Tag Archives: Myles Dungan

The Daniel Cassidy Memorial Lecture

On the 9th of November, in San Francisco, as part of a festival called Hinterland, the Irish broadcaster and historian Myles Dungan will give the inaugural Daniel Cassidy Memorial Lecture. The Hinterland festival has two independent parts, one in County Meath and the other (HinterlandWest) in California. The Irish festival is also linked to the Hay Festival on the border between England and Wales.

Anyone who has read this blog carefully will realise that there is something very strange about the idea of commemorating Daniel Cassidy or celebrating his life.

The HinterlandWest Festival describes Cassidy thus:

Daniel Cassidy was a much-loved musician, and academic who ran the Irish Studies programme at New College, San Francisco up to the time of his death in 2008.

The comma is interesting. Did they originally have a comment about his skills as a writer and linguist but decided to remove it because they realise that the boat sailed on that one a long time ago? Or do they simply have problems with punctuation?

The facts in relation to Daniel Cassidy are clear. He was certainly a musician, though an indifferent one.

With regard to his status as an academic, there is no doubt that Cassidy worked as a lecturer at New College of California for around twelve years. Cassidy himself claimed (under a rather obvious sock puppet identity) that he had worked before that at San Francisco State but I have no confirmation of this claim.

What is very clear is that he was not entitled to be a lecturer in any university because he had no qualifications. Some sources, such as Wikipedia, claimed for a long time that he graduated from Cornell. Cassidy himself claimed to have been educated at or studied at Cornell and then at Columbia. The SF Irish American Crossroads Festival website says that Cassidy studied first at Columbia and then at Cornell, but this is contradicted by accounts of his life given by Cassidy in interviews.

The fact is that Cassidy attended Cornell for about four years on a scholarship, but left the university in 1965 without receiving a degree. He never attended Columbia University and he never got a primary degree or a postgraduate degree.

In other words, the reality is that Cassidy was just some unqualified guy who had wandered in off the street with an attitude and the gift of the gab and had no right to even apply for a job as a teacher. This is confirmed again and again in his book and in the numerous articles that appeared in newspapers around the time of its publication. In his book, Cassidy demonstrates time and time again that he didn’t care about facts or telling the truth. He knew nothing about the methods used by genuine academics. The book is weak and badly argued, with its fake phonetics, ludicrously bad referencing, a tendency to dishonestly miss out anything that conflicted with his theories and an even more disturbing tendency to simply invent phrases in ‘Irish’ that never existed and in many cases could never exist, phrases like fo-luach and sách úr and béal ónna and teas ioma and uath-anchor. The book really is a complete mess and anyone who thinks that How The Irish Invented Slang is going to make a genuine contribution to the world of etymology is delusional.

It has also been suggested that Cassidy used his unearned status as a lecturer to sexually harass young women who were unlucky enough to be studying under his guidance. This claim came from a person who left a message here and who studied at New College. I have no idea whether it’s true or not but knowing Cassidy’s arrogance and self-obsession and lack of boundaries, I don’t consider it at all unlikely.

Myles Dungan, who is delivering this inaugural Daniel Cassidy Memorial Lecture (let’s hope it’s also the last), interviewed Cassidy just after his book was published. I have already dealt with this elsewhere on this blog. It was a fairly feeble interview and a poor piece of journalism, which gave Cassidy an easy ride and failed to ask any difficult (and obvious) questions. It is strange to find Myles Dungan, who gave this toxic fraud a platform to sell his garbage to unsuspecting people back then, once again stepping up to support this liar more than a decade later. It’s doubly strange in that Myles Dungan is well-known for a blog that debunks fake news stories from history.

I don’t know who was responsible for establishing this Daniel Cassidy Memorial Lecture and damaging the reputation of the HinterlandWest Festival by associating it with a man who is universally despised by all right-thinking people. I suspect that Elizabeth Creely, one of the most vociferous Cassidy loyalists, had a hand in this bizarre decision. Whoever is responsible, the fact is that Cassidy was not a person deserving of commemoration or celebration. He was a criminal, a liar, a narcissist, a hypocrite and a total waste of space. No decent human being would knowingly associate themselves with this man and his deceptions.

An open letter to the advisory board of the San Francisco Irish-American Crossroads Festival

To:

Charles Fanning

Katherine Hastings

Caledonia Kearns

Daniele Maraviglia

Linda Norton

Miriam Nyhan

Nancy Quinn

Peter Quinn

James Silas Rogers

Tim Sullivan

 

Sometimes, our heroes turn out to have feet of clay and even when they were responsible for establishing valid and worthwhile institutions, it can be difficult for those institutions to avoid being contaminated with the scandal associated with a toxic founder.

In the case of the Lance Armstrong Foundation, it rebranded itself as the Livestrong Foundation when Armstrong was exposed as a drugs cheat. It continues to raise money but it is not as successful as it was. Its new name suggests a link to Armstrong (L – strong) but the information on its website gives no indication of the organisation’s history or Armstrong’s role in it.

In the case of the Jimmy Savile Charitable Trust, when the shit hit the fan, it initially considered rebranding itself to remove all links to the serial rapist and paedophile who founded it but a few weeks later, it declared that it was shutting up shop. The scandal and the stigma were just too great.

As for the New College of California, the exposure of its founder as a predatory paedophile came shortly before the wheels came off the institution itself. The exposure of John Leary as a sexual predator was not responsible for the collapse of the institution but it probably didn’t help. Had the college survived, it would have been necessary to remove or rewrite material like this about its founder to reflect the fact that Leary was kicked out of Gonzaga for a sexual assault on a young boy: “Jack, a Jesuit priest and teacher of philosophy, had recently resigned as president of Gonzaga University in Washington state because of his dissatisfaction with the current American model of undergraduate education. He wanted to start over. And so New College of California began as a handful of students and teachers meeting in Jack’s Sausalito living room.”

The San Francisco Irish-American Crossroads Festival was founded by Daniel Cassidy, a ‘professor’ at New College in 2004. After Cassidy’s book was published, Cassidy was criticised immediately by genuine scholars for his poor research but it is only in the last few years that the full extent of Cassidy’s dishonesty and criminality has come to light.

As I have said before on this blog, the In Memoriam section of the Festival’s website gives a fictional and sanitised account of the founder’s life. According to this account, Cassidy had degrees from Columbia and Cornell. In a radio interview with Myles Dungan, Cassidy talks about his Bachelor’s degree from Cornell and taking some ‘graduate’ classes at Columbia. Cornell University has stated that Cassidy was removed from Cornell without gaining a degree and his sister has stated here that he never went to Columbia. This in itself is clear evidence that Cassidy was a fraudster. Cassidy had no degrees or qualifications at all. He was not a real professor.

His book, How The Irish Invented Slang, is one of the most dishonest, ignorant and badly-researched books ever written. Far from being a revelatory work of etymology, it is an insult to the world of scholarship, to the Irish people and to anyone who cares about basic standards of honesty and fair play. This dim-witted collection of disinformation is totally antithetical to the mission statement of the Festival: “Founded in 2004, the Crossroads Irish-American Festival promotes the discovery and understanding of the Irish experience in the Americas to ensure that the richness of the arts, culture, history and traditions of this heritage are both held in great esteem and preserved for generations to come.”

I cannot force the people at the Irish-American Crossroads Festival to tell the truth about Cassidy. All I can do is to point out once again that Cassidy should be held to account for his fraud and criminality, not held up as an inspiration and a good example. Anyone who allows lies like this to be associated with their name is not a decent human being. If you wish to protect your reputation, demand that those responsible for the website remove the lies about Cassidy. If you support Daniel Cassidy and his insane theories, directly or indirectly, you are a willing accessory to this puerile, dishonest nonsense which has been used to swindle tens of thousands of people out of their hard-earned money.

Highway 101

In a recent post (The Day JFK Was Shot) I mentioned an interview on RTÉ radio (Highway 101) in August 2007, in which Myles Dungan talks to Daniel Cassidy, fake scholar and fake etymologist, about his life and works. In that post, I pointed to several factual inconsistencies. However, they weren’t the only problems with Cassidy’s account of his life, so I decided to listen to the podcast again and make a few notes.

First off, it is amazing what Cassidy leaves out. He makes no mention of his association with Andy Warhol, one of the few genuinely impressive parts of his CV. He talks about ‘when I got out of Cornell’, but makes no mention of the fact that he flunked his degree. Indeed, he even says ‘I was reasonably good at academics … you know … I just took to it …’ Really?

Later, he talks about being in ‘graduate school’ in Columbia. Obviously, as a non-graduate, he couldn’t have been in graduate school, though he may well have taken some evening classes.

One of the most dishonest bits is in relation to his career as a merchant seaman. In some descriptions of Cassidy, this is almost used to define him – he is ‘the former merchant marine’. I have expressed doubt before about this episode of his life, which I think didn’t happen, or was very short, or took place later, in the late seventies. This interview confirms that there is something very suspect about his claim to have been a merchant seaman in the 1960s. When Dungan says, ‘you became a seaman’, you would expect a natural storyteller like Cassidy to really give it his all. However, you would be disappointed. There are no tall tales about being lashed to the wheel with a marlin spike pondering the nature of the stars, or doing the horizontal hornpipe in a cathouse in Surabaya, or listening to the mermaids and merrows singing songs to the dog-headed men at the edge of the world where cartographers fear to tread. Cassidy simply says ‘I hit the road’ and tells an anecdote about hitching a ride to California in 1967, the Summer of Love. Then he talks about playing in a bar in the Mission District in San Francisco. Then the narrative moves on to getting in with musicians and releasing an album. His career as a salty seadog is ignored and forgotten, as is the 23 months he spent in rehab in New York, at some time between 1967 and 1972. In other words, he might have spent slightly longer as a seaman than Malcolm Lowry, but he was no Joseph Conrad.

There is also a problem with the idea that he played R and B in bars in the Mission District. According to other sources, he learned guitar in Phoenix House, the rehab centre, at the end of the sixties or in the early seventies. Before that, he played the saxophone. Now, the guitar is an R and B instrument. One person can be a modern troubadour, singing songs of love and protest and accompanying themselves on the guitar. But it’s hard to imagine anyone doing solo gigs on the saxophone. So did this happen? And if it did, when? Was it later, after his music career was on the skids, when his album failed to sell?

Dungan seems to regard Cassidy as a harmless crank, and gives him an easy ride, even when it becomes obvious that Cassidy can’t pronounce Irish and knows nothing about the language. Dungan challenges him over spiel, which he rightly says is German or Yiddish, but he doesn’t challenge Cassidy when he claims that speal (which he mispronounces to make it sound more like spiel) is Scottish Gaelic and Irish for a hoe. (It’s a scythe, or course.) However, Dungan does say: ‘Are you not letting your imagination run away with you and claiming far too much for the Irish language?’ Cassidy blethers his way round this one, claiming that in fact he is being conservative and that the Irish influence is even greater than he claims.

However, the thing that really shocked me was his spiel about how New College of California was founded by a Jesuit called Father Jack Leary, who came from Gonzaga University. The thing he doesn’t mention at all is that Leary had already been exposed as a predatory paedophile by (amongst others) Matt Smith in SF Weekly in October 2006 (http://www.sfweekly.com/sanfrancisco/the-double-life-of-john-leary/Content?oid=2161211).

Damp Squid

Daniel Cassidy did no original research at all. His idea of research was to abstract information from dictionaries, then sneer at the people who had done the work for him. His main targets were the Oxford English Dictionary and Merriam-Webster, who he misrepresented as a clique of WASP bigots. Cassidy called these bastions of the linguistic establishment ‘the dictionary dudes’. In reality, of course, there is more of an implied criticism of the main dictionary-makers in the Irish language in Cassidy’s work, as none of Cassidy’s insane phrases like pá lae sámh and béal ónna are mentioned in any of the Irish dictionaries. It is also interesting that when Cassidy was confronted with a real Irish person who knew some Irish and could clearly see that Cassidy knew nothing about the subject, Cassidy was quite happy to hide behind the authority of the OED. This happened in an RTÉ radio programme, Highway 101 with Myles Dungan, now available as a podcast, where Cassidy, having been pulled up on his pronunciation, talks about the origins of phoney in Irish fáinne. Cassidy says: Your audience must be saying, this guy Cassidy’s a real crackpot, [TRUE!!] but that’s not my etymology, that’s the etymology in the Oxford English Dictionary … Strange that he both sneers at the OED and then appeals to its authority when it suits him. But then, Cassidy was what we call a teanga liom leat (a tongue with-me with-you, a hypocrite) or a coileach gaoithe (a weather vane). Or in the English of Ireland, a gobshite.

However, most of Cassidy’s sheeple have never heard this podcast and don’t know anything about Irish, and they continue to spout nonsense about how the OED and Merriam-Webster are full of anti-Irish bigots. Just recently I quoted the Boston writer Michael Patrick MacDonald, who talks about the ‘racist OED lapdogs!’ What an idiot!

I have been reading a book recently by one of these ‘racist OED lapdogs’, Jeremy Butterfield, who has commented here. I do not know Jeremy personally. I’ve never met him outside of the virtual realm of language blogs and I’ve never even been to Oxford.

However, I loved the book, and I am giving a brief review here, mainly because it’s a good book and worth reading, but also because it exemplifies very clearly how stupid and paranoid the criticisms of the ‘dictionary dudes’ by the Cassidy Cargo Cult are.

Damp Squid: The English Language Laid Bare is a very witty, informative and well-written account of lexicography and its history and the way that corpus linguistics and computing have changed the way that dictionaries like the OED are compiled. I have read a lot of books on linguistics, so much of the material was familiar to me, but there were plenty of interesting facts which were new to me. For example, the term dictionary was quite late in arriving on the scene. The first English dictionary was Latin-English. The second was apparently Welsh-English (1547)!

There are fascinating discussions of metaphor, register and eggcorns (phrases like damp squid, which was originally damp squib, but most people don’t know what a squib is these days, so they reinterpret it). I was particularly struck by his observations about how society is always metaphorically a building, while the state is often a ship. (‘foundations of a just society’, ‘Captain, My Captain…’) Obvious, when you think about it, but I had never thought about it.

It is also quite clear that Jeremy Butterfield is not the bigoted WASP Cassidy and his friends liked to denigrate. His views on language are very democratic. In the culture war between people like Simon Heffer and David Crystal, there is no doubt that he is on the Crystal side. He does not believe that dictionary definitions are set in stone, and he mocks the approach of a long-dead generation of language mavens who disliked the use of French words because you can apparently say all kinds of morally suspect things in French which English simply can’t express!

The open-mindedness of his approach demonstrates beautifully that comments like MacDonald’s ‘racist OED lapdogs’ are just childish displays of ignorance and bigotry.

In other words, Damp Squid is a fascinating book. It is full of information, but it is also fun and very readable. In short, it is everything that Cassidy’s rubbishy book is not. And even more gratifying, it is much higher on the Amazon Bestsellers Rank than How The Irish Invented Slang. Yay!!

You can (and should) buy the book at Amazon here: http://www.amazon.co.uk/Damp-Squid-English-Language-Laid/dp/019957409X

The Day JFK Was Shot

I noticed something interesting the other day in the description of Cassidy’s contribution to an oral history project at the Tamiment Library, curated by New York University. You can find the description here: http://dlib.nyu.edu/findingaids/html/tamwag/aia_030/dscref56.html

In general, the oral history project looks interesting. There are plenty of names I’ve never heard of, along with some which will be familiar to most Irish people and even one or two who are familiar faces around Belfast, like Frank Costello.

Cassidy was interviewed by his old crony Peter Quinn. One particular detail caught my eye. It says that “Cassidy provides an insider’s perspective on the day JFK was assassinated as a rookie journalist in the newsroom of the New York Times.”

This is interesting, because it throws up the same problems of chronology and accuracy that bedevil every attempt to work out the details of Cassidy’s life. The problem is that Kennedy was assassinated in November of 1963. We have sporadic references to Cassidy in the Cornell Daily Sun from February 1961, when he was applying for admittance to the Chi Psi fraternity, right through February 1963 when he was made co-editor of a literary mag at Cornell called the Trojan Horse, right up to May 1965, a month before he was withdrawn from the University, when he won a university award for his poetry.

In other words, I am very sceptical about his ‘insider’s perspective on the day JFK was assassinated as a rookie journalist in the newsroom of the New York Times.’ Not that I’m calling Cassidy a liar or anything – I’m sure we’ve all invented a degree or two to get that plum job or written a book full of fake nonsense in a language we don’t speak at some time in our lives.

Of course, I suppose he could have been working part-time in the New York Times while studying, or done a year’s work experience in between two years at college. It’s just that that isn’t the way Cassidy himself told it. In a radio interview with Myles Dungan broadcast on RTÉ 1 on the 11th of February 2007 (now available as a podcast), Cassidy states that he took a job with the New York Times after he finished at Cornell. Notice that he doesn’t say that he graduated (he knew, and we know, that he didn’t graduate.) Perhaps he just forgot where he was. I mean, who remembers where they were when JFK was shot?

I must say, I know where I was. I was in my high chair eating a rusk. As the car glided on and the president crumpled, I pointed at the screen, the rusk momentarily forgotten, dripping milk and crumbs into the bowl. I was unable to speak. Well, to be honest, I only knew about four words at the time: mummy, daddy, doggie, horsey, and somehow none of them seemed quite appropriate to the gravity of the situation …

(If anyone at the Tamiment Library would like to interview me about my traumatic experience of JFK’s death for posterity, you know where to find me.)

So, if Cassidy was still a student in 1963, why did he tell Peter Quinn he was in the newsroom of the New York Times? I’ll take a wee punt here. Cassidy was probably chatting to Peter Quinn one day about JFK, and in keeping with his personal philosophy that a lie is simply a fact with ambition, Cassidy probably told him about his imaginary experience in the newsroom when the news of JFK’s death came through. After all, he was in the newsroom at the New York Times just a couple of short years later, so he was well-placed to take a guess. All well and good, until Peter Quinn turns up with a tape recorder and asks him about that particular occasion. And at that point, Cassidy has the choice to do the right thing and say, Actually, Peter, that was just a humungous crock of shite, like nearly everything I’ve ever told you, or do the wrong thing and carry on lying as if his life depended on it.

Not much of a choice if you’re Daniel Cassidy, who would sooner have stopped breathing than stop lying!

By the way, there’s another interesting inconsistency in the Dungan interview and the Tamiment description. In the Dungan interview, Cassidy states that he sold a script called South of Market to F.F. Coppola, who was a few years senior to him in the New York Military Academy and was nicknamed Ichabod (thank God Cassidy didn’t try to find an Irish origin for that! Ith an bod, which sounds very similar, means ‘eat the penis!’). In the Tamiment description, it says that it was a script called The Volunteer. So maybe the details are wrong. Or … maybe he never really sold any scripts to F.F Coppola at all?