Fascinating Book, Skewed Perspective

August 9, 2019

Say Nothing:

A True Story of Murder and Memory in Northern Ireland

by Patrick Radden Keefe

Say Nothing provides a riveting narrative of the abduction and disappearance of a thirty-eight year old mother of ten during the Troubles in Northern Ireland in 1972. Patrick Keefe’s great strength as a writer is to focus unblinkingly on each tiny detail—to sketch breath-taking scenes and graphic characters—and to create a spiraling momentum with new discoveries and surprises around every corner. It’s an intensely intimate account that must necessarily open to concentric circles of context—political setting, economic condition, historical flow, cultural significance. And here’s where Keefe’s problems begin.

Some nonfiction writers insert themselves into their stories, revealing standpoint, perspective, and personal point-of-view, striving for both transparency and transformation. Others work hard to stand above or outside the action, aspiring to objectivity and offering, then, a god’s-eye view. Patrick Keefe is in the second camp.

This means that he never adequately examines his own assumptions about the tangled realities on the ground in Northern Ireland, his own received wisdom about Great Britain and its place in the world. These don’t require serious exploration or reflection because they’re simply common sense, the things that all intelligent and right-thinking people understand. The problem, of course, is that there’s nothing more insistent and dogmatic than common sense. And that leads to assured moral judgments without either serious self-reflection or accountability.

His curiosity and empathy—the foundation of understanding, let alone discovering any tentative “truth”—extend to the victims of the Provisional Irish Republican Army campaigns (including disillusioned soldiers like Dolours Price) but not to the Provos themselves. Brendan Hughes is a three-dimensional character; Gerry Adams is a cartoon (at one point Keefe nods approvingly as Adams is compared to Charles Manson).

Certain Provos are referred to as “terrorists” so often that the designation becomes practically a first name; the British at their most brutal are “troops” or “the Brigadier” or “the Prime Minister.” Patrick Keefe might have asked: What motivates the Provos? Describe. What do they think they’re up to? What allows them to inflict (and suffer) such pain? What is terrorism? What are the limits of political action?

Further: What is Falls Road? Describe. What is ethnic cleansing? What is a “minority”?

Interestingly Patrick Keefe opens with a marvelous epigram from Viet Thanh Nguyen, but he never grasps the hallmark of Nguyen’s work: the willingness to dive into rather than flee from contradiction. Keefe fails again and again to explore the contradictions that loom up right in front of him: What does it mean to commit oneself to a cause (or a nation or a religion) while retaining a mind of one’s own? In a landscape so twisted by violence, oppression, and exploitation, how does one live a life that doesn’t make a mockery of one’s values? How does one see a violent uprising in light of the conditions that ignited it? He doesn’t explore the deepest questions—What does it mean to regard one another deeply and hopefully? What are the consequences of our failure to do so?—because his curiosity and empathy have exhausted themselves running along a single track.

But as the friend who gave me the book pointed out, if I wanted a book to tell the story of Ireland from the 50s to the  present from a progressive point of view, this isn’t it. And it really can’t be. Keefe told the story he wanted to tell, and he acknowledges  that he spent less time on British atrocities than on the Provos—his book is about only one terrible tragedy among thousands—but in a way that’s a cop-out.

The title of Keefe’s book is taken from a poem about the Troubles by the great Seamus Heany: Whatever You Say, Say Nothing. It refers to the code of silence adopted by the revolutionaries. Patrick Keefe has said something (he’s a solid reporter), but not nearly enough. Fascinating book, skewed perspective.


From Brother Mike Klonsky

August 7, 2019

A Dystopian Vision Of American Education

Posted: 06 Aug 2019 12:31 PM PDT

In the wake of the latest wave of politically-driven, mostly white, male supremacist terrorism that left at least 31 dead in El Paso and Dayton, Trump and the Republicans are scrambling to create a narrative that acquits them and their leadership of culpability and collusion in the bloody affair.

In the past few days, the GOP line has shifted blame away from Trump’s demagogic violent appeals to his racist supporters, on to the mentally ill, video games, and “fake news”.

That was exactly the imagery laid out in the El Paso shooter’s “manifesto”.

Their narrative portrays America as a holy battlefield in a war in defense of white, christian values and a future of Republican political power.

It now includes a dystopian vision of schools as armed camps with gun-toting teachers, cops and militia surrounding school buildings and waiting for the invading enemy of infidels to make their next move.

This represents a giant-step past their previous neoliberal vision of school “choice”.

Their current line was best articulated by Trump adviser Sean Hannity yesterday. The Fox News host is calling for a volunteer army of armed ex-cops and soldiers that would be “everywhere.”

“I’d like to see the perimeter of every school in America surrounded, secured by retired police … have one armed guard on every floor of every school, all over every mall, the perimeter and inside every hall of every mall.”

“Every school,” Hannity said. “Secure the perimeter of those schools. Equip them with retired police and military, they should be on every floor of every school.”

There are close to 100,000 public and 35,000 private K-12 schools in the United States so a force large enough to “surround the perimeter” and be on each floor would require several hundred thousand people, if not more. — Huffington Post

Aside from the fascist, police state implications, school safety and curricular issues involved in all this, Hannity’s plan leaves me wondering how it matches up with veteran cops’ view of their own retirement.
I may be wrong, but I can’t imagine that hundreds of thousands of veteran 1st-responders are dreaming about spending their golden years guarding the perimeters of schools and shopping malls for no pay, instead of fishing or hanging out with the grand kids.
Deplorables are jumping for joy at the reports that the Dayton shooter wasn’t a Trump-supporting white supremacist. But I don’t see why they’re so happy. Here’s an early report on what motivated this 2nd-Amendment gun freak.
High school classmates of the gunman who killed nine people early Sunday in Dayton, Ohio, say he was suspended for compiling a “hit list” of those he wanted to kill and a “rape list” of girls he wanted to sexually assault. https://t.co/lEAGcCTOwW

— KTLA (@KTLA) August 5, 2019

Arm this guy with a military-style assault weapon? Great say Republicans.

Toni Morrison: Rest in Power!

August 6, 2019


Vivian Paley

August 2, 2019

Vivian Gussin Paley was an inspiring teacher, a brilliant colleague, and a generous friend. Her foreword to my first book, The Good Preschool Teacher, is a small masterpiece. She died at age 90 on July 26, and my brother Rick Ayers, another inspiring teacher and teacher educator, wrote this to his students: “Vivian Paley was a great teacher-writer whose books made the thoughts and lives of young children visible. Let’s hope a new generation of teachers will follow her example and stay in the classroom and write, write, write. All teachers of students of all ages should read her great manifesto against exclusion, “You Can’t Say You Can’t Play,” and her subtle exploration of race in “The Girl With the Brown Crayon.” In “White Teacher” she was quite early in looking at the way white teachers are reluctant/awkward to talk about race. “Molly is Three” is an exploration of the vivid and fantastic logic in the mind of a three-year-old. Her motto, “What we value we talk about,” is one of the most provocative and valuable pieces of advice for apprentice teachers.” https://www.nytimes.com/2019/08/01/education/vivian-paley-dead.html

America is in the Heart

July 31, 2019

Just finished “America is in the Heart,” a memoir by the Filipino poet Carlos Bulosan, first published in 1946 and reissued this year by the University of Washington Press in a new series called Classics of Asian American Literature. It’s a harrowing read, the story of a peasant boy in the Philippines, dirt poor and on the verge of starvation, who musters all his strength and courage and resourcefulness to find his way to the fields, canneries, and fisheries of the West Coast of the US. There his dreams of freedom crash into the hard realities of discrimination, racism, exploitation, cruelty, and violence. He sees it all—the casual brutality of the cops, the hatred of the vigilantes, the thievery of the bosses, the angry mob chanting, “Why don’t they ship those monkeys back where they came from,” but also the generosity of an emergency room nurse and doctor, the kindness of several chance encounters, and the support of fellow artists. He and his brothers become labor organizers and join the Young Communist League. His experiences—brutal and raw—are an essential part of the complex narrative that is our country. Bulosan persists, certain that the America of his dreams—a place where people take care of one another and cooperate to build a world based on love and respect and justice—is still possible. This story is part of his attempt to make it so.

Woody Guthrie:

The crops are all in and the peaches are rotting

The oranges are piled in their creosote dumps

They’re flying you back to the Mexico border

To pay all your money to wade back again.

My father’s own father, he waded that river

They took all the money he made in his life

My brothers and sisters come working the fruit trees

And they rode the truck till they broke down and died.

Good-bye to my Juan, good-bye Rosalita

Adios mis amigos, Jesus y Maria

You won’t have a name when you ride the big air-plane

And all they will call you will be deportees.

Some of us are illegal, and others not wanted

Our work contract’s out and we have to move on

But it’s six hundred miles to that Mexican border

They chase us like outlaws, like rustlers, like thieves.

We died in your hills, we died in your deserts

We died in your valleys and died on your plains

We died ‘neath your trees and we died in your bushes

Both sides of the river, we died just the same.

Good-bye to my Juan, good-bye Rosalita

Adios mis amigos, Jesus y Maria

You won’t have a name when you ride the big air-plane

And all they will call you will be deportees.

A sky plane caught fire over Los Gatos canyon

Like a fireball of lightning, it shook all our hills

Who are all these friends, all scattered like dry leaves?

The radio says they are just deportees.

Is this the best way we can grow our big orchards?

Is this the best way we can grow our good fruit?

To fall like dry leaves to rot on my topsoil

And be called by no name except deportees?

Good-bye to my Juan, good-bye Rosalita

Adios mis amigos, Jesus y Maria

You won’t have a name when you ride the big air-plane

And all they will call you will be deportees.

Megan Rapinoe:

July 23, 2019
“I think this country was quite literally built on the backs of people who weren’t from here, and were forced to come here in slavery.”

From Comrade Fred Klonsky

July 20, 2019

Ilhan Omar, the courageous Congress member from Minnesota, has introduced a bill affirming that Americans have the right to participate in economic boycotts for political purposes.

The legislation doesn’t specifically mention the Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions movement, but the BDS movement (which some free speech deniers want to make advocating for a crime), would be covered.

House Resolution 496  asserts that boycotts “have been effectively used in the United States by advocates for equal rights since the Boston Tea Party and include boycotts led by civil rights activists during the 1950s and 1960s in order to advocate for racial equality, such as the Montgomery bus boycott, and promote workers’ rights, such as the United Farm Workers-led boycott of table grapes.”

It also identifies historical moments when Americans participated in boycotts to push human rights in other countries: the boycotting of Imperial Japan during the late 1930s, the boycotting of Nazi Germany from 1933 to 1941, the boycotting of the 1980 summer Olympics in Moscow, and the boycotting of South Africa.

Omar’s bill currently has two cosponsors: Rep. Rashida Tlaib (D-MI) and Rep. John Lewis (D-GA).

Omar’s bill comes in the wake of a law requiring Texas teachers to sign a loyalty oath to Israel.

In 2015 the Illinois legislature passed a bill that calls for our public pension funds to disinvest in any companies participating in an economic boycott of Israel.

I pointed out at the time the irony of a legislative body that has consistently underfunded our pension system using the funds for political purposes.

But the bill was passed unanimously.

So was a similar bill in the Chicago City Council.


Once again, thank you Congress member Omar for understanding what the first amendment means. Sometimes even our most progressive legislators seem to forget.