Signature Significance Lesson: Pazuzu, The Judge And The Racist Email

"Your Honor, uh, you're not quite yourself today.."

“Your Honor, uh, you’re not quite yourself today..”

How many racist e-mails does one have to send out before it proves one is a racist? At Above the Law, legal affairs blogger Ellie Mystal says the answer is one, and I agree. Mystal writes:

“If you send one horribly racist email that actually manages to leak out into public discourse, it’s probably not your only one. Seeing a racist email from someone is like seeing a mouse in your apartment: there’s never just one. I believe in temporary insanity, but I don’t believe in sudden onset racism that magically appears once and only once and then disappears forever. Of course, whenever anybody gets caught in a racist email scandal, they always say that it’s the only one. It’s always “Whoops, that email was racist, but I’m not racist.” The racist email is always allegedly “out of character,” and the person always claims to have shown “poor judgment.” And that person always has some apologists, as if sending one or two racist emails is just something that “happens” in the normal course of business to non-racist people.”

The “out of character” nonsense is what Ethics Alarms refers to as the “Pazuzu Excuse,” as when someone explains that his or her full-throated expression of a vile nature “just wasn’t me” and “doesn’t express how I feel,” as if their being was suddenly possessed by the evil demon that made Linda Blair spit pea soup in “The Exorcist.” People try that excuse—and absurdly often are allowed to get away with it—because, at their core, they realize that signature significance is persuasive when judging character. Non-racists simply don’t send out racist e-mails ever, even once, and one such episode, all by itself, is convincing evidence that the sender is, in fact, a racist.

The racist under discussion by Mystal was retired federal judge Richard F. Cebull, appointed chief judge for the District of Montana by President George W. Bush in 2001. In 2012, Cebull got in trouble when he sent the following e-mail to seven acquaintances:

 “Normally I don’t send or forward a lot of these, but even by my standards, it was a bit touching. I want all of my friends to feel what I felt when I read this. Hope it touches your heart like it did mine.  “A little boy said to his mother; ‘Mommy, how come I’m black and you’re white?’” the email joke reads. “His mother replied, ‘Don’t even go there Barack! From what I can remember about that party, you’re lucky you don’t bark!’”

The inevitable chain of forwards brought the email to the media’s attention (sending such an e-mail also has signature significance in showing that any sender in a public position is a reckless, technologically-naive boob with self-destructive tendencies), and Cebull apologized, saying that he had circulated the “joke”  because “I am not a fan of our president” (ya think?), and further…

“This is a private thing that was, to say the least, very poor judgment on my part. I did not forward it because of the racist nature of it. Although it is racist, I’m not that way, never have been….I have never considered myself that way. All I can emphasize is I’ve treated people in my courtroom all these years fairly. I don’t think I’ve ever demonstrated racism. Nobody has ever even implied it.”

Judge Cebull voluntarily registered an ethics complaint on himself, thus triggering an investigation by the Ninth Circuit. This was both smart and correct, and, I suspect, what allowed him to make his way to retirement last April without too much additional public flack. He also personally and officially apologized to President Obama.

I should note that if I received such an e-mail from a judge, even if he were a friend, I would consider myself ethically obligated to file an ethics complaint against him. A lawyer must do this when he knows that a judge (or lawyer) has engaged in conduct that the lawyer believes calls into serious question the judge’s integrity, character and fitness to sit on the bench, and a signature significance racist e-mail would be a sufficient trigger for me. A judge can say, as Cebull did in his statement above, that he has always treated people fairly regardless of race, but I don’t believe that a racial bias strong enough to warp a judge’s judgement to the point that he wouldn’t regard such a joke as inappropriate to be sent out under the name of a federal judge, acting on behalf of a nation dedicated to human respect and dignity, can be overcome….at least not with sufficient certainty to justify the public trust.  Racist judges are not fit to judge, and non-racist judges don’t send e-mails like that.

…As the Ninth Circuit’s investigation showed, once again validating signature significance. The results of the investigation in 2012 were kept private until now; they should not have been, but judges are notoriously protective of each other, even the bad apples. The San Francisco Chronicle reports:

“The Ninth Circuit Judicial Council said a subsequent search of court computer tapes dating from 2008 found hundreds of disparaging e-mails sent by Cebull to “personal and professional contacts and court staff.” Many messages were political and expressed “disdain and disapproval for liberal political leaders” or commented on legislation on topics like gun control and civil rights, the report said. It said a significant number included jokes or commentary disparaging African-Americans, Native Americans, Latinos – especially illegal immigrants – and women, and a few were antigay. The report did not quote any of the offending e-mails. The council said a review of Cebull’s cases, and interviews with Montana lawyers, found no evidence of judicial bias, although the report conceded that some attorneys might be reluctant to criticize a sitting judge, even anonymously. The council said Cebull had done nothing illegal that would justify his impeachment but reprimanded him for actions that undermined “public trust and confidence in the judiciary.”

A council majority voted to bar him from receiving new cases for 180 days and order him to undergo training in ethics and racial awareness. Two council members…voted to go further and ask Cebull to retire, “in recognition of the severity of his violations and the breadth of the public reaction.”

So it wasn’t Pazuzu who sent the e-mail. It was a racist, bigoted judge, and as signature significance should have told everyone at the time, it only took one e-mail to prove it.


Pointer and Source: Above the Law1

Facts: Above the Law2, 3, San Francisco Chronicle

Ethics Alarms attempts to give proper attribution and credit to all sources of facts, analysis and other assistance that go into its blog posts. If you are aware of one I missed, or believe your own work or property was used in any way without proper attribution, please contact me, Jack Marshall, at

126 thoughts on “Signature Significance Lesson: Pazuzu, The Judge And The Racist Email

  1. Oh come on!

    Bush did way worse when he appointed the Chief Justice of the district of Montana!


    Well there you go showing your crazy unfair left leaning biases again…

  2. Inappropriate, in bad taste, not funny…. But racist? I don;t know. I just don’t see it as being a racial thing. It sounds like this judge doesn’t like this president, who happens to be black, and thought it funny to mock him. Maybe my understanding is skewed, but the only stretch of logic that makes this a racial issue to me is if you believe that the joke is implying that black people are the product of white women and dogs…. Which I just can’t see.

    • I think it’s racist, but I don’t discard the argument—close enough for hoseshoes, and way too close for federal judges.

      The racist element is that it could easily be taken to posit a zoological hierarchy—white, black, dog…The question is, would the joke exist with races reversed, or be deemed to make any sense? I don’t think so.

      • It’s really a “your momma joke” as the punch line implication is his mother is a whore.

        There is subtle racism though because of the added implication that the father may not be human at all, thus, according to the “logic” of the joke producing a black baby.

      • “Mommy, why am I white and you’re black?” “Don’t even go there Tal! From what I can remember about that party, you’re lucky you don’t bark!”

        “Mommy, why am I tall, and you’re short?” “Don’t even go there Tal! From what I can remember about that party, you’re lucky you don’t bark!”

        I see this as a spin on a ‘your mama’ joke, where the punchline is more that the mother apparently had relations with a dog than any derogatory racial connotations. I’m not excusing him. It was a joke in bad taste. he’s a federal judge, and Obama is the president. I just need a little more solid a base before I throw the racist label around.

        • You can do that with lots of racist jokes; it is not dispositive. The question is: what’s the least acceptable, plausible interpretation of the joke, and is that racist? The answer is that the joke arguably suggests that the President is the offspring of a white woman and a black dog/sub-human. That’s certainly racially offensive.

          Case closed.

            • I agree with AMS (shock). Normally there is a Jesters Privelege (jokes against Power, especially by the powerless, recieve a greater than normal leniency). By this ‘least acceptable’ interpretation, there is a Jesters DIS-Privelege for any humour directed at a black incumbent. Which would make black Presidencies tend to be differentially humourless and vindictive periods of time.

              His Honour’s joke is offensive, crude, misogynist, racist. I do not defend the joke or the Judge. But unless the harm it does is substantive, a joke against Power is an important safety valve, and normally worth treating leniently.

              As Fred says, extra stringent rules apply to Judges. Rules because of the authority of his voice, his position of influence, the duty to protect the reputation of the courts and because of his undoubted ability to do better. Rules which he broke.

            • “By this logic Obama and his fawning supporters are right – all opposition to Obama is racist…”

              AMS is correct. The logic of Obama and his fawning supporters is wrong. Their conclusion is wrong. CASE CLOSED.

              • No,

                If I say “president Obama is incompetent because he lacks executive experience, he’s limited his skills to agitation and divisive speeches, and refuses to try to learn” I’m not being racist, just accurate.

                If I say “president Obama is incompetent because black people are naturally incompetent” then that’s a different story.

                  • Good ol’ ablativ: You got to the base of it in one paragraph; it took me 3 to say the same thing. I have never been an Obama fan, did not vote for him, but was nevertheless somehow proud that the US had crossed that great divide and elected a black president. Too bad this “first” lacks the executive experience, the will, the right advisors, and any semblance of understanding about what it means to be CEO of the US. When too much time had gone by for him to blame Bush for everything, HE and his minions went more heavily on the race card, and at his worst ratings in the midst of multiple scandals trounces out his wife’s 50th birthday as a distraction. Leadership?

                    PS I always found it profoundly enlightening that when Obama was in the Senate, he ABSTAINED on 90% of the bills voted upon. So he’s either unable to make a decision, or was campaigning even then, abstaining so no one would be able to pull out a vote that would offend anyone. This is not racism: This is simply the inability to do a job, extreme narcissism, and a keen sense of the importance of surrounding oneself with total sycophants….

                  • Odd, the joke seemed to imply that this black boy, not knowing who his father is, but knowing they aren’t white, ought to at least be happy his father isn’t a dog.

                    I was the first to note above the first punch line of the joke shows it to be a “your momma” joke. But it relies on the subtleness of the black boy’s confusion over who his daddy is.

                    My response to Eeyoure, however, is in regards to his comment where you conflated this joke with broader criticism of Barack Obama. I don’t see the connection between accurately calling this joke racist, because it has racial premises, and the inaccurate descriptions of legitimate criticism of Obama being derived from racism. It isn’t a fair analogy.

                    • I don’t see how you can call the joke racist. Certainly, it is a joke that could be reasonably expected to cause a racist to laugh, and a joke that could cause racism-sensitized persons to recoil in disgust at the connection between (1) race-differentiated mother and child, (2) Barack Obama and his mother, and (3) a strawwoman of dubious character. But the joke is indeed a “your momma” joke. The boy remains innocent, from his asking of the question to the end of his momma’s answer. No fair person is going to look down on the boy, just because his momma admits to behaving immorally. After my laugh in reaction to the joke, my next thought was of pity for a boy apparently with no accountable Dad, stuck with a Mom who by her admission, behaved as she did – and then, talked to her boy like that. The insertion of “Barack” in the mother’s line may be racist-bait, but the preposterousness of the mother’s reply is what made me laugh.

                    • Because “who knows who the father is?” isn’t a common theme in racist jokes poking fun at blacks.

                      That there are subtle racial overtones in the joke doesn’t mean it isn’t a “yo mama” joke (as I’ve already asserted).

                    • “Because “who knows who the father is?” isn’t a common theme in racist jokes poking fun at blacks.”

                      The all too frequent fact of life in the U.S. since the 1960s: the absent, or unknown, or impossible-to-locate, or deadbeat (or some combination of the preceding) black father.

                      So, it should be no surprise that a joke is told in the U.S. about frequent facts of life.

                      So, on Jack’s scale, a 7. [sarcasm] Fighting words, a real riot-starter, a clearly undeserving poke at a culture of failure which, for anybody who mentions it, should be a kiss of death. [/sarcasm]

                    • Yes, I think you missed the sarcasm of my comment. Poking fun at the gross epidemic of fatherless families in contemporary black culture can be the backbone of some jokes, such as the joke “Q: What’s the most confusing day in Harlem? A: Father’s Day”

                      In the joke in question, it is part of the subtle premises.

                      It’s a racist joke.

                      I’m beginning to get a read that your definition of racist joke is one solely limited to jokes specifically denigrating a black person because of some quality they can’t help because of their genetics.

                      I think the definition is much broader than that.

                      Which of the following are racist jokes in your opinion:

                      1) Q: Why does Stevie Wonder smile all the time?
                      A: Because he doesn’t know he’s black.

                      2) Q: Why shouldn’t you run over a black kid on a bike?
                      A: Because the bike is probably yours.

                      3) Q: You know what the definition of a dilemma is?
                      A: Offering bacon at a discount to a Jew.

                      4) A black guy, a Mexican, and a white guy come on a bottle. Out pops a genie who promises each of them one wish. The black guy wishes that he and all his people were happy, free and prosperous in Africa. Poof, it’s done. The Mexican wishes that all his people were happy, free and prosperous in Mexico. Poof, it’s done. The white guys says “so, wait… all the black people are back in Africa? all the Mexicans are gone? In that case, I wish I had a Dr. Pepper.”

                      5) Q: What’s the difference between a girder and a joist?
                      A: Goethe is a deep thinking German philosopher. Joyce is just a drunk Irishman.

                      6) A Dane Cook (whom I can’t stand) excerpt, comedy about driving and being cut off on the highway: “Right so I’m driving safely all of a sudden a guy in another lane, completely oblivious to me. He starts coming into my lane.
                      JUST COMING IN And if I didn’t see him coming in…accident.
                      But because I saw him then I eased on the brake. As he’s coming I ease. And I said what anybody here says automatically when this happens.

                      You can’t help it. It just comes out, ready? ready?…

                      “Um, Hello? …Um, Hi? Hello?”

                      Unless you’re black. If you’re black it’s a little different. If you’re black it’s “Check out this mothafucka..check out this mothafucka!”

                      If you’re chinese it’s *screech* *crash*”

                      7) An Englishman, an Irishman, and Scot are in a pub. Each of them notices a fly has landed in their drink. The Englishman politely asks for another and receives it. The Irishman says “to hell with it and downs the beer, fly and all”. The Scot pulls the fly out, shaking it violently, screaming “cough it up! cough up all MY beer!!”

                      (I suppose that’s funny, although I don’t get it).

                      I’d think all those would be considered racist – although more accurately termed “culturalist” (but as long as cultures and races can still be loosely correlated, it’s a fair classification. Despite being racist, some are funny.

                • Yes, and No. There are now two separate sub-lines of ethical alarm.
                  1) was the joke racist, if so what do we do about that
                  2) Jack’s rule for deciding question 1 : “what’s the least acceptable, plausible interpretation of the joke, and is that racist?”

                  For the record my answer to 1 is yes the joke is 100% racist. The joke although it has the form of a ‘yo’ momma’ joke even taking the most acceptable plausible explanation certainly implies that being of mixed race is just a bit better than being a hybrid dog/boy, and a lot worse than being white. It also implies that any white woman who conceives a child with a black man is promiscuous in the worst sense of the word. Also that a kid of mixed race suffers from both disadvantages and may additionally suffer the cynical indifference of a mother whose standards of morality have fallen that far. That the pile of burdens the kid suffers is enough for Schadenfreude (i think that’s the technical term, humour of another’s suffering.) That should be enough to qualify as racist 20 times over. And it spoils what there was of every ‘yo’ momma’ joke in guilt by association. And it is deeply misogynistic, and plain nasty.

                  My question is still on item 2) where I see AMS’s point. By the proposed test all jokes against the current presidency are racist. With profound and unwelcome consequences. All black presidents, (or women or any other minority who suffer from mockeries) will be seen as killjoys.

                  Better ethics, I think, to stick to Jester’s Privilege. Jokes against power are tolerated. Even bad and vicious jokes.

                  Better still, ethically: make your response in wyogranny stylee:
                  ‘if you are black, people will make fun.
                  Deal with it. You are a President not a child. (or support a President….)
                  You won’t die from being mocked by ninnys.
                  Only by giving in to them or playing the victim.’
                  (sorry if that misrepresents you granny – but I should give credit where it is due).

                  Thats my preferred ethical treatment for racist jokes that ultimately do no damage to the professional reputation of the President but only make the joker look dumb.

                  • And if the Judge is wondering why he looks like a dumb ass racist: Well, as far as i can remember and undertand this discursive commentary and argument, he’s lucky he doesn’t look like a … No, dumb ass racist is about the worst.

                  • “My question is still on item 2) where I see AMS’s point. By the proposed test all jokes against the current presidency are racist. With profound and unwelcome consequences. All black presidents, (or women or any other minority who suffer from mockeries) will be seen as killjoys.”

                    AMS didn’t link it just to other jokes about the presidency, but to all criticism of the president, legitimate or not. Criticism, which the president’s supporters have declared racist in origin.

                    AMS claimed that Jack’s justification for why the joke is racist is perfectly acceptable justification for why the legitimate criticism can be called racist. But that analogy doesn’t fly.

                    • I follow that up to the last paragraph. But I see Jack/AMs Luke et al are now debating the subject further, so rather than argue what they meant. I’ll not repond. For fear of more confusion.

                    • And now they’ve moved on. I am content on reflection that the rule should be read as ‘least objectionable, plausible interpretation of the joke, and is that racist?’
                      To which my answer 1. still stands as is.
                      Which deals with AMS objection (as reasonable criticism is not at ‘least objectionable’ level, racist. But which also leaves open the main issue of the post of ‘signature error’.
                      On signature errors : I’ll grant that sometimes a joke, as opposed to non-humourous statements, can give very strong insight to the joker’s thought process. And a joke also sometimes tells us nothing much about the target of the joke. Or sometimes both, as in this case.

          • Given that it came from someone with legal training whose professional career has depended on speaking and writing precisely, it’s fair to hold the judge to account for an obvious implication.

            Jack, a question: is it routine for judges to file ethics complaints against themselves, or was his doing so a sign of character?

            • Impossible to say. It doesn’t happen often, though I teach that self-reporting is the right and smart course—ethics panels like it, and it reduces the chances of getting the book thrown at you. The judge might have done it to get courtesies (like the report staying private), or leniency, or to clear himself, or because he really doesn’t think he’s ever done anything wrong.

          • No way, nothing about that joke indicates that white woman + dog = black child, it’s a joke about his mother pulling a train that ended with the K9 unit. Don’t get me wrong, nothing about it is appropriate for a judge, but just because it contains a reference to someone being black doesn’t make it racist, or even imply it.

            • I’d call this “denial.” It was a racist joke; a judicial panel found it to be a racist joke; my gut reaction to it is that it’s a racist joke; it was delivered by a judge who liked racist jokes (and didn’t recognize them as racist); he acknowledged after being criticized that it’s a racist joke. It’s a racist joke.

              • I call that “groupthink.” Enabled by a cowardly judge, against himself.
                How convenient. BAD judge! KILL THE BEAST!

                We’ve become marooned on the Island of the Lord of the Lies.

          • Like I said, maybe I misunderstand the situation. My understanding is that racism is a form of discrimination, or prejudice, towards someone based on their race. Because this joke didn’t have the element of saying some variation of “black people are ______” or any other generalization about the race, but merely stated that the mother and son were visually different, I failed to see the racial connotations. It seems, from your point of view, and please correct me if I’m wrong, because I want to be wrong, that anything said of someone in a negative light that also happens to bring up their skin color is racist. If that is the case however, do you also think it’s racist for news people to say things like, “last night, a woman was held up by a man she describes as 5’10”, African American, and wearing grey clothing.”

            • I’d rank racist jokes from worst to least objectionable like this…

              1) Jokes that assert the inferiority or inhumanity of the black race
              2) Jokes based on negative black stereotypes
              3) Jokes that denigrate the race. or a prominent individual of the race because of his race
              4) Jokes that make uncomplimentary presumptions about an individual linked to race.
              5) Jokes that reduce a human being to nothing but his or her race
              6) Jokes designed to diminish African-American icons or heroes, using race.
              7) Jokes that specifically ridicule or mock actual aspects of black culture or history

              The joke in question could be ranked a 3,4,5, or 6. I’d call it a 5.5.

              • I would call the controversial mom-and-son joke a solid 8 on that 1:05 pm scale. Your use of “black” in 1, 2, and 7, and “African-American” in 6, render the scale to irrelevance except in “New White Man’s Burden/Whitey’s Eternal Guilt” agitprop. Take those race-specific words out, and the scale becomes more relevant to all races, everywhere.

          • Since when is it appropriate to consider the LEAST acceptable plausible interpretation of a joke? That destroys the jester’s privelige entirely. You could arguably claim that everyone who criticizes Obama as being unqualified for office means that he’s unqualified because he’s foreign, which is offensive racist birther tripe. Case closed. Oh, wait.

            Plus, you ask “can the joke make sense with the races reversed?” and when Humble Talent does just that you say “you can do that with lots of racist jokes, it’s not dispositive.” Moving the goalposts much?

            • Why are you applying the jester’s privilege to a judge? None of this applies to the jester’s privilege. The jester gets to tell racist jokes, if they are funny and intended to be funny, until the culture declares that privilege or not, there’s no joke any more. And with the most virulent jokes, that’s the current situation?

              • But you don’t open your article with saying “this was inappropriate for a judge,” you open it by saying that a joke like that is of signature significance in proving someone is a racist. You then go on to say the key question is “what’s the least acceptable, plausible interpretation, and is that racist?” QED, anyone who tells a joke that someone can argue with any plausibility is a racist joke, IS a racist. If the worst-of-all-plausible-interpretations is the standard for deciding who’s racist, or sexist, or a bigot, then there is no jester’s privelige for anyone.

              • “Mommy, why am I white and you’re black?” “Don’t even go there Tal! From what I can remember about that party, you’re lucky you don’t bark!”

                Direct quote from Humble Talent. Tal also brought up tal/short, but opened with the races reversed.

        • This isn’t proof, but notice the joke does depend on the stereotype of black men taking advantage of white women, promiscuously.

          It also assumes that the President’s melanin level is something odd that needs to be explained.

            • NO, AMS, the joke says Obama is black. No mixed-race child ever wondered why he looked different from one parent, and no dirty joke ever ended with “you think that this sex thing happened but HOLY SHIT THIS SEX THING HAPPENED!” clearly this is racist, because it involves someone being black.

              • I’ll quote Granny:

                “If it’s a white mom with a black baby, it is [racist.]. There can be no noticing the race of anyone…ever…except if you’re black or calling racist…then you can notice and point fingers at any person of any race you want to with complete immunity because shut up. Toddlers get less leeway. If I were black that alone would make me livid.”

                I think this is right. What’s inherently funny about mixed race parents? Are Jewish-Non Jewish parenting pairs immediately worthy of comment? Short and tall? Fat and thin? My father got constant crap from my mother’s family because he wasn’t Greek—and that was bigotry, plain and simple (and shown in many other ways too, throughout his life with my Mom).

                • Granny isn’t agreeing with you, Jack, read again. She’s saying that black people can call out people of other races, and if you’re shouting racism you can point out racial differences, but if you every point out any racial differences you are likely to be called a racist.

                  And if you really think the joke is in the black/white instead of in the mom getting screwed by a dog, I present to you the identical joke:

                  Mommy, how come you’re so tall but I’m staying so short? Don’t complain, kid, from what I remember of that party you’re lucky not to have four legs and a tail. Replace it with any other difference between a child and mother and the insinuation that he could have been a dog instead.

                  For someone who calls out race hucksters as often as you, I’m surprised you make the argument above that since the judge “admitted” the joke was racist it means it’s racist. Once you’ve been called out as “racist,” arguing the point is just digging deeper. The only way to avoid permanent damage is to confess and beg forgiveness.

                  • Or, the judge knows his own intent. I think the joke is dangerous because it can be taken wrong and people don’t know the intent of the person telling it. I’m constantly amazed at how many ways there are to look at the same thing. Pundits are especially good at parsing out a meaning that the speaker never intended and probably never even thought of. On the whole it’s made us a less forgiving and less good humored society. We all muzzle ourselves to some degree out of fear of being taken wrong. No one seems to assign the least harmful intent, instead they search for the most harmful intent possible and attribute that to the speaker. I notice kids are very good at this at younger and younger ages. It used to be a thing kids did at about age 9 or 10 peaking in Jr High now I see it in Kindergarten.

          • “It also assumes that the President’s melanin level is something odd that needs to be explained.”

            It assumes no such thing, Fred. The assumption is that the receiver of the joke empathizes with the innocence of the child, who recognizes that “each of us is not like the other.”

            You may as well assume that the child is asking along a line of questioning that is leading to his asking, “So why can’t *I* have sex with our dog?”

  3. I occasionally feel as if I,too, have been occasionally possessed by the demon Pazuzu (my husband would probably say “constantly.”). Not on racial grounds, but on psychiatric ones.

    If, however, Elizabeth/Pazuzu decided to share a racist joke (a la our old and much revered Secretary of Agriculture) — whether the “Pazuzu” part was racist or not — Elizabeth would have to take full responsibility for it.

    As anyone who reads this blog regularly (or even irregularly) I am somewhat less than fond of Barak Obama, but that has nothing to do with his race. In fact, although I didn’t vote for him either time, I thought the US had crossed a great and important rubicon by electing a black president. (I just wasn’t sure that Obama was the one…)

    The fact that he turned out to be divisive, a liar, a narcissist, and totally without the skills to do the job is a tragedy. What a wonderful thing it would have been for the US if its first black president was straightforward, competent, honest, and able to reach out for the best ideas without ideologues and sycophants as his only advisors. (And by the way, he and his cohorts have used the race card more than anyone… can’t he just be a person, an executive, and an honest leader without constantly hearkening back to being the “the first?” — and anything he wants to attach to it? Anyone who plays the race card re Obama is totally moronic: whites elected Obama, blacks on their own — being about 15% of the population — couldn’t have. )

    So, Elizabeth/Pazuzu believes that Ceball should have been sanctioned, and that the concept of ‘signature significance’ is a valid one. In any arena — politics, academia, sports, entertainment, business, etc.

    And this from one who — today, at least — is more Pazuzu than Elizabeth.

    • A lot of people without (diagnosed) psychiatric problems have the experience of “Oh God, did I actually say that?!”. I’m more sympathetic to the Pazuzu Plea in general than our host is. Levels of self-control vary and something as simple as low blood sugar can compromise it. People who always stop and think before they talk find it incomprehensible that the rest of the world just says things at random, but in fact they do.

      I’m not at all sympathetic to it when someone uses their work email and says the abusive material warms their heart. When things go that far it’s safe to draw unfavorable conclusions. Conclusions which, in this case, an investigation showed to be correct.

      • Right. It’s one thing to blurt out something insulting, crude, irrational (or if you are one, racist), but it’s another to take the time to WRITE it all out to a bunch of pals for them to “enjoy.” That takes intent and is much more revealing that the occasional faux pas in speech.

    • Thank you, Elizabeth. Your comment could have included channeling my inner Eeyore.

      Many of us are probably familiar with how versions of the Bible show God Saying: I Am A Jealous God. Well, I am a jealous sinner: I don’t want some sorry, lame, punk-ass ghost stealing credit for any of *my* sin. The older I get, the clearer it becomes to me what is sin, and what is not. So, when I sin, more often than not, I comMIT. I’m in all the way, baby. No regrets, no turning back, no repentance, not for a good, long while, and maybe never.

      That said – Pazuzu: You stay the hell out of this. Same goes for all you other lying, scheming celestial thieves. Out, and away!

      I like the joke. I laughed. I am not sorry that I like it and laughed. Put it away long enough for my memory to fade, then tell it to me again with different anthropological parameters and clever timing, and I will most likely like it and laugh again. Even my dog told me he doesn’t mind it.

      More seriously: Jack, I see “signature significance” as a tool of the devil. Not the concept itself, but the mis-application of it. When I can’t trust someone because he is so clearly, so deeply and irretrievably self-entombed in confirmation bias, I take his judgment that a third party’s action or speech is “signature significance” to be equivalent to today’s fraudulent cries of “racism.”

      Yes: It is signature significance, exposing the lying, scheming, thieving heart of one who adds to the noise of self-empowered, self-righteous indignation, when one says – knowingly capitalizing on sympathies of others who are similarly confirmation-biased – that another’s “disapproved” action or speech is “signature significance” of some “flaw” in that actor or speaker. The “case closed” mentality does not help. You want closed minds? What goes around, comes around.

      I would not have e-mailed the joke the judge sent out. But I would have respected him more if, in response to the uproar his mail caused, he had said instead: “Yeah. I did that. I like the joke. I laughed. You don’t like it? Tough titties! Maybe you brilliant critics in your infinite wisdom could re-tell the joke, so that you’re Mommy and I’m the little boy, and I can ask, ‘Why am I wrong and you’re right?’ I feel lucky to be the ‘subhuman’ amongst the likes of YOU!”

    • If it’s a white mom with a black baby, it is. There can be no noticing the race of anyone…ever…except if you’re black or calling racist…then you can notice and point fingers at any person of any race you want to with complete immunity because shut up. Toddlers get less leeway. If I were black that alone would make me livid.

        • The way race has become a divisive issue in this country has infantilized black people. If everything you do is excused and justified you never have to become accountable. This has proven to be an unhealthy way to live. Read Black Rednecks and White Liberals by Thomas Sowell for a complete picture of this issue.

          • Agreed, and it doesn’t help that, in 2013, we have a President and Administration that continues the “victimization” tool. “It’s their fault” is a longstanding and increasingly sickening way to cater to black voters. (And ultimately a worthless exercise, because as I’ve said before, whites elected Obama, not blacks, who are, after all only 15% of the population.)

            But your term “infantilization” is a good one, and I don’t think it’s derogatory. “You owe me” is a lame excuse; “it’s because you don’t like me” is a childish one. Not these days. Jim Crow laws are long gone, literally thousands of programs exist to assist parents and children in the ‘minority’ category, and if you have the skills (or the credentials, a la Obama) race decreases daily as an issue as the heterogeneous make-up of our population increases.

            My only comment in support of the black “victimization” stance is that public education has been especially hard on black children and adolescents — even if they stay in school, they come out with NOTHING. In my Northern Virginia (incorporated) city, almost 70% of white/Hispanic students leave elementary school and go to private or parochial schools. Why? The public schools suck; their policies and teachers suck; and suffering through four years at truly substandard schools gains them nothing. Perhaps some can call this early on and drop out. But in my suburban Washington town, the public schools make no bones about letting kids take the SOLs TWICE, if they need to, to increase their place in the Virginia school system.. This predominantly wealthy little city, as a Virginia educational jurisdiction, ranks 4TH FROM THE BOTTOM OF ALL VIRGINIA SCHOOL DISTRICTS. So, go Charter Schools, I suppose. (As a product of the public school system years ago, I did feel some guilt about sending my only child to private school; so are we saints or sinners because we decided NOT to sacrifice our only child for a “principle?”

        • I think a clear facet of any joke or humor itself is its efficiency. The only elements included in jokes are those necessary for the intended humor. If it wasn’t a racist joke, there would have been no mention of black or white.

          That being said, I don’t think all racist jokes are inherently wrong. It’s good to poke fun at the various aspects of our cultures we may take too seriously or are defining but quirky aspects of our cultures (insofar as any cultural aspect is predominantly associated with a particular ethnicity). This one however, is especially crude.

          • The joke hinges on the child being different from the mother in some noticeable way and the joke is the mother revealing her promiscuity in the answer. Maybe racist, but equally maybe not.
            Still, a stupid thing for a judge to include in an e-mail because it’s unkind and unnecessary.

            • Thank you. You have to have the hinge of the difference. And yes, it’s stupid for the judge, but not because it’s racist. Oh, and look up above in the comment string- Jack’s saying that you think the joke is racist in your response to AMS.

              • If not, then I don’t comprehend the comment. Dwelling on Obama’s race is racist for both critics and supporters; using race to define him is a racist tactic, either way, and that’s what the joke aims to do. No, it’s not a chimpmania joke, but that doesn’t mean that a black citizen would be hypersensitive to be offended by it coming from a judge—or that it isn’t oddly tone deaf for anyone else to shrug it off as harmless.

                • I never said nor implied harmless, or that it’s appropriate for a judge, and please don’t put those callous words in my mouth again. I said that there’s nothing that makes it particularly racist, since the humor comes from the beastiality twist.

                  • Wait—if it’s not racist, why isn’t it harmless? And if it’s harmless, why isn’t it appropriate for a judge? They can make jokes, as long as they don’t suggest bias, malice or incompetence. If the joke isn’t racist, then an investigation was improper…and I guess the fact that they found hundreds of bigoted e-mails was just a coincidence.

                    The reason the joke is harmful, unethical and inappropriate is that it signals racial bias and likely animus, and a shorthand description of such a joke is “racist.”

                    • You don’t think a judge telling a beastiality joke is unprofessional enough? And besides, you’ve backed up on the point of yoru article. You claim signature significance but back it up with the results of the investigation. Signature significance, by definition, MEANS that no further evidence is needed to draw conclusions. If the joke is of signature significance, then no investigation should have been required to know all you needed to know about the judge. If the results of the investigation are required to make accurate judgements, then I guess the original joke really doesn’t have signature significance does it?

                    • “You don’t think a judge telling a beastiality joke is unprofessional enough?”

                      No, though some judicial panel might find it a minor breach of decorum (the joke isn’t about bestiality, but about the vernacular “dogs”). A racist joke implicates fairness and equal justice.

                    • Besides, I would add, that based on yoru opening paragraphs you’ve just called a good number of your readers racists. There’s a goodly number of us here that have said we don’t find the joke racist, at least not definitively so, and even laughed at it. Naughty jokes are funny. According to your theory of signature significance every one of us who thought it was funny, especially if we’d seen it in an e-mail forward and passed it on, is by definition racist… somehow.

                    • you’ve just called a good number of your readers racists.

                      To be fair, there are a lot of races that I hate… 5k, 10k…

                      Pretty much anything that involves running, if we’re going to be honest with each other…

                    • Say, insufficiently racially sensitive. But finding a joke funny in the “oh my god, that’s awful!” sense is not necessarily a sign of racism. Sending a joke like that around to anyone but the readership of Chimpmania is, I think, reckless if not certifiable.

                    • Like I told my soldiers when they asked why I never made them run more than 4 miles proficiently:

                      If you have to run more than 2-4 miles and no vehicle is available, you’re better off turning around, making a stand and giving a good account for yourself.

                    • I can’t insert this up-stream, sorry, but it goes to your earlier reply in this same string of them. You say the joke isn’t about beastiality but about the vernacular “dogs,” as though “dogs” is somehow slang for black men? I’d buy it if the punchline were something playing on a slur that actually exists, like one involving monkeys- something black men have actually been historically compared to. Sometimes a dog fucking joke is just a dog fucking joke.

                    • “Dogs” are men of any race who “sniff around” women and who cannot control their sexual appetites and promiscuity. Surely this isn’t a new expression for you? But the individual being referred to thusly in this particular joke is presumed to be black.

                    • I’ve heard of “dogging” as UK slang for casual sex, usually with “dog walking” as an excuse for going out… but not in the sense you’re using it. I still think of it as way more of a stretch than just “she got wasted and was the star of the party, with a dog involved somehow.” There’s no twist there, given the setup of the joke the obvious answer is “the mother had sex with a black man at some point, presumably she isn’t still with him or the kid would know his dad was black” and the twist is “she didn’t just have sex with/ date a black guy, she ran a huge train in one half-remembered night, also dogs.”

                • I’m not saying it’s harmless. I’m saying it’s not blatantly racist. It’s harmful because it opens the possibility that the person telling the joke is racist and that causes the kind of civil discussion we’ve had here and (sadly) much less civil arguments among people who want to make political or social capital out of it. It doesn’t cause good things to happen and it certainly causes harm. But, I’m not sure defines the judge as racist except in a world where everything is subject to being called racist.

                  • That clarifies your position; thanks. I didn’t say its blatantly racist, or if I did, I shouldn’t have—I think it’s rather subtly racist, but also clearly so. I don’t see how an unequivocally non-racist joke is harmful, and I would never label it so. A joke that a reasonable person would find racist, however, made public, by a judge—harmful culturally and societally.

                    • A joke that a reasonable person would find racist, however, made public, by a judge—harmful culturally and societally.
                      In our present times, even us little guys need to be vigilant about anything we say/type sounding racist or bigoted.
                      But a judge, he should never be associated with this type of material.

                  • Granny-

                    As you have other times, you’ve said what I was looking for the words to say. the joke is doubtlessly harmful, but the whole intro to this piece was Jack saying that the joke is of signature significance in determing that the judge is a racist, which I just don’t buy.

                • Awwwww, now you’re just doing pointy-headed, Monday morning quarterbacks’ nitpicking. What storytelling joke involving persons is “harmless?” Don’t tell me I’m “oddly tone-deaf” to shrug off imagined harm or contrived over-reactions to harm. Don’t go there, lest you say next that it’s unethical to tell a joke without first possessing full assurance that the joke will not offend the most pathologically petty person imaginable.

                  • Gah, yes. He SAYS that above- near the top he says you should base yoru opnion of the joke on the worst possible plausible interpretation, and since you this joke is arguably racist then it’s racist, case closed. Plus I have no idea where it’s coming from to say “If it’s not racist, why isn’t it acceptable for a judge to say?” I don’t want judges sending out political jokes and making themselves look biased against a party, or dirty jokes showing a lack of decorum, isn’t that enough?

                  • Huh? I don’t mean “oooh, you hurt my widdle delicate feelings” harm—I mean actual harm, as in tearing open the scab of racial discord—societal harm, serious harm.

                    I think it’s oddly tone deaf to read a joke that non-wackos, including me, immediately react to be saying “THAT’s ugly—why wouldn’t a judge know that he shouldn’t be suggesting that being black is something to be ashamed of” and conclude that everyone is being hypersensitive. One’s Race-O-Meter doesn’t have to be jacked up to see such a thing, and yes, I’m suggesting that anyone who says, “Hey, I’ll send that to all my black friends, it’s so hilarious!” needs, as Mr. Grady says, to be “corrected.”

                    • Jack, your “shining” isn’t working (and I worry that your Race-O-Meter is all but busted). You have no idea (because neither do I), in a statistical sense, how many blacks (and African blacks, and half-blacks, and Bill Clinton- and Elizabeth Warren-pedigree blacks), or people of any particular race, would (or would not) enjoy the joke, specifically and especially with “Barack” put into the story – nor do you or I have any idea WHY people, and in what numbers, would (or would not) enjoy that joke. That you would admit to reacting to the joke as you describe, and that you would be so tolerant and understanding of mass reaction to the joke as you describe, is evidence (I won’t say signature significance) of Race-O-Meters that need to be corrected.

                      Let’s adapt the joke to Mitt Romney answering the same question by his black granddaughter: “Don’t go there, young lady. You should just be glad that you don’t have to put on my magic underwear.” Oops! There went our society, torn to shreds by racial, gender and sectarian animus. It’s all my fault. I’m a marked, dead man walking now. Just look at all the harm I just did!

                    • But that would, of course, also be a bigoted joke, anti-Morman, and enough for a judge in Utah to get run out of town, and justly so. So I guess I don’t see your point.

                    • You don’t see my point because of your confirmation bias. So, you made my point. You took my bait. You read my joke and concluded it is what it isn’t. Nice flourish of imagination about a judge in Utah being run out of town. I dare you to explain how my Romney joke is anti-Mormon. Dare you to prove that no Mormon ever, ever thinks and speaks humoringly about certain underwear. Dare you to prove that no white Mormon grandfather of a little black girl dodges her questions with wisecracks. I had hoped to leave dogs out of this, but I double dog dare you.

                    • You don’t really think that’s the standard, do you? Do I have to point you to ethnic and racial etiquette 101? Jews can make jokes about Jews that are bigoted and intimidating if made by non-Jews? It’s called the presumption of good will, or “My friends call me Shorty, you try it and I punch you in the mouth.” This is new to you? You don’t believe it? Confirmation bias has exactly nothing to do with it. Magic underwear jokes show contempt for the Morman religion by outsiders, and inside jokes by Mormans. Wow. I’m a foe of political correctness, but I can at least detect an offensive reference.

                    • Oh man, you are beyond orbital escape velocity with rationalization now. What you’re really talking about now is the provincial and tribal *presumption*of*ILL*will*against* – and ill will expected to be suffered at the hands of – “the other,” the “outsider.”

                      That presumption is unethical: unkind and cowardly, to name a couple of Ethics 101 descriptive terms. Ignorant, too. Adherence to that presumption enables the perpetuation of ignorance, plus unethical arrogance, exclusion, discrimination, cruelty and persecution. That adherence also enables the ethnic and racial etiquette (as you describe it) which encourages hypocritical and double-minded “insider” behavior toward “outsiders.” Like “insiders” saying and presuming “nigger” as a term of unquestioned endearment – while simultaneously, *hearing* “nigger” spoken by “outsiders” as unquestionable justification for shaming of and violence against those “outsider” speakers.

                      I am baffled at your rationalization using your “Shorty” example, but I am not going to fight with you any longer here about your confirmation bias. I can see you haven’t done certain missionary work. Just please know that I trust you, and I trust what you said in your last sentence at 7:57 pm – but you aren’t always correct. You aren’t correct about the joke(s).

                    • No, E, I am most certainly correct, and you can ask any Mormon, African-American or Dwarf. Perspective and context is everything. Note that the judge said he didn’t like Obama. If Michelle made that same joke, O might even laugh. Well, maybe not…

                    • Perspective and context is everything. Note that the judge said he didn’t like Obama.

                      Again, by this logic, anything that the likes of Melissa Herris-Perry, You’re, or Chris Mathews thinks a Republican says is racist, then that statement is racist.

                      You are giving the ultimate power to the perpetually offended crowd, to those who would do anything to silence critics of Obama.

                      Because we don’t like him, anything they perceive as racist, like the word “Obamacare”, is racist.

                      Great rule. Forgive me if I think it is bullshit and ignore it.

                    • What a silly, intentionally confounding reading! Chris Matthews regularly decides various “codes” are racist. These codes of his are deluded,not rational. The context in the line you quoted refers not to codes, but to direct words and phrases that are reasonably taken as insults from outsiders, ironic endearments from insiders. Clint Eastwood did an entire scene on the phenomenon in “Gran Torino.”

                      I refuse to believe this simple concept is beyond you, and it has zero to do with imagined offense based on perceived animus. It has to do with the reasonable interpretation of intent based on plain meaning.

                      E is being intentionally obtuse. “Gee, Mom, why am I black?” “Well, the fact that I was porked by a semi-articulate dog of a black man had something to do with it, Barack, so stop complaining; you’re lucky it isn’t even worse.” Yeah, thinking that’s racist in intent is EXACTLY analogous to saying that “Obamacare” is the equivilent of “nigger,” which was a typical bit of H-P race baiting. Rightly objecting to race-baiting and political corruptness should not render you unable to fairly identify a legitimate breach of civility and respect.

                    • I refuse to believe this simple concept is beyond you, and it has zero to do with imagined offense based on perceived animus. It has to do with the reasonable interpretation of intent based on plain meaning.

                      When you abdicate the power to decide if something is racist to those who perceive it to be racist, you absolutely open the gates to idiots like MHP to become the judge of your conduct.

                      Because it doesn’t matter what you meant, and it doesn’t matter how deluded they are, because YOU have given the power to judge to those who perceive, and who are you to say they perceive wrong?

                      Your blithe acceptance of this is baffling to me.

                • Sometimes a dog fucking joke is just a dog fucking joke.
                  I read the joke twice and then took it to mean that the mother was so drunk she would have been capable of having sex with a dog but instead had sex with a black guy who would be in the same category of amount of intoxication needed.
                  Beers needed to hump dog = 14
                  Beers needed to hump black guy = 14
                  Implying that a woman would need to be quite intoxicated to deliberately have sex with a black guy.

                  • So, it’s a pro-life joke to benefit Barack Obama? Meanwhile, all of Barack’s partners-in-policy and other protectors get to whine about how racist and insulting the joke is. Clever!

                  • I guess I can see how you came to that interpretation, but to me it’s still not as funny as beers needed to hump everything with a penis at the party = 27, so stop complaining that you just look a little different than me. I still say that legitimate different interpretation doesn’t even come close to “signature significance that you’re a racist.”

                    • “I still say that legitimate different interpretation doesn’t even come close to “signature significance that you’re a racist.” ”

                      As I still say, Luke (if I understand you correctly).

                  • That’s exactly how I read it. Mom: “I would have to be completely trashed before I’d ever sleep with a black guy but ‘you’re lucky’ because at least it’s one step above sleeping with a dog.”

            • I haven’t stated otherwise. In fact, I identified early on that it’s a “your momma” joke. However, the subtle premises involved to establish the confusing difference or tension in the joke, and the subtle premises used in the punch line to release the jokes tension ARE based on racial qualities.

              • As jokes go (and most of them can stay gone, as far as I’m concerned … except the one about the Unitarian on the road to Heaven), this one was superior in construction: almost elegantly convoluted, twisting and building with subtlety in the classic competitive style of the dozens. Insult humor raised to an artform, classically black on black (for one thing, white comedians poke at their own mothers, not other people’s), and as far as I’ve seen, inimitable.

                So this is something else. I didn’t get it until I stopped reading The Joke, and re-read the whole email.

                The effect — the message — of the joke doesn’t begin with its opening line introducing the boy and his mother; it starts the line before that with the racist viciousness of “Hope it touches your heart like it did mine.”

                Like one Klansman about to share with another his fond reminiscence of the magical sounds of the crackling fire as the crucifix burns on the lawn, and builds to a climax of hilarity when the child runs out of the house with his little bucket of water and just as he reaches it, one flaming arm of the cross … well, you know how it ends. It’ll warm your cockles.

                    • sorry, literally misplaced the reply to texag

                      This one’s for Elizabeth.

                      I cannot “tell” jokes. Not not-well, not at all. If it turns out badly … you had fair warning. All I can tell you is that it’s not a shaggy-dog. I wouldn’t do that to anyone (well, maybe the one about the Rarybird). This one may be best seen as a comic strip.

                      Visualize this immeasurably long line of people, straggling, slogging, single-file, ankle-deep in cloud, ever onward towards a muted vision of pearly goalposts in the farthest distance, enticingly backlit with each person’s heart’s desires.

                      Zoom in on the line closer to the front. It seems to be moving faster now. Heads lift, duck sideways to keep an eye on the far distance, check out who’s holding up the line. They’re not actually making speed, just getting antsy, impatient. Chatting with one another to pass the time. There hasn’t been much to see along the way.

                      Zoom closer still. pov is now at you-are-there level. Several people are pointing off to the left (I can’t help it; that’s my normal direction of deviation) where there seems to be shadow heading away from the main road.

                      It appears to be another pathway, another route to somewhere. Nothing threatening about it; just a surprise on an otherwise really boring journey. Everyone seems to be just trudging on past this fork in the cloudroad.

                      Suddenly you can see, a mile or so up ahead, that a figure has broken off and begun striding up the side-road. Then another, closer to you, but still unidentifiable as to person or destination. The folks before and behind you have no more idea what it means than you do. Curioser and curioser. Passes the time.

                      You follow the purposeful line around a cloud-corner you haven’t noticed before and there ahead of you is the signpost you’ve been waiting for, a sturdy roughcut arrow-shaped signpost pointing on down the road toward the beckoning gates:

                      “THIS WAY TO HEAVEN”

                      As your spirits lift, you relax now, knowing you are on the right road; you having nothing to do but walk on. The person ahead of you doesn’t seem to feel the same as you; his (or her — this is for Elizabeth after all) shoulders slump a bit, her step seems to falter. Strange.

                      As you approach the big signpost, you notice out of the corner of your eye that you are coming to a crossroad: this is where that deviant path must begin.

                      There is another arrow-sign. You can’t make out the words; the person just ahead of you is blocking your view. Suddenly, she gives a delighted laugh of recognition, turns away from the main path, and practically leaps off onto the cloudy detour.

                      Now you can read the message clearly:

                      THIS WAY TO A DISCUSSION ON HEAVEN
                      *** the end***

                  • Shock joke, I guess. I’m not used to classifying them. It’s one of those punch lines that doesn’t finish off the story as expected but bounces you back to the beginning. Second, bigger laugh. (or not, as far as Cebull’s go)
                    And I forgot to give due credit, tex — I think it was your use of the word “subtle” that kept me looking for something else. Thank you. I often find on these blog-bottoms that someone had conveniently made conscious a deeper layer of my mind and sent me thinking in yet another direction (usually having nothing to do with the main post) or, much more often, expressed the thought better than I could have.

                • I think you’ve got an important point there. It would have been different, still bad but quite different, if it had been introduced as “The cab driver told me this one yesterday” or “What do you think of this one?”. As it was the judge gave it an implied endorsement.

              • However, the subtle premises involved to establish the confusing difference or tension in the joke, and the subtle premises used in the punch line to release the jokes tension ARE based on racial qualities.
                Yes, it’s not a well formed joke.
                Somebody was trying to be sort of racist without sort of saying it.

  4. Another point to examine is that the judge said it was meant to be private. After we’re done snorting at that claim in derision, it raises questions.

    What if he’d actually told it in private instead of spreading it around from his official email account?

    Would the people who passed along that he told it be guilty of an ethical foul in that counterfactual case? Would they be like the world’s Twittershamers? Would they only be ethical if they reported it through the official channels for ethics complaints? Does the fact that he’s a judge mean that apparent racism need to be publicized?

    Would he have had a defense in that case? I’ve shared some jokes with my wife under the umbrella of “can you believe how awful this is” that would make me look very bad if they were publicized. Would the same joke have had signature significance if he’d told it at home? I’d say “yes” if he’d told “How do you get Obama out of a tree?”, but not necessarily with this one.

  5. This is a reply to penn for his “This one’s for Elizabeth.” (penn’s January 23 at 10:35 pm)

    Well told. Good job. It’s a good one. But your career, your life, is now self-ruined, for your denigration of Unitarians (and Heaven’s sign-makers).

    Nevertheless, and Jack can “correct” me all he wants, I feel ethically obligated to advise you on how the signs in THIS little corner of the blogosphere read (apologies if arrows are unclear – I am proceeding on a trial-and-arrow basis here):


    • “on a trial-and-arrow basis

      oh genius. The directions of the arrows rather point to Jack's blog (a la droit = correctitude, not necessarily politics), followed by the posts that go back over it for discussion.

      But I deny any denigration of Unitarians. On the contrary, the one leaping joyously off the common road is obviously bound for the more rewarding eternity — sharing and debating ideas, changing, growing — than the ones who follow the herd, sign in on the naughty-and-nice register, and enter the most hellish infinity of all: one's heart's desire, forever repeated, forever bereft of
      the true enjoyment of anticipation.

      … I suppose it could be said that there was some denegration intrinsic to the story, say, following that Other Sign.
      [how DO you get HTML variety on here? It's really hard work to try to write well enough to indicate all the nuances]

  6. “Bumping” this, with more thanks (by ablativmeatshld, January 23 at 11:24 pm):

    “When you abdicate the power to decide if something is racist to those who perceive it to be racist, you absolutely open the gates to [morons] to become the judge[s] of your conduct.

    “Because it doesn’t matter what you meant, and it doesn’t matter how deluded they are, because YOU have given the power to judge to those who perceive, and who are you to say they perceive wrong?”

    • Except, I’m not judging the joke’s “racism” based on possible offense of hearers of the joke. I’ve judged it’s racism based on an accurate reading of the premises of the joke.

      The real divider here, I don’t think all racist jokes are inherently wrong. Some ARE funny, just like any joke that pokes fun at things we take seriously, are funny.

      • There’s that, too, which cuts at the heart of the “signature significance” argument that was the basis of the post. You don’t have to think that Mexicans are lazy, Black men are perverts, Catholics are pedophiles, Jews are greedy, Greek men are gay, blondes are stupid, Poles are also stupid, French people are cowardly, Homosexuals are flamingly flamboyant, or Asians are brilliant perfectionists to laugh at or share a joke that rests on those stereotypes.

        To answer Jack’s question above, there’s nothing “inherently funny” about having parents of two different races, any more than there’s nothing inherently funny about physical injury, stupidity, accents, mispronunciations, misunderstandings, death, taxes, sex, marriage, crime… and yet there’s funny jokes about all of them. A key element of humor IS in fact the unexpected, such as taking a topic that is serious or commonplace and putting a sudden hard right turn into it.

        • 1. “You don’t have to think that Mexicans are lazy, Black men are perverts, Catholics are pedophiles, Jews are greedy, Greek men are gay, blondes are stupid, Poles are also stupid, French people are cowardly, Homosexuals are flamingly flamboyant, or Asians are brilliant perfectionists to laugh at or share a joke that rests on those stereotypes.”

          The post said nothing of the kind,Luke, It said that it was signature significance for a judge to send them to others via e-mail.

          I like quite a few of those jokes, but I also know enough that they all could be interpreted as showing bias.

          2. In fact, as a student of humor, I can say that it is accepted that there IS something inherently funny about physical injury, stupidity, accents, mispronunciations, misunderstandings, death, taxes, sex, marriage, and certain crimes. The humor in none of these depends on the presumption that there is something inherently unnatural about it. There is something inherently funny about a president constantly injuring himself (Gerald Ford), being stupid (as in the Bush stereotype), having a funny accent (LBJ, JFK); mispronouncing and misunderstanding things (again, Bush, Reagan, LBJ), Having sex (Nixon, Clinton), marriage (Lincoln, many more). In this day, with the US history, the fact of a black President is not inherently funny, and one who thinks so is almost certainly a racist. Obama, because of the racial problems in American and the unique mistreatment of blacks by the majority race, is immune from some of the natural satire that he by rights would be vulnerable to. But nobody has had the guts to portray Obama as a gansta President, or holding a Cabinet meeting in ebonics, though that would be consistent with the acceptable humorous treatment of every other POTUS. You know why. And someone who doesn’t know why, who isn’t stupid, is almost certainly a racist.

  7. This is a “bumped” reply to texagg04’s comment at January 24 at 2:53 pm.

    Thanks Tex for your thoughtful comment. I almost missed it, thinking the discussion had reached its “talked-out” point for all involved. I don’t have automated means for being alerted about threads that have “stayed alive.” (Honestly, I prefer not to use such means.) I have to go back and look with my own eyes to see if a discussion has continued, and I don’t always do that.

    Thanks for sharing the jokes, with the challenge to consider which are “racist.” Rather than focusing on each of the seven jokes, I am aiming here to keep the discussion focused on the issues we have about “racist jokes.” By the way, I _did_ get your earlier sarcasm.

    But first, I want to help you out – can’t resist. You said you don’t get Joke #7. The punch line uses a stereotype about Scots. I did not know about that stereotype until I was in my 20s. I learned about it while dating my wife who, while good-humored, to my knowledge and for as long as I have known her, has played many pranks with glee, but has NEVER _told_ a joke – only shared jokes from others. She referred to a relative as “Scotch.” I had to have her explain that. The stereotype is of the miser, obsessively thrifty or budget-conscious – same stereotype as you might be more familiar with being attached to Jews. (“Scotch” now reminds me of one of Jack Benny’s schticks.) No true Scotsman would sit still for a fly stealing any of his beer.

    Ironically, perhaps, my wife has Scottish ancestry, but on the _other_ side of her family, not the side she was calling “Scotch.” (Where is the ethnic stereotype for the opposite type of person who too often overspends, or spends too freely or carelessly, as I have observed in my wife? What do I call her? All-American? Liberal? She probably thinks I’m Scotch, but holds back – or has no clue what my attitudes are about sharing beer.)

    Must stop for now; more later…others may pre-empt me, making my points better than I can.

  8. I accept that if a known racist likes a joke with racial content, it _might_ be fair to call the joke a racist joke. BUT: while I allow that _might_ be fair, that still does not mean that *I* am going to call the joke a racist joke. So I guess, in fairness, that might make me a fairnessist.

    I reject that a racist’s mere use of a joke necessarily _makes_ the joke a racist joke – in the same way that I reject the fact that a joke _receiver_ who reacts to a joke by calling it a racist joke _makes_ the joke a racist joke. I hold that this approach is consistent with my approach to the particular mother-and-child joke we have been discussing.

    A racist against blacks fairly can be expected to laugh at the joke with “Barack” inserted. But, such a racist’s “finding” that the joke is funny, confirmed to others by his laughing, is based on his irrationality, not the rationality of the joke. The story’s use of Barack, and that the mother did what she implied she did (based on what she said), feeds the racist’s confirmation bias: Barack and his mother are inferior, the racist believes; the racist furthermore believes that Barack is an exemplar of inferiority because Barack admits, and asks his mother about, his obvious skin color difference. A racist against a black POTUS named Barack would expect Barack to be such an exemplar, whether as a child or as an adult – but with resentment and hatred, because of the fact that such an “inferior” has been elected POTUS. It is unthinkable to the racist that a black person would be elected POTUS. Thus the racist must reconcile his cognitive dissonance by feeling justified in his hatred of the person (and his mother), and of the circumstances, that are unthinkable to him. So the association of the mother and Barack with dogs – literal or figurative – only further feeds the racist’s irrationally self-assigned superiority.

    To me, the rationality of the joke goes like this: A child asks his mother a question. The mother’s answer discloses details about herself, but dodges the answering of the question, saying “I don’t know” or “I don’t want to say” or “go away” in a way that treats the child cruelly for merely asking. After pondering all over again why I laughed, I have confirmed that I laughed because:

    (1) As a child, I was treated _halfway_ like that (i.e., without the cruelty, with rare exceptions involving siblings), and not just by my mother, thus I could relate to the frustrated child, and

    (2) It is absurd (to me) to think that my mother ever would be so cruel to me, or that I would be so cruel a parent, or that I would be happy to see any parent be so cruel – but still, having been there also as a parent, I can also relate to any parent who wants to dodge a child’s question.

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