Strossen and Kozinski

Strossen and Kozinski

An email conversation about the news of the day.
Sept. 21 1998 12:56 PM

Strossen and Kozinski

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Good morning, Alex,

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Happy new year! It's off to a good start, with this chance to chat with you. Someone recently told me that you were recently profiled in a snowboarding magazine. Since we are welcome to discuss magazines, you might fill me in on the latest boarding news!

This weekend I was traveling in some remote places where I couldn't get my New York Times fix. I'd like to share with you the particularly choice above-the-fold headline in Saturday's Missoulian: "High times at the Testicle Festival"! No, that is not yet another clever name for what Slate has been calling "Flytrap," but rather an annual Montana celebration of that consummate Western delicacy, "Rocky Mountain Oysters" (and, for any man who doesn't know what those are, let him eat--well, quiche).

I was told that another edition of the Missoulian, earlier last week, mentioned that a local bookstore was prominently displaying the newly-released book version of the Starr Report alongside a stack of my book, Defending Pornography! Which brings me back home to this morning's New York Times. In the business pages, I was delighted to see a picture of my human rights colleague, Peter Osnos, who had left a major publishing house to start a new company dedicated to publishing "serious nonfiction scorned by conglomerates seeking best-seller profits." Ironically, the leading title on his debut list this fall is, as the Times puts it, "a breast-heaving. . . tale of unrequited love"--of course, none other than the Starr Report. Even more ironic is the name that Peter had chosen for his new publishing company: "Public Affairs"! I do revel in this dramatic illustration of the incoherence of the supposed dichotomy between political and sexual expression, which too many judges and scholars contend should be at polar extremes of the First Amendment hierarchy.

The other article in today's Times that I found most intriguing touched on strikingly parallel themes in a dramatically different setting--the politically repressive, conservative Muslim country of Malaysia. Not only has a top political figure there been accused of sexual improprieties, but also, the raging public debates about the case have included graphic, sexually-explicit expression that have broken even more taboos in that society than Starr, et al. have broken in ours. Even more intriguingly, the unleashing of sexual expression has also loosened political dissent in revolutionary fashion. That is because the target of the sexual misconduct allegations, the top opposition leader Anwar Ibrahim, has responded with unprecedented public criticism of the longtime, authoritarian Prime Minister Mahathir Mohamad. Indeed, the Times story suggests that many Malaysians were even more excited by the liberation of political dissent than by the newly open sexual speech. As the Times put it, "Shouting words that had hardly been whispered here before, Mr. Anwar roused his listeners with statements like, 'Dr. Mahathir has lost the people's support,' and the time has come for him to step down." Now, to this human rights activist, that expression is truly exciting in a way that the Starr Report is not!

Nadine Strossen is president of the American Civil Liberties Union and author of Defending Pornography. Alex Kozinski is a federal judge in California. He sits on the 9th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals.