Between the Lines / By Peter McDermott
In 1960, a future Republican president wrote to his party’s nominee, Vice-President Richard Nixon, offering support because he said the Democratic candidate was clearly under the sway of the philosophies of Karl Marx.
It may seem strange, then, that Congressman Paul Ryan in his recent debate chose to invoke that “Marxist” on his side of the argument, rather than the letter sender Ronald Reagan, in the context of tax cuts. That provoked the famous riposte from Vice President Joe Biden: “Oh, now you’re Jack Kennedy?”
So, what was all that about? Well it’s true that after the most sustained period of peacetime growth since the Civil War, the economy hit a sluggish patch, and the Kennedy Administration decided that the economy needed a stimulus. It didn’t have the votes in Congress for increased government spending, so it proposed a tax cut, which President Johnson implemented in 1964.
In an excellent piece on the New Republic’s website addressing Ryan’s comment, Timothy Noah offers a “significant difference” between the 1963 and 2012 proposals. “Romney and Ryan want to lower taxes by the same amount for all brackets, high and low. Kennedy (really, Johnson) lowered taxes more at the middle and especially at the bottom than he did at the top.”
The latter was what’s called a “demand-side” cut boosting consumer spending rather than “supply-side” cut aimed at encouraging investment.
“Ronald Reagan’s tax cut in 1981 was pretty obviously a supply-side cut because it lowered the top tax rate more than it did rates at the middle or the bottom,” he says.
Noah, the author of a “The Great Divergence,” a much-praised book about the growing inequality in the U.S. since the 1970s, adds: “Today’s grotesquely lopsided income distribution explains why any uniform reduction in tax rates (say, Romney’s proposed 20 percent) is really a tax cut for the rich in disguise.”
For more context on the earlier tax reduction, one might consult an outtake on YouTube from the Sept. 9, 1963 episode of NBC’s “Huntley-Brinkley Report,” for which the president was interviewed by the hosts in the Oval Office.
Kennedy asks for a do-over on two questions about Vietnam. The anchors are only too happy to oblige, as one of them flubbed a question.
It’s like a scene out of “Mad Men,” guys in dark suits talking about the world – a time before women had even made it into binders.
They chitchat off the record about perception and reality in politics, about the economy, about the tax cut and how “damned difficult” it is, in JFK’s words, to sell deficits even though they are necessary sometimes to boost the economy. One of the anchors reveals Harry S. Truman (the last previous Democratic president) made a comment to reporters that day about the proposed tax reduction.
The president is curious about what Truman said, “He said he is opposed to a tax cut until you get the budget down,” David Brinkley says.
Kennedy smiles, shaking his head.
A couple of minutes on, he goes back to it. “I’m surprised at Truman. God. They get him on those morning walks.” And he laughs.
JFK is enthusiastic about the policy and the miracles the British government worked with it. So he suggests he tags on more about it on camera.
“Maybe we should say what Truman said: because a lot of people will not have heard it,” says Chet Huntley.
You can see for an instant that Kennedy is sorry he even mentioned it. He grits his teeth and flashes a look to an aide off camera that says: “How did we let this happen?”
JFK was a pol to his fingertips. A commentator or ideologue might love a nationwide audience to sound off to, but the elected official is far less interested in winning an intellectual argument. He or she wants to be sure the policy goes over well in places like Ashtabula, Ohio.
Some on the left believe that all President Obama has to do is explain, and that that is what leadership is about. Never mind that he has to deal with a 24-hour news media, sections of which are unremittingly hostile and obstructionist. For his part in this instance, JFK was worried about an ex-president from his own party who, he allowed, was trying to be helpful.
As for the 1964 tax cut, opinion is divided about whether it or not worked. Indeed, Noah says that “according to a recent Congressional Research Service survey, there’s no clear evidence that tax cuts have ever stimulated economic growth, going all the way back to 1945.”
It’s worth recalling, too, that that long boom up to the 1960s was achieved with a top marginal tax rate of 91 percent. Somehow, though, the well off got by.
Published in the Oct. 3, 2012, edition of the Irish Echo.
Theatre / By Orla O’Sullivan
Not alone death, but death announcements specifically, featured heavily in this year’s 1st Irish Theater Festival, a month-long event that concluded Sunday.
Things we would rather not acknowledge; how we present to the world; secrets: this, the stuff of drama, was present at many points in the fifth annual festival.
Marie Jones’ “Fly Me to the Moon,” reviewed in the Sept. 19 issue, even managed to roll such themes together in a comedy where someone dies on the toilet.
However, life’s sordid underbelly got more dramatically satisfying consideration in fledgling shows that made brief appearances in the final week of the festival than in its headline events. Last week was devoted to new plays, described as “more than workshops” but inviting audience collaboration to refine the productions–this from a Q&A with writers and directors at the end of the week.
“Brendan,” one of this Next Generation series, lacked the polish of more prominent 1st Irish events, reviewed in the mainstream New York press.
However, “Brendan,” written by Ronan Noone, arguably got you more involved with the characters, mostly thanks to great performances by Dashiell Eaves as Brendan, a recent immigrant to the U.S., and Nancy Walsh, playing his mother, who follows him in spirit. Like an overgrown, malevolent parrot on his shoulder, she constantly reminds Brendan of his ineptitude with women and the failed suicide that drove him from Ireland. The mother is humanized just enough to confuse, dispensing wise counsel and occasional endorsements.
“Brendan” opens, appropriately enough, echoing Camus’s novel “l’Etranger,” the outsider or foreigner, with the news that his mother has died. The entertaining play works towards oddbod Brendan cutting the apron strings that bind him to his overbearing mother.
Brendan: Shut up! You’re dead, you’re bloody dead!
Mother: That’s no way to talk to your mother.
The characters in the other Next Generation play seen are waiting for a death. “House Strictly Private” is a direct reference to funeral arrangements, i.e. no mourners are invited back to the family home after the burial.
The man who took in his brother’s wife and children after his brother died is now on death’s door himself, and the secrets closed in his once iron fist are slipping from his grip. Sexual and physical abuse, infidelity and issues of inheritance, it’s all starting to come out.
Honesty doesn’t come easily to a family bound by shame and paranoia. Family members often quiz each other on what others have been saying, and characters rarely appear opposite each other on stage—a structurally inventive way to convey the lack of open communication.
Yet, these monologues tie so seamlessly together that at one stage I realized I was forgetting to take notes I was so drawn in to the story.
“House Strictly Private,” by Jimmy Kerr, was my favorite of the festival shows seen. It combined a dramatic tale and compelling characters with the performing talent witnessed in other 1st Irish hits: “Fly Me to the Moon” (reviewed in the Sept. 19 issue) “Hard Times,” the musical (Sept. 26), which will be revived in November; and “Silent” (Sept. 19), Pat Kinevane’s solo showing, going on to the Odyssey Theatre in LA, from Nov. 23 to Dec. 9.
Four of 10 1st Irish plays this year were in the Next Generation, recently conceived by the organizer Origin Theater Company. Of the other two, “For Love,” written by and starring Laoisa Sexton, sold out, while Bernard McMullan’s “Jimmy Titanic,” which made light of death—aboard the Titanic—was very well received.
“House Strictly Private” was at its best at its darkest. Deirdre (Jo Kinsella) is a girl coming to collect eggs on the family farm. In the gloom and stink of the henhouse, amid a ferocious storm, it seems she witnesses her brother being abused by her uncle. This is only intimated by writing and acting that ominously portray the taking of the hen’s eggs as a violation that parallels the sexual abuse.
“That henhouse,” Deirdre tells us, “was held together with s**** and bailing twine.” By the end of the play, she knows what she knows, and it’s even more than she thought. The henhouse has blown apart.
Between the Lines / By Peter McDermott
Screenwriter, novelist and journalist Budd Schulberg (1914-2009), it seems, was friends with everybody from Harpo Marx to Muhammad Ali. He was once led astray by F. Scott Fitzgerald for a lost long alcohol-fueled weekend when they were working on a screenplay together. Three decades later he became close to Bobby Kennedy, and was present when the senator was murdered in the kitchen of the Ambassador Hotel in Los Angeles. More than 35 years on again and he was both friend and mentor to two people who’ve been profiled in the Irish Echo: Waterfront Commission police detective Kevin McGowan and the author of “On the Irish Waterfront,” Prof. James T. Fisher.
Yet, nobody had quite the impact on his life as the crusading Jesuit priest, John “Pete” Corridan (1911-1984). It was a friendship forged between two men who grew up in rather different circumstances. Corridan’s father, a NYPD officer from County Kerry, died when he was 11, while Schulberg was the son of a Hollywood movie mogul. The highpoint of Schulberg’s career was “On the Waterfront,” for which he won an Oscar, one of eight for that classic 1954 movie. He penned the famous Marlon Brando lines: “I coulda been a contender. I coulda been somebody.”
But he said his favorite scene was the “Christ on the waterfront” speech given by Karl Malden, as the priest. Schulberg told the New York Times in 2006: “I didn’t really write it. Father Corridan really wrote it.”
More generally, Corridan’s Christian ethics offered Schulberg the basis of a social democratic and humanist vision that could replace the hard-line communism that he’d left behind.
Prof. Fisher has challenged the long-held view that “On the Waterfront” was an apologia for “naming names.” Both Schulberg and director Elia Kazan had been friendly witnesses before the House of Un-American Activities Committee and so their critics suggested that the not so subtle message of the film was: snitching is good. It didn’t help that director Elia Kazan was only too happy to defiantly embrace that reading of it himself.
But he didn’t write the movie. Schulberg did. And Fisher made an extraordinary discovery, the smoking gun of his story, in a university’s archives. The first draft of the screenplay, and it predated Schulberg being called before the committee.
In any case, Marlon Brando’s Terry Malloy risking life and limb to break the stranglehold that mobsters and crooked businessmen had on workers was hardly the same as naming names before the HUAC. There was very little that was noble about pointing the finger at friends who had done nothing illegal. Indeed in 1949, Schulberg had put his name to a letter calling for the committee to be abolished. But in the following year, a Hollywood director, Richard Collins, named Schulberg at a HUAC hearing as a former Communist. Even though the screenwriter had broken acrimoniously with the party a full 10 years before, he presented himself before the committee in early 1951. He knew that if he didn’t become a friendly witness, his career in movies would likely be over.
Lee J. Cobb, one of the stars of “On the Waterfront,” had refused for two years to implicate others, but finally caved to pressure in 1953 for that same reason. Cobb told an interviewer 20 years later that his wife had suffered a breakdown and was institutionalized as a result. “When the facilities of the government of the United States are drawn on an individual it can be terrifying,” he said.Corridan, as it happens, was prepared to work with Republicans and Communists, as well as Democrats. He thought the whole security threat was overdone and believed that the iron grip that criminals had on New York’s docks was a bigger threat than the Communist-influenced unions on the West Coast, where workers got a fair deal. He once argued this to a group of lay Catholics at a meeting in New Jersey, adding that the government knew it, too.
Fisher shows in his book that “On the Waterfront” was about what it said it about and that it was told from the perspective of this remarkable priest.
The Friends of the Irish Waterfront, which is sponsored by UFT’s Irish Heritage Committee and the American Irish Teachers Association, will honor Corridan’s legacy and celebrate Fisher’s book on a dinner cruise around Manhattan island on Friday night, Oct. 19. Tickets are $50 per person. Boarding at East 23rd Street/FDR Drive from 7 p.m.; returns at 10:30. Send checks to AITA, Inc., 6 East 87 St., New York, N.Y. 10128. For more details, call Maureen Young 917-453-4514 or email Irish1022@verizon.net.
Theatre / By Orla O’Sullivan
“Silent” written by Pat Kinevane * Directed by Jim Culleton * Starring Pat Kinevane * The Irish Arts Center, 553 West 51st St., at 11th Avenue, NYC * Tickets: (866) 811-4111 * Run has been extended a week through Sunday, Sept. 30.
If Pat Kinevane is in danger of being typecast in the tiny niche of roles for homeless characters after his one-man show “Silent,” running at the Irish Arts Center through, it’s a risk worth taking.
Kinevane also played a homeless man in last year’s Oscar-nominated short film, “Shoe.” He is captivating in both, but “Silent” lets him show off his talents as a mime and writer.
The show opens to the stark scene of a rumpled blanket on a deserted stage and the light tinkle of piano music, perhaps Chopin. A foot emerges, toes pointed to the ceiling, and is joined by another in silhouette in a balletic dance. It is an ingeniously absurd introduction to the star of the show, ’Tino McGoldrig, named after silent-movie heartthrob Rudolph Valentino. (To go by Rudolph, “would have been a disaster in Cobh [Kinevane’s birthplace],” Tino later explains. “I would have been stoned to death with pellets of my own s****.)”
That small-town mentality drove his homosexual brother to suicide, and Tino towards madness. Channeling the wide-eyed intensity of silent film-acting, Kinevane mercurially conveys other destabilizing influences, including a mother so narcissistic she dolls herself up for the police each time she awaits word of the brother’s latest suicide attempt.
The story feels less compelling than the telling.
Direction is in the sure hands of Jim Culleton from Dublin’s Fishamble, back in New York with a bang for the annual 1st Irish Theater Festival. Like a stand-up comic, Kinevane dismantles “the fourth wall” and interacts with a couple of audience members. (At one point, Tino tells one participant he’s not as mad as the other.)
As an actor, with little more than a blanket to play against, Kinevane mimes through scenes that have it sweep between his legs convincingly as his ballroom-dancing partner. Later, the blanket nods a puppet-style “I do” in a wedding scene where Kinevane’s facial expressions of a groom feigning bravado are perfect. And as a writer, he has some inspired touches, including a scene where Tinto lays out his theory that Cork and France have lots in common, “Both aggressive, arrogant… But most of all—the accents—la toilette, de toilette…Voila – Malla! [Mallow] … All in the throat. Fuch offf youuu languuur!”
Equally unscientific, a poll the Echo conducted on the night of the performance indicated that “Silent” might, understandably, have spoken more to Irish-born attendees. Regardless, the play is bound for Los Angeles, having made its U.S. debut in New York. First produced in 2010, “Silent” has won several awards across the Pond, including first place at the Edinburgh Fringe Festival last year.
By Orla O’Sullivan
Musicals can be irritating, their manufactured emotion unbearably phony. Larry Kirwan’s “Hard Times,” however, is not just the best of the genre I’ve seen, but truly affecting.
The rest of the audience was also demonstrably moved at one of the extra performances laid on during the show’s largely sold-out run through Sunday as part of the 1st Irish Theater Festival.
As the musical ended, it transformed from your typical theater experience to a “seisiún.” Switching from spectators to participants, the audience clapped to the beat of the last song. So in synch with the performers were they that when individual actors performed solos within that final number the crowd automatically self-modulated to a slower clap less likely to drown out the singer.
Will it sustain such involvement if-or more likely when-”Hard Times” moves to Broadway and not the intimate West 23rd Street venue, the Cell?
This is the story of the hard birth of the modern U.S., told mostly through the songs of Stephen Foster, whose famous compositions include “Hard Times Come Again No More.”
Kirwan provides others, such as “Five Points,” the rough area in lower Manhattan where the immigrant Irish and free blacks amongst others collided in July 1863. Ethnic tensions surged in the Draft Riots as poorer men, such as newly arrived Irish, were drawn to help the Union side win the Civil War–which many resented as an effort to free southern slaves.
Kirwan takes some poetic license as he writes the characters in a bar on the notorious Bowery where the action unfolds. Their relationships parallel American society breaking free of old strictures. Pivotal characters are the bar owner, free slave Nelly Bly (Almeria Campbell); Irishman Owen Duignan (John Charles McLaughlin) who works for her; and composer Stephen Foster (Jed Peterson), who lived locally.
All elements are well done, from the powerful singing, dancing and acting to the simple set with its tattered version of an emergent U.S. flag, and choreography that visually created five points in a new, Irish set-dance combination for the “Five Points” number.
Theatre / By Orla O’Sullivan
“Fly Me to the Moon” * Written by Marie Jones * Directed by Marie Jones * Starring Tara Lynne O’Neill and Katie Tumelty * 59E59 Theaters, 553 East 59th St., bet. Park and Madison Avenues, NYC * Tickets: (212) 279-4200 or www.59e59.org * Playing through Sept. 30: Tues. – Thurs. at 7:15 p.m.; Fri., 8:15 p.m.; Sat., 2:15 p.m. and 8:15 p.m.; Sun. at 3:15 p.m. and 7:15 p.m.
“God, I thought my day was ruined because our Craig forgot his gym bag. Now, I could be arrested for theft, fraud and murder,” says a stunned Loretta (Tara Lynne O’Neill), one of the characters in Marie Jones’s new comedy, midway through a Monday gone badly wrong.
Many characters in “Fly Me to the Moon,” whether the two onstage or others present in their absence, could do with an escape.
Davy, the speechless stroke victim attended by Loretta and her fellow nurse’s aide, Frances (Katie Tumelty), got his. He has just died, unnoticed, on the toilet.
Others, including Loretta’s unemployed husband Brian, are still waiting for deliverance. He spends his days and scant resources phoning television stations in an attempt to get on game shows, such as “‘Pointless,’ where you win if you don’t know the answers.”
As to what to do with Davy when his demise comes to light, Loretta and Frances discuss proper protocol in cases of inconvenient death.
Before they settle on whom to notify, Frances casually observes that by dying on the day his social security is due, “he’s not even getting the good of his pension.”
And so the trouble starts. Frances is as calculating as Loretta is innocent. “Just hear me out,” she says, as she makes her first pitch for how they might cash in on the bad joke the universe played on Davy.
It’s a phrase repeated at several junctures of the play, each marking the characters sinking deeper into a morass.
How will they and the author ever extricate themselves? If there’s a knock on this hilarious play, it’s that as the characters situation spirals out of control, the play becomes more farcical. But, along the way, the audience certainly gets its escape with a good laugh. Loretta and Frances are perfectly opposed as a kind of working-class Belfast Laurel and Hardy. It’s fun to see the penny drop, again and again, on Loretta’s face—and interesting later, when a little role reversal ensues. Now into it, and wondering how to conceal a bruise on Davy’s face that might be seen as suspicious, she’s rummaging through make-up, asking was his complexion “fair” or “peach melba.”
As their consciences grow louder, the women hold a religious service for Davy, there in his flat. Preparing for this impromptu event unearths the greatest surprise yet.
The audience is left back to earth, as the play concludes with the characters uttering their final words from what appears may be the dock: “We promise to tell the truth… so help me God.” Or is it just a reminder that this is a yarn, spun like a spider’s web all the way to the moon?
“Fly Me to the Moon,” is making its New York debut as part of the annual 1st Irish Theater Festival. This follows a hit run in the UK for Belfast native Jones, whose body of work includes Tony-award winning “Stones in His Pockets.”
By Orla O’Sullivan
The Wee Craic festival wasn’t short on craic, just a smaller showcase for short films out of Ireland than the main Craic fest, held around St. Patrick’s Day.
The last one was held at a real cinema—the Film Forum—whereas last Friday’s screening gathered 50 viewers or more into a downstairs room of the Lower East Side Bar, Arlene’s Grocery.
Once again, organizer Terence Mulligan produced a double-bill: movies followed by a free bar of whiskey and beer. The crowd reconvened in RBar on the Bowery, where the Mighty Stef played.
There was the same high quality, good dose of animation, and some overlap in the films shown at both Craic events.
However, the Wee Craic emphasized shorts from the past year, including: “The Hatch”; “Pet Hate”; “Bird Food”; “The Boy in the Bubble” and “Thin Ice”.
Some were back by popular demand, such as Oscar-nominated “Pentecost” and “Give Up Yer Aul Sins” — an animation set to an actual 1960s recording of a Dublin schoolgirl giving an unwittingly hilarious account of John the Baptist’s demise, which can be found on YouTube.
Another funny requested was “Granny O’Grimm,” an animated tale of a granny whose bedtime story is dark enough to ensure that the child hearing it may never sleep again. (This is available online at www.vimeo.com/7937986.
“The Hatch” is a modern-day tale, with some baffling mythic and science-fiction dimensions, set in a trawler off of Cork. The fishermen spear something ambiguous from the deep, which leads to tragedy and to the birth of a seemingly 30-pound baby. Despite its weirdness, and its sometimes clichéd dialogue (fisherman to his bookish son: “It’s no life for you”), it keeps the viewer engaged with strong acting and its cinematography; the latter won James Maher an award at this year’s Galway Film Fleadh.
Next up was “Useless Dog,” as simple as “The Hatch” is convoluted. What do you do if you have a sheepdog that the sheep chase? “Sure, you have to just live with it,” says the owner in Ken Wardrop’s award-winning film (which is also available on YouTube). And sure, isn’t said dog a delight to watch? The opening scene is Chaplinesque in the way it so perfectly pairs to music the dog’s wagging wiggle.
Published in the Irish Echo, Sept. 12, 2012.
Between the Lines / By Peter McDermott
In the 1976 film “All the President’s Men,” the character Deep Throat rails against the media’s “inexactitude” and “shallowness.”
The world learned in 2005 that Mark Felt, the FBI’s number 2, was the man who’d spoken with Bob Woodward more than 30 years before in that Washington DC underground car park. The screenwriter William Goldman hadn’t known that the character was an official in an agency whose stature depended to some degree on the shallowness of an adoring media.
The Felt of 1972, though, was disappointed that the White House appointed outsider and “political hack” Patrick Gray rather than him as acting FBI director following J. Edgar Hoover’s death, the month before the Watergate break-in. He was appalled, too, at the attempts to derail any serious investigation into the administration’s criminal misdeeds. He made the media his instrument by being a source on deep background for Woodward and his Washington Post partner Carl Bernstein.
The articles by the then 28- and 29-year-old reporters and their colleagues at the Post and other major outlets helped lead to President Richard Nixon’s resignation and to the jailing of several of his top aides and his attorney general.
Nixon had always believed that reporters were out to get him and thus was a natural at tapping into deep-rooted resentments about the media’s alleged “liberal bias.” Part of the issue here is that liberals believe in hearing multiple perspectives, while conservatives don’t have much patience with that approach and are more likely to hold that certain truths are self-evident. In any case, the president’s aides would have preferred if Walter Cronkite of CBS were more like a newsreader on Soviet TV.
Nixon’s brilliant media consultant Roger Ailes discussed with top aide Bob Haldeman (in his pre-prison days) ways of getting a pro-Administration network up and running. Part of the idea was that it would send out packaged propaganda, free, to local affiliates. Ailes went on much later to build Fox News into the powerhouse that it is, much to the horror of Cronkite in his last years.
Inevitably, it was this Nixon-era inspired right-wing media that accused Felt upon his death in December 2008 of betrayal rather than heroism — even though he’d never handed over files, and merely guided and encouraged the Post’s Woodward.
So, in this post-Cronkite world, how come the right wing, which is supposed to be for traditional values and condemns “moral relativism,” stands accused of being “post-truth”?
Well, bias like beauty is in the eye of the beholder, but propaganda is just that: propaganda. You might aim to be slick and to entertain millions, but once you decide you are backing one side you have an additional set of goals.
“It is not propaganda’s task to be intelligent,” Joseph Goebbels said in the late 1920s, “Its task is to lead to success.”
The Democratic and Republican parties twist the truth and lie in their efforts to persuade. But when a TV network’s commentary arm does it, and so blatantly, it just makes the politicians far worse. Many politics watchers were left scratching their heads at the GOP convention last month. They couldn’t remember an address quite like the one made by the vice-presidential candidate. One Washington Post headline captured the mainstream media reaction: “Paul Ryan’s breathtakingly dishonest speech.”
There were about five main objections to it from commentators, Democrats and groups like Fact Check.org. Let’s look at one of them. Here’s Ryan on President Obama: “He created a bipartisan debt commission. They came back with an urgent report. He thanked them, sent them on their way and then did exactly nothing.”
A presenter of public radio’s “On the Media” and an Advertising Age columnist Bob Garfield summarized in a Guardian piece the problem with that. “What a powerful anecdote – one that gets even more powerful when you know that Ryan was a commission member whose deciding vote against the report prevented it from being presented to Congress. Or that the president’s attempt at a ‘grand bargain’ with House Republicans exceeded the commission’s recommendations for spending cuts.”
For Garfield, the media that is able to pull up the man they now call Lyin’ Ryan on his departures from fact is a healthy one; he argues that it is less craven than it was in decades past.
It’s certainly true that the intellectually curious and the open-minded can keep informed. Take the insider accounts of what happens in the corridors of power that Woodward helped pioneer. They have their biases and there are disagreements over the interpretation of the information presented, but the sources are generally reliable. Nobody has disputed Robert Draper’s “Do Not Ask What Good We Do,” which has an account of a dinner on the night of the inauguration of the 44th president in January 2009; and it’s backed up by at least one other book.
The dinner was attended by a dozen male Republican politicians – seven House members, including Ryan and Newt Gingrich, and five senators, Jim DeMint and Jon Kyl among them. At the end of four hours, they’d pledged they would reject everything and anything that the new president proposed.
This sort of unrelenting obstructionism goes against how the American system is supposed to work. Yet, the hectoring, flag pin-wearing media help make it possible.
Published in the Aug. 15-21, 2012, issue of the Irish Echo
Between the Lines / By Peter McDermott
A Sikh man named Harpreet Singh Toor told me some years ago about an unpleasant encounter he’d had months before in the Wall Street area.
He recalled: “This gentleman – and I will still call him a gentleman – had a suit and tie, and no briefcase, so probably he worked around there somewhere, and was on lunch break with his colleagues. As he passed me by, he said: ‘Terrorist.’”
Toor was at that time working at City Hall and had a suit and tie himself. But he also had a turban, which, of course, is what drew the epithet.
I see from my files (that’s sounds organized, but they’re incomplete, alas) that I included his comments in a Newsday article dated Nov. 15, 1998. So, the incident was more than three years before the calamitous attack by Islamic extremists that destroyed the World Trade Center and killed thousands. It gives you some idea what Sikhs have faced since.
A Sikh gas-station owner in Arizona was shot dead before the week of 9/11 was out. Another Sikh was pulled by authorities from the Boston-to-New York train, and had to face the taunts of a hostile crowd, with, unfortunately, at least one policeman joining in.
I was drawn to the edge of that maelstrom on Sept. 13 or 14, when Newsday asked if I’d go down to Richmond Hill, in Southeastern Queens, to find more about reports that a Sikh had been beaten up in a diner. He was, it turned out, a man in his 70s who was visiting from India – and thus, a particularly soft target who didn’t fit any known stereotype of a terrorist.
When I spoke to his family members in the street, turbaned men milled around us, sensing perhaps that this might be a sympathetic ear. Certainly, the sullen demeanor of the cops posted at the end of the street, a key artery into the Sikh neighborhood, offered little comfort.
Remember that an unknown number of dead lay beneath the rubble at Ground Zero. We were all traumatized to varying degrees, and yet one’s heart had to go out to these people who had pinned their hopes on America.
I wonder how many those mainly young men continued to remain faithful to the symbols of their faith, known as the “five Ks,” which include not cutting one’s hair, and which they regard as the uniform of the “soldier-saint.” Most, if not all, likely experienced hateful abuse over the coming years.
One notices far fewer turbans these days, but it’s important to understand how much Sikhs value the uniform and how they see it as essential in their tradition to a disciplined and dignified bearing. In that 1998 piece, a bank executive told me he had stopped wearing the turban to avoid discrimination when working in Hong Kong almost 20 years before. But he expressed a desire to return to the symbols. “I want to. My heart is always there,” he said.
In contrast, Toor’s two sons, then 11 and 8, would say to him: “‘Why do I have to look different?” It was hard for them to understand the theology and the logic behind it.
What about the general public? Well, just as ignorance of the law is no defense in court, lack of knowledge should be no defense when it comes to bias and hatred. Certain sections of our media haven’t help much (note the ridiculous “Ground Zero mosque” controversy fanned by the Sean Hannitys, Bill O’Reillys and their ilk). Little wonder there was a palpable sense of relief in those quarters that the killer who attacked the Sikh gurdwara near Milwaukee on Aug. 5 turned out to be a neo-Nazi nut-job.
But the man with the suit who spat “terrorist” at Toor pre-9/11 was hardly a neo-Nazi, nor are most people that make life hard for Sikhs or Muslims or whoever doesn’t take their fancy.
What is the mentality that makes assumptions about people based on appearance? Well, partly it’s downright stupidity. In the immediate aftermath of 9/11, the U.S. relied on the Northern Alliance — Muslim guys whose garb would invite funny looks and adverse comment on the New York subway system — to fight the Taliban and al-Qaeda, and a pretty good job they did, too.
And, yet, obviously America can be wonderfully accepting. I remember a great 2011 story by the public-radio project Feet in Two Worlds (fi2w.org) that profiled girls and young women who left Turkey for the U.S. because they’re allowed here to cover their head in the school and college classroom.
What a pity the xenophobes have to sully the nation’s reputation for tolerance.
By Peter McDermott
Author J.D. Salinger was famously reclusive for most of his adult life. Back in 1940, though, you could easily contact him at his Manhattan home.
“He was living with his parents, but the phone was listed in his name,” said Maira Liriano of the New York Public Library, which has put the city’s telephone directories for that year up online as an aide to family researchers.
“I think it’s pretty funny,” she said. “It would be great if we could figure that out.”
The relevant entry is like any other; it contains the name, address, telephone exchange code and number: “Salinger Jerome D 1133 Pk Av SAcrmnto 2-7544″ (the capital letters, which in this case meant “72,” and the first number denoted the exchange).
Literary ambition may explain his accessibility. The 21-year- old was doing writing classes at night at Columbia University and would soon begin submitting stories to the New Yorker. Most were rejected, but one whose hero was Holden Caulfield was accepted, although ultimately it was shelved until war’s end. (He had yet to develop the fictional Glass family, whose roots reflected his own mixed Jewish and Irish-Catholic heritage.)
Salinger’s active dating life may have been another reason for his being in the Manhattan directory. In 1941, the man who would write “Catcher in the Rye” began seeing Oona O’Neill, the teenage daughter of playwright Eugene O’Neill. Before too long, to the horror of both writers, she’d married the 54-year-old film actor Charlie Chaplin.
If you could go back in a time machine, another cultural icon you might like to call is singer Billie Holiday (286W142 EDgecomb 4-4058), though not too early, as she was a night owl. And speaking of which, the man who would paint “Nighthawks” in 1942 is there (“Hopper Edw 3WashnSq SPring 7-0949″). It might have been hard to talk directly to Fiorella La Guardia, but he’s listed (“Mayor’s Office City Hall NY COrtland 7-1000”). The Manhattan directory also tells us that William Paley, who built CBS, lived in the most easterly reaches of Midtown before the U.N. set up shop there (“Paley WmS 29BeekmanPl PLaza 3-1442″). Meanwhile, Nathan Bader can be found in the Brooklyn directory (“Bader Nathan 1584 E9 DEwey 9-4418″). And who was he, exactly? Well, trace him to the census returns and you’ll see he had a 7-year-old daughter named Ruth. Today, she is better known as Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg, a 19-year veteran of the U.S. Supreme Court.
The New York Public Library digitized the directories to coincide with the release this past spring of the 1940 Census returns, which were not indexed. “There was no way to plug in a name,” Liriano said. However, by pinpointing an address, a researcher can find the correct enumeration district (ED) to facilitate the search.
“We thought it would be a great service to have. We knew it would be very popular,” she said of the web site Direct Me NYC.
Since then, fierce competition between Ancestry.com and a consortium associated with Family Search.org has led to the indexing of most of New York State. But the telephone directories remain an important backup, Liriano said. A search for one of Pittsburgh’s most famous sons showed precisely how. She was asked if the Eugene C. Kelly listed in the Manhattan directory might be the same Gene Kelly (middle name Curran) who was making a name for himself on Broadway?
“Unfortunately, it’s not our man,” she reported. The “Eugene C. Kelly” at 435 W 23rd St. was a 58-year-old unemployed native of Washington. “Interestingly, when I searched the indexed 1940 Census in Ancestry I could not find this entry,” she said. “I found it using the ED converter in the website and browsing the ED.”
The problem, it turned out, was that Ancestry.com had transcribed the name as “Engenia Kelly.” Added Liriano: “I saw other transcription errors on that page. This is the value of having an alternative way to look for people in the census.”
So, chalk that one up to Direct Me NYC.
And here’s another: “Considine Robt B 1W85 TRafalgar 7-0029.” Is that Bob Considine, who was born in 1906 to a Washington DC family with County Clare roots? He became famous for his prodigious output in books (like “MacArthur the Magnificent” in 1942 and “Thirty Seconds Over Tokyo” in 1943) and in news media.
Yes, it is, confirmed Liriano. The census says that the Considine in the telephone directory is a 33-year-old newspaper columnist from the nation’s capital. However, she said, if she had bypassed the directory and relied on the index, her task would have been rather more difficult: his surname there is missing its “e.”
We can find, Edward J. Flynn, one of America’s most influential political operatives at his office in Midtown (“60E42 MUrryhil 2-1411”). He preferred to continue to work as a lawyer rather that take up a position in the Roosevelt Administration. Said historian and Irish Echo columnist Terry Golway: “In 1940, Flynn was firmly ensconced as FDR’s top political advisor. He became chair of the Democratic National Committee that year, succeeding James Farley, who split with FDR that year because he, Farley, thought he should be the party’s presidential nominee. Flynn’s major task was to persuade voters that it was okay for FDR to break the two-term tradition.”
The census shows that the 48-year-old Flynn was living at 2728 Spuyten Duyvil Parkway in the Bronx, with his wife Helen and their three young children. The household also had an Irish-born cook, a Norwegian maid and an English governess.
Immigrants and working-class people appear in the census, of course, but many could not afford a home telephone. In any case, poorer people tended to be more transient, regularly moving from apartment to apartment.
The Census of 1940 revealed that 2 million of New York City’s 7. 5 million people were born in another country. Of them, 182,000 were from Ireland. According to the Census also, 288,000 New Yorkers had an Irish-born father.
Another Democratic lawyer, County Mayo’s Paul O’Dwyer, was in the former category. The Brooklyn directory shows that he had offices at 26 Court St. (TRiangle 5-3645). A few years later, his eldest sibling Bill succeeded Mayor La Guardia, and is still the last foreign-born occupant of the office; Paul O’Dwyer himself became president of the City Council in the 1970s.
The Manhattan directory has entries for the Irish Echo (“152E121 LEhigh 4-1560″), the American Irish Historical Society and the Irish Consulate – though none at its current location. Some institutions have stayed in the same place. Katz’s Delicatessen, for instance, is still on the Lower East Side at the corner of Ludlow and Houston. In 1940, it could be reached by calling ALgonquin 4-2246. Seventy-two years on, you can contact Katz’s by dialing the same seven digits (after the 212 area code).
Every page in the directories is packed full of information about the life and culture of New York on the eve of America’s entry into World War II. This stepping back in time is made possible, Liriano stressed, by the latest digital technologies. The people at NYPL Labs work hard to make that institution’s online content attractive and user friendly. But staff members believe that much credit also goes to two leading American computer scientists, both originally from New York, who’ve made their services free in the area of family research. Together, Stephen P. Morse and Joel Weintraub developed the free One-Step Webpages and the 1940 Census ED Finder.
“The genealogy world has been blessed with their brilliance and generosity,” Liriano said.
For the 1940 NYC telephone directories go to: http://directme.nypl.org.