Tuesday 31 January 2012

Deja Vu All Over Again

Can’t you just feel it coming? The loonies are on the loose again. Let’s go in and sort out Iran! Have they learned nothing?

Meanwhile, the mullahs hang in there by the fingernails for the one lifeline that will save them – a rumble with the US. Tweak the American nose in an election year and even the calmest of presidents may lose his cool and lash out.

The scenario is as predictable as Iraq. Weapons of mass destruction = invasion = unleashing that most potent of forces – nationalism. It’s the one card the mullahs have left to play.

Leave them be and the US/EU/UN economic sanctions will slowly choke the already tottering Iranian oil industry. And if sanctions don’t work a burgeoning Iranian youth population with a desire for modernity will eventually turn the final screw.

Mess with the mullahs, however, and they’ll resurrect memories of a besieged Persian Empire. You think the Iraqis have attitude problems, Iranians were ruling the world a couple of millennia before Columbus mistook America for India.

The first shot fired in the Strait of Hormuz will knock 10% off whatever nest egg is supposed to cover you when your Social Security has been well and truly gutted.

And don’t even think of taking your gas-guzzler out for a gallop unless you can fork up six bucks a gallon.

What’s the big rush anyway? It’s not as if the Iranians are going to drop a whopper down on McLean Avenue any day soon. Worst-case scenario - as soon they can float a nuclear warhead within a hundred miles of Israel they’re toast.

Speaking of which, someone ought to tell the Mossad to quit the bombings and assassinations in Iran; it has to be them, not even the CIA is that out to lunch. Perhaps a little moratorium on the annual billions Israel receives in US military aid would help?

This is a time for cool heads - give the mullahs enough rope and their own people will hang them, just as the Iraqis would have done to Saddam if we hadn’t butted in.

Guy was shacked up in one of his palaces dreaming about Condoleezza Rice and writing bad romance novels. With a no-fly zone to his north and south he couldn’t have even made darts night in Paddy Reilly’s without George Bush’s permission.

And what did he do – rush in and blow up both Baghdad and our deficit when, given time, a coalition of disaffected Sunnis and Shites would have done the dirty work for him.

What are the chances of a patient, sane policy? Pretty slim, I’d say, given this is an election year and belligerence will play well with every cheap politician whose own children are at zero risk of fighting another stupid war.

And just when we got out of Iraq too and are on the verge of cutting an exit deal with the various drug dealers, nationalists and religious nuts who want to see the back of us in Afghanistan.

Did you ever wonder why this country has been on a permanent war footing since 1942?

Could it have anything to do with the military-industrial complex – as the last great Republican president suspected? But even Ike could never have foreseen the influence of Rupert Murdoch’s media empire on US political life.

There’s always a need for a bogeyman in Mr. Murdoch’s world. If it’s not Ahmadinejad, it’s Saddam; if not Noriega, it’s some other clown who knows he can rally his rubes by picking a fight with the ever-willing US.

Maybe it’s time we went into Canada? Who’s not sick of hearing about their oceans of oil and universal health insurance? While we can’t afford to maintain our infrastructure, properly educate our children or provide an adequate safety net for our citizens. But, hey not to worry, we have a “defense” budget greater than the rest of the world combined!

Its main focus right now, however, is on a two-mile wide shipping lane in the Strait of Hormuz. Let’s hope calm heads prevail and we don’t allow ourselves to be sucked into another military quagmire.

Wednesday 18 January 2012

Cincinnati Irish Heritage Center

What is the current state of Irish-America? In the 90’s it throbbed with political passion.

It’s no overstatement to suggest that many Irish-Americans were as interested in the troubles in the North of Ireland as most residents of the Irish Republic.

Native Irish often tend to look on Irish-America as some vast homogenous green-beer swilling, Aran-sweatered, politically naive mass. Nothing could be further from the truth.

From the South side of Boston to the West Side of Cleveland, through Butte Montana and on to San Francisco’s Geary Street, each enclave has its own traditions, opinions, peculiarities and different ways of seeing the world.

With the diminution of political problems in the North the focus of Irish-American communities has now veered more towards culture and celebration of their own individuality.

Irish festivals still host great gatherings but the local cultural center provides a year round home for those who wish to celebrate and nourish their heritage.

In the coming year I’ll be doing a Rock & Read solo tour of some of these centers and will file the occasional report.

My first stop will be Cincinnati on Saturday, Feb. 4th. It’s not a city that immediately springs to mind as Irish, rather more German – in fact its public schools were bilingual until World War 1. I know it tolerably well from gigs at Bogart’s (one of the best clubs in the country) and nights spent carousing at the late lamented Sudsy Malone’s Rock & Roll Laundry and Bar. I kid you not – a saloon cum laundromat!

Though Cincinnati is calm on the surface one can notice a simmering urban tension on a midnight stroll down Vine Street. But that’s hardly unusual in a vibrant city and you can’t beat Cincinnati’s music fans.

There’s a marked southern influence that breeds a certain graciousness; it’s not surprising that America’s greatest songwriter, Stephen Foster, spent formative years in Cincinnati, though one would have to surmise that he made the occasional short trip across the Ohio River to Kentucky where booze, tobacco and other delights have always been easy, if not entirely free.

I don’t know where the city’s Gaels used to congregate but they now make their home at The Irish Heritage Center. Only operating since late 2009 it has already made a huge impact on both the city and the Irish-American community.
The center’s founders are ambitious. They purchased a 44,000 square foot East Side school and went to work with a vengeance restoring it.

They used as their model the very vital Chicago Irish-American Heritage Center once also a cavernous school building.

The Cincinnati Center already has a functioning theater, tearoom, library and dance studio, with plans for a museum; not to mention that managing director, Kent Covey and his executive committee provide Irish language, history, dance and painting classes.

I first learned of the center through their dynamic theatrical artistic director, Maureen Kennedy, who directed Blood, a play of mine. In barely a year she has mounted three other productions while unearthing a valuable lode of local acting talent.

I’m sure the odd drink is taken there too and knowing some of the local staunch republicans I would imagine that there’s the occasional dispute over politics late at night – all par the course for any respectable Irish center.

Ah, but it’s hard to think of Cincinnati without Sudsy Malone’s Bar and Laundromat – what a combination for a band on the road! Finally, a bullet proof, hygienic excuse to spend one’s night getting wasted!

Still, I’m looking forward to going back to the city where Stephen Foster wrote Oh Susannah, maybe some of the great songwriter’s magic will rub off on me.

Make sure you visit your own local Irish cultural club or center, there’s a home there for anyone with a Celtic soul and plenty of rewarding work if you’d like to volunteer your services.

Perhaps I’ll run into you at one of these hives of activity over the next year. Hey, maybe your center has a working laundromat – you never know, it might be close to the members’ bar – and who couldn’t use a good excuse for a drink every now and then.

Tuesday 10 January 2012

Gabe, Hendrix and Ballydehob

Back in the 70’s if you wished to spend a little time in the US and were engaged in any form of study, legitimate or otherwise, ISETA was the organization for you.

I can’t remember what the initials stood for but, along with bookies, bartenders, jockeys and sundry blackguards, I was provided with a social security number on the assumption that I would return to Ireland and fund my studies with my legally gained remuneration.

I’m not sure if Gabe Hannon came to the US in that manner but he sure fit the profile.

Gabe from Ballydehob was a credit to West Cork. He passed away in Newport, RI some weeks back.

I can’t even remember when I first met him. Seemed like I knew him forever. But then Gabe knew everyone worth knowing and many others besides.

He had that particular charm, earnestness, quick wit and easy intelligence that is peculiar to the wild west of Cork. He was also a bit of a soft touch and was drawn to musicians, actors and writers – not a good combination at the best of times, particularly if you were proprietor of Gabe’s Bar in Ballydehob.

He was also a poet and a fine artist who delighted working in wood. This inevitably led him to theatre design, which is probably how our paths crossed.

He liked to hold business meetings over breakfast for he didn’t trust liquidy promises made late at night. My first such repast with him was at the Dublin, Ohio Irish Festival when we agreed to produce a play of mine.

It was there he first informed me about the long lost tapes of Hendrix. In many ways this wooly tale sums up Gabe and the whole ISETA generation.

After Jimi Hendrix final date with The Experience in 1969 neither band nor crew had been paid in some time. Bassist Noel Redding decided to take out a little insurance.

He visited Hendrix storage rooms, filled a truck with guitars, amplifiers and the live tapes of the last shows, and lit out for West Cork where the living was easy and marijuana was not unknown to grow.

While driving through Ballydehob he happened upon Gabe. They struck up a conversation and Noel stated that he had would like to purchase a house. He explained, however, that while he had mucho dinero coming, his liquidity left much to be desired.

Gabe noted that such problems were common enough in the county of Cork but that the manager of the local Bank might be willing to grant a mortgage should Noel have anything of value that could be lodged for surety.

Indeed he had – Hendrix hot-off-the-board last concert tapes! The bank manager suitably impressed - the tapes were lodged in the vault, a house purchased and a mortgage granted – everyone being of the opinion that royalties and gig monies would be arriving forthwith.

Alas, life is rarely simple in the music business. Hendrix upped and died; his estate became mired in a Sargasso of litigation and an uneasy calm settled on Ballydehob.

Not for long, shady figures were seen lurking around the bank and Mr. Redding had occasion to believe that his life was under threat. His legal situation was no less fraught; while he was definitely owed monies, he was in illicit possession of some very valuable Hendrix chattels.

Added to this he was apparently often reluctant to settle his bills; this occasioned “burglaries” of his own storage room leading to the disappearance of certain Hendrix guitars that are still floating around the province of Munster.

Gabe had promised me final details at which time we were going to submit a full written account to Rolling Stone or National Geographic. Alas, the best laid plans of publicans and rockers…

Fear not, I have a ticket booked to Ballydehob! I plan to lease the now vacated Allied Irish Bank building, rescue the tapes and solve a mystery that began in that long-ago psychedelic summer of 1969 – unless you beat me there first.

So long, Gabe, I won’t shed any more tears for you. I know you have a permanent front seat at the ongoing Hendrix jam in heaven.

Tuesday 3 January 2012

Reduce Taxes and Cut Regulations!

Hey, you GOP members, help a brother out!

I know you read The Echo. After all, Irish-America has vastly changed since: “Pat Murphy couldn’t have turned Republican, I saw him at mass last Sunday!”

I’m counting on you to demand a couple of answers from your presidential primary candidates. Like most politicians they’re way too handy at answering a specific question with an unsolicited stump speech. Unfortunately, both "Trotskyite" PBS and "fair and balanced" Fox News allow them to get away such parrot-like behavior.

But what exactly are their economic plans assuming one of them whips that raving socialist in the White House come November?

Yes, I know – reduce taxes and cut regulations! But where will that get us? President Bush flogged those two nags ‘til the cows came home with the end result that he decimated the Clinton surplus and ran up a humdinger of a deficit.

Likewise, 40% of President Obama’s stimulus went to cutting taxes and while this massive outlay may have helped alleviate the recession, there’s little enough else to show for it.

Why - probably because those not in immediate economic peril saved their handouts for a rainy day. Nor is there much point in cutting corporate taxes since American companies are sitting on record-breaking cash reserves.

As regards regulations, I agree with you – shred all unnecessary bureaucratic red tape, particularly that which stifles small businesses.

But hands off the EPA and other such agencies! Profit and job creation are one thing, regulations that will prevent power plants from spewing mercury and other neurotoxicants into the atmosphere are quite another.

Apart from saving us all from industrial poisoning, the necessary plant conversion will provide construction jobs; but even more importantly these regulations just might stymie the staggering increase of autism and other developmental problems over the last couple of decades.

At the risk of sounding like a tree-hugger, passing on the planet to the next generation in somewhat the same condition we inherited it is a sacred trust.

But back to our noble GOP primary candidates, to quote Ronald Reagan, “where’s the beef?” It’s okay for Mitt Romney to say that he’ll cut the unemployment rate and get this country moving again; but how exactly?

He did go to Harvard Business School and introduced a decent health care system while governor of Massachusetts? So, he’s probably got some viable economic plan under his hat. Has he just been wary of broaching the matter while campaigning in the evangelical wilds of Iowa where one must be seen as tilting more rightward than Attila The Hun?

Unfortunately a large part of our economic problems may be structural and not immediately fixable by any politician. Because of Internet and digital communication advances white-collar workers are presently experiencing the same redundancy rates that their blue-collar brethren have been suffering since the 70’s.

What we don’t need right now is a fresh dose of election-year voodoo economics. Cutting budgets too far, too fast, could really hinder consumer spending and without credit cards revving up American malls the whole economic system could go into a tailspin.

So steady as we go! It took eleven years of financial mismanagement, rose-colored navel-gazing, and two wars to create this mess; it may take even longer to clean it up. One thing is certain, however, when the unemployed do get back to work it will be for less pay and fewer benefits, and that will create its own problems.

Crazy though many of his theories and proposals are, the one visionary Republican politician is Rep. Ron Paul. Why are we fighting overseas wars, supporting corrupt foreign governments and stationing troops in rich democracies like Germany and South Korea, he asks? So far, none of his rivals has even hazarded an answer.

Likewise the truth was not revealed to him during the current administration - he was one of the few in his party to insist on fiscal restraint in the budget-busting era of George W. Bush.

One can only hope that he’ll continue on to the Republican Convention in Tampa and demand a few meaningful answers from Newt Romney or whomever else is raising the inevitable illogical banner of “cut taxes and regulations!”