Monthly Archives: June 2015

San Francisco Irish Crossroads Festival

If you go onto the site of the San Francisco Irish Crossroads Festival, under the In Memoriam section you will find a brief biography of Daniel Cassidy:

Danny Cassidy – Daniel Patrick Cassidy, author of “How the Irish Invented Slang: the Secret Language of the Crossroads” founded the Irish studies Program at New College of California and co-founded the Crossroads Irish-American Festival.

Cassidy grew up in Brooklyn, and was shaped by the world that he encountered there.  His career was rich and varied.  He started his education at Columbia University, and went on to get a Masters in History at Cornell. He also became recognized for his work as a poet at this time.  He worked for the New York Times as a news assistant in the United Nations Bureau.

He then became a musician, recorded an album, and performed on stages from Carnegie Hall to the Los Angeles Civic Auditorium, with luminaries including George Carlin, Kenny Rankin and Lily Tomlin. In addition to being a musician, Cassidy wrote film scripts and created a documentary, “Civil Rights and Civil Wrongs,” nominated for an Emmy, which was focused on civil rights abuses in Northern Ireland.  Cassidy also worked as a Union Organizer for over 20 years. He was also a fervent supporter of the Irish Republican movement.

In the 1990s, Cassidy started a new chapter of his life working at New College of California.  He founded the Irish Studies Program there in 1995 and went on to create a Media Studies Program.  His vision of Irish Studies was built on his understanding of the central role of the Irish in American history and of Ireland for Post-colonial Studies.

In the spirit of the mission of New College, he embraced the value of serving community outside the classroom as well as students in the classroom.  As a result, Irish Studies at New College offered classes populated by credit and audit students, and produced many programs throughout the year for the community.  The heart of that work, done in March, evolved into the Crossroads Irish-American Festival.  Cassidy, a founder of the Festival, provided guidance for that evolution. 

Cassidy’s book, “How the Irish Invented Slang,” grew out of an epiphany he had about the Irish language, as the result of encountering an Irish dictionary willed to him by a good friend.   As Danny discovered: “we had never stopped speaking Irish in my family.”  That insight would drive him to write “How the Irish Invented Slang,” which won the American Book Award in 2007.

We honor Danny Cassidy as the force behind the creation of the Irish-American Crossroads Festival, and whose spirit, wisdom and energy we continue to draw on.

Ar dheis Dé go raibh a anam uasal.

Reading this, you would think that Cassidy had a varied and fascinating life, a life full of achievement and success. People who have read this blog will realise that this is very far from the truth. Cassidy’s was a life of things started and left unfinished, promise unfulfilled, paths that went nowhere, a life of failure and underachievement.

Leaving aside the fact that he was raised in the green quiet of Long Island and not in Brooklyn, let’s start with the claim that he got a degree from Columbia and an MA from Cornell. Everywhere else, it says that he went to Cornell for his primary degree, which is true. He spent about three years at Cornell before he was kicked out without a degree in 1965.

It seems that he never went to Columbia at all. He was completely unqualified to be an academic and presumably lied his way into the academic jobs he had in the decade and a half before his death.

During his stay at Cornell, he had a few poems published in newspapers and won a prize for poetry in the university. The only poem I’ve succeeded in finding by Cassidy online is very underwhelming. He never really made it as a poet. He never published any anthologies or won any non-university prizes for poetry.

Some sources describe him as an ex-merchant mariner, though this isn’t mentioned in the biography above. Did he work as a sailor? Apparently, he did, though he can’t have spent long at it. He was kicked out of Cornell in 1965. Six years later, in 1971, he released an album and was at the height of his music phase. In between those two points, he apparently worked for the NY Times, sailed the seven seas and also had a two-year spell as an inmate in Phoenix House, a drug rehabilitation centre. (“Cassidy had been a copy writer and seaman but learned to play guitar while staying at Phoenix House”.) So, that’s six years, minus two in Phoenix House. So maybe he spent a year in the NY Times and three years at sea. Or two years and two years. Or three years as a journalist and one at sea. Somehow, these careers ended up with addiction and he then met Kenny Rankin and learned to play guitar in rehab.

His life as a musician doesn’t seem to have taken off either. He produced an album but this wasn’t a great seller. While the spiel above makes it sound like he enjoyed great success, there isn’t much evidence of this. As another source on line says: “In mid-June 1972, Cassidy appeared on The Tonight Show with Carlin, during a week in which Johnny Carson was on vacation, and Wilson was guest-hosting the show. Cassidy also opened for Carlin on some tour dates. Cassidy’s music career never took off, however, and he left show business to establish an Irish studies program at New College of California.” It is unclear how long he spent playing music until he gave up, or what exactly he did for the next twenty odd years until he founded the Irish studies programme at NCoC.

Various sources tell us that he worked as a scriptwriter in Hollywood, apparently writing for Danny Glover and Francis Ford Coppola. Yet a glance at the Cassidy Papers, now held in New York, shows that this script-writing began about 1987 and went on throughout the early 1990s. He may well have sold scripts, because scriptwriting seems to be like a kind of futures market. However, there is little enough evidence of achievement. Certainly, none of the scripts he wrote has ever been turned into a film.

The only real films he was associated with were two documentaries he made about Northern Ireland. Both of them appeared in the mid-1990s when he was ‘starting a new chapter of his life’ as an academic. Apparently one of these, Civil Rights and Civil Wrongs, was nominated for an Emmy, though there seems to be no independent confirmation of this. Neither of them is mentioned on IMDB.

Then in 1995, he started the Irish Studies program(me) at NCoC, and he continued with that until shortly before his death, when NCoC was closed and he was left unemployed and suffering from his last illness. Before NCoC closed, Cassidy published his mindless and trashy book, which having been rejected by a serious academic publisher, was essentially vanity-published for him by his mate Alexander Cockburn. It is still in print, still spreading its insidious fake-Irish poison.

In other words, the nonsense given on the website of the Irish Crossroads Festival bears very little resemblance to the truth. It seems that lies and half-truths and evasions followed Cassidy wherever he went, whatever he did.

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Picnic Basket Cases

I came across an interesting parallel to Cassidy’s nonsense recently. Apparently, beginning in the 1990s with a hoax email, many people in the USA have been persuaded that the use of the word picnic is racist. The email claimed that the term originally referred to a lynching, where southern bigots randomly ‘picked a negro’ to lynch and brought the whole family out to eat fried chicken and drink mint juleps in the southern sun.

In an excellent article in Black Voice News (http://www.blackvoicenews.com/more-sections/commentary/41888-an-urban-legend-that-binds-us-the-word-picnic-.html) by Richard O. Jones, the author describes his distaste at being sent a similar email (apparently not the original hoax but someone else spreading this nonsense independently). Here is part of the email he received:

This e-mail is being sent to you as a public service announcement and as information in the form of a little known Black History Fact. This information can also be found in the African American Archives at the Smithsonian Institute. Although not taught in American learning institutions and literature, it is noted in most Black history professional circles and literature that the origin of the term “picnic” derives from the acts of lynching African-Americans. The word “picnic” is rooted from the whole theme of “Pick A Nigger.” This is where individuals would “pic” a Black person to lynch and make this into a family gathering. There would be music and a “picnic.” (“Nic” being the white acronym for “nigger.”) Scenes of this were depicted in the movie “Rosewood.”

We should choose to use the word “barbecue” or “outing” instead of the word “picnic.” Please forward this e-mail to your family and friends and let’s educate our people.

Jones’s comment is just as applicable to the garbage spread by Cassidy and his asinine followers as it is to the case of picnic:

I don’t wish to misinform my friends and family with the likes of another vicious Internet hoax. Many Black people are too quick to believe negative rumors; therefore, I refuse to contribute to national ignorance. These type of hoaxes only serve to make Black people look stupid and by no means is an advancement in education. It is too easy to go to the library and research the origin of words in dictionaries and/or encyclopedias to believe and spread every bit of garbage that comes through cyberspace.

As Jones so rightly says, in the case of picnic  just as in Cassidy’s ridiculous claims, it is very easy to disprove this rubbish. Piquenique originated in France in the 17th century. It has no connection to the American south and nothing to do with black history. The worst thing is that lynching was a real phenomenon. In fact, it still is, though a gun seems to be the weapon of choice now rather than a rope.  Denial of this supposed etymology of picnic doesn’t mean that you are denying lynching or the evils of racism. And denying the validity of Cassidy’s claims about the Irish origins of hundreds of English words doesn’t mean that you are denying the value of the Irish language or supporting an elite of WASPs against your ancestral culture. In fact, it is Cassidy’s supporters who are betraying our language and our culture out of a misplaced loyalty to an ignorant charlatan, just as supporters of the racist picnic idea are allowing themselves to be manipulated by a person or persons unknown whose agenda, whatever it is, has nothing to do with the truth.

My Arse, Cassidy!

As I have repeated over and over again in this blog, Daniel Cassidy’s claims about Irish are almost entirely rubbish. His methodology consisted of finding phrases in English, deciding that they came from Irish, and then hunting through Irish (and/or Scottish Gaelic) dictionaries to find Irish equivalents. However, as there was hardly ever a satisfactory equivalent in the dictionaries, Cassidy put words together in ridiculous and unrealistic ways. According to his supporters, this doesn’t matter, because the Irish in 19th century slums supposedly forgot all their grammar and apparently stuck words together in random and incomprehensible ways.

Here’s a clear example of what Cassidy did. Suppose I am Cassidy and I decide that the phrase ‘My arse’ as an expression of scepticism at someone else’s words doesn’t come from the English words ‘my’ and ‘arse’. So I go to an Irish dictionary. I don’t actually speak any Irish, of course, and I’m not really sure about the pronunciation, but what the Hell! I’m Daniel Cassidy! I’m a genius! So, I find the word maith which means good or well, and which is pronounced mah or moy. So far, so good! Then I look for something which might go with it. Ah, there’s a word arsa, which means ‘said’.

So, if I put maith and arsa together, I get the ironic ‘Irish’ phrase maith arsa, which means ‘well said!’

Of course, this isn’t a real phrase, and it only makes sense if you pluck definitions for the component words randomly out of dictionaries. In Irish, the word arsa is limited in its use. It only ever occurs sandwiched between reported speech and the name of the person speaking. Almost all of the phrases in Cassidy’s book are like this, childish fakes based on misunderstood out-of-context dictionary entries which bear no relation at all to the genuine Irish language, a language of which Cassidy was totally ignorant.

The Lessons of the Cassidy Scandal

Now that Cassidy’s Reign of Error is over, it seems like a good time to examine some of the lessons to be learned from this case.

Cassidy, who had no qualifications at all, was able to hide his fraud in plain sight. While he never gave a clear account of his academic record in public, there is enough evidence on line that he claimed to have a degree from Cornell. Cornell and its Registrar Cassie Dembosky responded to my request for information very quickly and with no hassle. The other universities were less responsive and in spite of a campaign of letter-writing and contacting the press, I have still not received satisfactory answers to my questions. Academic fraud is on the increase and it’s in everybody’s interests to make it easier to expose it. Unfortunately, no one body is responsible for tracking down frauds like Cassidy, so the evidence may have to be sought in different states and different countries. If even one of these individuals or institutions fails to do its duty (such as Columbia and San Francisco State), it may be difficult to prove the fraud conclusively.

People need to be taught to think. Thinking rationally is the most basic skill of all and people should be taught how to distinguish manipulative bullcrap from reality. It is amazing how many people don’t understand that ‘I want this to be true’ is not a valid argument, or simply don’t feel it necessary to check ‘facts’ because they’ve seen them in black and white in a book.

People should be taught a little about linguistics. Everything we do is based on language, yet the scientific study of language is a mystery to many people who consider themselves educated. Many people would rather read the pontifications of grammar mavens who spout nonsense (e.g. food cannot be healthy, it can only be healthful!) rather than read a genuine expert on language like David Crystal. There seems to be a prevailing view among some people that linguists are just a bunch of trendy lefties who are intent on reducing the language of Shakespeare to textspeak.

A common view among people who have never been taught to think (or have they been taught not to think?) is that being reasonable consists of finding a middle point between two competing positions. Let’s just think about this for a minute. If someone is telling me that black people are genetically non-human, should people like me who are not racists go half way on the path of irrational bigotry to meet them? Of course not! It’s not a question of finding compromises between opposing theories, it’s a question of assessing how well the theories correspond to the facts. Not all theories are created equal and not all theories deserve to be treated with equal respect. Some theories, like racism, deserve no respect at all.

The newspapers really should strap on a pair and start to clear up the messes they make. I know their function is to sell copies and get noticed but in the case of Cassidy, they were all very keen to spread the word about his book and his lunatic theories without actually checking whether those theories had any validity at all. (There are a few exceptional journalists like Ed Power, but most of them couldn’t be arsed confirming that Cassidy wasn’t a flake.) But when the dog bites man story comes around, that Cassidy was simply an unqualified fraud masquerading as a professor and that he knew nothing about Irish, none of the papers want to know. None of them are prepared to publish a retraction or set the record straight because there’s no profit in it for them and apparently, informing people of the truth isn’t what they do.

Friends are a wonderful thing. When people use their friendships to gain advantage at the expense of the truth and even at the expense of the people who regarded themselves as their friends, that’s another matter. Cassidy used his friends to support his ignorant posturing, and all of these friends – Joseph Lee, Peter Quinn, Peter Linebaugh, John Rickford and many others – all of them have been diminished as people and as academics by their contact with the Great Fraud. They may not recognise that fact but those of us who recognised Cassidy’s childishness and stupidity the moment we opened his book find their gullibility astounding and their unwillingness to set the record straight a clear indication of the kind of people they really are.

However good somebody is as a party animal, that doesn’t make them a talented researcher or academic. If you want a comedian or musician to make the faculty Christmas party go with a swing, contact a theatrical agent. If you want someone who can do academic research, make sure they actually have a degree or two before you employ them.

Wikipedia can be a wonderful source of information but there are problems with it. The famous case of Philip Roth should stand as a warning. Roth corrected certain claims about his own novel The Human Stain on Wiki but was told by administrators that they needed secondary sources! It seems to me that the original intention of Wikipedia was that subject experts who really understand the issues would contribute their specialist knowledge. However, it appears that much of the activity on Wikipedia is by busybodies who edit so much on such a wide range of matters that they cannot possibly have any expert knowledge of the area in question. Furthermore, the protocols of Wikipedia favour pseudoscience and false claims, just as they did in the case of Philip Roth. If someone publishes a false claim in a book, that is regarded as a valid source, even if it’s a work of pseudoscience like How The Irish Invented Slang and completely valueless. Academics do not routinely publish books or articles debunking nonsense (perhaps they should!) and so the only sources for the correct information are often inadmissible sources by Wikipedia’s criteria, such as privately published blogs like this one.

Lastly, be careful of people playing certain political cards in their own defence. Cassidy played the ethnicity card and the class card in order to protect himself from legitimate criticism. He depicted the world of linguistics and lexicography as an upper-class Anglophile closed shop where men in dinner jackets decide on fake English etymologies to play down the cultural contribution of the Irish. Because of this bizarre fantasy, a large number of idiots who consider themselves Irish were quite happy to rush to his defence, even if that meant trying to shout down people who actually speak Irish.

Pud

Daniel Cassidy, in his infantile work of pseudo-scholarship, How The Irish Invented Slang, claimed that the word ‘pud’, a slang term for penis, derives from the Irish word bod, with the same meaning.

If pud had no meaning in English, this would be a reasonable enough claim. However, pud does have a meaning in English. It is a common shortened form of pudding, which is on record as having been used as a slang term for a penis in British English as early as 1719. Several types of sausage commonly eaten in Ireland are called puddings – black pudding (putóg dhubh) and white pudding (putóg bhán or drisín).

There is absolutely no sensible reason to suppose that pud is anything but English.

The University of Limerick

Daniel Cassidy was a user. He used everybody around him. It didn’t matter whether there was any value in what he was doing or whether he was entitled to do it. As far as he was concerned, the world was his oyster and to hell with anyone who opposed him.

One thing which has often puzzled me about the publication of Cassidy’s book is the fact that it was to have been published by the University of Limerick. Then a couple of weeks before it was to be published, they received a review from an academic saying that they should not go ahead with publishing it. We do not know what reasons were given but Cassidy was furious at the “faceless revisionist Irish academic” who had rejected his work of genius. (Another thing I don’t get – Cassidy was the revisionist!) That’s how it came to be published by Cassidy’s friend, Alexander Cockburn. Cassidy could always rely on his mates to get him out of a hole.

Now, while I have no doubt that Limerick is a fine university, it isn’t the first place you might think of in Ireland. Trinity College, UCD, QUB, Cork. All of them are likely to be higher up the list than Limerick. Unless you know someone in Limerick University.

Recently I noticed that one of the names on the Irish Crossroads Festival list for 2004 was Mícheál Ó hAodha, a poet and academic at the University of Limerick, who also has an interest in old photos of the Irish circus. I can just imagine the poor man thrown into the middle of some crazy Irish-American circus, with Cassidy in the chair ranting about eddymalagy and singing ridiculous fake Oirish versions of cowboy songs. The subject of the event, apparently, was An Gaeilge Sa Mheiriceá. (Yes, you couldn’t make it up! It should be An Ghaeilge i Meiriceá, of course!)

Anyway, my guess would be that a few years later, Ó hAodha presumably got a call from the nasty little con-man in California. “Hey, long time no see, hey I’m tinkin’ of bringin’ out a book. It’s great, howdya like to publish it. Idd’ll be great for Limrick … blah, blah, blah, yadayadayada.” And I’m sure Ó hAodha is a polite and courteous man, so perhaps he agreed to try, then sent it to an impartial academic reviewer (which is what people do in real universities), who fell about laughing and said “You must be joking!” So, Limerick University committed the unforgiveable crime of saying no to Daniel Cassidy.

I would like to think they informed him of their decision in an appropriate Limerick form (though I am sure they didn’t!) Something like this, perhaps:

We think your book is a jest,
Your logic is not of the best,
      Your proofs are all fake,
      You’re a crook on the make,
So fuck off, you’ve failed the test!

 

 

 

 

 

 

The Plural of Roof

I recently received a rather offensive message from someone called Jimbo. Jimbo had nothing to say about the revelations that Cassidy had no degrees or the huge volume of evidence presented here that his book is fictional nonsense. Jimbo suggested that I am less educated than I claim to be because, apparently, I can’t spell the plural of roof.

According to Jimbo, the plural of roof is roofs, always and in every dialect of English. He sent me a couple of links to ‘prove’ this, though apparently he didn’t read them very carefully, as the comments on them confirm that outside of the States, rooves is an acceptable and quite common spelling among educated people. A search for phrases like ‘thatched rooves’ or ‘tiled rooves’ on Google turns up lots of perfectly well-written material from outside the States and the OED also sanctions it, saying that it is an acceptable variant in the UK. (It’s also used a lot in Australia, New Zealand and Canada, judging by the comments.)

So, Jimbo is not right about this. Roofs may be the most common spelling but it’s not the only version. And even if rooves were incorrect, it wouldn’t bother me greatly. I use English less than half the time and I have never claimed to be omniscient. I make mistakes and when I do, I admit them. However, I suspect that Jimbo is not really that concerned with my English spelling.

I am not saying that Jimbo is a sockpuppet for Sean Sweeney, the childish, tiresome little numpty who keeps posting here and elsewhere in defence of Daniel Cassidy’s indefensible book without clarifying what his relationship with Cassidy was. No, Jimbo is probably not Sweeney. I am sure there are hundreds of thousands of people whose twin obsessions are defending Daniel Cassidy’s reputation and taking the New York Citi Bike scheme to task for the siting of its ranks in Soho.

However, if it should turn out that Jimbo and Sean Sweeney are one and the same, it would demonstrate beautifully that he is incapable of providing any defence for Cassidy or his ideas, because if all he can do is question my non-American spelling of rooves, then it’s quite obvious that he can’t find even a tiny shred of evidence that Cassidy got it right about anything. And instead of accepting that and publicly admitting that he got it wrong, he is still trying to snipe at people who are telling the truth because it isn’t the truth he wants to hear. Which would make him a pretty sad and pathetic character, wouldn’t it?

However, I’m sure Jimbo isn’t Sweeney. I mean … surely nobody is that sad and pathetic …