Music for a Friday: A song of emigration

An immigrant family on the dock, Ellis Island, 1925. (Credit: Getty Images)

In January 1988 The Pogues released If I Should Fall from Grace with God, their third studio album and what would end up being their best-selling. The first single off that album, “Fairytale of New York,” may be the best known, and while it has become iconic, to my mind it’s not the best song on the record. That honor goes to the subject of this post.

“Thousands are Sailing” is a beautiful song of loss, longing, bitterness, joy, and hope. In short, in two 16-line verses and three varied choruses, the song captures the experience of emigration like few others.

While the specifics reference the 20th century Irish experience, the sentiments, I suspect, are universal to those who have come to America in search of a better life for themselves and their families.

Guitarist Phil Chevron’s lyrics take us from the days of 19th century “coffin ships,” where as many as 30 percent of those set sail from Ireland to America died in transit, to Ellis Island, and then the 1980s when the “open door” policy is replaced with a system of immigration quotas and lotteries which forced many Irish to come illegally and live their lives in the shadows. The first chorus paints a picture of both the perils and the promise of a new world:

Thousands are sailing
Across the western ocean
To a land of opportunity
That some of them will never see
Fortune prevailing
Across the western ocean
Their bellies full
Their spirits free
They’ll break the chains of poverty
And they’ll dance

It’s a brilliant song that will stay with you long after it’s over. You can listen to it here.

#ADWD — An update

No, Joe Biden was not the Democratic moderate I was looking for either. Yet, here we are. And I’m OK with it.

Candidates that I liked dropped out of the contest either early (Booker and Harris) or more recently (Klobuchar and Buttegieg). Another that I really couldn’t stomach (Bloomberg) dropped out today, proving that you really can’t buy your way to the nomination no matter how much of your own money you spend. Even if that’s a quarter of a billion dollars.

But Super Tuesday has made the outlines of the rest of the race for the Democratic nomination pretty clear. Despite how fiercely Elizabeth Warren will persist, the choice has been narrowed to Biden or Bernie.

My state, Michigan, will vote next Tuesday. Four years ago I crossed party lines to vote in the Republican primary, and urged other Democrats to do so as well in, as it turned out, a vain attempt to slow Donald Trump’s cancerous takeover of the Republican Party.

Once again, I am going to cast my vote with one thought in mind: What is the best way to stop Donald Trump? From what I can tell, that’s Joe Biden, so that’s where my vote will go.

But, if it turns out that Bernie takes it after all, my strategy in November is unchanged. #ADWD.

This week in terrorism history: March 2-8

Taliban fighter with captured US equipment, shown in a 2017 propaganda film. (Credit: Military Times)

Two days ago, the leaders of the Taliban signed an agreement with the United States designed to end bring to an end a war that the US has been fighting for nearly two decades.

But that was Saturday. Now it’s Monday, and there’s this:

A deadly blast shattered a period of relative calm in Afghanistan on Monday and the Taliban ordered fighters to resume operations against Afghan forces just two days after signing a deal with Washington aimed at ushering in peace.

No group immediately claimed responsibility for the attack at a football ground in Khost in eastern Afghanistan, where three brothers were killed, officials told AFP.

The blast occurred around the same time the Taliban ordered fighters to recommence attacks against Afghan army and police forces, apparently ending an official “reduction in violence” that had seen a dramatic drop in bloodshed and given Afghans a welcome taste of peace.

Whether this will scuttle the agreement, which lays out a timetable for the final withdrawal of all American troops from Afghanistan, or not remains to be seen. But the pact, negotiated without the participation of the Afghan government itself, had already suffered one substantial blow.

Part of the deal calls for the Afghan government to release as many as 5,000 Taliban fighters as part of a prisoner swap in exchange for 1,000 captive members of the Afghan security forces. But on Sunday

Afghan President Ashraf Ghani told a news conference in Kabul, Afghanistan, that a prisoner release was not a promise the United States could make, according to The Associated Press. “The request has been made by the United States for the release of prisoners and it can be part of the negotiations but it cannot be a precondition,” said Ghani.

More than 2,400 American service members have been killed in Afghanistan since the United States invaded shortly after the Sept. 11, 2001 terrorist attacks, toppling the Taliban from power and hounding al Qaeda from its camps and hideouts. If the peace deal holds, we could see all 12,000 US troops currently deployed there, and the nearly 7,000 NATO forces, leave once and for all. What happens after that remains anyone’s guess.

Now for this week’s look back.

  • March 2, 2001 — Corbett, OR: Federal and local law enforcement agents, as part of an ongoing probe into a white supremacist group, raid a home, seizing weapons, racist literature, and marijuana growing equipment. They also recover a binder notebook entitled “Army of God, Yahweh’s Warriors” containing what officials call a list of targets that include a local federal building and the FBI’s Oregon offices. 
  • March 3, 1991 — Cappagh, Northern Ireland: The Ulster Volunteer Force carries out a gun attack on a pub in County Tyrone, killing four Catholic men. Some time later the Irish Republican Army (IRA) announces that three of its members had been killed in the attack. The fourth person killed was a Catholic civilian. 
  • March 3, 2003 — Davao City, Philippines: A bomb attributed to the Moro Islamic Liberation Front, hidden in a backpack, detonates inside an airport terminal, killing 22 and wounding 148. The organization denies responsibility.
  • March 5, 2018 — Beaver Dam, WI: A 28-year-old food company technician is killed in an explosion at his apartment. Bomb-making materials were subsequently found throughout his home, including a 40 gallons of acetone, a highly volatile substance that is commonly used as a component of terrorist bombs worldwide. Police recover white supremacist materials from the apartment.
  • March 8, 1995 — Karachi, Pakistan: Gunmen kill two US diplomats and wound another. The attack took place as the diplomats were being driven to work at the US embassy. No claim of responsibility was made and suspects were never identified.

This week in terrorism history: Feb. 24 – March 1

(Credit: Oakland University)

My university is on winter break this week, but that doesn’t mean a break from the work of looking back on the recent history of terrorism. It does mean, however, that this week’s entry gets a slightly different introduction than I’ve been offering.

Nearly five years ago I ran across an interview with Art Garfunkel that was loaded with poetic observations on life, music, the challenges of collaboration, and more. In it was this gem, a reflection on college campuses:

As I mentioned, I’ve walked across the U.S. and now Europe, so I know the land. There are many different versions of the land: industrial, wasteland, uninspired land. But campuses are a Walt Disney movie. They’re a dream come true. They’re such a cut above almost all of it. Campuses are so pretty, if only the kids realized it. The rest of the earth is something less than that. The skyscrapers downtown, the used-car lots, the hamburger chains, everything that makes up the normal American scene. But not the campuses. They’re pretty. Those trees …

I suspect that it’s the rare student who realizes just how much a world apart a college campus really is, not just intellectually, but aesthetically. Even one like mine, an under-funded state university in a state that has been systematically disinvesting in higher education for more than two decades.

Now on to this week’s look back:

  • Feb. 25, 1972 — Armagh, Northern Ireland: John Taylor, Minister of State for Home Affairs, survives an attempted assassination carried out by the Official Irish Republican Army. Taylor was hit five times in the neck and head when the two-man OIRA team raked his car with automatic weapons.
  • Feb. 26, 1993 — New York City: A truck bomb is detonated in the underground parking structure beneath the North Tower of the World Trade Center. Six people are killed and more than 1,000 injured in the incident. According to trial testimony, the plotters had hoped to topple one WTC tower into the other, leading to the collapse of both and what they believed could be as many as 250,000 casualties.
  • Feb. 27, 1980 — Bogota, Colombia: Seventeen members of the organization M-19 storm and seize control of the embassy of the Dominican Republic. They take 60 people, including some 15 ambassadors, hostage in a siege that lasts 61 days. The crisis ends when the 16 surviving members of the M-19 assault team and a dozen of their diplomatic hostages are allowed to fly to Cuba with a reported $2.5 million in ransom. All hostages are subsequently freed.
  • Feb. 28, 1985 — Newry, Northern Ireland: Nine members of the Royal Ulster Constabulary are killed in a mortar attack on a police station carried out by the Provisional Irish Republican Army. Another 30 RUC officers were wounded by the home-made weapon.