More like this, please:
The following is a letter to the editor of The Charleston Gazette, a West Virginia newspaper, penned by author Pat Conroy following the banning of two of his novels in West Virginia's Nitro High School.
A Letter to the Editor of the Charleston Gazette:
I received an urgent e-mail from a high school student named Makenzie Hatfield of Charleston, West Virginia. She informed me of a group of parents who were attempting to suppress the teaching of two of my novels, “The Prince of Tides” and “Beach Music.” I heard rumors of this controversy as I was completing my latest filthy, vomit-inducing work. These controversies are so commonplace in my life that I no longer get involved. But my knowledge of mountain lore is strong enough to know the dangers of refusing to help a Hatfield of West Virginia. I also do not mess with McCoys.
I’ve enjoyed a lifetime love affair with English teachers, just like the ones who are being abused in Charleston, West Virginia, today. My English teachers pushed me to be smart and inquisitive, and they taught me the great books of the world with passion and cunning and love. Like your English teachers, they didn’t have any money, either, but they lived in the bright fires of their imaginations, and they taught because they were born to teach the prettiest language in the world. I have yet to meet an English teacher who assigned a book to damage a kid. They take an unutterable joy in opening up the known world to their students, but they are dishonored and unpraised because of the scandalous paychecks they receive. In my travels around this country, I have discovered that America hates its teachers, and I could not tell you why. Charleston, West Virginia, is showing clear signs of really hurting theirs, and I would be cautious about the word getting out.
In 1961, I entered the classroom of the great Eugene Norris, who set about in a thousand ways to change my life. It was the year I read “Catcher in the Rye,” under Gene’s careful tutelage, and I adore that book to this very day. Later, a parent complained to the school board, and Gene Norris was called before the board to defend his teaching of this book. He asked me to write an essay describing the book’s galvanic effect on me, which I did. But Gene’s defense of “Catcher in the Rye” was so brilliant and convincing in its sheer power that it carried the day. I stayed close to Gene Norris till the day he died. I delivered a eulogy at his memorial service and was one of the executors of his will. Few in the world have ever loved English teachers as I have, and I loathe it when they are bullied by know-nothing parents or cowardly school boards.
About the novels your county just censored: “The Prince of Tides” and “Beach Music” are two of my darlings, which I would place before the altar of God and say, “Lord, this is how I found the world you made.” They contain scenes of violence, but I was the son of a Marine Corps fighter pilot who killed hundreds of men in Korea, beat my mother and his seven kids whenever he felt like it, and fought in three wars. My youngest brother, Tom, committed suicide by jumping off a fourteen-story building; my French teacher ended her life with a pistol; my aunt was brutally raped in Atlanta; eight of my classmates at The Citadel were killed in Vietnam; and my best friend was killed in a car wreck in Mississippi last summer. Violence has always been a part of my world. I write about it in my books and make no apology to anyone. In “Beach Music,” I wrote about the Holocaust and lack the literary powers to make that historical event anything other than grotesque.
People cuss in my books. People cuss in my real life. I cuss, especially at Citadel basketball games. I’m perfectly sure that Steve Shamblin and other teachers prepared their students well for any encounters with violence or profanity in my books just as Gene Norris prepared me for the profane language in “Catcher in the Rye” forty-eight years ago.
The world of literature has everything in it, and it refuses to leave anything out. I have read like a man on fire my whole life because the genius of English teachers touched me with the dazzling beauty of language. Because of them I rode with Don Quixote and danced with Anna Karenina at a ball in St. Petersburg and lassoed a steer in “Lonesome Dove” and had nightmares about slavery in “Beloved” and walked the streets of Dublin in “Ulysses” and made up a hundred stories in the Arabian nights and saw my mother killed by a baseball in “A Prayer for Owen Meany.” I’ve been in ten thousand cities and have introduced myself to a hundred thousand strangers in my exuberant reading career, all because I listened to my fabulous English teachers and soaked up every single thing those magnificent men and women had to give. I cherish and praise them and thank them for finding me when I was a boy and presenting me with the precious gift of the English language.
The school board of Charleston, West Virginia, has sullied that gift and shamed themselves and their community. You’ve now entered the ranks of censors, book-banners, and teacher-haters, and the word will spread. Good teachers will avoid you as though you had cholera. But here is my favorite thing: Because you banned my books, every kid in that county will read them, every single one of them. Because book banners are invariably idiots, they don’t know how the world works — but writers and English teachers do.
I salute the English teachers of Charleston, West Virginia, and send my affection to their students. West Virginians, you’ve just done what history warned you against — you’ve riled a Hatfield.
Just got home from seeing The Weakerthans at 9:30 in DC. The show was incredible. You know how sometimes you'll hear a song and you think, my god, that song is incredible. I wish I'd written that. That's what I think about every Weakerthans song. I really think that they are one of the most intelligent bands around.
Here's the video for "Our Retired Explorer (Dines With Michel Foucault in Paris, 1961)"
At the USDA Graduate School's Introduction to Macroeconomics Class:
All students are asked to introduce themselves.
Twenty-something: "My name is [removed], I work for Senator [X], and we are doing a lot of work on the Farm Bill... so I really look forward to taking this course."
Fellow student whispers to another classmate, "I'm so happy to hear that the people working on the Farm Bill are taking Intro to Macro classes."
Overheard in DC
Alexander awoke from his midmorning nap with a sense of foggy confusion. What time is it, he thought as he stretched on the sofa, crunching and uncrunching his face to work his eyes open slowly so that they could adjust to the bright sunlight pouring in through the window behind him.
On his chest slept Titian, an overweight and curmudgeonly cat, his face resting on front paws folded under his chin, a slight twitch in his nose and upper lip as he dreamed the dreams of overweight city cats in high-rise buildings, of moths and grass and small brown garden snakes slipping between garden rows
Alex thought for a minute about what to do about the cat sleeping on his chest. He could push the cat down, but he'd tried that before and the cat had proven resilient to such attacks, pushing back with all his weight, consciously or unconsciously, resulting in an unseemly struggle between a grown man and his cat in which, on occasion, the cat emerges the victor.
There was also the option of sitting up, causing the cat to fall from him. But, again, this was a plan more apt to succeed in theory than practice, as empirical evidence showed quite without a doubt that the cat need merely extend his claws into Alex's chest as he rose, hanging on defiant until the searing pain shooting through Alex's flesh caused him to lay back down. The cat knew this.
So Alex lay, attempting to persuade the cat that perhaps he, too, would like to get up and have a cup of tea, or perhaps a small snack, a biscuit or some toast. Eventually, the cat stood up and, looking at him with a groggy disdain, walked to the other end of the sofa and laid curled up, turning his back on Alex as if to make plain his contempt for a grown man who would rather reason with a cat than apply even the slightest of discipline.
I spent last week hanging out at a Mexican circus and cruising from the Sea of Cortez out into the Pacific Ocean. Then I come home to this.
A small private intelligence company that monitors Islamic terrorist groups obtained a new Osama bin Laden video ahead of its official release last month, and around 10 a.m. on Sept. 7, it notified the Bush administration of its secret acquisition. It gave two senior officials access on the condition that the officials not reveal they had it until the al-Qaeda release.
Within 20 minutes, a range of intelligence agencies had begun downloading it from the company's Web site. By midafternoon that day, the video and a transcript of its audio track had been leaked from within the Bush administration to cable television news and broadcast worldwide.
The founder of the company, the SITE Intelligence Group, says this premature disclosure tipped al-Qaeda to a security breach and destroyed a years-long surveillance operation that the company has used to intercept and pass along secret messages, videos and advance warnings of suicide bombings from the terrorist group's communications network.
I'm going back to Mexico.