To see what is in front of one's nose needs a constant struggle.
--- George Orwell

Wednesday, May 20, 2015

Almost Fifty Years Later, Israel’s “Six Day War” Still Isn’t Over

IDF Chief Rabbi Shlomo Goren at the Western Wall, Jerusalem, 1967.

“The war of 1967 casts a shadow still. As the Duke of Wellington said, the only thing worse than a great victory is a great defeat.”

This was David Remnick writing in a 2007 New Yorker piece marking the 40th anniversary of the Six Day War, which also marked the 40th anniversary of the Israeli occupation of the Palestinian territories. We're coming up on the 48th anniversary of that war in early June, with the Economist noting that an end to the overall Israeli conflict with the Palestinians has “seldom seemed so far away.”

Remnick’s piece, which he called “The Seventh Day” in reference to the story of creation in Genesis, highlights the role that religious triumphalism has played in making the conflict so insoluble since then, the headiness it induced feeding a sense of messianic destiny, moral superiority, strategic advantage and political entitlement. “So profound was the Israeli national delirium in the days and weeks after the war,” Remnick explains, “that it was impossible for most Israelis to think straight about the long-term consequences of retaining conquered territory… In those early days of postwar euphoria, there were a few prominent Israelis who dared to warn of the moral and political degradation that would come with the occupation…A new kind of Zionist, one that fused faith and nationalism, replaced the old pioneers, the kibbutzniks.” As he explains: 

After being told that the state was in mortal danger, Israel was now in possession of Biblical Israel—the Western Wall, the Temple Mount, all of Jerusalem, the Tomb of the Patriarchs, in Hebron, and many other such sites scattered throughout the West Bank. Once the Old City was secured, on the third day of the war, Dayan, the most theatrical of all Israeli commanders, flew by helicopter to Jerusalem and staged his arrival in the manner of General Allenby, the British general who took Jerusalem from the Turks in 1917. “We have returned to the most holy of our places,” Dayan declared. “We have returned, never to part from them again.”

General Shlomo Goren, the chief rabbi of the I.D.F., blew a shofar at the Western Wall and advised his commanding officer, Uzi Narkis, that now was the moment to blow up the Dome of the Rock, the mosque that sits on the Temple Mount. “Do this and you will go down in history,” Goren said. “Tomorrow might be too late.”

Narkis refused the lunatic suggestion and even threatened the rabbi with arrest. Nevertheless, the national poet, Natan Alterman, was accurate in declaring, “The people are drunk with joy.” A photograph of a weeping I.D.F. soldier at the Western Wall was published all over the world and seemed to embody the new conflation, for many Israelis, of the state and the sacred, the military and the messianic. The song “Jerusalem of Gold” displaced, for a time, the traditional anthem “Hatikvah.” In the daily Ma’ariv, the journalist Gabriel Tzifroni described the “liberation” of the capital in terms rarely used in traditional news reporting: “The Messiah came to Jerusalem yesterday—he was tired and gray, and he rode in on a tank.” When the fighting broke out, Ben-Gurion had written in his diary, “There was no need for this. I believe it is a grievous mistake.” But now Ben-Gurion was suggesting that the walls of the Old City be destroyed. Eshkol himself, posing the question of how Israel was going to rule a million Arabs, briefly considered a plan of transferring hundreds of thousands of Palestinians to Iraq and elsewhere.

Since 1949, there had been talk of “recapturing” the holy sites of the West Bank and Jerusalem––most Israeli generals still considered 1948 to be unfinished business, just as their Arab opponents did––but permanent conquest had never been, as policy, the goal of the war. Occupation was to be temporary. And then it wasn’t. Under the bizarre and often harsh leadership of Moshe Dayan––“the mysterious Cyclops of Israeli politics,” in the words of the distinguished historian and journalist Amos Elon—the Israelis thought of themselves as “enlightened occupiers,” and yet in time they resorted to many of the methods employed by the British colonials during the Mandate period: collective punishment, torture during interrogation, the demolition of Arab homes. Israel also expelled entire Arab communities and destroyed villages; around two hundred thousand Arabs fled the West Bank for Jordan. Israeli forces destroyed the villages of Beit Mirsim and Beit Awa, in the southern West Bank; nearly a third of the city of Qalqilya was razed before the U.N. and the United States demanded that Dayan stop and rebuild. In the meantime, religious Zionist leaders such as Zvi Yehudah Kook, of the Mercaz Harav yeshiva, in Jerusalem, and Moshe Levinger, a founder of the Gush Emunim settler movement and the settlement in Hebron, went from being marginal dreamers to armed prophets and politicians.

The Israeli leadership could not conceive of itself as anything less than benign, and even persuaded itself that a subjugated Arab population would come to appreciate its overlords. “The situation between us,” Dayan creepily informed the Palestinian poet Fadwa Tuqan, “is like the complex relationship between a Bedouin man and the young girl he has taken against her wishes. But when their children are born, they will see the man as their father and the woman as their mother. The initial act will mean nothing to them. You, the Palestinians, as a nation, do not want us today, but we will change your attitude by imposing our presence upon you.

The most complete book on the war’s aftermath––the “seventh day”––is the journalist Gershom Gorenberg’s riveting and deeply depressing The Accidental Empire, which describes how, in the decade following the war, the mainstream Labor governments of Levi Eshkol, Golda Meir, and Yitzhak Rabin either feigned ignorance of the growing settlements or blatantly encouraged them. As a result, they helped to legitimatize the settlement ideology of their right-wing successors Menachem Begin, Benjamin Netanyahu, and Ariel Sharon. Gorenberg makes clear that, though the Israelis at first designated the early settlements “temporary” military outposts, in order to avoid violation of the Fourth Geneva Convention, “the purpose of settlement, since the day in July 1967 when the first Israeli settler climbed out of a jeep in the Syrian heights, had been to create facts that would determine the final status of the land, to sculpt the political reality before negotiations ever got under way.” Here the project of revisionism was neither scholarly nor benign; the creation of “facts on the ground” was a political attempt to rewrite, with bricks and mortar, the contours of one nation at the expense of another.

Forty years later, a quarter of a million Israelis live in a hundred and twenty officially recognized settlements; an additional hundred and eighty thousand live in annexed areas of East Jerusalem, and sixteen thousand in the Golan. In the years before Israel was established, settlers argued that the more land they bought or seized, the greater their security. The settlers of “Greater Israel” and their supporters, who regarded the old borders as “Auschwitz frontiers,” refused to see the peril in their policy. The worst consequence of occupation, of course, has been the terrible privations, physical isolation, and psychological disfigurement that it has imposed upon the Palestinians. For the Israelis, occupation has been, as Gorenberg describes, a grave security hazard and source of moral corrosion.

Moshe Dayan, with Palestinians on the West Bank.


Wednesday, April 22, 2015

Rolling Stone’s UVA Rape Hoax, In A Nutshell

The Columbia Journalism School’s report on the Rolling Stone UVA campus rape fiasco weighed in at 13,000 words and has been credited with being exhaustive in its attention to detail and sophisticated in its appreciation for nuance.  It probably offers far more information on RS author Sabrina Rubin Erdely’s faulty reporting methods and shortcomings in RS editing and fact checking processes than anybody would really ever want to know.  

Somehow though the report doesn’t quite convey the magnitude of the hoax that was involved, nor a sense of just how clever Jackie was in constructing it and how credulous Sabrina Rubin Erdley was in falling for it. In fact, the “nutshell” summary actually captures what was really going on in a much more forceful, even mind blowing manner. In its most distilled form, what we finally have is: 

A horrendous three-hour gang-rape that never happened  
Described with details that were forensically impossible
Committed by seven men who were never identified     
At a party that never took place
In a fraternity house the victim never entered  
After a dinner date she never went on
With an upperclassman who was wholly imaginary  
Whose picture had been downloaded from the internet
To fool three friends who came to the victim’s rescue
Whom the victim would later defame.

The episode made for some serious Big Trouble. But in trying to understand its central essence, less offers more here and cuts closer to the quick. The crimes involved in the fraud that was perpetrated at UVA are both real and journalistic. Yet they have less to do with the epidemic of "campus rape" than with its fraught politics. The void at the center of this case was filled with many things, facts and real people not foremost among them.   

Monday, April 20, 2015

Some Of The Many Things That Rolling Stone's Sabrina Rubin Erdely Probably Wishes She Never Said In & About Her Bogus UVA 'Rape' Story

Sabrina Rubin Erdely’s thoroughly debunked Rolling Stone story on the “rape culture” of UVA has been taken down from its website following its official retraction. But since nothing ever dies on the internet, it lives on in infamy, with a little help from the Way Back Machine for anyone who wants to read it. 

Far easier to find though are the arrogant, deceptive and misleading things she said in the course of publicizing her fraudulent piece. Likewise the things she said while defending it from challenges from reporters with far more professional skepticism than  she had, especially in assessing the credibility of  a three hour gang rape that never in fact happened by 9 UVA frat boys who never in fact existed.

There’s also her Linked in account, as well as a dozen or more examples of her past work---for RS, for Philadelphia and for a number of women’s magazines---which seem to have credibility problems much like her UVA piece.

The main problem with Erdely is not that she brought herself low on just on one piece but that much of her oeuvre is problematic. It’s filled with stories taking cheap shots at “patriarchal” institutions like the Catholic Church, the military and the evangelical Christian movement, and using suspicious pseudonymous, anonymous sources to do so, along with quotes too good to check and descriptions of circumstances far more politically, culturally and legally complicated to make the simpleminded, reductive conclusions she makes about institutional misbehavior.

As filled with damning evidence as the Columbia Journalism School report on the episode was, I think it SRE off easy, which in turn made it easy for RS owner Jann Wenner to announce, even before J School Dean Steve Coll had given his press conference to answer questions about the report, that no one at RS wd be fired, and that SRE would continue writing for the magazine. (Later that day someone at RS told the Times that SRE was actually already at work on another assignment.) Appalling. If she were a doctor or a lawyer engaged in such professional malfeasance, if not malpractice, at the very least her license would have been suspended.

SRE released a short apology that did not in the least begin to acknowledge the many individual parties she had victimized, omissions no doubt tied to the libel suits she and RS will face.  In such dicey legal conditions, an allocution that acknowledged her specific journalistic transgressions would be even more unlikely. It would also not be in keeping with the spirit of the J school post-mortem, and Steve Coll’s declaration that "We're not the DA's office. We're not a special prosecutor." 

But it might be more satisfying and revealing and in point of fact Erdely was a cooperating witness against herself, and cooperating witnesses often have to recite their wrongs for the record in order to receive leniency from the court.

Coll’s report is long and detailed, but it buries its own lead by failing to connect the dots between obvious journalistic dishonesty on SRE’s part---including lying, either directly and by omission--- and her overall journalistic integrity and fitness.  In short, the report says SRE doesn’t deserve to be fired because she didn’t evince the kind of dishonesty--“lying to colleagues, lying to your boss" that would be required to do so even though the report bears evidence of exactly that. Strange, inexplicable really, especially coming from someone ike Steve Coll whose tenure as ME of the Washington Post was not lacking in tough-mindedness, both  in his own investigative journalism  and in the star chambers he conducted in the cases of Post reporters who screwed up. I put some questions to him about that and he wouldn’t take them.

The list I’ve put together below, of things Sabrina Rubin Erdley probably now wishes she never said or wrote, annotated for context, might be a component of that allocutional accounting. In fact, maybe she should keep the list of these howlers taped next to her bathroom mirror and be required to read it every day as a stay against the pathological narcissism that plagues her work, her professional comportment and her own self awareness.  With the CJS report, SRE may no longer be professionally radioactive, but her professional sensibility is toxic.   Rolling Stone allows her to write again at their own peril. 


* The description of “Jackie’s” gang rape.

“Shut up," she heard a man's voice say as a body barreled into her, tripping her backward and sending them both crashing through a low glass table. There was a heavy person on top of her, spreading open her thighs, and another person kneeling on her hair, hands pinning down her arms, sharp shards digging into her back, and excited male voices rising all around her. When yet another hand clamped over her mouth, Jackie bit it, and the hand became a fist that punched her in the face….

"Grab its motherfucking leg," she heard a voice say. And that's when Jackie knew she was going to be raped.

She remembers every moment of the next three hours of agony, during which, she says, seven men took turns raping her, while two more – her date, Drew, and another man – gave instruction and encouragement. She remembers how the spectators swigged beers, and how they called each other nicknames like Armpit and Blanket. She remembers the men's heft and their sour reek of alcohol mixed with the pungency of marijuana. Most of all, Jackie remembers the pain and the pounding that went on and on.

As some early skeptics pointed out, the grab it’s leg” quote is from Silence of the Lambs, the shattered coffee table was probably borrowed from Ben Affleck’s Gone Girl. A full-on punch in the face like Jackie said she received would have broken her nose and possibly caused a concussion. Forced intercourse with seven men over three hours, one of them using a coke bottle, would very likely render a victim unable to walk.  Both Erdley and the RS fact checker showed incredible lack of professional skepticism in accepting this account, just on the physical details alone. Had they consulted a sex crimes investigator or prosecutor instead of experts in the psychology of  “trauma,” they would have been told that the forensics involved here are simply physically impossible.   


* Description of UVA’s apathetic, apoliticized culture: 

Four weeks into UVA's 2012 school year, 18-year-old Jackie was crushing it at college. A chatty, straight-A achiever from a rural Virginia town, she'd initially been intimidated by UVA's aura of preppy success, where throngs of toned, tanned and overwhelmingly blond students fanned across a landscape of neoclassical brick buildings, hurrying to classes, clubs, sports, internships, part-time jobs, volunteer work and parties; 

Genteel University of Virginia has no radical feminist culture seeking to upend the patriarchy. (It) isn't an edgy or progressive campus by any stretch… At UVA, rapes are kept quiet, both by students – who brush off sexual assaults as regrettable but inevitable casualties of their cherished party culture – and by an administration that critics say is less concerned with protecting students than it is with protecting its own reputation from scandal.

A phrase like “toned, tanned and overwhelmingly blonde” is a clear indication of anti WASP cultural and intellectual prejudice.  Use of the term “patriarchy” shows an obvious feminist ideological bias. In the end, the evidence Erdely cited about UVA’s preoccupation with protecting its repuation over protecting its students was erroneous, again reflecting an agenda but also her own journalistic ignorance of the limitations that federal guidelines place on universities in making public internal efforts to adjudicate campus sexual assaults.


* Rubin Erdley on UVA being known as “the rape school.” 

Asked why UVA doesn't publish all its data, President Sullivan explains that it might not be in keeping with "best practices" and thus may inadvertently discourage reporting. Jackie got a different explanation when she'd eventually asked Dean Eramo the same question. She says Eramo answered wryly, "Because nobody wants to send their daughter to the rape school."

The dean in question here, Nicole Eramo, never gave an interview to Erdley so quoting her on this point is journalistically dubious. Most likely the quote to Erdely as hearsay, through Jackie and was never verified. Eramo will have the laugh word, probably in a libel or defamation suit, as an email she wrote to Columbia seems to suggest. Rolling Stone, she wrote through her lawyer, "made numerous false statements and misleading implications about the manner in which I conducted my job as the Chair of University of Virginia's Sexual Misconduct Board, including allegations about specific student cases…

…contrary to the quote attributed to me in Rolling Stone, I have never called the University of Virginia "the rape school," nor have I ever suggested — either professionally or privately — that parents would not "want to send their daughter" to UVA.  


* Erdley’s reporting on the “Three Friends” who Jackie called after the “attack” and the answers she gave to skeptical reporters who challenged her about them.
Greek life is huge at UVA, with nearly one-third of undergrads belonging to a fraternity or sorority, so Jackie fears the backlash could be big – a "shitshow" predicted by her now-former friend Randall, who, citing his loyalty to his own frat, declined to be interviewed.
In fact, Erdley never contacted any of the three friends to corroborate Jackie’s account, and so quoting the one she pseudonymously calls Randalls is journalistically dishonest and the statement that he declined to be interviewed out of loyalty to his own frat is simply a lie, on Jackie’s part but on Erdely’s part too.   
* Derogatory reference to one of the “Three Friends” that RS called “Cindy.”
(Jackie) was having an especially difficult time figuring out how to process that awful night, because her small social circle seemed so underwhelmed. For the first month of school, Jackie had latched onto a crew of lighthearted social strivers, and her pals were now impatient for Jackie to rejoin the merriment. "You're still upset about that?" Andy asked one Friday night when Jackie was crying. Cindy, a self-declared hookup queen, said she didn't see why Jackie was so bent out of shape. "Why didn't you have fun with it?" Cindy asked. "A bunch of hot Phi Psi guys?" One of Jackie's friends told her, unconcerned, "Andy said you had a bad experience at a frat, and you've been a baby ever since."
According to the Washington Post who actually interviewed her, Cindy never said anything like this to Jackie, much less openly referred to herself as a “hook-up queen.” Reports speculating on the likelihood of libel actions stemming from the RS piece have not focused on actions that Cindy could bring, but it’s hard not to think she’s might have a case against Erdely for making her look so callous and for erroneously depicting herself as a slut.
* Erdley to CJS on never contacting the three:
“They were always on my list.”
This one would be funny of it weren’t so indicative of Erdley’s lack of journalistic rigor and lack of professional ethics.  Corroborating Jackie’s account of the rape, as well as the derogatory nature of the discussion they had after being called by Jackie in the middle of the night, was central to the reporting, and not an afterthought as this lame statement seems to suggest. Finding and interviewing them was something Erdely, who the Columbia report depicted as an investigative reporter with 20 years of experience,  should have done first before proceeding to anything else, not leaving it on a checklist of other tasks she just didn’t get around to.

* Erdely on being poorly supervised:   
“In retrospect, I wish somebody had pushed me harder.”
At the very least, this is Erdley not taking personal responsibility for her own reportorial lapses and putting the blame on someone else, i.e. her editor Sean Woods. But in fact it is a lie. According to the account Wood gave CJS, Woods says he recalls have more than one conversation about this and did press Erdley on contacting the “three friends.” The report says Woods only relented after Erdley gave him the impression that she had “exhausted” her efforts to find them.

* Erdley’s evasive responses to journalists who asked if she knew who the fraternity attackers were and whether she had reached out to them for their side of Jackie’s gang rape.
Slate: Did you try and call them. Was there any communication between you and them?
SRE: “I reached out to them in multiple ways…. They were kind of hard to get in touch with because [the fraternity’s] contact page was pretty outdated. But I wound up speaking … I wound up getting in touch with their local president, who sent me an email, and then I talked with their sort of, their national guy, who’s kind of their national crisis manager. They were both helpful in their own way, I guess.
SRE: “I don’t want to say much about them as individuals but I’ll just say that this particular fraternity, Phi Kappa Psi — it’s really emblematic in a lot of ways of sort of like elitist fraternity culture.

* Responses to the Washington Post’s Paul Farhi who also asked about identifying Jackie’s attackers.

“She asked me not to name the individuals because she’s so fearful of them. That was something we agreed on.” Erdely would not say, however, whether she knew who they were. “I can’t answer that,” she told the Post. “This was a topic that made Jackie extremely uncomfortable.”

Here, Erdley dodges the question of whether or not she knows who the attackers were by implying that she had some kind of agreement with Jackie which barred her from even trying to uncover who they were. In fact, there was no such agreement. Erdley can’t identify the attackers because her reporting was so shoddy she never even learned their names, much less established they existed and that the rape actually happned.  CJS said Erdley shouldn’t be fired because they didn’t find any “lying to colleagues,” “lying to peers.” But the interviews she conducted with reporters from other publications, especially after she learned on Nov 26 that something was amiss and was frantically trying to discover exactly what sre studded dwith lies of omission and evasion. 

* The dodgy, snotty email she sent to Farhi after reporting performed by journalists from other news organizations had impeached her central anecdote and the dubious forensic details Erdely described in her account. 

As for your list of new questions, I could address many of them individually….But by dwelling on this you’re getting sidetracked.

As I’ve already told you, the gang rape scene that leads the story is the alarming account that Jackie – a person whom I found to be credible – told to me, told her friends, and importantly, what she told the UVA administration, which chose not to act on her allegations in any way – i.e., the overarching point of the article. THAT is the story: the culture that greeted her and so many other UVA women I interviewed, who came forward with allegations, only to be met with indifference.

That I’ve received so many emails from other women saying similar things just further makes the point.) The point holds true whether or not you personally believe Jackie’s account, which it sounds like you don’t. You’re entitled to your opinion.

Here, Erdley is doing nothing less than trying to gaslight Farhi, and insult him for being obtuse in the process The email exchange between them took place several days after Erdely had started to doubt her own account, as per the Nov 26 phone call she had with Jackie that tripped off alarm bells and begun the week long process that finally led Erdley to realize that Jackie was unreliable. She’s not only not answering Farhi’s question, she’s basically saying that whatever factual problems her account of Jackie;s rape might have, the larger truth about campus rape is true, and that Farhi is a dunderhead for not seeing that. Why someone whose reporting was so undependable would try to “diss” the media reporter of the Washington Post is beyond me, but I guess that’s how some reporters roll when they’re cornered.

* Erdley’s reply to Farhi’s questions about the bottle throwing attack that Jackie suffered in response to her campus activism against sexual assault. The report prepared by the Charlottesville Police Department said that the bruises Jackie said she incurred were not consistent with a blunt object like a bottle and left the clear impression that the incident may have been invented.  

“No one ever said this never happened,” Erdely told Farhi. “So that’s the conclusion I came to. It was the closest I was able to come [to confirming it].”

Great journalistic standard here and logic: If no one tells you something did not happen, that means it did?

* A statement Erdley made about UVA’s repeated efforts to “stonewall” her, in investigating Jackie’s story, in obtaining statistic about sexual assault at UVA and in her inquiries about UVA’s policies and procedures for handling such cases.

“At first, I thought they were just incompetent,” she said. “But when I realized that they were not cooperating and there was no transparency at all . . . it occurred to me that they were stonewalling. All they cared about was [protecting] their reputation.”

According to the Columbia report, UVA never responded with any specifics to the account of Jackie’s rape because Erdely never asked them about it. And given the documented incompetence of her own reporting, it’s rich to hear her to talk about someone’s else, especially in connection with responding to information they did not have in their possession at the time because Erdely withheld them from it in flagrant disregard for the journalistic custom of “fair comment.” 

* Grandiose declarations she made on public radio about the significance that her story has in the larger public discussion of sexual assault in America.  
“What’s happening at UVA is what’s about to happen everywhere. What’s different now is that we are at a cultural moment when for the first time rape victims are being believed….That’s why we are seeing so much discussion now about rape in the military, rape on college campuses, Bill Cosby. It’s all coming together now because for the first time we are allowing ourselves to have a general discussion of the problem. Because we are giving rape victims some credibility.”

* Her risable self-description on LinkedIn.
I’m a feature writer and tireless reporter whose work has appeared in Rolling Stone, Philadelphia, The New Yorker, GQ, Reader’s Digest, Mother Jones, Redbook, Cosmopolitan, Men’s Journal, Glamour, SELF, O: The Oprah Magazine, Us Weekly, Harper’s Bazaar, Good Housekeeping, Men’s Health, and possibly some other publications that don’t come to mind right now.

I specialize in narrative nonfiction, with a particular focus on crime, health & society -- and anything, it seems, that requires about a thousand interviews. My work has won an armload of prestigious awards…. 

I love what I do.
And we love you for it. Especially the women whose credible accounts of sexual assault will be more difficult to believe --and act upon--- in the aftermath of Erdely’s stupendously implausible account.  The Linked In page is also noteworthy for boasting about winning Rolling Stone’s 1993 College Journalism award. During an interview at her alma mater, the University of Pennsylvania, Erdely actually admitted plagiarizing the article she wrote for that award, which was a profile of Christian rocker Michelle Shocked. Even then, Rolling Stone should have known.       

Thursday, March 26, 2015

As Israel Challenges Obama's Iran Diplomacy, Washington's 'Farewell Address' Has Never Been More Timely; Prez Should Read it On National TV

It’ll take more than rhetoric to rebalance the seriously skewed US-Israel “special relationship,” but having President Obama recite George Washington’s warning about the dangers posed by "passionate attachments” to foreign governments might be a good place to start.  Herewith, the relevant passages of that 1796 “Farewell” address, which has not only stood the test of time, but has never been more timely.  


…Nothing is more essential than that permanent, inveterate antipathies against particular nations, and passionate attachments for others, should be excluded; and that, in place of them, just and amicable feelings towards all should be cultivated. The nation which indulges towards another a habitual hatred or a habitual fondness is in some degree a slave. It is a slave to its animosity or to its affection, either of which is sufficient to lead it astray from its duty and its interest...
So likewise, a passionate attachment of one nation for another produces a variety of evils. Sympathy for the favorite nation, facilitating the illusion of an imaginary common interest in cases where no real common interest exists, and infusing into one the enmities of the other, betrays the former into a participation in the quarrels and wars of the latter without adequate inducement or justification. It leads also to concessions to the favorite nation of privileges denied to others which is apt doubly to injure the nation making the concessions; by unnecessarily parting with what ought to have been retained, and by exciting jealousy, ill-will, and a disposition to retaliate, in the parties from whom equal privileges are withheld. And it gives to ambitious, corrupted, or deluded citizens (who devote themselves to the favorite nation), facility to betray or sacrifice the interests of their own country, without odium, sometimes even with popularity; gilding, with the appearances of a virtuous sense of obligation, a commendable deference for public opinion, or a laudable zeal for public good, the base or foolish compliances of ambition, corruption, or infatuation.

As avenues to foreign influence in innumerable ways, such attachments are particularly alarming to the truly enlightened and independent patriot. How many opportunities do they afford to tamper with domestic factions, to practice the arts of seduction, to mislead public opinion, to influence or awe the public councils. Such an attachment of a small or weak towards a great and powerful nation dooms the former to be the satellite of the latter.

Against the insidious wiles of foreign influence (I conjure you to believe me, fellow-citizens) the jealousy of a free people ought to be constantly awake, since history and experience prove that foreign influence is one of the most baneful foes of republican government. But that jealousy to be useful must be impartial; else it becomes the instrument of the very influence to be avoided, instead of a defense against it. Excessive partiality for one foreign nation and excessive dislike of another cause those whom they actuate to see danger only on one side, and serve to veil and even second the arts of influence on the other. Real patriots who may resist the intrigues of the favorite are liable to become suspected and odious, while its tools and dupes usurp the applause and confidence of the people, to surrender their interests.

Tuesday, March 17, 2015

The Magic Of My Father's City: Ghosts Of St. Patrick's Days Past

St. Patrick's Day Parade, NYC 1959

It was a world of parades and pubs and politics, my father’s world, a world that was shaped by the ethnic milieu of that day and also transcended it. It made for a life in the 20th century that really was a life in full.  

There he is, in the photo above, Himself, as the New York Irish would say it, the late Detective Captain William J McGowan (1923-2000), leading the New York City Police Department's Emerald Society up Fifth Avenue as a sergeant in the late 1950s. Historically, the decision to march up the avenue was a very calculated affront to the WASP elite of the 19th century who did not have a particular fondness for the dominant immigrant class of that Know Nothing era.

My father (1923-2000) spent 6 years in the US Navy as an aviator during WW II before going "on the Job" in 1946. Along with his cousin, late Detective Harry Fitzgerald and several others, he co-founded the NYPD Emerald Society in 1952, serving twice as its president and once as president of the Grand Council of Emerald Societies. He also played a key role in the formation and organizational politics of the department's other fraternal organizations, such as the Shomrim Society (for Jewish officers) and the Pulaski Society (for Poles). Although white flight was cutting into the traditional "Irish vote," during the 1950's and 1960's the Emerald Society played a big part in the city's Democratic politics. Politics worked differently in that era, from the ground up, rather then the top-down model we now have. Men like my father, and others in the leadership of ethnic organizations like the Emerald Society were the civic glue that held everything together, fostering accountability on the part of political elites that they don't feel now, in the age of Big Money.

The work brought my father close to former New York City Mayors Robert Wagner and Abraham Beame, as well as to Robert Kennedy, Teddy Kennedy, Averell Harriman and a host of judges, lesser politicians and others with "big jobs," as the saying went in those days, at least among a certain slice of the Greatest Generation. He brought the Emerald Society Pipe and Drum Band---you know, the beefy guys with the tall hairy hats--- onto the Ed Sullivan show one year and got an on-air shout-out for that (or knock-down, as the Irish peculiarly say), was a fixture on Jack McCarthy’s St Patrick’s Day special on WPIX, where McCarthy always inquired about “Nellie” my father’s mother, and escorted the Lord Mayor of Dublin, Robert Briscoe, on his historic journey to the US in 1957.  The Boston Irish actually delayed their parade for a day that year so that Briscoe---Dublin’s first Jewish Lord Mayor---could experience the real thing in the New York.

Robert Briscoe, Lord Mayor Of Dublin, St. Patrick's Day, 1957 

With Senator Robert F. Kennedy and future NYC mayor Abe Beame, 1966

I’d say you could call me a “Paddy” but then I’d have to punch you. It’s also not true in the strict sense of the slur. My father was 100% Irish, though with both of his parents born here. But I’m part German, from my mother, Ellen Lilienthal.

My father retired from the department after 27 years, going on to open Danny Boy's Pub at 51st And Second Avenue which was a fixture on Manhattan's East Side for nearly fifteen years. (The New Yorker's Talk Of The Town observed closing night in their June 4, 1984 edition.)

The place was a magnet for all sorts of New York "characters," where a gruff democracy and a militant decency ruled. Class was in the way you treated people, not the airs and attitudes you projected or the poses that you struck. There was name-dropping to be sure, but I can’t recall the kind of social status “signaling” that passes for conversation now. Any Friday night would see half of police headquarters mingling with diplomats from the UN and an assortment of labor leaders, the occasional hansome cab driver, his horse waiting at the curb, along with a few priests and a lot of very pretty women who could have inspired the creators of Mad Men. There’d be a good number of “newspapermen,” as media people used to call themselves, with the guys from UPI grabbing the phone to call in stories and a headline writer from the first Murdoch ownership of the New York Post ginning himself up most afternoons, literally, before returning to the newsroom in order to write that day’s “wood,” as the tabloid trade refers to it. (Vanessa The UnDressa!; Headless Body In Topless Bar!) The occasional celebrity too: Truman Capote was a Sunday evening regular, nursing a Sunday evening sadness, though most of the literary crowd that came in occasionally found a better welcome uptown when Elaine Kaufman, who’d worked at another Irish bar down the block from Danny Boys and hung out with my father after hours now and then, opened up her infamous salon. The New York Irish certainly have their insular side, but the pub was an inclusive, all-are-welcome kind of joint; Open doors for the hoi polloi and for the swells. Except for Jimmy Breslin. My father considered him a populist phony and barred for him life.

St Patrick’s Day was a madhouse: Cousins; uncles and aunts; in-laws; my parents’ friends from the “old neighborhood” in Flatbush; partners of my father’s from the Job, priests, a nun here and there, and a floodtide of people from the parade, river of them, torrents of them, from noon when we opened til 4AM when we closed. For us, it was a family event--all hands on deck, with my brothers and sisters---some still in grammar school--- busing tables, scooping up glasses, and keeping all the service bars in ice. It was, you can imagine, a big day for the till---an “owner’s day” as the run-ragged staff would call it. It certainly made putting eight kids through college a little easier than it would have been, even on a Captain’s pension. Thank God Danny Boy’s could afford to pay musicians who could actually sing. Danny Boy is a beautifully written song and can be even more beautiful when sung correctly, especially the heartbreaking second verse (lyrics below). But it’s a hell of a wail when you've got a hundred tipsy Irishpeople, and those who are Irish for the day, making a go of it on their own.        

What I remember most about Danny Boy’s though is the echoes of the conversation, the craic as the Irish call it, a word that captures the inventiveness and velocity of it quite well, along with its addictive quality. Sitting by myself at the bar as a young aspiring writer not long after college, I often had a hard time keeping up as I scribbled like mad to get it all down. After a few hours and as many beers, the banter would take wing, the quotidian shifting into the profound, moving to a place that was almost beyond language itself, even if you could still hear Irish brogues and New York accents. Meanwhile further down the bar and a little closer to Planet Earth, a couple of old Irish guys would be hitting each other over the head with folded-up twenty dollar bills---like cavemen with sticks--- as they argued over who had right to buy the last round. There’s a reason why James Joyce set Ulysses in a pub, why the sacred and the profane seem so comfortable side by side. In the same way that “Kilroy” was there, so too were Leopold Bloom, Stephen Dedalus, and Stately Plump Buck Mulligan (Introibo ad altare Dei)in spirit at least.   

"Here we are," Himself would say, savoring the ineffability of the moment and sipping a Dewar's before heading home. The till would have stuffed into a crumpled paper bag and tucked under his arm---my father’s way of confusing would-be robbers---bringing it home for my mother, the real brains of the operation, to do the accounts. "Letsee Go! Letsee Go," the Chinese porter would yell, literally sweeping the late-stayers out the door, before picking up the change that had dropped behind the bar rail. I must have filled a thousand bar napkins with what I heard and saw back then. I keep them in storage, in shoeboxes stacked by year, like the cardboard caskets you might see in a coroner’s office.   

Inevitably however, the parades and the pub gave way to a funeral procession. My father lived exactly six months into the 21st century, passing away on July 1, 2000. 

His life was so representative of the political , the social and the cultural forces and dynamics at play in America at large  ---so bound up with the events of the 20th century century, both large and small --- that it would have been somehow inappropriate for him to breathe too much of this century’s air. When his time was gone, he was gone too, little need to quarrel with the bouncer. Like he and the rest of the Paddy's Day parade had done on Fifth Avenue, however, he stopped traffic in death as well. As the cortege wound its way from our family home in Westchester County toward the Pinelawn veteran’s cemetery on Long Island, the NYPD highway patrol kept other motorists frozen on parkway entry ramps as we rode by, throwing sharp salutes at the hearse. Everyone’s gonna go someday; its none too shabby to have stopped New York City traffic in a couple of the five boroughs when you do.

Many memories, that parade. Many lives, that pub. Much thanks to that man, in sunshine and in shadow. Horseman Pass By. 


Danny Boy
Oh Danny boy, the pipes, the pipes are calling
From glen to glen, and down the mountain side
The summer's gone, and all the flowers are dying
'Tis you, 'tis you must go and I must bide.
But come ye back when summer's in the meadow 
 Or when the valley's hushed and white with snow
'Tis I'll be here in sunshine or in shadow
Oh Danny boy, oh Danny boy, I love you so

And if you come, when all the flowers are dying
And I am dead, as dead I well may be
You'll come and find the place where I am lying
And kneel and say an "Ave" there for me.
And I shall hear, tho' soft you tread above me
And all my dreams will warm and sweeter be
If you'll not fail to tell me that you love me
And I shall sleep in peace until you come to me.