Why is this interesting? - Friday, March 29

On Northern Ireland, The Troubles, and silence

Colin here. Greetings from Madrid. I’ve been reading Patrick Radden Keefe’s new book, Say Nothing. He’s a favorite of Noah and I, and is one of the most rigorous investigative reporters on earth. You might have read his story on the Sacklers and the opioid crisis, but you should check out the rest of his rich and varied New Yorker history as well.

Say Nothing is about “murder and memory” in Northern Ireland, a topic that I really have only glossed over in movies, articles, and occasional conversation. Delving so deeply into sectarian conflict, terror, retribution, and prison isn’t exactly what I would suggest for a beach read, but the depth and nuance of his reporting brings a brutal subject to life.

Also, we hear so much about this type of violence in Iraq and Afghanistan, it must be remembered that the same type of brutality, bombings, and torture played out in “The Troubles” not so long ago. And the division and hatred isn’t dissimilar to what we are starting to see in areas of the US today.

Why is this interesting?

His reporting was assisted from a very secret series of documents held under lock and key at Boston College as part of an oral history they began developing in the early 2000s. In addition, he got people to talk that had kept their lips sealed for a long time. As the book title suggests, these were people that would normally say nothing.

As the review in Vanity Fair explains:

“With the people who were involved in the I.R.A., there was this culture of silence around the work that they did. [But] I think, as humans, most of us have an impulse to tell our own stories. It’s just a very human desire to want to be understood by others.”

The challenge of reporting on such a complicated topic was exacerbated by the fact that a culture of silence existed, one where people that spoke up were often eliminated. It’s a world where the worst thing that could happen to a person is being labeled a snitch. But as with many things, in time, people want their story to be told and to be part of the historical record. This book goes a long way into contributing.

According to Keefe: “They wanted people to understand the things they did—even the terrible things they did. These people weren’t psychopaths. They planted bombs, they robbed banks, and they went on hunger strike. In some cases, they killed people. But a lot of them think, ‘I was an ordinary person who became a soldier for a cause that I believed in, and those things that I did seemed justified at the time by my cause.’” (CJN)

Quick Links:

  • Ateliers and repairs gives second life to clothing with a unique and very artistic approach. (CJN)

  • The documentary Hotel India is available on YouTube and tells the behind the scenes stories from the Taj in Mumbai, a truly magnificent place. (CJN)

  • Pinterest filed to go public this week. VC Fred Wilson had an interesting quick post about what he saw in the filing, specifically flat user growth in the US versus around 30 percent international contrasted with 63 percent US revenue growth versus basically non-existent international revenue (just $17 million total in Q4 2018). (NRB)

  • Short New Yorker piece on my favorite game of 2017, Universal Paperclips (if you didn’t play it stop what you’re doing and make it happen on web, iPhone, and probably Android, though I’m not sure). The best nugget: Someone is working on a film adaptation. “Not long after Lantz made Bostrom’s ideas playable, a young filmmaker named Alberto Roldán followed a link to the game on Facebook and was entranced. He contacted Lantz about making Universal Paperclips into a feature-length film. Roldán is close to finishing a draft of the script, and he has already curried the interest of several producers.” (NRB)

Thanks for reading,

Noah (NRB) & Colin (CJN)