At the L.A. Times, Scott Glover today publishes a story titled Federal judge e-mailed jokes to ‘gag list’:
When new members were welcomed to an e-mail group called the Easy Rider Gag List, they were warned that they would soon be receiving a steady diet of tasteless humor.
The warning came from the Easy Rider himself: Alex Kozinski, one of the highest ranking and most intellectually respected federal judges.
On the gag list, Kozinski periodically distributed jokes to a group of friends and associates, including his law clerks, colleagues on the federal bench, prominent attorneys and journalists. The jokes he sent ranged from silly to politically oriented to raunchy.
The article strikes me as a stretch. Everyone knows people who send around silly and tasteless jokes. And, by now, everyone who followed the previous controversy knows that Kozinski has a sense of humor that can, at times, veer into the silly and tasteless.
In light of that known fact, what is the news value of this story?
But if we’re determined to have some kind of public discussion about this judge’s e-mailed jokes, then — as with the material on Judge Kozinski’s server/website, which Glover described in a way that removed much of the humorous context — I think it’s best for the general public to see the jokes themselves.
YOU MAY BE A TALIBAN . . .
The article says: “The Times was given 13 jokes by three sources that were circulated on the gag list between 2003 and 2008.” We are not told who the sources are, or whether the jokes are representative, but we are given a couple of examples of the types of jokes that were sent around:
One joke sent last spring poked fun at the Taliban, stating, “You may be a Taliban if . . .” any of the following 12 statements are true. Among the statements: “You own a $3,000 machine gun and $5,000 rocket launcher, but you can’t afford shoes” and “You wipe your butt with your bare left hand, but consider bacon ‘unclean.’ “
Well, on this blog we’re not constrained by space limitations, so let’s get the whole list out there. This is from Neal Boortz’s site:
YOU MAY BE A TALIBAN IF……….
1. You refine heroin for a living, but you have a moral objection to beer.
2. You own a $3,000 machine gun and $5,000 rocket launcher, but you can’t afford shoes.
3. You have more wives than teeth.
4. You wipe your butt with your bare left hand, but consider bacon “unclean.”
5. You think vests come in two styles: bullet-proof and suicide.
6. You can’t think of anyone you HAVEN’T declared Jihad against.
7. You consider television dangerous, but routinely carry explosives in your clothing.
8. You were amazed to discover that cell phones have uses other than setting off roadside bombs.
9. You’ve ever uttered the phrase, “I love what you’ve done with your cave.”
10. You have nothing against women and think every man should own at least one.
11. You bathe at least monthly whether necessary or not.
12. You’ve ever had a crush on your neighbor’s goat.
I have little doubt that plenty of people would find at least some of that to be humorous.
“DOES IT MAKE HER BETTER IN BED? WELL, IN THIS CASE, YES.”
The L.A. Times article continues:
Other jokes, labeled “P&T” in the subject heading to indicate they were “puerile and tasteless,” were cruder and more sexually explicit and used language that defies quotation in a general circulation newspaper.
The most graphic joke was set up as a three-page letter ostensibly written by a man to his estranged wife. The man sarcastically tells his wife that he still loves and misses her while at the same time detailing his recent sexual escapades with a young student, a single mother and his wife’s younger sister. The single mom, the man says, acts like “a real woman . . . [who is] not hung up about God and her career and whether the kids can hear us.”
That rather bloodless description doesn’t really convey the tone of the letter, which you can read in its entirety here. The title is “How To Get Your Ex Back” and begins with the following:
I know the counselor said we shouldn’t contact each other during our “cooling off” period, but I couldn’t wait anymore. The day you left, I swore I’d never talk to you again. But that was just the wounded little boy in me talking. Still, I never wanted to be the first one to make contact. In my fantasies, it was always you who would come crawling back to me. I guess my pride needed that.
But now I see that my pride’s cost me a lot of things. I’m tired of pretending I don’t miss you. I don’t care about looking bad anymore. I don’t care who makes the first move as long as one of us does. Maybe it’s time we let our hearts speak as loudly as our hurt. And this is what my heart says… “There’s no one like you, Terri.” I look for you in the eyes and breasts of every woman I see, but they’re not you. They’re not even close.
Two weeks ago, I met this girl at the Rainbow Room and brought her home with me. I don’t say this to hurt you, but just to illustrate the depth of my desperation. She was young, Terri, maybe 19, with one of those perfect bodies that only youth and maybe a childhood spent ice skating can give you. I mean, just a perfect body. Tits you wouldn’t believe and an ass like a tortoise shell. Every man’s dream right? But as I sat on the couch being blown by this coed, I thought, look at the stuff we’ve made important in our lives.
It’s all so surface. What does a perfect body mean? Does it make her better in bed? Well, in this case, yes. But you see what I’m getting at. Does it make her a better person? Does she have a better heart than my moderately attractive Terri? I doubt it. And I’d never really thought of that before. I don’t know, maybe I’m just growing up a little. Later, after I’d tossed her about a quart of throat yogurt, I found myself thinking, “Why do I feel so drained and empty?” It wasn’t just her flawless technique or her slutty, shameless hunger, but something else. Some niggling feeling of loss. Why did it feel so incomplete? And then it hit me. It didn’t feel the same because you weren’t there, Terri, to watch. Do you know what I mean? Nothing feels the same without you, baby.
And it goes on like that. Feel free to read it all at the link. If this is the most graphic joke Kozinski ever sent around, then The Times doesn’t have much.
To some, jokes like this are funny. To others, they’re annoying and tasteless. But the idea that someone might circulate a joke like that to friends of his, who are willing recipients of the e-mails . . . it’s just not something that merits coverage in a newspaper, it seems to me. [See the UPDATE below for evidence that the e-mails were sent only to willing recipients.]
Worse, this isn’t even really news. The Wall Street Journal Law Blog reported on the e-mail gag list back in June of this year, in a post that gave a couple more examples of the types of jokes Kozinski sent around to friends:
One joke tells of the golfer who killed his wife by hitting a tee shot that strikes her in the temple. Days later, a coroner calls and tells the golfer that the coroner also discovered a bruise on the wife’s hip. “Do you know anything about this?” the coroner asks. “Yes,” the golfer says, “that would have been my mulligan.”
The Kozinski jokes border on R-rated at times, like the one about the woman who confesses to her priest that “my boyfriend made mad, passionate love to me seven times.” The priest tells the woman to squeeze 7 lemons into a glass and drink it down. “Will this cleanse me of my sins?” she asks. “No,” the priest says, “but it will wipe that grin off your face.”
The jokes suggest that Kozinsk[i] is both ribald and unusually free spirited for someone of his stature. Sure, we all have uncles who send around this kind of stuff, but the chief judge of the 9th Circuit? Maybe that’s inappropriate behavior, or maybe it’s refreshingly candid behavior from the normally cloaked federal judiciary.
From the L.A. Times article, it appears that most of the people on the list hewed closer to the latter view. Hardly anyone who received the jokes appears to have been offended, although you get the feeling that one or two people sort of rolled their eyes and started deleting the e-mails without even reading them. The article notes that each e-mail “contained warnings about its potentially offensive content,” and according to Kozinski’s attorney, “[a]nyone who asked to be taken off the list was removed immediately.”
Certainly Kozinski has developed a reputation as someone different from your average judge. I have said that I felt it was legitimate for The Times to report that the Chief Judge of the 9th Circuit was (even unwittingly) putting sexually explicit material on a server that was accessible by the public. Kozinski has been accused of other conduct that merits news coverage, including the recent resurrection of an old accusation that he disabled security software for the computer system serving three federal circuit courts.
But writing a newspaper story about his private joke e-mail list? Come on. Let us know when you have a real story to report.
UPDATE: Proof that the list was consensual comes in this post, which reproduces the message Kozinski would send as the first message to anyone on the list:
From: The Easy Rider
Subject: WELCOME TO THE LIST!
I have added your name to the prestigious EZ RIDER GAG LIST. You are now a member of an elite corps of trend-setters and opinion-makers, selected on the basis of our rigorous criteria (mainly the willingness to receive large quantities of puerile and tasteless humor).
You should start getting current distributions in the next couple of days. …
You will note that some of the gags are marked “(P&T)” at the end of the “Subject” line. This stands for Puerile and Tasteless – the kind of humor Mrs. Garibaldi used to pull your ears for when she found it scribbled in your third-grade notebook. Feel free to pass on the gags I send you, but if they are marked “(P&T)” please PULL MY NAME OFF; I do not want to be sending P&T humor to non-consenting parties. …
Hope you enjoy.
Emphasis is mine. Clearly, Kozinski did not want to send this humor to anyone who didn’t consent. So the L.A. Times has published an old story, about humorous jokes sent to consenting adults. Again, how is this a story?
UPDATE x2: An anonymous correspondent sends along another example of a link that Kozinski sent around to the gag list, here.