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Archive for the tag “None Is Too Many”

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.

Moving to Canada

Just last week I read that Frank Gehry was seriously considering returning to Canada after years in California. He’s in his 80’s and his anguish must be pretty intense if he is thinking that he might leave this beautiful climate for the cold north. But people always say that: “Oh, I’ll move to Canada”- and in the last two weeks, friends have insisted that if Trump is elected, they’ll pack their bags and hightail it out. 

During the Vietnam war in the 60’s, we actually got our slew of draft dodgers. I was at university and there were protests,meet- ins, teach-ins, demonstrations, marchs, musical emissaries and Timothy Leary and pacifists all uniting against their government’s actions. Most recall potently the use of Napalm, attention elicited primarily by the naked child Kim Phuc who ran screaming through the streets. She was sadly the terrible precursor of Alan Kurdi, the Syrian child washed up on Turkey’s shore after fleeing with his family for his life. The light of the disenfranchised recalled for me,None is Too Many, the Abella- Troper book that chronicled the fate of holocaust victims not allowed to our shores. Images in both written but printed formats stick, provoke, shame and induce the public to put pressure on governmental policies. So frustrated by policy and terror, some victims eventually arrive here, motivated by preserving limb and life. But I truly wonder if those threatening migration will actually take the next step; or is it merely idle jib jab to verbally take a stand. 

(Strangely enough, I chatted with a woman yesterday who told me that fearful of radiation thirty or so years ago, she, young and determined, left for New Zealand, but returned years later to the states. Maybe the 60’s were the years of the zealots.!)

 Watching Borgen, Denmark’s answer to  an intelligent television series, we observe how deals among countries are made. The fictional character Birgitte Nyborg is likely based on Denmark’s first female prime minister Helle Thorning-Schmidt,although Thorning-Schmidt had not been elected until after the second series of Borgen. Adam Price, the creator of the series, stated, “I definitely want [ viewers] to believe there is a shred of idealism in Birgitte Nyborg that is real”.( Wikepedia) Although Nyborg possesses strong moral incentives, she learns what to trade or what incentives she wants to promote as representative of her Moderates party. She discovers the dirty little secrets, the huge mismanagement of funds, the soft spots of countries and their powerful politicos.. 

I do believe she acts for the best interests of Denmark ( in the show) in demonstrating fairness, thoughtfulness and increasing savvy, exploring, probingand heeding the voices in her country and outside of it. At great cost to her personal life, she dedicates herself to a job,her success due in large part to an image fostered in the news and television. Of course, it is fiction but the series makes us long for the lofty intentions and inspiring acts of a Roosevelt with his new deals or a Kennedy with his establishing The Peace Corps. ( 1961). And although much is created in the media for the candidates in any race towards influence, we long to believe that behind the façade there is substance :that the person in the glossies is more: better, smarter, kinder, more thoughtful and has gathered the crowds and re- instituted a belief that society can be  and should be good. 

 
Yet unfortunately, we are downcast and as Philip Roth once quipped of one of his literary characters,“ Beneath the surface was only more surface” in political hopefuls.

We hope for investigative and critical news journalists, uncoverers of the truth such as Katrine Fonsmark in Borgen, to dialogue with those who aspire to the highest throne in the land. In the real world, I miss Tim Russert from Meet the Press who really knew how to dig deep beneath the persona of his guests. 

Incurable my harangue today goes to Donald Trump. I scoffed because I recalled Toronto’s crack- smoking , bigoted mayor Rob Ford who was once a fat guy in a non-descript raincoat hanging around the parking lot in a plaza where my husband first indicated that that that guy was running for election. I guffawed. He won. So anything is possible in our world of sideshow mirrors. 

Huffington Post rightly posted Trump in entertainment. Then they recanted saying, 

“Back in July, we announced our decision to put our coverage of Trump’s presidential campaign in our Entertainment section instead of our Politics section. ‘Our reason is simple, ‘wrote Ryan Grim and Danny Shea. ‘Trump’s campaign is a sideshow.’ 

Since then Trump’s campaign has certainly lived up to that billing… it’s also morphed into something else: an ugly and dangerous force in American politics. So we will no longer be covering his campaign in Entertainment. But that’s not to say we’ll be treating it as if it were a normal campaign. 

Our decision in July was made because we refused to go along with the idea, based simply on poll numbers, that Trump’s candidacy was actually a serious and good faith effort to present ideas on how best to govern the country.” 

How do we fathom the television showman whose lack of knowledge, experience and credibility has garnered support? How can we support media that did not immediately cut off his personal attacks on Rosie O’ Donnell at an early Republican debate or refuse to debate in the GOP Iowa caucus? Although some might not see a connection with the right to bear arms in America, I see it as part of the same fabric: of those petulant grown up children who use freedom of this or that for their private disregard of the safety and fair play to others. 

Certainly free speech should not embrace and allow the hateful harangues of spewing hideous garbage  from the mouths of candidates. That the news industry permitted and has provided time and platform for Trump’s antics is inexcusable. 

But that he continues to grow support, most recently in Nevada, makes no sense and should shame all citizens who support his buffoonery. Tragically, the other candidates are no better.A recent article by Margaret Wente in the The Globe and Mail discussed this uneviable state, opining that Hilary Clinton, a manipulate and deceitful politician, must be the victor. 

Here in Canada, especially after watching terrified at the possible candidates who are in the US. race, we must, at least, appreciate Justin Trudeau, for his impetus towards making our world safer.He is young, not an intellectual like his father, but fumbling, learning, in a way that we can respect. 

I’m afraid that moving to Canada is not a possibility for those disenchanted with American politics. And I worry that the disenfranchised can somehow imagine that the likes of Trump will create a better world for them. It is as Alice once fretted, “ it is curious and curiouser. “

And truly terrifying. 

Class Voices

I’m sitting in Paula Draper’s Ryerson course and usually I really don’t have much interest in listening to the voices of the other students after presentations as so often conjecture is boring and self-indulgent, but this is different today. Rather than their inward-looking ponderings, these are remembrances of lived experiences. The topic is Anti-Semitism in Canada between the wars. It appears the people in the class, largely Jewish, hail from Winnipeg, but some from Montreal. They are describing events that were motivated by antagonism towards Jews in years that are fogged with time. One man recalls a sign in a restaurant in St. Agathe that prohibited both dogs and Jews to the premise. I am reminded of Lita Rose Betcherman’s work on Centre Island here in Toronto, the same story with different words, echoing Goebbels films and slogans that Jews like vermin must be eradicated. And the book None is Too Many by Abella and Trooper, chronicling the refusal towards Jewish refuges to land on Canada’s shores during the 1930-40’s, most memorable the St. Louis, boat of desperation rejected by Cuba, then attempting sanctuary in Canada, but eventually forced to return to Europe with its human cargo destined for death.

In class, Draper has just mentioned McKenzie King’s personal attitude towards Jewish immigration; he even purchased land around his own home to avoid Jews from coming too personally close. Blair, his immigration minister openly rejected Corrine Wilson’s plea to allow 1000 Jewish families into Canada. He finally agrees to 100 orphans with only two actually permitted entry. Yet, Draper states that the newspaper was rift with Nazi barbarism and Jewish terror. Ironically Joseph Kennedy maintained he could trust Hitler; obviously Neville Chamberlain believed likewise.

In Canada again, I reflect on the exclusion of Jews from professions, quotas by universities such as McGill and U of T and shake my head. We have come a long way–maybe. Yet at my grandson’s school they have cancelled Multicultural Night where moms were to bring ethnic foods, a version of “Holidays and Heroes”: which even in my1996 thesis research I found to be stereotyping attempts at integrating diverse cultures. But I wonder why the reason for cancellation. Perhaps parents are too busy and cannot concoct delicatissies that reflect the origins of their families. Maybe there reasonably hides some latent resentment at being classified by food their grannies once prepared and are now too old to deliver to a night event at a nearby school. I know there is acceptance of all at this mid-Toronto school and do not for a second consider there is a link to discrimination or racism. My grandson studies Mandarin in a noontime program and the faces emerging from school at the end of the day provide wide evidence of Canada’s changed policies of immigration.

I  wonder what food would represent Jews from Poland, Rumania, Hungary, Lithuania. Bagels? Matzoh balls? Pierogi? Goulash? Strange for my grandsons whose first foods were edamame and pizza. They did not even taste fabled chicken soup until years later. I chuckle to consider that one grandchild’s favourite Saturday lunch at Pickle Barrel commences with chicken soup followed a hot plate of tomato and meatball spaghetti. He is not eating Ethnic. He is merely following the trajectory of his taste buds. Should we say he is combining the food predilections of several foreign countries, he might look quizzical and continue slurping his soup.

When my children were young, we were always expected at the Friday night supper at my parents. I recall my young son cease his eating to frown, look up at the assembled family and query, “ What if we are only a dream in G-d’s head?” Stunned by his utterance momentarily, my mother admonished, “ Just finish your soup”. And he returned to his bowl of hot chicken soup. Perhaps his philosophical questioning squashed forever!

We learned in school that Canada was a mosaic, tiny glittering squares, individual but separate,special and unique, showcasing the qualities of our immigrants, unlike the United States’ melting pot, the gooey non-descript sludge that results when all the ingredients become indistinct from too much chopping and cooking. I often thought of Eva Hoffman’s Lost in Transition where upon entering kindergarten, her name was changed, anglicized to fit into a 1950’s world. From that point, she wrote that her early years growing up in Poland had become inaccessible to her because they had been lived in another language she was no longer permitted to speak in the land of milk and honey.

We here felt secure about our identity that looked to the past but was conjoined with the present to represent all of our realities, that mosaic thing, later to become the mantra of Post-modernism thought. But yesterday when the soldier guarding the war memorial on Parliament Hill was gunned down, I think everyone wondered. ( Remember I write my blogs to be edited much later) Of course anywhere where guns are available, there is no safety. Did the US smirk and think, you’re not so different Canada. Terrorists can also infiltrate your shores, blatantly walking into your home, spreading cloaks of evil and death. The National Post (November 7, 2014) wrote, “Was he ( the gunman) driven by mental illness and drugs? Was the attack a function of extreme religious beliefs, a reaction to the war on the Islamic State of Iraq and Al-Sham? Or was it a copycat crime possibly triggered by the killing of another Canadian soldier in Quebec two days earlier?”

I don’t know how to think about this horror. It is a wide leap to blame immigration, carding, identifying good people from bad. How do we know? Do we really want to try to read the faces of every person who jostles us on the street, scrutinizing by beards, sneers, limps, thick glasses, funny hats and outlandish clothes, or maybe the ones who look most normal like Paul Bernardo: wolves in sheep’s clothing. Ironically, the mother of the gunman (Michael Zehaf-Bibeau born in Canada in 1982), Susan Bibeau, worked as the deputy chairperson of the Immigration Committee at the Immigration and Refugee Board of Canada.

Having just returned from visiting the 9/11 Museum in New York, and caught in the teeming continuous flow of people in the streets, I cannot know who possesses the madness to pull a trigger or grab my hand in friendship. How do we make judgments that will keep us safe in our home, in our country?

My Pilates instructor that morning suggested that watching the news of the gunman on the hill was like a film trailer of a new catastrophe films. When I worked at the College and rushed in to witness the Twin Towers pierced by the plane,s I thought the same: just rewind the tape and remove the catastrophe, I silently pleaded in my head.

This film’s events at Parliament hill shot by Globe and Mail reporter Josh Wingrove were raw and brutal, revealing the bravery of the police/ RCMP that tailed the shooter, not hanging back. Maybe a bit like the Blair Witch documentary with the smudgy, dropped camera that tracks a murderer in small town America. Loose focus ,but mouth-dropping brave. And the story-our story of the Sergeant at arms who practices weekly with his gun, who was at the ready, and acted immediately. High, hideous, drama in deed.

We, the observers, stand outside the drama gawking, but truly we are inside in the heart of the violence, in our theoretical home, our head, our parliament that organizes our lives in this country. I never drive the Highway of Heroes without reflecting on Nathan Cirillo’s final ride and the people who stood at the edge of the road in freezing cold. His stepfather said, “We are not only mourning as a family, but also a country.”

When I taught my Post-colonial class at Northern, I instructed my classes, “ We all came from somewhere outside Canada; we are all immigrants to this country.”

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