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Archive for the month “February, 2017”

A Little Life

At least four people warned me that they had put down this book because it was so depressing. But undaunted by a challenge, I persevered. The topic seemed interesting as the blurb foretold a story about the inner life of four male friends.So often authors dig deeply into thoughts and relationships of women, but a story concerning males will most times move outwards towards their professions, sports or activities rather than explore their longings, aspirations or reflections. Brigid Delaney in The Guardian reminds us that “characters’ friendships represent the type of love known as agape, described by CS Lewis in The Four Loves as the highest level of love known to humanity: “A selfless love, a love that was passionately committed to the wellbeing of the other”…[ for example] Mark Twain’s bond between Huck and Tom in The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn. So in our society where it is fine for foot ball players to smack each other’s bums, and now for married gay men to openly kiss, a story of non- sexual love among men is a fresh exploration of how men communicate their emotions. 

The novel did not disappoint as a portrayal of an enduring relationship among four young men who meet at a fancy New England College , develop a lifelong commitment while moving on to diverse life experiences in Manhattan. The author follows them for 30-40 years so the reader has a sense of the trajectory of boys who grow into men.

Early on, we have a sense of their strong personalities: JB is brought up in a loving adoring family where there is no father. He is a Haitian- American with avant- garde or unconventional leanings such as in his early work covering spoons with human hair. Malcom is the biracial scion of wealthy parents from the Upper East Side in New York. Like JB, he is a creative, continually fashioning intricate paper boxes ; he will be the architect. Both the thinking of these two men is fascinating because they are artistic souls who are not confined to societal perceptions usually associated with males; they think “ outside of the box”, and are not governed by the wolves of Wall Street stereotypes, competitive and ruthless. Willem is the kind and caring one whose stoic Swedish parents working an unproductive farm in Wyoming have all ready lost two children, the remaining one Hemming is unable to communicate, and is confined to his wheelchair. A compassionate brother, Willem responds to him, taking responsibility for his needs. At one point Willem works at a camp for disabled children, but he veers towards acting: and that becomes his life’s work where he excels.

Only snippets of the final fourth character, Jude, are grudgingly revealed although we discover almost from the start that he has been abandoned as a baby in a trash can in South Dakota, no record of him existing. It is Jude’s story that the author unwinds, the pivotal point of the friendships that sustain the novel.

This is a story of four men , complimented by two more enduring male characters who play essential roles in the story. There is Andy, a med student who becomes Jude’s long suffering physician never reporting nor insisting Jude’s emotional or physical injuries hospitalize him; and Harold Stein, Jude’s mentor, law professor and adoptive father: two incredibly supportive caring companions who come into Jude’s life. Women are peripheral, his social worker Ana dying almost at the outset, Julia, an extension of Harold, and a passel of women attaching themselves to the main players: some stay; others leave, none exerting any real impact on the narrative.

But it is Jude whose background is made mysterious, hints here and there and Jude himself forever deflecting attention when he is questioned about his origins. “Whenever Harold asked him questions about himself, he always felt something cold move across him, as if he were being iced from the inside, his organs and nerves being protected by a sheath of frost.” One critic refers to the process of revealing Jude’s background as a “ striptease”, as tantalizing fragments are suggestive and alluring, but only small pieces are reluctantly tossed towards the reader.

Jude is handsome, hard working and extremely intelligent, taking a masters in pure math while studying law. His interest is in the moral impact as well as in the philosophical and abstract in his studies. He is an attractive man, but never truly involves himself with other individuals . Even with his room mates, and another artist, Richard and the Henry Youngs, he seems to inhabit space much like a lamp or piece of furniture. We have no real sense of who Jude is, his like: only his overwhelming dislike: himself.

There is a quietness, a looming aloneness that sets Jude apart. We do not learn much about him, past or present in his interchanges or his activities, save for the fact that he swims and while his body permits him, he enjoys long walks in the neighbourhood, usually on Sundays. And almost from the outset, we discover when Willem must deliver Jude to Andy because there is excessive bleeding on the bathroom floor: that he cuts himself, his razors hidden in special places in the bathroom. Taught to assuage pain as a child by Brother Luke, one of the monks at the home where he spent his early years, the reader observes that “[Jude has] long ago run out of blank skin on his forearms, and he now recuts over old cuts, using the edge of the razor to saw through the tough, webby scar tissue: when the new cuts heal, they do so in warty furrows, and he is disgusted and dismayed and fascinated all at once by how severely he has deformed himself.” This revulsion and self loathing are evident from the outset and lend to the secrets that Jude hides, along with his limp,, suggesting a previous life of pain.

The reader although interested in discovering some about Jude’s background and the reason for his behaviour and demeanour also intuits not to go too deeply in order to unravel the intricacies of Jude’s life. Perhaps like his roommates who do not push , we are relieved not to pry open Jude’s life, fearful that what we will learn will not rest easy with a lifestyle that is fun and fast and gratifying, that which the author has ushered us into at the outset of her novel. The roommates lead a glamourous life, fancy universities, parties, laughter, swish galleries, “ as a catalog of the incremental accumulations that, almost without [ them] noticing it, become the stuff of [ their] lives: the jobs and apartments, the one-night stands and friendships and grudges, the furniture and clothes, lovers and spouses and houses.”This is the good life, the promise of the American Dream, work hard and the future will unfold with all the blessings available to the best and the brightest.Jude appears to live the part. But it is Willem who continually attempts to dislodge some facts about Jude’s life prior to their  college days.  Yet , only after an almost fatal suicide attempt late in the novel ( of more than 700 pages!) does Jude confide some of the horrors of his forced sexual profligacy.

Jude’s background, especially, his self destructive cutting is a recurrent motif that underpins and does pique the reader’s desire to ferret out more about the central character. Besides Jude’s negative stance, occasionally the  author reveals “…as an adult, Jude ‘became obsessed in spells with trying to identify the exact moment in which things had started going so wrong, . . . but really, he would know: It was when he walked into the greenhouse that afternoon. It was when he allowed himself to be escorted in, when he gave up everything to follow Brother Luke. That had been the moment. And after that, it had never been right  again.'”  

There is a foreboding that his story, although Jude has accomplished much to be in his present life, the successful litigator in a top firm , that the novel will not be a Cinderella one that promises more happy endings, forgiveness and resurrections. Much more a Grimm’s tale, the monsters will continue to roam in the garden of the protagonist.

At the best of times, the men are forever entrenched in one another’s lives. Malcolm designs Jude’s apartments and eventually his incredible dream house, opening windows that overlook forest and sand.  And JB after searching for his art niche, follows his friends around, photographing them and painting their interconnectedness in a photorealistic style: these works catapult him to fame. At the centre of the paintings always is Jude, trying to obscure himself , erase himself from the picture, yet kept in play by the supportive loving web of these friendships that do not pry where Jude does not want them to go. 

But as time goes on,  Yanagihara writes, that Willem and Jude “knew why they kept attending  ..these parties: because they had become one of the few opportunities the four of them had to be together, and at times they seemed to be their only opportunity to create memories the four of them could share, keeping their friendship alive by dropping bundles of kindling onto a barely smoldering black smudge of fire. It was their way of pretending everything was the same.” They hang together the way childhood friends sometimes do, for having enjoyed parallel experiences in the same locations, their sense of self with one another, having built endearing images that reassures them – even as time goes by, and their paths separating them- that they had had a real connection, that their last vest had had meaning.

At a dinner party where the friends discuss what their legacy will be, Malcolm ponders whether not having children was a mistake. Wide eyed Willem responds that making people happy and having been a friend is sufficient as a reason for existence, reinforcing that pact of friendship as enough, as a raison d’ Etre, a goal to be upheld and cherished. For Willem and Jude, that objective is fulfilled- if short lived. However, the author, dramatizes that the memory of that relationship once Willem disappears from the scene is not nearly enough to ensure her main character’s respite from his childhood demons.

Yet like the inevitable train wreck from which we are unable to avert our eyes, we continue on reading. In deed towards the end when Willem enumerates all of Jude’s fine points as a friend, a good listener, etc., I wondered if I had missed all that, and except for his obsessive cooking such as creating amazing cookies for Julia’s fete or a splendid conversation with Lawrence and Gillian at the Steins, we only experience his nervous shell, for  Jude’s trepidation was that his life would unravel or someone near him would find out about his early life and disparage or even stop him. When JB imitates Jude’s lopsided walk and Jude sees this performance, we can comprehend his shame and resentment of the mockery. Although JB, strung out on drugs, apologizes and truly regrets his actions, this distorted mimicry cannot be forgiven by Jude. To Jude’s credit, he has struggled on to achieve that good life,however he has never been able to escape the terrible ghosts of victimhood.

The author Yanagihara’s question in the novel concerns the impact of damage of Jude’s youth. Abused, prostituted, betrayed, run over, lied to, can a person with all this baggage be saved?
 Her answer resoundingly is No! 

Jude’s early years have been the stuff of fairytale evil. And, even though she attempts to balances the rest of his life ( with the exception of Jude’s brutal relationship with Caleb- who hurlsJude along with his wheelchair down flights of stairs) with love, success, endearing friends and kind adoptive parents who only want to recreate Jude’s world and have him emerge as peaceful and happy, like Sysiphus, he is doomed, forever chased and tormented by his coyotes, threatening him with past and forgotten images that tear him asunder. Not surprisingly, his cutting attempts push him into suicidal episodes. He is so unable to trust that when Harold takes his head in his lap to console and comfort him, Jude surmises that even his father wants sexual favours. 

Jude is aware of the crowding menaces in his head and even as he lashes out, impugns or rejects all those who have stood by him; he is a divided soul. However, after the final incident with Willem, Jude’s behaviour goes way way beyond the reader tolerance. Likely even the most compassionate reader will not condone Jude’s behaviour, no matter his childhood scarring. At age 51, and in spite of all the support afforded him, he gives into childish tantrums , hurling a cheese sandwich at Harold, and ranting. Yanagihara is showing us Jude is far beyond redemption and he will not or cannot rally.

Or perhaps, she teases us by showing us the behaviour of a child Jude has never been able to inhabit, taunting the reader to speculate that if he could regress and be that child, would he cast off that damaged persona and emerge again, a new Jude. However, Should the optimistic reader aspire for new beginnings, Yanagihara demonstrates that the traumas are irreparable and there is no possibility of repair. Love will not triumph.

 Daniel Mendelssohn, New York review of books, writes “Jude is a pill, and one cannot get emotionally involved with him in the first place, let alone be affected by his demise Mendelssohn continues, ” Sometimes I wondered whether even Yanagihara liked him. There is something punitive in the contrived and unredeemed quality of Jude’s endless sufferings; it sometimes feels as if the author is working off a private emotion of her own.” And truthfully, the reader is not given much about J.B, Malcolm or even Willem to offset the dirge of pain, only the unrelentless telescoping on Jude.

Chris Lorentzen from the London Review of Books also describes Jude :”At college he was a maths whiz, and his readily provided assistance with calculus assignments [ which] may explain his friends’ loyalty, because he’s a vacuum of charisma.”

With conflicted debate about this book, Yanagihara told The Guardian: “One of the things my editor and I did fight about is the idea of how much a reader can take,” and you’ll find it hard to find another mainstream literary fiction that equals the most egregious ‘misery memoir’ for its plotlines.” As the New Yorker pointed out, “Vladimir Nabokov’s Lolita and Emma Donoghue’s Room let the worst abuses appear off stage. Not so here. Not tantalizing or overly descriptive, the recollections are told matter of factly, with no emotion. “ Jude has taught himself how to detach himself from the sexual encounters he has had to endure. In deed, the title 0f the novel comes from Brother Luke responding to Jude’s distancing himself from the horrendous invasions of his body. He is told to show, “ a little life” to the truck drivers, salesman, disgustingly fat men who buy his body. Ironically, Jude even in his secure successful life is unable to show any life at all. So that by the completion of his tale, we are glad for the end of his little life. 

In spite of its numerous short  falls, Jude persisted in my head after I closed the final page. Maybe like his room mates, I too had been transfixed by the damaged beauty and promise -that like the butterfly secured by a pin -will never fly.

 

Fanny, A Real Hero

In San Diego this week, the Jewish Film Festival is offering an incredible number of films. Some target coming of age or sports or history and war. I selected three because of location and time, but of course first perused the content of the offering.

 

So there I stood at Claremont last Sunday noon, wondering if Fanny’s Journey would deepen my understanding of the holocaust. Years ago I had taught Eli Weisel’s Night to Grade 11 students, a few insisting that it was only a story, denying that the holocaust had ever taken place. Any many many years earlier I had sunk into the leather couch at the library, eager to read more and more about plight of children during that time.

Like other films based on the events of history such as Amistad, John Adams, Victoria, or Queen of Katwe for example, the film maker fills in details, in some ways making them more vivid than in a book or script, by adding a physicality to the presentation. In Fanny’s Journey, we may have known the story of Jewish children secreted in foster homes or institutions throughout France to save them from the Nazis, but the faces of the no nonsense Fanny, the nightly cries of her sister Erika and the innocence of the eyes of Georgette sear your mind with the palpable terrors of children caught in a drama we can hardly imagine.

Fanny is fourteen and all ready responsible not just for her sisters but for a gaggle of others who must depart their safe haven when reported by a local cleric. When their most recent lodging in Italy becomes a threat, they must endeavour to reach Switzerland. Fanny and Eli, a kitchen worker, are responsible to lead the children to safety,, but when Eli bolts at the train station, Fanny must navigate by herself.

Based on Fanny Ben-Ami’s autobiography, we move with Fanny’s harrowing journey through forests, shacks, dangerous situations and chance meetings that result in lucky moments that preclude the children’s arrest. We hold our breath as the Nazi commandant approaches the shed where the children have rested, relieved that abruptly another officer calls him away at the very last second to attend to an official matter.As the terrified children, eyes huge and tongues frozen in terror, holding their breathe, acknowledge the moment of capture has passed, their bodies soften, and so too do ours.. Similarly when a recluse takes them in for only a night and explains the red berries the young children have eaten are not poison, we gulp and wonder if in deed, they will make it through to safety.

Director Lola Doillon has retained, in spite of the dire circumstances, a lapse into childhood fun. When Maurice’s money flies from his pouch, the children chase the floating notes as if they were butterflies, giggling, jumping delightedly as if there were no harm surrounding their every turn. When they chance upon a creek with water, they engage in water fights, splashing one another, just a passel of ordinary kids, fooling around. This balance of childhood behaviour balances the extreme tension of the seriousness Life and death situations in the film. Will the dolly given by the lady with the baby herald disaster.? Will the children provide their new names when questioned by police? Who is a friend and who is a traitor? These are issues that Fanny, the leader of the children, must discern. She is the Pied Piper, the hardheaded combatant of the group.

We are in awe that an adolescent manoeuvres the group to safety. Towards the end of the film, when she willfully decides to return to danger for the safety of one child fallen behind, we gasp, cogitating with her, weighing her own freedom against another’s. Would we, each one of us, be so brave in dangerous circumstances o recross a no man’s land? I fear not.

The movie although set in wartime is connected to the plight of refugees, especially today. We have only to recall the scathing photos of the 3 year old Syrian boy fleeing with his family, lying lifeless on a Turkish beach. The children, the future of our world , chess pawns by ruthless governments is a deadly game.

At the conclusion of  Fanny’s Journey, the film reveals the real life Fanny. She is a marvel, magically alive, vital and beautiful, presented relaxed and smiling. We are in awe.

The story is true, the heroine has survived and one person has changed history , especially for the others she has saved.

We as audience have shared a moment, a promise that humanity can be better, that people are courageous, that children are invested with the power to make the world better. In deed, we wish for a world where children can engage in tea parties, play with their stuffies, eat sweets, roll on the grass and be children. For children of war, their innocence is stolen, their days as carefree impossible. To keep them safe and unaware of the travesties of horror should be the mission of all.

Truth or Consequences 

There is no ultimate truth. 
Maybe facts, thoughts, observations, feelings, conjecture, research, beliefs and wishes. Even  what has been scientifically proven is sometimes revised,  as we learn more, dig deeper, examine situations from multiple perspectives and consider the origins or the genesis of  ” the truth”.  The shifting ground upon we stand is never completely stable; however, the sense of a truth can be upheld , and with examination by specialists who have studied and contemplated  previous iterations, pondered recent revelations, and set themselves upon a scholarly path, we can accept, for example, that germs cause disease; that ice bergs melting is indicative of weather disruption, that children respond better to kindness than violence, that guns kill. There can be a consensus backed up by experimentation. But age and experience also teach lessons: many to ensure that we look with fresh eyes;  others, as Atticus explained to Gem, that until you walk in someone else’s shoes, you will not know their pain. Understanding our world is in deed a process, and as Mr. Crack, a former art colleague piped, ” You catch more flies with honey,  than vinegar”, remembering not to throw out the baby with the bath water, so we sort through and consciously consider what science and experience is teaching us, separating the wheat from the chaff.
And this week I thought I’ld move away from writing about Trump, but really with Trump’s continual attacks on the Press, this time about the Press’s hiding terrorist attacks, so I cannot hold back. Even Scott Pelly in the nightly news referred to these statements in a rather jocular, incredulous, ironic , irreverent tone, barely keeping himself from rolling his eyes as if to say, “ Hey folks, just more of the same”..And by the way, please do not forget Kellyann’s noting the “ Bowling Green. Massacres”. D’ uh. And then too, Trump’s support of Putin by insulting American forces use the same techniques as the Russians ( well, maybe- ), and so are not lily white either. To my above paragraph, I shudder to acknowledge that words and reflection do not exist in the realm of this presidency by him, nor his minions. Does saying it make it so?

Worst of all for me, I hate how he addresses his audiences, recalling Father Knows Best, in his patronizing way, ” Don’t worry folks… I have the solution ,” blah, blah , blah, as if he, simple minded that he is, has the answers and can fix all of the problems in the world.
I have always lauded the importance of form and content coalescing as in say, the work of the Bauhaus, but when neither possesses substance, all falls down. But so unfortunately,the entire world is the captive audience upon which the careless tirades come to rest.

 Jewish people use the Yiddish word “ bubamisces” which means something like fairytales, some that veer pretty close to tall tales or lies, narratives or stories people make up to smooth and sooth:  like the tooth fairy to assuage the pain of a tooth that refuses to twist from a sore gum. Everyone knows they are stretching beyond the realm of truth, but with a wink, the bubamisces are accepted with a smile, all knowing it is an untruth. In this case, Trump believes in them, concocted in the moment to disprove any allegation or suggestion with which he disagrees.

One, of course ,cannot accept Trump’s untruths, his alternative facts such as climate change , voter registration, immigration as the cause and result of terrorism as truths or facts. That he consciously makes up these statements to counteract or reply to his critics is tantamount to the little boy with his hand in the cookie jar, swearing that he didn’t steal the cookies. I’m wondering if anyone still believes him, his supporters even championing his cabinet, one swamp resembling another, whether it is the good ole boys who ruined your life or the bankers on Wall Street. But I imagine they do still support him as he is showing himself as a man of action, carrying out his promises made during the election. And for those who would call for his impeachment, waiting in the wings is the more diplomatic, smoother but just as bad Mike Pence.

The upshot is that people listening to their president realize that words DO matter, that you cannot insult the” so- called lawyer” who stands in the way of the Immigration ban and not have people react. His little condescensions of “ sad” or” bad” at the end of his twitter posts, just embarrassing final strokes of a scattered mind without a filter. Not long ago, we understood that as we speak so we think and so changing our language from firemen to firefighters, airline hostesses to flight intendants to contain all genders does reroute our synapses onto a new path : that includes and speaks to a more open approach, being gender inclusive in a variety of professions. Trump’s broken down bits and shout outs are once again reminiscent of the adolescent who communicates with his buddies in the gym lockers at high school.

Like Alice , we are feeling that things are getting curiouser and curiouser. Yet Trump is actualizing the platform he ran on. That  there has been such an outcry against Betsy De Voss is gratifying but it was assured that Pence would break the vote for another incompetent billionaire into power. That so many are so upset as verified by the number of people calling, writing and calling their congress people demonstrates en mass, that education matters and someone who has never attended a public school ( and neither have her children) has no experience to make important decisions regarding the future of the nation.  Yet, what experience did Trump have, either, that put him in his role? If it worked for him, why not her? Even some of the Republicans cannot support these alarming trends .  

A few weeks ago, a participant on Meet the Press voiced the opinion that Trump has normalized racism, sexism, and all the “isms” we have countered in the last years. And to allow and accept these slurs to be part of daily life is unacceptable. I thought this so strongly during the debates when Trump’s comments on blood or Rosie O’ Donnell or his fellow debaters were so out of line. Every parent hearing their child make these comments would have immediately given him a time out, sent him to his room , or insist he apologize. But no moderator turned off his mike, and even those interrupting his barrage of offensive outpouring were talked over. To make it acceptable, to normalize his insults is to stand by and accept them. I recall back in Grade 13 when we studied Murder in the Cathedral, one of the predominant themes concerned those who did not speak, but bore witness, had to share the guilt of the crimes being committed.

Victory against his ban on immigration provided cheers and a reinforcement that no one branch of government can hold sway over the others. We can only hope that more restrictions put on his orders will demonstrate to this megalomaniac that he can be checked. Yet I am quite sure, other evil types in the White House will be searching the loopholes and detours around the unconscionable manoeuvres he believes he is so able to pull. A early cartoon by Dr.Seuss about the time of World War II attacked the careless abandon  of  children from other parts of the world ( how they were to survive ) ,a slogan printed on a tee shirt of a character, reading America First.
Who said, Love thy neighbour?

Again, I shudder to think that the values of care, cooperation, compassion are not being lauded, as Barrack and Michelle Obama did, in the 21st Century. That selfishness, self- interest, close- mindedness are the virtues being shouted from the roof tops. Although laughable that Trump and Kellyann had to defend poor little Ivanka’s brand, that they do not know and respect the office of president sufficiently to keep separate the private and professional sides of the Trump family, is mind- blowing.
Business above all as we take care of our own. We fiddle as Rome burns. We couldn’t care less!

I was about to write, Let’s hope next week’s blog will focus on something more uplifting than Trump’s idiotic pursuits, but with the court’s rulings, there are ripples of better thinking- and words that should underline meaning.

Immigration, news papers and poetry 

On Meet the Press last week, Chuck Todd asked Reince Preibus why the specific naming of the Jews and antisemitism had been omitted by Trump on the day of Holocaust Remembrance in Washington. No apologies or expression of regret was given except for Trump’s spokesperson to murmur, how terrible it all was and to acknowledge there are Jewish people in Trump’s own family( his son- in- law Jared Kushner and Trump’s daughter who is a convert to Judaism). In deed, Ivanka issued a photo of herself and husband that evening as they preened for their night out in dazzling clothes. She might have underpinned it with “ Let them ( the refugees) eat cake”. People believe that it is no mistake that the ban of Muslims from countries identified as dangerous such as Yemen, Syria,Iraq, Iran, Libya, Sudan and Somalia on the same day as the holocaust statement was not just a coincidence- for, Steve Bannon, chief strategist for Trump, supports the alt right which lauds white supremacy and of course, antisemitism along with it. But not just Jews and Muslims are in his purview, he also repeatedly excoriates the Press to keep quiet.

I always find it ironic that one who insists on his own voice being heard has no problem silencing all the other voices: Might makes Right, and as Trump, so incredibly demonstrated during his debates, keep repeating your words louder and more often until you drum out and silence your opponents. Bannon, a former navy man, also worked at Goldman Sacks as a banker and profited from royalties from Seinfeld. So cry me a river of how both Trump, and Bannon can empathize with the forgotten in America! From their monied positions , they define themselves as outcasts. But perhaps, they are correct, if the criteria for being an outsider means social misfit whose elevated status means ignoring real and basic needs. With the arrogance of the rich, and hard done by attitude , Trump and Bannon only listen to the their own misguided selfish, egotistical voices bouncing in their heads. And terribly, ironically, their voter base was mainly composed of the actual poor- whose resentment of their societal condition put into power the very bankers and billionaires responsible for their condition.

Without the Press to question, probe and investigate, people are pawns in the game of dictatorship, mindblown by the alternative facts and lies, the “ beliefs” that the master puppeteers hold. What America has enshrined is freedom of speech, encouraging public discourse, debate, collaboration and an impetus towards building on the diverse ideas of the public. At least, that was the slogan emblazoned  in their propaganda. The Press is the watchdog, the canary in the coal mine that tweets the warnings of looming disaster.

Yet too often these days, the Press sensationalizes, exaggerates and employs hyperbole to dramatize and entertain, alert to raising ratings. However, without the attention of the Press , Trump might not have been successful in his bid for presidency. Perhaps he is too well aware of their power and would prefer them silenced now just as in countries where dictatorship has overrun freedom of speech- and worse. Seen as the critics rather than heralding an era of the next doom, the Press has rebelled, written and challenged those who would prefer to lock them up and cut out  their tongues.

The lacuna in the holocaust statement reminded me of Harold Troper and Irving Abella’s book, None is Too Many, that described the refusal to allow Jews into Canada during World War II, and the shame of it. Trump’s barring refugees is likewise horrifying. I recall stories that my mother told of Poland before the war, and those who were not allowed to leave – and perished. And who does not remember the SS St. Louis in June 1939, its 937 passengers, almost all Jewish, refused entry to the port of Miami, circling and circling aimlessly until it was forced to return to Europe .Again shamefully. The United States has had a poor track record offering asylum.(Read more: http://www.smithsonianmag.com/history/us-government-turned-away-thousands-jewish-refugees-fearing-they-were-nazi-spies)

In the Globe again, Pulitzer Prize winner on U.S. Politics, David Shribman remarks on the chaos sown by Trump.Alluding to seven short days, Shribman compares the beauty of creation with the quick demise of society by juxtaposing the two bible- thumping Trump with the miracle of the world. And even the Pope has denounced Trump on immigration, but obviously Trump only respects his own gold- plated views and deems himself above all who would criticize, bestowing upon himself the right to decide who shall live and who shall die as a god on high- above all religious clerics and moral philosophers and common sense. Shribman highlights the symbolism of the statue of liberty, and the Emma Lazarus poem engraved on the welcoming statue to New York,

“Keep ancient lands, your storied pomp!” cries she

With silent lips. “Give me your tired, your poor,

Your huddled masses yearning to breathe free,

The wretched refuse of your teeming shore.

Send these, the homeless, tempest-tost to me…”

 

I think too of Walt Whitman celebrating diversity in Leaves of Grass and his tribute to Lincoln in Captain, my Captain.  

Russell Smith in Thursday’s Globe and Mail also aligns artists’ works protesting the evils of mankind with Trump’s America, admitting art exerts little impact, except to rally the spirit and underline through gesture and design protests. Yet Picasso’s Guernica that dramatized the atrocity of Nazi bombing of innocent civilians in 1937 on the Basque town in Spain stands as a monument to all human suffering, underlying the brutality of the place, the time, the perpetrators: a forever record. But as Russell Smith set out, art can do little to change minds. I fear that at the end of this destructive time, when the henchmen are called on to account for the ruination of society, they will demure,” I was just following g orders.”

 I imagine too Sally Yates’ refusal to sign Trump’s order will also stand as a rebuttal, a forever statement to the gross abrogation of rights. And when the world surveys its lists of who stood up to Hitler as Schindler did, Guernica and Yates and the Women’s March and even the mayor of Provence, Rhode Island will be carved into the minds and hearts of people who will scorn a regime that deprived rights and safe passage to those in most need. 

And once more, On Meet the Press, a participant held up the IPhone declaring the son of an Arab immigrant , Steve Jobs, created it. A Syrian filmmaker of an Oscar nominated film, The Salesman based on Arthur Miller’s The Death of a Salesman will be included in the ban of Muslims from Syria and will not be able to attend. Scholarship students to Yale and Harvard from many of these identified countries are now nomads, unable to return to their classes. And think of the families stopped midtransit after two years of vetting, now turned away. At least the” sanctuary” cities at this point are not willing to comply by providing names for deportation.In seven short days, the world has come loose, and those famous lines from WB Yeats in 1919, come to mind,

 Turning and turning in the widening gyre

The falcon cannot hear the falconer;

Things fall apart; the centre cannot hold;

Mere anarchy is loosed upon the world,

The blood-dimmed tide is loosed, and everywhere

The ceremony of innocence is drowned;

 Trump’s ability to tell lies and promulgate fear are his special talents. This is fear mongering, echoing FDR’s “ All we have to fear is fear itself” in his inaugural address. By saying this, FDR was telling the American people that their fear was making things worse. He went on to say, “nameless, unreasoning, unjustified terror … paralyzes needed efforts to convert retreat into advance.”

 

That is not to say, that terrorists such are not pursuing terrible outrageous crimes against innocents , and destabilizing the world. One remark from 60 Minutes has stayed with me, a comment made by a pastor in Georgia : Who is more likely to turn to terrorism, someone welcomed by a country or spurned by it?

And Marie Henein( yes defender of Jian Gomeshi) likewise reminds us in The Globe on Wednesday, of George Orwell’s take on political thinking in 1945, when he wrote “… the most grossly obvious facts can be ignored when they are unwelcome …people seem capable of schizophrenic beliefs regarding plain facts, of evading serious facts with debating society repartee or swallowing baseless rumors and of looking on indifferently while history is falsified…”

She adds that few people are actually hurt or killed in terrorism attacks ( well, 9/11), but many many more by guns. Yet there is no move “ to make America safer” by passing more stringent gun laws or even preventing them from being sold.

The last bastion of hope exists with those who have power to overturn or stop the avalanche of Trump’s tide. Maybe thinking Republicans will join with Democrats , protestors, women, refugees, those truly forgotten souls to prevent the tragedy that awaits. My husband, the lawyer, always optimistic continues to tell me that the justice system is embedded with safeguards that will not allow rights and freedoms to be trampled.

 I hope so.

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