Sunday 31 January 2021

The Winter of our Discontent

So he’s finally gone. Many couldn’t wait to hear the door slam on his derriere.


Though the quality of life has already improved without the constant bleat of his Twitter feed – what a mess he’s left behind.


The pandemic is not President Trump’s fault, but his inept handling of it is. Then again most New Yorkers were well aware that our homie, Donald Trump, couldn’t organize a two-car funeral.


However, the man never lacked tenacity and the seeds of division he has sown will continue to produce bitter harvests. 


Who could have imagined four years ago that we’d have turned against each other so violently? Now we can’t even agree on something that we once took for granted – the truth!


I love this country and am optimistic about its future. But I never had illusions about its history. Modern America was founded by groups of sectarian, self-righteous exclusivists quaintly known as “the pilgrims.”


Their “shining city on a hill” was for themselves alone. Other races and creeds were not welcome. Slavery was institutionalized and it took a brutal civil war to banish it.


The country might then have achieved real freedom and democracy, but for the assassination of President Lincoln and the succession of another impeached president, the racist Andrew Johnson.


Still there have been great Americans who struggled and often succeeded in turning the US into a nation admired around the world.


But it’s an ongoing battle as was demonstrated with the insurrection of January 6th.


This outrage has been brewing for a long time - the “pilgrims” sowed their divisive seeds so well too.


The taking of the Capitol was no surprise to me. I recognized these men as they careened through the sacred halls – not the clown with the horns or the creep in the Camp Auschwitz shirt, more the clueless guys and the occasional harridan in jeans and sweatshirts. 


I met them in the 48 states that I traveled with Black 47 and often marveled at their reality disconnect in our late night bar conversations.


You might wonder why a left-leaning band would even run into such characters. But that’s the nature of the craziness in this country. Many of these rioters like the same music you do and were previously Obama voters.


What drove them to such lawlessness on January 6th? The universal feeling that they’ve been screwed.

By whom? It doesn’t matter – Nancy Pelosi, Jews, the elite, Satan, cannibalistic pedophilic Democrats, the crazier the notion the better. 


Why was the hatred unleashed right now? Because an imperial president harnessed their reality disconnect to further his own ambitions.


But it’s not just Trump, this willful delusion has been going on ever since Nixon’s Southern Strategy through Lee Atwater’s Willie Horton stunt and Cheney’s weapons of mass destruction.


It has, however, been given a shot of steroids by the digital hate and disinformation spewed out by our unfettered social media. 


And now the genie is out of the bottle.  Words that used to be whispered in late night bar conversations are blaringly out in the open.


Who’s to blame? We all are. We tolerated conspiracy theories from our friends and family members. “Ah sure, it’s just a phase they’re going through, they’ll get over it.”


I don’t know about you but none of my “conspiracy acquaintances” ever read a newspaper or a book, they get their news online from hearsay.


The end result, 74 million Americans voted for a man who lies without compunction and has blanketed us in his narcissistic fictional reality.


And though he was thrashed by 7 million votes in 2020 he fought like a wounded lion to retain power. Amazingly many of his Republican allies pragmatically acquiesced in his delusions.


But now in this winter of our discontent how do we begin to heal our poisoned city upon a hill?


Well, the party of Lincoln has some big decisions to make. But we citizens have an even bigger task – how to restore the very concept of truth?


I imagine we’ll have to look back to people like Abraham Lincoln, Martin Luther King, Dwight Eisenhower, Bobby Kennedy, and others who faced dark nights of the soul and overcame them.


Hard though the task may be - it’s time we put our battered city in order.

Wednesday 20 January 2021

Pavarotti on the town

 It breaks your heart to walk around New York City these days. 


Of course many of us have had our hearts broken here before, whether through an event like the attack on 9/11 or some personal matter. 


This city is not a place for the faint of heart.


To say that it’s now a ghost town would be an overstatement. People are working away, adapting to this time of pause, making the best of things. There’s just an overall pervading feeling of “what’s coming next?”


Will this new Covid-19 variant sweep through the city like the original did in Spring 2020?  Will the new president succeed in taming the pandemic where his predecessor so dismally and cavalierly failed?


One thing seems likely, many beloved Irish bars and restaurants will not reopen. However, New York City will rise again – just not in the old familiar way.


I’ve always considered the city to be a magical place – right from the first smoggy June afternoon I arrived on a student work visa.


New York was a very different city back in the 1970’s. Times Square was like a circus, but not of the Barnum and Bailey type, more an arena with adrenalized gladiators on the make.


One had to be either very aware or fleet of foot to escape being mugged on a regular basis. 


I once had a bayonet stuck in my throat by a very nervous junky who was wary of me putting my hand in my pocket to surrender my few dollars. It took Kissinger-like diplomacy to emerge broke, but otherwise unscathed, from that encounter.


Back then New York was unpredictable. This scared the hell out of many, but as a musician it was important to not know what was coming next, for fear you’d throw your hat at it and return to the Emerald Isle with your tail between your legs.


Still there was usually magic in the air. One such time was when my parents visited and I took my mother on a cultural jaunt around town. 


We visited The Met, The Frick, had lunch in some over-priced restaurant, and as we passed by Lincoln Center I told her how I’d never seen her favorite, Luciano Pavarotti, perform there, but had thrilled to him in Central Park with 200,000 others as he nailed Nessun Dorma.


She adored that man and delighted in every detail I rattled off about that legendary free concert.


It was a beautiful summer day but I could tell she was tiring from the humidity and the heat rising from the pavement. I knew the cure – some first class air-conditioning.


She said she’d love to wander around one of the big department stores so I suggested Bloomingdale’s.


I had never been there myself. Why would I? They didn’t sell the tight black jeans and t-shirts that were de rigueur on the Lower East Side.


Her eyes lit up at the expensive jewelry, perfume and couture then fashionable on the Upper East Side. But after a couple of floors of such excess I could tell she was fading and asked one of the clerks where we might buy some coffee.


He directed us to the Italian exhibition and intimated that the Cappuccino served there would be free – a bonus in itself.


We were ushered into the exhibition by an agitated Italian man who bade us stand just inside the door.  We hastened to obey for we could hear a multitude of footsteps thundering behind us.


The door was thrown open and in glided, for want of a better word, Pavarotti himself.


Obviously expecting some sort of formal reception he held out his huge arms to my mother. She fell into them as if she had been awaiting him forever. He shook hands with me and moved on, gaily greeting the line that had gathered behind us.


My mother was flushed and excited in a way I’d never seen her before.


“Did you know about this,” she gushed. “Did you plan this for me?”


I almost lied but it didn’t seem quite right.


“No, Mam, that’s New York for you.  Haven’t I been telling you for years that this city is magical.”


It is, and it will rise again bigger and better, if somewhat different than many of us can imagine.

Sunday 10 January 2021

Fake News and Other Mindbenders

What a year it’s been - so many people dead from a pandemic that at the least could have been handled in a better manner. Even as I write more Americans are dying daily from Covid-19 than perished during the attacks on 9/11.


But help is on the way from two vaccines, although the number of people who say they will refuse inoculation is staggeringly high.


That will change as they see family and friends take their shots and become immune to this highly contagious disease.


The same cannot be said for another malady that is gnawing away at a pillar of our democracy – the attack on the very concept of truth.


The phrase “fake news,” popularized by our soon to be ex-president, is top of the pops among other Trumpian truth-benders such as “alternative facts,” “Russian hoax,” “deep state,” et al. 


“Fake news” is the ultimate verbal weapon for it can be breezily tossed off to dismiss any fact or opinion that one disagrees with.


As an Irish Echo columnist my gig is to give opinions on various subjects. 


Simple as pie, you might think, but as pleasurable as it is I still have to check and validate every concrete statement I make or quote.


Take my opening homily on “fake news” a few lines back. Although Donald Trump claimed to have originated the phrase, it was actually coined by Craig Silverman in 2014 while he was running a research project at Columbia University.


Since Mr. Trump takes credit for so many innovations it behooved me to check out the truthfulness of his claim; accordingly, I was forced to change “originated” for “popularized.”


Luckily I have an editor who would likely have caught my error before “yer man from Pearl River” would have taken me to task with a scathing public letter and cost me a free drink at the Echo Christmas party.


Personally I read the New York Times and the Wall Street Journal for news. I’ve found that both esteemed newspapers invariably print the same informed facts.


Their opinion pieces, however, wildly differ. Yet you can tell even those have been given the factual once over by experienced editors. Besides, both papers have “apology” columns where factual mistakes and misstatements are corrected within days.


And yet so many people get their unfiltered news from Facebook, Twitter, and friendly Russian bots.


That’s like hearing “facts” at Paddy Reilly’s at 4am with 6 or 7 pints aboard. 


Recently I was informed by a number of social media adherents that, “Joe Biden intends taxing our 401(ks) and IRAs.”


I reassured these troubled souls that they should rest easy – it’s unlikely that our future president would wish to commit political suicide before even being handed the keys of 1600 Pennsylvania Avenue.


Upon looking into the matter I discovered that Mr. Biden had mentioned a desire to give more 401 (k) tax breaks to lower and middle income earners to bring them up to par with the relative breaks afforded upper income earners


The truth, apparently, got skewered intentionally in the telling.  But without truth and a modicum of decency where will we be?


This year we’ve lost two journalists who are the epitome of truth and decency.


Mark Shields has retired after 33 years of giving opinions on PBS NewsHour. I haven’t always agreed with him but there’s something so utterly American and sensible about the man.


After the invasion of Iraq he stumped David Brooks, his conservative partner on the popular show, by inquiring if he really thought that an American Christian occupying force would succeed in subduing a Muslim country?


One of the measures of Shields’ influence is that Brooks has moderated his views over the years and become a thoughtful and very informative centrist.


Pete Hamill is another case in point. I happened to be in a group with him when someone ventured that given the catastrophe of 9/11 the practice of waterboarding terrorists was justified.


Pete didn’t even raise his voice when he replied, “We’re Americans, we don’t do torture.”


He didn’t need to elaborate for he had made a simple but profound statement.


Let’s hope in 2021 we’ll aspire to be more than we are again, and return to core American values, in particular, truth and decency.