

A lot of Beatles paraphernalia was up for sale, including a “rare” photo of George Harrison not looking haggard.  Huh.

Two homeless people got married at a homeless shelter.  If you want to buy them a gift, they are “registered” at a recycling center.   Huh again.

I’m told his “off the cuff” comments on carrot-top were hilarious.  I’ve watched the clip.  I’m open-minded: maybe there is some reference there that is hilarious, and I missed it.

Same with a cooking demonstration on Conan O’Brien’s show with Gordon Ramsay.  We’re supposed to find his inept inability to follow instructions– like a drunk, really– hilarious.  The biggest laugh was his use of an obscenity, which the audience laughs at because they know it will be beep out.  It was all lame, tedious, witless, and boring.  Conan must have loved him– that lame segment should never have seen the editing suite.

Paul McCartney is going to host an online chat.  Already, 2.5 million calls have come in from people hoping to chat.  But 2 million of them are from Ringo.  That one is not even a little funny.

How about this: Donald Trump decided to divorce Marla Maples because she violated the pre-nuptial agreement by turning 30.  Sophomoric.

Washington D.C. mayor is not interested in polls, or anything that isn’t crack.  Again, very sophomoric.

A joke, in bad taste, about Reagan being allowed to still think he owns the ranch he sold to the U.S. government after the purchase.  Maybe Norm didn’t know Reagan had Alzheimer’s.

He mocks women for their looks.   He mocks Ellen DeGeneres for wanting to have a baby, because she and her partner are both women.  Yeah, they are.  Did someone miss something here?  This might have been funny had it not already occurred to every single person in the audience.

More women would vote if you could bake your vote.  I’m not making that one up– yes, he thought that was funny.  Yes, he read it on Weekend Update.  No, the audience didn’t find it funny either.

When a joke failed– which was often– he would ramble on aimlessly about how that one didn’t work, which is not even funny once, or make a banal comment like “what a world we live in” as if he discovered something that was not already obvious to everyone.  Or, fatally, he would try to explain why the joke was actually funny even though the audience didn’t laugh.  That’s not a secret: Macdonald’s approach to comedy was to do jokes he thought was funny even if the audience didn’t.  Like Red Skeleton.  He and some others thought it was a virtue.  I think it’s an attempt to explain why someone who checks him out because you said he was great might be disappointed: because you don’t get it, see?  He doesn’t care if you don’t think he’s funny.  Really?

After joking about Rikki Lake having to get rid of a dog because it was aggressive with her young child– by eating it– he compounds the lukewarm audience reception with “she ate a whole dog”, which torpedoes the wit factor of any joke.

Those are neither the least nor most funny of a bunch.  A joke about Richard Gere and a gerbil is worse than tasteless.

A lot of his humor is based on the “everyday man” school of comedy, which holds that anything sophisticated or complex should be mocked because if I don’t understand it, it can’t be true or valid.  Gay marriage.  Transgender surgery.  George Harrison frowning in a picture.  And why can’t I make fun of obese talk show hosts?  Well, you can– but making jokes about their obesity really isn’t all that funny anyway.  Calling Bill Clinton a murderer with a tone of  “everybody knows it, right?” isn’t even witty.  If there’s a joke about someone involved in the Clinton scandals– and there are lots– tell it.  But Macdonald didn’t have that kind of Carlinesque skill.

Macdonald did not graduate high school and he has the tone of someone who loves to get digs in on those people who think they are smarter than you simply because they are smarter than you and got educated and understanding something about finance and trade and economics and medicine and music and history– those snobs.

He defended Louis C.K. after he was blacklisted for some relatively mild allegations of inappropriate behavior– a position I agree with.  But he also defended Roseanne Barr  after she made several tasteless, racist tweets.

Well, gosh, so did Donald Trump.

Jokes about Oprah Winfrey’s husband writing a book on how to be a success (Macdonald quips, “marry Oprah Winfrey”), are okay.   A genuine joke: congratulations, Norm Macdonald.  Use this one as a model for humour.  And ironic insight.  A smart perception.  A revelatory twist.  Go for it.

That’s it for Norm Macdonald.  Some okay jokes.  Someone who must have been quite likeable in person– he has lots of defenders, including Jon Stewart and Conan O’Brien.  That doesn’t make him funny.



Digestible Disney

In the original legend of “Robin Hood” the bad guys were greedy aristocrats; in Disney’s version, they are tax-collectors. In the book “Hunchback of Notre Dame”, Frollo is an arch-deacon, not Disney’s magistrate. And in real life, Rasputin was a monk; in Disney’s Anastasia, he weirdly becomes a warlock instead.

Disney loves making stories easier to digest.

The Bible on Abortion

From Reddit:

Quoting the bible to contradict a Christian almost never helps, but there is only one part that brushes against the value of an unborn life versus a fully formed human.

Exodus 21:22 –

And if men struggle with each other and strike a woman with child so that she has a miscarriage, yet there is no [further] injury, he shall surely be fined as the woman’s husband may demand of him; and he shall pay as the judges decide. But if there is any [further] injury, then you shall appoint as a penalty life for life, eye for eye, tooth for tooth, hand for hand, foot for foot, burn for burn, wound for wound, bruise for bruise.

We can extrapolate from this that the value of an unborn fetus is not equal to the value of the mother. As the passage says, cause a miscarriage and you’ll be fined, not put to death. There are pages and pages of research about this passage where pro-lifers try to twist and contort the meaning in the original Hebrew, but the context makes it quite easy to understand the message that was trying to be conveyed.

Biblical Scholars– the overwhelming majority of which are pro-life– argue that the verse refers only to live births.  But at least one admits that “in fact, it is never used for a miscarriage, though it is used of a still birth.”

Further to that, does this passage make sense if it only refers to live births?    Where is the harm, exactly, if the woman is struck and then gives birth?  If it is the harm of being struck, then why the reference to “miscarriage” or “birth”– your choice?  It really does not make much sense unless it refers to a miscarriage.

The pro-life partisans argue that the particular Hebrew word is not used elsewhere to refer to still-births, but, of course, the Bible isn’t a comprehensive list of all possible eventualities.  The argument has some currency, but not very much, in my view.

Fascinating Logic

“I can’t say the Holocaust is a factual, historical event because I am not in a position to do so as a school district employee,” Mr. Latson stated in one of the emails, which were obtained by The Palm Beach Post. Mr. Latson said he had to stay “politically neutral” and separate his personal views about the Holocaust from his job as a public school official.  From NY Times

I think most people would find this statement pretty weird, but it’s really not much different from the Trump supporters who don’t quite want to sound as stupid as Mr. Trump himself but are terrified of being accused of disloyalty.  Especially with that rabble lining up for 2024.   So they say stuff like, “I can’t say if there was fraud or not, but Mr. Trump is certainly entitled to make sure that every vote is counted correctly and whether some of these allegations of voter fraud are true or not”.

If the Democrats did the same thing under similar circumstances, the Republicans would go ballistic and scream at the authorities to shut down the recount.  Well, come to think of it, that’s pretty well what they did in Florida in 2000.

What Mr. Latson is really saying is, “please don’t judge me because I believe the Holocaust never happened.”  He knows his acquaintances would find his belief both ridiculous and bigoted: it’s not an innocent belief.  It is a belief founded in centuries of Antisemitism.

No one says “I can’t say if the Holocaust is a factual, historical event” if they believe it really happened.

And no one says, “I can’t say if Joe Biden really won the election or not” if they believed Joe Biden won the election.  But if they openly said, “Donald Trump actually, really won this election” they would have to explain to their constituents why they are ignoring the results of a free and fair election, when that’s how they got elected.

And that is too awkward for them.

The Trump Monument

A wealthy donor should sponsor a big monument in Washington D.C. near the White House, showing McConnell, Rubio, Lankford, Cruz, Pence, and many of the others, raising Trump on a throne to the sky with joyous expressions on their faces.
Why would the Republicans object? It will represent them beautifully.  But make sure it is durable, because in 4 and 8 and 12 years, we will want to be reminded of where that party was now, and who was complicit, and who their gods were (because your gods tell you what to believe).
And nearby, a statue of Susan Collins, slightly askance, a bit quizzical– gazing in wonder– with her comment on not voting to impeach on a plaque: “I’m sure he learned his lesson”.

What we tell Ourselves Afterwards

According to Kazuo Odachi, a former Japanese kamikaze pilot, when the officers at his cohort presented their idea of suicide missions against the allies and asked for volunteers, the suggestion was met with “stunned silence”. It was only after considerable heckling and other forms of “persuasion” that pilots signed up for it. I remember having the impression, once upon a time, that Japanese pilots enthusiastically signed up to become a kamikaze.

Probably that’s something some people really wanted to believe, afterwards.


If I were a Democrat on the Senate Judiciary Committee, I would ask Amy Comey Barrett something like this.

You have declared repeatedly that your judgments will be based strictly on the Constitution, and not on any partisan political ideology.   The Republicans like to claim that Democrat judges “legislate” from the bench– creating new law based on political considerations rather than the Constitution.

“Spokesmen for A.F.P. [Americans For Prosperity – a Koch Brothers propaganda tool] echo that line, emphasizing that the Koch network isn’t looking for policy outcomes, but for honest jurists who will follow the Constitution to the letter.”  NY Times

We are both Christians– you are a Roman Catholic and I am an Evangelical Christian.   In a sense, our Constitution, in religion, is the Bible and the teachings of Jesus Christ.  Yet, Roman Catholics believe in transubstantiation, that the wafer and the wine become the body and blood of our Lord Savior Jesus Christ, while we Protestants believe they do not.

Roman Catholics might say, well, I’m right and you’re wrong.  They would say the Bible and Jesus Christ– our religious “constitution”– mean only one thing, and that is, that transubstantiation is real and true.  Those who appointed you to the Supreme Court of Religion could count on you to vote that way because you hold a partisan, ideological belief.

If there was a Supreme Court of religion, and you were on it, how would you rule?  Would you have any regard for the idea that there is legitimate dissent on the issue?  Would you say, well, you never know which way I might rule– because there is a large part of the population who don’t believe what you believe the Bible and Jesus Christ teach about the sacrament of the Eucharist.  Should we look for someone who believes that we can’t know for sure which side is right, so we have to give due regard and consideration to both possibilities.

In the same way, Republicans believe the Constitution, for one example, prohibits Court prescribed affirmative action programs to address issues of racial or gender discrimination.  Many Democrats believe that it does not prohibit such measures.

Should it be legal to fire an employee because he or she is transgender.   If we have a personal belief that marriage is always only between one person who is biologically male at birth and one person who is biologically female at birth would we not find some way to interpret the constitution to support that view?


Do you insist that if asked to rule on an issue like that,  that we would have no idea of how you would rule?

Convince me that you would judge the matter objectively, without loyalty to the ideology of the people who seek to appoint you to the Supreme Court or your own personal religious beliefs.

Would Barrett insist that she is not loyal to a Republican ideology and would judge the matter as if she had no bias, no ideological preference?   If not,  and if she insists that the constitution has only one interpretation and she has the one and only correct interpretation, is she not admitting that she is a Republican appointee, and those who wish to appoint her to the Supreme Court fully expect that she will rule in conformity with their political expectations?

At this point she could adopt the Thomas/Kavanagh strategy and just yell at the Democrats and accuse them of bigotry because they don’t like her Roman Catholic religion or– shamelessly– that they are biased against her gender.



Amy Barrett

Members of the group swear a lifelong oath of loyalty, called a covenant, to one another, and are assigned and are accountable to a personal adviser, called a ‘head’ for men and a ‘handmaid’ for women,” the report read. “The group teaches that husbands are the heads of their wives and should take authority over the family.

This is a group that potential Supreme Court Justice Amy Coney Barrett belongs to.

This Supreme Court (with Ginsburg writing a stinging dissent) once ruled that a woman employee who had been paid less, for years, secretly, than a male in the same job, could not sue for back pay because she “waited” too long. Sometimes “Supreme” doesn’t really apply. No, I”m not making that up. Think the court would ever allow you to not pay a bill because a company “waited” too long to collect it? Ha ha.

The last time I heard a bunch of conservatives bragging about the intellectual acumen of one of their own, it was for Paul Ryan; so when they say the same thing about Barrett… yeah, let’s wait and see. They also said that about Chief Justice Roberts, who once ruled that there was nothing wrong with a white police officer taking down and hand-cuffing a 13-year-old girl because she was eating a french fry on a subway platform (I am not making this up).

Do you need to ask what race the girl was? I didn’t think so.

Barrett argued, in one of her speeches, that a justice should recuse herself from any case that conflicts with a personal religious belief. So the “pro-life” party may be very disappointed to find her recusing herself from death penalty cases. Or will she simply be selective about which religious beliefs actually “conflict”– like supporting immigration polices that separate children from their parents?

That said, I really think the Democrats should stop arguing that a president can’t appoint a Supreme Court Justice in an election year: we shouldn’t all be hypocrites. (Ginsburg really should have retired in 2012 like Obama wanted. And Breyer as well.) But they should at least acknowledge (unlike the Republicans who seem to have completely forgot about the process) that there should be hearings first.

Let’s all note here that the Republicans are trying to do what they have always bitterly complained the Democrats try to do: legislate through the courts.  The Republicans have come to realize that their agenda is so unpopular that they could never ram it through the legislature anymore without destroying their chances of ever winning another election.  On wage disparity, climate change, gun law, health care, and a host of other issues, they are on the losing end of popular support.  Their solution is to do nothing (this Republican Party literally does just about nothing except re-brand trade agreements and rescind worker protections and environmental law) and appoint extremist conservatives to the courts.  And it is working.  The Roberts Court will soon be prepared to overturn Obama-care and Roe vs. Wade.

These will be the most activist actions by a court since Brown vs. Board of Education.

It’s also a bit depressing that her record is so consistent. Consistent with the Republican Party platform, not with anything remotely “conservative” or “Catholic” and certainly not “pro-life” in any real sense. It’s political and ideological.

The Logic Gap

Kind of strange logic: if you vote for Biden, there will rioting and arson in Portland, Minneapolis, and Kenosha. But there is rioting and arson in Portland, Minneapolis, and Kenosha, and we elected you.

What are you saying exactly?

  • That you failed?
  • That there’s nothing you can do about it anyway?
  • Or that your followers will be blissfully unaware of any gap in the logic at all?

It’s probably all three.


For God’s sake, she is the wife of a former president.

That is the problem at the heart of the four-part series “Hillary” on Netflix, a carefully crafted and manipulated portrait of the woman who lost the 2016 presidential election to the most ridiculous candidate in the history of the U.S.   The astute observer will immediately detect the subtle direction of the edits, the selectivity, the omissions, all intended to convince you that Hillary Clinton did not ride to prominence on the coattails of her husband, and that her influence and power within the Clinton Administration and her subsequent career as Senator and Secretary of State and presidential candidate were the fruits of some kind of legitimate mandate, and not the product of opportunism or privilege, and that the only reason she lost to Donald Trump was the embedded misogyny of American political culture, and the unmitigated gall of Bernie Sander’s fanatical followers to not turn up and vote for her.

What must not be displayed is the obvious: her entire career in politics was founded upon the success of her husband, Bill Clinton, who assembled a team of political operatives and ran for election as Attorney-General, and then Governor of Arkansas, and then President of the United States.  This is not to say that she was not a talented lawyer, or political manager.  This is to say that she would never have served as Secretary of State, or run for the Senate, or for President, if it had not been for the fact that her husband ran and won first.

“Hillary” tries– too hard– to convince you that Hillary Clinton was so remarkable, so amazing, and so diligent and perceptive and astute, that she earned her way into the White House, and to the Senate, and into Obama’s cabinet, and then as the presidential nominee for the Democratic Party in 2016.

So we are shown clips from the 1992 Bill Clinton campaign in which we offered two contradictory narratives, simultaneously true and not true.  One, that she was a liberated feminist who contributed mightily to the campaign on both a strategic and policy level, and, two, that she became a substantial liability after insisting that she had no intention of staying home and baking cookies.  While insisting that she did not compromise her principles, we are shown the new haircut, the demur stage presence, the tailored outfits, the girlish exuberance– bouncing on the stage with Tipper Gore– but told to believe that through some magical osmosis, America elected her to be an active and involved First Lady.

The right comment from a reporter or columnist at that moment would have been to point out that this established something about her character, a suspicion, that never went away.

Let’s go back further.  Bill Clinton won his first election as governor of Arkansas and then lost his second attempt, then won his third attempt.  “Hillary” would have you believe that it was because she became a better governor’s wife.  Every other political analyst knows it was because Bill Clinton reversed his position on capital punishment, purely out of political calculation.  What was that again about authenticity?  “Hillary” itself begins to raise suspicions about their interest in the truth.

That’s the seed of America’s disaffection with Hillary Clinton: the “documentary” (it is not a documentary: it’s a flattering piece of Hillary advocacy) shows us Hillary scoffing at the idea that she presented a calculated image to the American people and subtly affirms her view.  Why did people ever think she was not authentic or genuine?  It’s a mystery!   And then she proceeds to claim to be baffled as to why, after the scandalous bail-out of the banks after the 2008 crisis, people would want to know what she said to Goldman-Sachs for $200,000.  Why didn’t she just release the text of the speech she gave to them?  She says, because she was using it as leverage to force Bernie Sanders to release his tax returns.


“Hillary” would have you believe that all Bernie Sanders talked about during the 2016 campaign was her corrupt ties to the banking and investment industries.  No mention of Vince Foster’s suicide on July 20, 1993.   (as of the first episode and 1/2) and the travel office scandal.  We’ll see…


I watched the episode (3) which covered the infamous Vince Foster suicide.  And no surprise: not a word about “travel-gate”.  In summary, the Clinton’s became convinced that the travel office, headed by one Billy Ray Dale (who had served under two previous presidents) which organizes flights for members of the press corps when the president travels, was disorganized and unaccountable and possibly even corrupt.  They wanted to replace the staff with some of the their friends from Arkansas.  It was also believed that staff members in the White House travel office were leaking gossip about the Clintons’ marriage to the press.   So the Clintons had seven members of the staff fired and replaced with Arkansas associates.  And then were very surprised to learn that the media– which was quite friendly to the staff of the travel office– thought the firings unjustified and driven by ulterior motives.  Republicans sensed an opportunity and cried foul.  The whole thing blew up and became the Clintons’ first unpleasant public scandal.

There were rumours that Hillary had been pushing the firings which she categorically, publicly denied, even to investigators.


A two-year-old memo from White House director of administration David Watkins surfaced that identified First Lady Hillary Rodham Clinton as the motivating force behind the firings, with the additional involvement of Vince Foster and Harry Thomason.[39] “Foster regularly informed me that the First Lady was concerned and desired action. The action desired was the firing of the Travel Office staff.  Wikipedia

It is important to note here that there is evidence that the travel office really was somewhat corrupt and that it did favors for the press, which may be one of the reasons the press seized on the story.  There were investigations before the Clintons but nobody had proceeded with charges or disciplinary actions.

During the investigation, Hillary Clinton was question by investigators and she vehemently denied that she had anything at all to do with the firings.  This was a lie.

Hillary Clinton lied to the press and to investigators about her role in the affair.  And, in “Hillary”, she lies again, pretty shamelessly, mocking those who thought there was anything to the scandal.

“Hillary” wants you to believe it is honest and truthful by carefully choosing the scandals we all already know about to relate to us (look– they even talk about Genifer Flowers!) while conspicuously ignoring the ones that will never play well.  “Hillary” proffers lots of straw men to knock down and badly wants you to believe that people didn’t like Hillary Clinton because she was strong or opinionated or a woman.  How easy to believe she is really a wonderful, honest person who never deserved any of the vitriol directed her way.  But the fact that they ignored the more unpleasant facts about her career (and the one overwhelming fact I stated in the first line of this piece) just confirms what people have always thought about the Clintons: they are not authentic or honest or straight, and a good deal of the misfortunes they encountered in their careers– including losing the 2016 election– were deserved.

But life is endlessly ironic.  The Republicans, without a doubt, harbored a vicious, vindictive, irrational hatred of Hillary Clinton, and, yes, there really was a conspiracy to destroy their political careers, funded by wealthy right-wing investors in cooperation with Republican operatives and ultra-conservative media personalities, and, eventually Vladimir Putin and the Russians.  Mr. Comey became an accidental accessory when he announced that he was re investigating her “missing” emails just days before the vote in 2016.

Hillary Clinton should have been elected in 2016 not because she was a good candidate for president but because her opponent was incredibly awful.  The truth is that Bernie Sanders would probably have won that election had he been the Democratic nominee.  Clinton was a bad choice, given her long history in Washington, the way she polarized voters, and her privileged access to Washington politics as the wife of the former president.

And, yes, her fundamental dishonesty.