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Kitchener Waterloo Record story on rec.humor.funny

The following article appeared on the front page of the Dec 1, 1988 Kitchener Waterloo Record, publised in Kitchener, Ontario.

It is reproduced with permission. (How often do you see that?) In my opinion this is a gross misrepresentation which will possibly result in not just the downfall of rec.humor.funny, but many other groups as well. Further comment follows. Don't reply to me immediately,

The Kitchener-Waterloo Record
225 Fairway Rd.
Kitchener, Ont.
N2G 4E5


Wayne MacDonald, Managing Editor
Story Byline: Luisa D'Amato

In large type:

UW computer system used to send racial jokes

Editor's note: As a matter of general policy, the Record does not publish material judged to be racially offensive. We have made an exception in this article because the actual jokes and comments contained within represent the central issue and are the key elements in aid of full reader understanding and appreciation.

By Luisa D'Amato
Record Staff

Controversial racial jokes are being sent by computer from Waterloo to about 20,000 people world-wide, using the University of Waterloo mathematics computer systems as part of the chain of communication.

From California to Massachusetts to Isreal, computer users are bitterly arguing about Brad Templeton of Waterloo adn whether he ought to be transmitting jokes that some see as offensive and racist.

Templeton, who owns Looking Glass Software in Waterloo, is the editor of a computer joke exchange that is part of the USENET computer network.

One recent joke depicts a black man, who is dating a gorilla and isn't allowed to buy it a drink in a bar. He dresses, shaves and puts makeup on the animal, which is then let into the bar and is mistaken for an Italian woman.

Another joke describes a Jew who is murdered after he tricks a Scotsman into buying him dinner.

Officials at UW say they are discussing what to do about the fact the institution carries Usenet -- including the joke exchange.

Templeton said in an interview that he's edited the joke exchange without pay, as a hobby, since August of 1987. He said only about 10 per cent [No, I said 5%] of the jokes he sends out are racially, sexually or otherwise offensive.

His usual practice with offensive jokes is to put them in code. Then, the people who want to read it press a couple of keys to decode it.

He receives dozens of jokes each day from readers and sends out about two a day. He said he doesn't judge the jokes based on their content, but only their comic value.

"Jokes which offend some people do come through," Templeton said. "It's my belief that it is better to have a world in which we can laugh at the evil things that are in the world, than a world where we must carefully consider whether or not anything can offend someone." [I doubt my grammar was that bad.]

But others don't agree.

"This sort of thing just enhances stereotypes," said Abyd Karmali, who graduated this year from UW with a chemical engineering degree. "It legitimizes having these feelings and sharing them with people. That can only be damaging."

Karmali now studies at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology. He shares an appartment there with another student, Jonathan Richmond, one of several people who sent messages objecting to Templeton's judgement.

After lengthy debate on this, Templeton sent a joke, in code, entitled, "Top 10 reasons not to replace Brad as moderator."

Among the 10 reasons: "Kill six million of 'em, and the rest lose their sense of humor. Jeez."

Asked about that line, Templeton said, "Mostly I was just making fun there. That line was sarcasm... A lot of people wrote back to say that line was tremendously funny.

"The idea is what you're laughing at is the absurdity of the line; the absurdity of suggesting that killing six million Jews was something to be taken lightly. That's why the 'Jeez' is there. And so I feel that's definitely an example of a line where you're laughing at the racist attitude rather than the race.

Richmond said he sees the joke as an "act of violence" which "defames the memory" of the Holocaust victims.

"One racist joke disseminates over a network of thousands of people. It's the promotion of an underground network of bigots," he said.

"People feel that have a different relationship with computers than with other people," he said. "They feel that can type on to a keyboard what they might not say to someone's face."

Meanwhile, Karmali, who was a student residence don and president of the chemical engineering society while at UW, says his alma mater is "acting as an accessory" in the matter.

UW gets USENET because many of the network's hundreds of different groups offer "valuable information" on computer software, said Lyn Williams, executive assistant to the dean of mathematics.

The university sees itself as a "common carrier" of information, with no mandate to review information passing through its computer system, she said.

But she said it would be possible for UW to discard the so-called recreational services in USENET, such as the joke exchange and tips on sports and leisure activities.

Alan George, UW vice-president academic and provost, said Tuesday that he hasn't heard about the controversy, but "I'm certainly going to ask a lot of questions."

"In some way, the university is facilitating this... and I think, as such, we'll certainly look into it," he said.

"The university generally would be opposed to any ethnic or racially offensive jokes."

About 180 people at UW regularly read the joke exchange, Templeton said. And "no one from Waterloo that has contacted me has expressed anything but support," said Templeton, who was a UW student in the late 1970s and early 1980s.

Templeton said he believes the controversy arose because the joke about the Jew and the Scotsman was transmitted close to the 50th anniversary of Kristallnacht, Nov 9-10, 1938, when Jewish businesses were gutted and synagogues burned in Germany.

After Richmond complained, Templeton apologized for having neglected to put the joke in code.

However, Richmond said that doesn't answer his concerns. "It's still there... He ahs sent it out with the (descriptive) keyword, 'racist'... He is an editor. He should not include jokes which are racially offensive.

Richmond, who is Jewish, sent a message to other computer users. He said he worked in Watts, the black ghetto of Los Angeles, and "I have many eyewitness accounts of the hurt caused by racial stereotyping and by the jokes which promote it."

But many users disagreed with him. One message from Tel Aviv University in Israel asked Richmond: "Maybe you should ask yourself why do you take it so badly; maybe there is something wrong with your sense of self-identity?"

Another wrote: "My ultimate goal -- to reply to Jonathan Richmond -- is the elimination of Jonathan Richmond."


[Many more stories were published, but I did not get permission to reproduce them.]

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