Wednesday, January 12, 2011


Jared Loughner brought a 9mm Glock pistol to U.S. Congresswoman Gabrielle Giffords’ “Congress on Your Corner” event at a Safeway supermarket in Tucson, Ariz. on Jan. 8.

The 22-year old Loughner shot Giffords in the head at point blank range. He then fired at those gathered.

When it was over, Loughner killed six people, including a federal judge and 9-year old girl and wounded 14 others before he was subdued and arrested.

Remarkably, doctors estimated Giffords’ chances of surviving as “101 percent.”

The news media covering the shooting constructed a portrait of a deranged killer, a “lone gunman” as Fox News put it. CNN and other networks connected the fact that Giffords is a Democrat and her office was vandalized last year following her vote on the healthcare bill. A map from Sarah Palin’s website,, of the U.S. showing crosshairs over districts of those who voted for the health care bill – Giffords’ district among them - inferred some ominous threat of violence. The site scrubbed the image following the shooting, leading many talking heads to speculate Loughner was a right wing Tea Party kook incited by what the news networks labeled “hateful speech.”

The media explored the story from every angle, debating whether there should be a ban on high-capacity gun magazines. This prompted an increase in gun sales as people believed the massacre would curtail their Second Amendment rights to have as much ammo as they could possibly carry, not including the bandoliers or slings.

When information about Loughner’s background revealed he wasn’t a Glenn Beck devotee and member of the Aryan Skinhead Brotherhood of Stalwart Republican Vanguard, Fox News reported that politics had nothing to do with Loughner’s decision to go on a killing rampage.

Loughner’s ghoulish bald dome and creepy visage that made Robert De Niro’s character from Taxi Driver seem genteel was splashed across every TV screen and newspaper.

Politicians, pundits, psychologists, and criminologists weighed in on the incident, on the shooter, on Giffords and on those slain. Along the way, the usual oversaturation of images, interviews and angles explored our “culture of violence,” our “handgun culture,” our “political divisiveness.”

What happened in Tucson was a tragic event. Nobody should experience the gut-wrenching horror that occurred in that parking lot. Yet the aftermath is an amorphous swirl of conjecture and blame, of chest-thumping and crying, of vigils and trigger-happy urban warriors who feel gun ownership is under attack.

For all we’ve heard about “hate speech” and “toning down the divisive rhetoric,” this is all I have to say: Words don’t kill people. Deranged psychopaths do.

Loughner posted videos where he ranted of “illiteracy” and grand conspiracies involving government officials and new currencies. He had a tumultuous personal life and in school responded with violent outbursts during his contrary arguments.
“In conclusion, reading the Second United States Constitution, I can’t trust the current government because of the ramifications: The government is implying mind control and brainwash on the people by controlling grammar.” Loughner wrote in a video showcasing his philosophy.

“Every human who’s mentally capable is always able to be treasurer of their new currency,” Loughner wrote.

Most of Loughner’s final video employs logical consequences to justify his crazy analysis: “If you call me a terrorist then the argument to call me a terrorist is Ad hominem. You call me a terrorist. Thus, the argument to call me a terrorist is Ad hominem.”

This would make sense if you taught logic from the confines of a rubber room.

Loughner was batshit crazy, and harbored hatred toward Giffords. This much is known based on letters he wrote. His obsession and loathing culminated in a murderous rampage.

Yet some networks covering the story just don’t get it. This guy was nuttier than a PayDay candy bar. He was insane. That’s the real danger, the visible threat. It wasn’t ideology, party affiliation or violent language. It's the ones we let slip through the cracks.

Politicians, pundits and social engineers wring their hands over this tragedy and blame guns, video games, rock lyrics and a “culture of violence” for transforming decent American youth into horrid murderous monsters.

Yet Grand Theft Auto IV or Marilyn Manson’s music won’t alter what’s in the DNA or the shitty family background.

Loughner was only one of a series of madmen who lived brief petty lives ending in explosive finales. Incomplete and unfulfilled men who didn’t fit in, who existed on society’s fringe. For them, the greatest threat is us. We’re the cattle they want to pick off, the seemingly functional in a dysfunctional universe.

Simplifying every massacre to a singular root cause (guns, hateful language, a volatile political climate, unrequited love) is a meaningless afterthought. Sometimes the gunman is just not right in the head.

Now it is for the dead we weep, those whose lives were cut short by senseless violence.

For many across the country, the tragedy playing out in Tucson only can remind us how precious life is and how important we are to each other. An assassin’s bullet can extinguish hopes and dreams in seconds. Sadly, it takes an event like this to remind us of how fragile and good we all are when we forget our differences and unite. Every candle lit, prayer uttered and tear shed brings us closer together as a people.

For those like Jared Loughner who flounder in the darkness, alone and in the company of their own deranged thoughts, life is a silent scream for help amid a crashing din of delusion. It’s these misfits, the truly lost and forgotten, who are insane prophets of nihilism and death, we should rescue. We should help them before they act on their blood-soaked fantasies. We should recognize the telltale warning signs and steer them towards more comforting places of aid and security.

Muzzling the beast before it bites will prevent another Tucson, another Virginia Tech or another Columbine.

Devolving the issue into a shallow political argument over words, guns and partisanship won’t.

Friday, January 7, 2011

The Expurgated Adventures of Huckleberry Finn

"Censorship is telling a man he can't have a steak just because a baby can't chew it."
- Mark Twain

NewSouth Books of Montgomery, Alabama announced they’re releasing a new edition of Mark Twain’s “The Adventures of Tom Sawyer and Huckleberry Finn” in mid-February that will remove the harsh “n-word” and replace it with “slave.” The work will also substitute the word “Indian” for the more colloquial “Injun’”.

According to Dr. Alan Gribben, a Mark Twain scholar who wrote the introduction to the new edition, “The n-word possessed, then as now, demeaning implications more vile than almost any insult that can be applied to other racial groups. There is no equivalent slur in the English language.”

Apparently Dr. Gribben never used the word “cunt” in front of a middle-aged woman.

Gribben notes the “n-word” through the years gained more raw impact to shock and disturb. He writes that Twain’s own personal views on the “peculiar institution” of slavery matched many in his hometown of Hannibal, Missouri. It wasn’t until Twain married a woman from a New York State abolitionist family that his opinion of slavery changed.

“Over the years I have noted valiant and judicious defenses of the prevalence of the n-word in Twain’s Huckleberry Finn as proposed by eminent writers, editors, and scholars.... Apologists quite validly encourage readers to intuit the irony behind Huck’s ignorance and to focus instead on Twain’s larger satiric goals,” Gribben writes.

Those who advocate purging the “n-word” from “Huckleberry Finn” believe doing so makes work accessible to all. They can’t fathom such a jarring, hurtful word repeated with such frequency. Twain used the “n-word” 216 times in the book.

The last time I heard that word bandied around that much I was listening to “Real Nigga Roll Call” by Lil’ Jon and the Eastside Boyz.

Spoiler alert: Antebellum race relations were considerably more backward compared to today. Blacks were viewed as property, to be auctioned off like cattle. They were slaves, manual laborers to be shunned and ridiculed by white society. You know: like Mexicans are now.

Gribben wrote that the esteemed African-American poet Langston Hughes wanted the “n-word” purged from all books, plays and poems because of its hurtful connotations and that black people don’t like seeing that word in any context.

In a similar vein, members of Congress took turns reading the U.S. Constitution on the House floor this week, but a politically correct, sanitized version that omitted those nasty racist parts such as Article 1, Section 2, which counted slaves as three-fifths of all other people.

Instead of using the Constitution to teach Americans that our laws and attitudes toward minorities has evolved over time by pointing out that Section 2 of the 14th Amendment changed the three-fifths apportionment in Article 1, Section 2, Congress just expunged it.

They also didn’t read aloud the 18th Amendment, which made the sale and distribution of alcohol illegal. The 21st Amendment repealed the 18th Amendment and ended the era of bathtub gin and speakeasies. Prohibition was a noble experiment, one that utterly failed. Far from creating a sober, godly nation, it gave a bunch of guys with no necks and wide-brimmed fedoras things to shoot at with Tommyguns.

Here’s the thing: when you start censoring things to appease a certain minority or group, you’re doing a disservice to everyone, even if your intentions for censoring the work are altruistic like not publishing the “n-word” in a novel or purely partisan showmanship like reading a redacted version of the Constitution.

Either way, you lose historical perspective. In sanitizing the work for the overly sensitive 21st Century palate, you’re corrupting its true intent and eliminating its historical significance.

A racial epithet caused many schools to ban “The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn” from their libraries. Twain’s 1885 novel joins the ranks of other banned books such as “The Catcher in the Rye”, “Of Mice and Men”, and “The Lord of the Flies.” All great books and ones I read in school, proving that the goal of education is to expose children to learning and new ideas, and not to encourage a new vocabulary for potty-mouths.

For “The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn,” it all comes down to that one pesky word.

Unless you’re the Grand Wizard of the Ku Klux Klan, you don’t like hearing or reading the “n-word”.

I am also guilty of self-censorship here. Like many educated suburban whites, the only reason I use “n-word” and not “nigger” is because I don’t want to get my ass kicked.

Watering down Twain’s masterpiece by replacing “Nigger Jim” with “Slave Jim” is like saying this awful word that defamed and disgraced a race of people never existed. An entire attitude of superiority and subservience is deleted by nixing that word, all to placate modern sensibilities and avoid offending people.

Why stop at “Huckleberry Finn” and the U.S. Constitution? As long as we’re on an Orwellian streak, let’s edit Schindler’s List to omit all references to the holocaust. After all, wasn’t the Nazi attitude towards Jews just as degrading and hurtful as the antebellum attitude towards blacks? How about we edit the Bible to not include all of that violence? Plagues. Famines. Murders. It’s all so disconcerting. How could anyone build a religion around such carnage and chaos?

The people raising the hue and cry for editing Mark Twain’s masterpiece probably have never read the book, just like those in Congress who spit and fume about constitutional rights have never read the Constitution.

Both works depict internal transformations over time.

Tom and Huck hold prejudiced views on slavery similar to those of any rural backwater town along the Mississippi in the 1840s. Yet they eventually conspire to set Jim free after befriending him. To modern readers, Jim appears as slow-witted dullard whose dialog is the precursor to Ebonics, however, he’s the novel’s hero.

The Constitution changes through time, reflecting the ebb and flow of society. In the 18th century, a black man was counted as three-fifths of a white person. In the 19th century, enslaved black men were free and given the right to vote. In the 20th century, blacks could vote without paying poll taxes.

And in the 21st century a black man would eventually be elected president.

In their over-zealous efforts to expurgate and amend, the censors put blinders on a new generation of readers and corrupt the author’s original intent. Sensitivity is not the job of the writer; it is the job of the censor. The writer reveals the rotten truth and holds the wretched core of racism and intolerance towards the light for public scrutiny and opinion. Second-guessing and timidity over fears such language would provoke outrage only quells expression.

The rollicking journey of two boys and a slave written by a well-loved American literary genius and legislation that reflects the country’s progress through time, should both be embraced and given clarity, not muddled through a distorted modern lens.

Appeasing the masses without confronting the ugly realities of our history will only create a country of milquetoast fantasists and bleeding-heart robots bereft of hindsight or perspective.