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New Low in Prosecutorial Discretion? Also, an Explosive Twain Edit

A county prosecutor in Michigan is throwing the book at Leon Walker, who read his wife’s email (via using her not-concealed password) on a laptop that he had purchased for their use. His motivation was to protect his baby daughter – he suspected his wife of bringing her to trysts with a former husband. The wife had previously told Walker that the former husband had physically abused her in front of another child, and Walker began to fear for his daughter. Under a “hacking” statute – which some argue is inapplicable to this situation – Walker could serve up to five years in prison if convicted.

I hope the jury acquits him, or the judge sentences him to nothing.

According to this excellent article, the prosecutor, Jessica Cooper, says in response to questions about her prosecutorial discretion, “There’s been a hacking.” The article concludes by observing there’s also been adultery, which is still a crime in Michigan, and where is the prosecution for that if every violation is fair game? Worth a read.

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Another article I found interesting discusses a new edition of Mark Twain’s novel, “The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn,” (the new edition being the work of a leading Twain scholar) in which words that today have become taboo due to cultural sensitivities are edited to more neutral terms. In theory this could remove the book from “banned” lists at many schools, and make it possible to teach the book more widely. There has been an understandable uproar about the changes, however.

The comments to the article contain some excellent back-and-forth. I have yet to make up my mind because I haven’t heard one question answered (if it can be answered). I want to know: What would Twain think of the new edition? He wrote the book at a time when the terms were not taboo. One of the themes of the book is the boy Huck’s overcoming his racial stereotyping and prejudice against Jim, the runaway slave he travels with – at least in his heart, if he is unable to overcome his conditioning. From the wikipedia entry:

Throughout the story, Huck is in moral conflict with the received values of the society in which he lives, and while he is unable to consciously refute those values even in his thoughts, he makes a moral choice based on his own valuation of Jim’s friendship and human worth, a decision in direct opposition to the things he has been taught. Mark Twain in his lecture notes proposes that “a sound heart is a surer guide than an ill-trained conscience,” and goes on to describe the novel as “…a book of mine where a sound heart and a deformed conscience come into collision and conscience suffers defeat.”

I wish some Twain biographers would weigh in on whether Twain would prefer the ideas in his novel to be in format more open to discussion today, or whether he’d view the changes as too damaging to the power of the theme. People sounding off in the comments to the article say Twain knew the power of the words he used – but Twain was using them in the context of the culture he lived in, to make a point to people living then, in that culture. He wasn’t writing to an audience 100 years removed, where some words he used freely then have become verboten.  Come to think of it, he left his autobiography sealed for 100 years, due to sensitivities about the people he’d inevitably offend. That at least shows his sensitivity to not always being “in-your-face” in his writing.

The wikipedia entry includes a bit where Twain responds to the banning of his book by a library, saying the book will now sell a lot more copies. But that may not be conclusive on the issue. The irony is that Twain’s themes have so thoroughly “won” the culture war that his book exposing the raw racism of the time has become widely taboo in the more civil society made possible by that victory. Maybe Twain would consider that a “win” – or maybe he wouldn’t. I don’t know.

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