CAROL OFF: Hello, I'm Carol.
JEFF DOUGLAS: Good evening, I'm Jeff Douglas. This is As It Happens.
CO: Offender-in-chief. On Twitter, Donald Trump viciously attacks Democratic Senator Kirsten Gillibrand. Our guest says all the name calling has backfired and improved the senator's name recognition.
JD: Wince upon a time. It is not a cat meme, a cat gif or a cat video — but The New Yorker short story Cat Person has gone viral suggesting something about its depiction of a horrific date has hit a nerve.
CO: Human error, superhuman effort. After accidentally shooting himself in the head, The mayor of a Labrador town manages to flag down help. Now residents of Happy Valley Goose Bay are anxiously waiting for news.
JD: Passenger manifest destiny. An Ontario university student has struggled with air travel because he shares a name with someone on the no-fly list, and that inspired him to calculate just how many Canadians are in the same boat in terms of planes.
CO: Through rush hour. They're not the paparazzi — too quiet and polite — but dozens of people with cameras have camped out by a New Brunswick man's property for a candid shot of a flaky celebrity —the extremely rare missile thrush.
JD: And…A short Sharpei shock. Despite the Dovey the dog put herself in she is safe now thanks to the veterinarian who removed the 21 baby pacifiers she had consumed. As It Happens: The Tuesday edition. Radio that warns you this interview really is a dog's breakfast.
[Music: Theme]Back To Top »
Part 1: Gillibrand Tweets, Labrador Mayor, Pacifier Dog
Guest: David Friedlander
JD: This week New York Democratic Senator Kirsten Gillibrand called on the United States president to resign in the face of sexual harassment allegations — he did not. Instead, President Trump fired off an inflammatory tweet this morning attacking her. He called her a quote “lightweight,” a quote “total flunky,” and quote “very disloyal.” And then he went a step further adding what many saw as offensive sexual innuendo. Here is how Senator Gillibrand responded today at a press conference.
SENATOR KIRSTEN GILLIBRAND: It was a sexist smear attempt to silence my voice, and I will not be silenced on this issue. Neither will the women who stood up to the president yesterday and neither will the millions of women who have been marching since the Women's March to stand up against policies they do not agree with.
REPORTER: Do you see this as sexual harassment by tweet?
KG: I see it as a sexist smear. I mean, that's what it is and it's part of the president's effort in name calling and these allegations should be investigated, they should be investigated thoroughly. That is the right thing to do. And I am urging them to do that.
JD: Senator Kirsten Gillibrand responding to Donald Trump's tweet at a press conference earlier today. David Friedlander is a contributor for Politico Magazine. And earlier this month he wrote a feature profile about Kirsten Gillibrand. We reached David Friedlander in New York.
CO: David, it's not unusual for President Trump to go on a morning tweet storm. So what was it about this tweet against Kirsten Gillibrand that was perhaps more outlandish than usual?
DF: Well, I mean, it was the language was sort of a little bit not what we're used to seeing from the United States. I mean, Trump was making clearly sexist remarks and sexually suggestive remarks against a sitting member of the United States Senate. I know we sort of see this every day, but we're really in new territory here with that kind of tweet.
CO: And we'll just, I'll just read it into the record here. This is a tweet from President Trump. “Lightweight Senator Kirsten Gillibrand, a total flunky for Charles Schumer and someone who had come to my office, these are in quotes “begging” for campaign contributions not so long ago, and would do anything for them. She's now in the ring fighting against Trump. Very disloyal to Bill.” What did you make of that when you read it?
DF: I mean, it's a little unhinged. There are many entry points into it, it's hard to know where to where to start. First of all, why was a liberal, New York Democrat going to Donald Trump for a campaign contribution? The obvious reason is because he gave money — thousands of dollars — to liberal New York Democrats. It's a little surprising that he wants to remind people that until almost the day before yesterday he was someone who aided and abetted the opposition party. The second thing I think that comes out there is just the language, she was begging, she would do anything. It's really hard to imagine him talking about a male senator in that way. In fact, there have been other male senators who have called on the president to resign in the same way that Gillibrand did. None of them got this kind of treatment on Twitter. And finally, at the end of that tweet, he brings up this idea that Kirsten Gillibrand has been disloyal to Bill and Hillary Clinton, because she did say in an interview a few weeks ago that she thought had Bill Clinton's sexual improprieties happened today he would need to resign the presidency. But why is Donald Trump defending the honour of Bill and Hillary Clinton? It just doesn't make any sense.
CO: And why do you think he's going after her? I mean, is there more to it than just it that she was an easy target, or does target du jour? Or is there something about Senator Gillibrand that he needed to attack?
DF: Well, she has really emerged, in the last several months really, as a sort of top-tier Democratic presidential contender in 2020. In part just because of these issues of sexual harassment and sexual assault have become sort of so central to our cultural conversation. And she's been talking about them for the last five or six years or so, and so she's really risen to prominence on the back of them in a way, I think that's part of it.
CO: Just so we get the reactions as there always is the press secretary has to explain what the tweet meant and this is Sarah Huckabee Sanders today responding to questions about what Senator Gillibrand called a sexist smear. This is the response from Huckabee Sanders.
REPORTER: Is Ms. Gillibrand owed an apology for the misunderstanding of the president's tweet this morning? Because many, including the senator, thinks that it’s about the sexual inuendos.
SARAH HUCKABEE SANDERS: I think only if your mind is in the gutter would you have read it that way. And so, no.
CO: What do you say to that?
DF: I mean, you know, she's there to defend the president, she's doing the best she can with it. I think that that was the way that most people probably saw that tweet. So, you know, he’s a hard person to defend, I think.
CO: You mentioned that Kirsten Gillibrand has a record, over the past five or six years, of dealing with sexual harassment issues, especially in the military. Has she become a kind of a target for Donald Trump?
DF: I mean, I don't know if target is the right word, but she's clearly someone who has decided, I think, that this is sort of a central issue and it’s a central to the to the public and it's a central issue to her. She sort of has adopted a kind of zero tolerance policy for it. You know, this began for about five or six years ago when she started talking about sexual assault in the military and how that was handled. She then moved on to take up the cause of sexual assault on college campuses. Now she's taking on sexual assault on Capitol Hill and in politics. And I think, you know, for her there should be no nuance in these discussions.
CO: You wrote a profile of her for Politico published last week and your title was titled Kirsten Gillibrand’s Moment Has Arrived, that at her star was on the ascendancy. Has this scuffle with Mr. Trump, has it hurt or helped her?
DF: I think it's only helped her, I mean, that's the thing about Trump is he doesn't seem to realize that in doing these kinds of Twitter attacks he really elevates his opponent to new heights that they wouldn't ordinarily have. I mean, now it's as if they're equals in a way, and they get to go into this back and forth. I mean, one can imagine that Kirsten Gillibrand’s political advisers at least must be loving this. This is the best day they've had in a long time.
CO: And you think that might be in part the reason behind this tweet this morning that he sees her as a threat.
DF: I think that is actually part of it. I mean, I think especially that part the end where he kind of tries to tie her to the Clintons, and he tries to tie her to, you know, the swamp quote unquote that he is always ruling on about. He's trying to paint her as just another typical politician who comes looking for money, who's close to the Clintons.
CO: There are 50 female House lawmakers who are calling on the committee, the House Oversight Committee to investigate sexual harassment. We have six Democrat senators calling for the president to resign. Is that going to go anywhere?
DF: It’s not going to go anywhere probably unless Democrats retake either the House or the Senate. But I will say, Democrats are clearly sort of clearing the decks to be zero tolerance for sexual harassment in politics. And, you know, Republicans they are not sure how much they need Donald Trump anymore. They are about to get the big tax bill passed. They already have the conservative Supreme Court justice. If Donald Trump is a major drag on the ticket, a major drag on the party, and they find that it will help them to dump him, it wouldn’t surprise me if that's something that they did.
CO: Very interesting. David, thank you.
DF: Thank you.
JD: David Friedlander is a contributor to Politico Magazine. We reached him in New York City.
[Music: Piano Ballad]
Guest: Perry Trimper
JD: People in Happy Valley-Goose Bay, Labrador are worried and waiting for news about their mayor John Hickey. Over the weekend Mr. Hickey was airlifted to hospital after accidentally shooting himself in the face while out in the woods. Perry Tremper is a member of the House of Assembly or MHA for Lake Melville and a friend of John Hickey. We reached Mr. Trimper in Happy Valley-Goose Bay.
CO: Perry, what's the latest news from the hospital about John Hickey?
PERRY TRIMPER: Well, Mayor Hickey is still in critical condition. Indications are that the doctors are considering starting to move him out of the induced coma. So they're going to go very carefully given the trauma that he has suffered.
CO: And what can they do for him?
PT: I guess, first of all, they've been ensuring he lives. It was a very, very horrific injury he suffered on Saturday. And here in Labrador they kept him alive and stable enough to get him on a plane where we MedEvaced him to St. John’s. So he's been in critical condition since then, he underwent an extensive surgery on Monday and is still in a coma.
CO: Well, what happened? Tell us where he was and how he got hurt?
PT: Well, we're not sure exactly, we're starting to piece it back together. But essentially, Mayor Hickey lives about 10 minutes to the west of Happy Valley-Goose Bay, and for those who know Labrador, that's a big piece of wilderness. And he enjoys as lifestyle — he’s been community leader and been in politics for many, many years — but at the same time continuing to pursue his outdoor recreational pastimes that he so enjoys. So things like, you know, he was checking his rabbit snares and had a shotgun with him. We surmise that he tripped somehow and the gun discharged and unfortunately into his face. So it's a very terrible type of injury. And I think what's captivating so many folks who don't know John is what one would have gone through with that, because of that accident. And then managed to snowshoe back to his snowmobile and then ride that snowmobile out to the Trans-Labrador Highway where he flagged down help.
CO: He had to he did snowshoes to check his rabbit snares before he accidentally shot himself, and then he still got back out to the road on his own?
PT: Yeah, it's quite remarkable. But as I said, for those who don't know him it is still regardless remarkable, but where I'm going to at this point John is a man of strong will. He's a strong community leader, he's a formidable gentleman, whether you're talking to a prime minister or anyone else. He has strong convictions and a strong will, a strong voice for Labrador, so that personality we believe is what saved his life. He obviously realized that he needed to get to help immediately and he did that.
CO: And who was able to get him to a hospital?
PT: Some folks from the community who encountered him as he was snowmobiling alongside the highway and flagged them down. And so they called the ambulance and the ambulance was able to respond very quickly, and soon after that I received word and immediately went down to the hospital. There were so many people from the community gathered and sort of witnessed the amazing heroics of the doctors and the medical staff to get him to the point where we get MedEvac him to St. John's.
CO: Well, people in Labrador know him well, but tell us a bit more about John Hickey, what kind of person he is?
PT: Well, you know, one thing I was thinking about was an encounter that I was with John. It was about 15 years ago and we had an active community-led organization called The Goose Bay Citizens Coalition. And we went up against a very strong individual that you would know, Mauril Bélanger. And we were pushing for our base, 5 wing Goose Bay, to have a long term future. And we were strongly advocating in that regard and Mr. Bélanger was appointed by the prime minister at the time to come down and meet with us. And so Mr. Bélanger was there defending the government and being very cautious in his words and John was being very assertive in his words. So it was it was just an interesting dialogue to watch the two of them and I know we've lost Mr. Bélanger, but I was reflecting back with some humor as those two took on each other.
CO: Now you're describing John Hickey the politician but this is a guy who when he wasn't working, when he wasn't the mayor, or doing that he was out checking his rabbit snares, a bit of an outdoorsman, I think.
PT: Yeah, absolutely. He spent most of his life here in Labrador. One thing that I've noted in him the last three months since he's gotten back now into the mayor's chair is that he struck a perfect balance. You know he continues his outdoor recreational pursuits, yet he's able to keep a good strong leadership a hand on the tiller for this community. So he's been in such a great place and just the night before the MP and myself and the mayor and our partners were all together recognizing years of service for various professional and volunteer firemen, and we were just reflecting on, you know, three levels of government working very well together, and we were scheming and dreaming about what else we're going to tackle next, and looking forward to getting together over the weekend and more events and then the news came in. So it's a setback for us in so many ways.
CO: And the community is holding a vigil for John Hickey tonight. And so how is Happy Valley-Goose Bay being affected by this?
PT: Yeah, when you have have a gentleman, or anyone, who speaks really well and speaks clearly and loudly, Labrador often feels feels a little left out at the provincial level, so there's a lot of worry. There's worry first of all for John, but there's also a lot of worry for the community and the direction. But the council is committed to carrying on with the plans that John had established. So tonight and this vigil will be all about doing whatever one can do to show their support, offer their help and just their spirits and prayers.
CO: So many good thoughts and prayers going his way so I hope he's OK.
PT: Well, as the Minister says here often, it sure can't hurt.
CO: Perry, thanks for speaking with us.
PT: Thank you.
JD: Perry Trimper is the MHA, a Member of the House of Assembly for Lake Melville, Labrador, and a friend of John Hickey. We reached him earlier today in Happy Valley-Goose Bay, Labrador.
[Music: Ambient Guitar Plucks]
Guest: Chris Rispoli
JD: On a typical day Dr. Chris Rispoli gives pets vaccinations, he does checkups, he performs simple procedures, but once in a while he gets a case that fascinates him, that reminds him just how truly remarkable animals are, how hungry they are, and also how bad it knowing what is and what is not food. One day, a couple brought their dog, Dovey, into Dr. Rispoli’s clinic. Dovey had not been eating much and they were concerned, so Dr. Rispoli decided to perform a couple of X-rays. When he saw the results he knew he was witnessing veterinary history. We reached Dr. Rispoli in Edmond, Oklahoma.
CO: Dr. Rispoli, what did you first think might be wrong with Dovey?
DOCTOR CHRIS RISPOLI: I've seen Dovey since she’s been a puppy. But last July she came and went with snotty nose and a cough and she was vomiting periodically. So we thought ther was an upper respiratory going around, that was probably what it was, the vomiting was related to that, and retreated to the upper respiratory and what I called in two days she was doing great. In seven days she was back up to 100 per cent and we went on with life.
CO: But that wasn't it, the family started to wonder if there was something else going on. What was their concern about Dovey?
CR: Well, about three weeks ago when Dr. Rogers first noticed that Dovey may be losing weight and I'm not filling her food bowl up as much as I used to. And this is a couple that is not on top of their dog as much as they are on their two children. This dog is part of the family it’s their son's best friend.
CO: When they brought Dovey in you decided to do an X-ray, right?
CR: Yeah, from the history.
CO: And what did you see?
CR: I wouldn't have known what I saw without history. About three weeks before the grandmother was taking care of the baby and watched Dovey jump up onto the countertop grab one of the binkies or a pacifier and run off to the back room. So when Dr. Rogers got home she let him know that he let him know that and he checked and sure enough there was a pacifier in her mouth that he pulled out. And, you know, periodically from July until then, every now and then the binkie would go missing. They'd check under the couch and the chairs they just blew it off. You know, we were at Target today, or we were at shopping today, we were grocery shopping or we went to the movies and we just lost it.
CO: Binkies do go missing.
CR: Yes, they do. And so, then a week ago is when Dr. Rogers first noticed “Hey, I'm feeding her less” So he watched and was really on top of her and started realizing she's really losing weight. And every day that week she had vomited but just a tiny bit of bile. So he thought well, her stomach’s upset because she’s not eating enough. Then on Tuesday evening she vomited and a binky came out and that's when everything really kind of came together for that. And so the next day I saw her and when we looked at the stomach there was seven to nine binkies stacked up on each other and two of them were head on on the X-ray, you could see the doughnut, you know, the circle.
CO: When you did this surgery what did you discover?
CR: Well, I expected to be pulling seven to nine binkies out and by the end of surgery we had twenty-one binkies on the table.
CO: 21 pacifiers?
CR: 21 and they’re the good, expensive, thick rubber pacifiers.
CO: What kind of a dog is Dovey? How big is she?
CR: Dovey is a 41-pound Sharpei, about one of the nicest, nicest dogs you ever want to meet.
CO: But these were 21 pacifiers that they've been noticing that disappeared since July. So this is months of pacifiers?
CR: Yeah, thank God the pacifier wouldn't make it through the stomach into the digestive tract or into the tubing, so they just built up. And then towards the end then they started blocking off that hole and that's when we would have a little vomiting.
CO: Poor dog must have been in pain?
CR: No, not at all. This dog ran around, the take her on walks every single day, it plays with their child. It was just eating less because there wasn't enough room in the stomach anymore.
CO: As a vet you've probably seen other strange things in the stomachs of pets?
CR: By far this is the strangest in 20 years. But yeah, I've pulled out some strange things.
CO: So you've never seen anything like this then?
CR: No, no. I've seen pennies, I've seen socks, I’ve seen, you know, wash rags or children’s toys that may have gotten blocked, but never 21 binkies.
CO: How is Dovey doing now?
CR: Dovey’s back to 100 per cent, I’ll see her at the end of this week to remove the sutures but she actually, within 12 hours after surgery, she was back to be being Dovey. She was ready to eat, we couldn’t let her eat, but she was ready to eat. Her tail was wagging, she was sitting up in the cage and I, actually, the day after surgery would have sent her home, however, dad is an ER doctor and had an overnight shift. So we decided we keep her overnight on fluids one more day and he picked her up at ten o'clock the next morning. Then she's done a few interviews at the clinic and she’s just wanted 100 per cent lovey Dovey.
CO: Lovey Dovey. And so how will they prevent Dovey from eating more binkies?
CR: Well, mom definitely will not be drying them on the countertop anymore. She had no idea her dog could even jump up.
CO: This is a cautionary tale for people who have pets and are wondering where their pacifiers are disappearing to.
CR: Yes. It's a lesson that no matter how much you’re on top of a dog, a split second it takes to put things away.
CO: Dr. Rispoli, thanks for speaking with us.
CR: Thank you very much.
CO: Bye, bye.
JD: We reached Dr. Chris Rispoli in Edmond, Oklahoma. You can see some photographs of Dr. Rispoli’s surgery on Dovey the pacifier eating dog on our website: www.cbc.ca/aih.
[Music: Upbeat 90s Pop]
Eagle Drone Hunter
JD: An eagle is an invulnerable power raptor made of feathers titanium and lightening. If an eagle fought a lion, a zombie and a killer robot at the same time, the eagle would win. the eagle’s mighty cry strikes fear into the hearts of mice rabbits and vampires.
Now prepare yourselves for a shock — much of what I just said about eagles is not true. Let's take sea eagles for example, yes sea eagles do have feathers, but they are not invulnerable, for they are made of hollow bones and meat. And that was not the mighty cry of any type of eagle that was a red tailed hawk. This is the cry of a sea eagle.
SEA EAGLE CRY
JD: Hmm. Now as to its fighting abilities the sea eagle is an extremely sharp predator with extremely sharp talons. And it might be able to take the line in the zombie simultaneously, but we have ample evidence that it is no match for the killer robot. Last January the National Police in the Netherlands made a bold announcement, they were going to combat drones with a crack team of trained sea eagles. And they posted a dramatic video of a sea eagle using its remarkable vision and coordination to snag a small drone out of the air. But as we have all just recently learned eagles are a crushing disappointment. The Dutch police started training some of the eagles as chicks at great expense but it didn't work. The eagle drone program has just been cancelled because, as the Dutch news site N.L. Times put it quote “the birds would not always do what they were trained for.” Unquote. So thanks for nothin sea eagles. Who's gonna save us from the drones now? What do you have to save for yourselves?
SEA EAGLE CRY
JD: Why did I even ask? Just Zip It.Back To Top »
Part 2: Cat Person, New Brunswick Thrush, Old Map
Guest: Deborah Treisman
JD: It is not often that a literary short story goes viral — and by not often I mean never. Nonetheless, in its December 11th issue, The New Yorker published a piece of short fiction called Cat Person by Kristen Roupenian. It is about a short and excruciatingly uncomfortable fling between a young college student and an older man. The story has inspired think pieces and a Twitter account. It has prompted people to share their own experiences online, and it has sparked a backlash from some sensitive and often confused male readers. Deborah Treisman is the fiction editor at The New Yorker. We reached her in New York.
CO: Deborah what are your impressions of this story when you first read it?
DEBORAH TREISMAN: Well, I read it, it was just a story that had been sent to me by a writer I'd never heard of and who had published very little. And so I went in expecting nothing really, you know, I had no expectations. And the experience of reading it was so uncomfortable that I considered just, you know, putting it aside and then I thought well, that's the worst reason to put something aside. If it's making you uncomfortable it's doing its job.
CO: I want to ask you more about that obviously, but if you can recap the story without giving it away as best you can — this encounter between this 20-year-old college student and this man.
DT: So, Margot, the woman in the story is 20, in college and she meets a man very briefly, a 34-year-old man while she's working at a movie theater. And they end up texting and developing a real connection, or so they think, through text and that sort of goes on for weeks. And then eventually they actually meet in person for a date. And at that point things sort of go from bad to worse. But there are so many fluctuations in the course of the evening. It's so finely tuned as a story to the way that people communicate and miscommunicate. And it becomes a sexual encounter that is complicated, not necessarily wanted on both sides. And for that reason it has struck a chord.
CO: It's not a rape, it's not a date rape of any kind. It's not consensual. It's this murky area in between that we are discussing so much these days, aren't we?
DT: Yeah, well, you know, it is consensual in that she never says no to it. She purposely puts them in the position for it to happen, but then changes her mind — loses her attraction — and is very put off but feels unable to get herself out of the situation. And, you know, what's interesting and what the author Kristen Roupenian picked up on in an interview I did with her, is the fact that this woman feels she needs to be tactful and gentle and that many women go through life feeling they need to protect the feelings of those around them. And that's sort of what's at play in this scene. So this woman ends up having sex that she doesn't want to have. And at the same time, you know, the man is not entirely to blame because she's given him signals indicating that she did want to. So it becomes sort of an excruciating scene because we can, in a way, put ourselves in both sides of the encounter.
CO: The sentence in your interview with the author she describes what you just said. She says she's told you that the story of Margot and Robert it speaks to the way that many women, especially young women, move through the world — not making people angry, taking responsibility for other people's emotions, working extremely hard to keep everyone around them happy.
DT: Yeah, you know, that's certainly what's at play. What's also at play is, on the women's side, on Margot's side, is a certain amount of narcissism. The moments when she's engaged in this encounter, the moments when she imagines this man looking at her in adoration, and those are the things that drive her sexuality. So it is murky territory.
CO: You said that it made you uncomfortable, others uncomfortable. Many people said it makes them feel discomfort. But the story — what’s so interesting about a short story especially one of such complexity — is how it has gone, as they say, viral. A short story from The New Yorker has gone viral. What is it about this story that has gone so deep and wide?
DT: I think the reason that people have responded in the way that they have is that this is a moment in which women are talking about sexual experiences they regret or didn't want. You know, all of that is so much in the news, and I think women are feeling empowered. So for them seeing perhaps some part of their own experience embodied in the story and dealt with with such subtlety and insight I think came, probably, as a relief.
CO: What did some of the reactions you've heard from men who are angry about this story or don't like it or have reacted to it in very, somewhat, aggressive way?
DT: Yeah, many have reacted positively. Some have reacted in a defensive way and felt that the female character was at fault as well, which I feel the story fully acknowledges and the author fully acknowledges. It's a difficult thing to do with fiction, to have this kind of conversation, because people respond as though the character's point of view is the author's point of view. That’s very much not the case.
CO: As the story’s made the rounds though, it seems to, in some cases, have struck people as being some kind of an essay. It’s in The New Yorker, this isn't just a story, a piece of fiction, that it’s some kind of essay by Kristen Roupenian, and that this is her point of view, and that men have reacted saying this is wrong, this is this is unfair.
DT: Right, but, you know, it's a completely unfair reaction because it is a piece of fiction. But, you know, this particular story has extended well beyond the boundaries of the typical weekly fiction readers. So there is some confusion in that and there's I think it's partly a response to so many women saying how real it is, how familiar it seems, as well as blurring the lines of consent and not consent, it's also blurred the lines of fiction and reality.
CO: It's interesting though, a review of the story in The Guardian newspaper, it says that what’s astonishing about the story most of all, is that something so seemingly banal and universal, in terms of female experience, has gone uncommented on for so long.
DT: Yeah and, you know, I'm sure it has been commented on, but I think what Kristen Roupenian captured in this is something very specific and, you know, nobody's had exactly this experience but people have had parts of this experience. I mean, it's really interesting to see people respond to fiction in that way. And I think it's absolutely wonderful. I mean, the fact that that we've had more than a million, I mean, I think close to 2 million page views at this point for a piece of fiction is remarkable. If every story strikes up a debate of this kind I think that would be a fantastic thing for literature.
CO: Well, it's an extraordinary piece of writing in an extraordinary time that we are in right now. So the combination is quite electric. Deborah, it's good to talk to you. I Appreciate it, thank you.
DT: You too, Thanks so much.
JD: Deborah Treisman is the fiction editor at The New Yorker. And we reached her in New York City.
[Music: Upbeat Electric Guitar Strums]
New Brunswick Thrush
Guest Peter Gadd
JD: Over the past few days more than 100 people have showed up at Peter Gadd’s home in New Brunswick. And although he is an interesting dude, they're not making the journey to see Mr. Gadd, they're hoping to get a rare glimpse of a creature that was first spotted in Mr. Gadd’s backyard over the weekend. We reached Peter Gadd at his home in Miramichi.
CO: Peter, what's creating all the fuss at your place?
PETER GADD: It's the arrival of a bird. Last Saturday, I wasn't sure what it was at first, it did look a little different and I looked into a North American bird guide, field guide and it didn't come up with anything very satisfactory in terms of its identification. So I took some photos and sent them on to more experienced birders with a wild guess that it was an immature robin, which was all wrong in many ways, but it is a robin-like kind of bird. Nelson Poirier in Moncton got back to me right away and said “Peter you’ve got something special there. I'll get back to you after I conferred with others.” And it turned out that it was a European thrush, either a song thrush or a missile thrush.
CO: And so how how unusual is it, did they tell you to, have something?
PG: Yeah, well the song thrush has been seen once in North America, in Quebec, and the missile thrush had never been seen, or reported anyway, in North America.
CO: So what kind of a buzz did this create in the bird-watching community?
PG: Pretty good, it's called a mega — I guess it's the official term — it's called a mega rarity. We've had quite a few people dropping by, some traveling great distances.
CO: Have you determined what kind of thrush it is?
PG: Sorry, I didn't get there, did I? It is a missile thrush.
CO: That's been confirmed, that's the missile thrush?
CO: Because we have had bird sightings before we've covered on this program and everyone concludes and then they.
PG: No, we've had birderss here today from Florida and other states. We've had authorities here, it's been checked thoroughly, thoroughly, thoroughly. It is definitely a missile thrush.
CO: What does it look like?
PG: Much like a robin, a little bit bigger, not as red on the breast but there is a bit of a reddish wash, brown on the back grayish blackish head, no really, really definite markings. It's not, you know, not a striking beautiful kind of bird, but it's certainly attractive enough.
CO: Male or female?
PG: Nobody's been able to tell me what they think it is. It's just one of these birds that’s not easy to distinguish.
CO: Some birds are much easier, so this one's not.
PG: Some are very much easier but this one’s not.
CO: Does it have a song?
PG: It's been calling and that might be the way to tell it’s gender. But this time of year they're not singing, they're not looking for partners. And this one, of course, will never, ever find one. So people have heard it, but I don't think that's enough to be able to determine it’s gender.
CO: So how many people have showed up at your place wanting to get a look at this thrush?
PG: I’ve been keeping a list, I think we're at about 110 since Sunday morning.
CO: So what's it like? Are people standing around in your yard looking for the bird?
PG: No, we had some very fortunate landscaping done last summer and now people can stand on the street and get the best view. So there's been no impact in terms of our home.
CO: At a single time how many people are standing on the street trying to take a look?
PG: Probably at one time 20 or so, and the street’s wide enough so it's not a hazard.
CO: What are your neighbours saying about that?
PG: Some are showing more interest than others. I did warn them on Sunday morning that it might get hectic, as I had been warned that it might get hectic. And some have shown considerable interest, others, aren’t saying too much.
CO: Are you much of a birdwatcher yourself.
PG: Yes, my wife and I are both enthusiastic birders.
CO: So this is a quite the discovery to have on your own yard.
PG: Yeah, yeah it is rather fun.
CO: Now have they given any indication, anyone suggested how this bird ended up in your place?
PG: Well, I think annually several European birds do sort of end up in North America. The only answer, I think, is the wind and air currents and things like that.
CO: But it is a migratory bird?
PG: In Europe, I'm told it does migrate a little bit like our robins. It's not an extremely long distance migrant.
CO: So it wasn't going a long distance when it got blown into New Brunswick?
PG: Hard to know. They do show up in Iceland quite naturally normally. So this one may have gone on to Greenland and got lost or whatever, I don’t know.
CO: So there's not been another sighting of the missile thrush in North America?
PG: No, never — no record, no official record.
CO: What's your little bird eating?
PG: Mountain ash berries, very enthusiastically, especially the last two days that have been so much colder.
CO: So you've got a big mountain ash in your yard?
PG: Yes, yes and it's a well-endowed tree, so we're hoping that, you know, it'll stay around. It is -17 this morning when it flew in and it looks perfectly fine. So it seems to be handling winter so far.
CO: If it runs out of mountain ash berries what will you do?
PG: To me it doesn't look like it will. But I have a little platform presently that even has some frozen raspberries and blueberries and apparently it likes plums. So we have some plums standing around, so we'll certainly do what we can to keep it going if it stays.
CO: And is it getting pretty aggressive territorially? Is it holding that mountain ash?
PG: That’s a very good question. Yeah, this bird is known to do that, once it finds a food source it will protect it. There were two American robins yesterday in the same tree and from time to time it would take a run at them, it would try to chase them away. Now, I haven't seen the robins today so maybe it was effective.
CO: So your fellow is guarding those berries or she's guarding those berries pretty closely?
PG: It seems, which is a good sign because that means this is where I want to stay, this is my place.
CO: So you expect you're going to have a whole winter of watching this bird?
PG: We could, I think the novelty will wear off after a bit. But right now it's quite a bit of fun.
CO: It doesn't have the novelty is wearing off for your visitors. Are you expecting more?
PG: There was two groups this morning from the states who are doing a big year, meaning they're traveling all over North America to see how many birds they can get this year, annually. They’re up to 750-760 and we're expecting another big year person to arrive tomorrow — she’s driving up from Boston today.
CO: And how many has she already seen?
PG: I think she's in that same ballpark, I think they're all quite close to each other. They're in communication with each other. They all know what each other's doing, so they’re all around are 750- 760.
CO: Have you ever done a big year?
PG: Oh gosh no.
PG: I do a big day every once in a while, around the house.
CO: Mostly cleaning. It's good to talk to you Peter. Thanks for telling us about the bird.
PG: OK, my pleasure.
JD: Peter Gadd is a birder in Miramichi, New Brunswick, and that is where we reached him.
[Music: Laid back Jazz]
Guest: David Rumsey
JD: Unicorns and Mermen — not the types of creatures you would expect to see on a modern map — or anywhere for that matter. But there they are on a 16th century map by a cartographer by the name of Urbano Monte — and they are not the most interesting part of that map. The map was originally made in book form and now for the first time all the pages have been put together digitally. The end product is the largest known map of its time. David Rumsey is a map collector whose collection can be found at Stanford University. He acquired the Monte piece this year. We reached Mr. Rumsey in Reno.
CO: Mr. Rumsey, first of all, just describe this map for us.
DAVID RUMSEY: Well, it's a 10-by-10 foot map of the entire world that was published in this 1587 by a man in Italy named Urbano Monte. It's the largest map of the world made during the Renaissance, you know, at the dawn of the modern age, and it's just an extraordinary map it's never been seen before and it's 10-by-10 foot glory. It had only been seen as individual sheets and we digitized them and put them all together in one gigantic map.
CO: Why do you think that that was never put together before?
DR: Well, you know, before my copy was discovered, and I bought it and gave it to Stanford University — there was only one other copy known. And that was sequestered away in a small library in Milan, Italy. They didn't put it together because it's so precious you would have had to cut the sheets. You know, it was bound as an atlas. So they never wanted to do it, although the map maker, Mr. Monte, clearly intended in his instructions on the map it says you should put all the pieces together on a 10-by-10 foot board, put a peg in the North Pole in the centre of it, put it on a big wall so it can be rotated around.
CO: What he needed was digital technology.
DR: Well, exactly and now he has it. So, I think he'd be very pleased. Carol, it's all hand-drawn, hand-lettered, so it's a very personal kind of product.
CO: I want to get to the art in this in a moment, but just on the level of accuracy, on the science of it, how well does he — because 1587 a fair bit is known about the world at this point but not everything —how does it look?
DR: Well, it looks a bit as we would expect the world to look at it today. It's a North Polar projection so you're looking down at the world and the whole map is circular. Its depiction of the continents is reasonably accurate for the time. North America is largely unknown in the western part, but you have North America, South America, Africa, Europe, Asia. It’s especially accurate with regard to Japan because he met with people coming from Japan into Italy in about 1585. So it's highly accurate and the projection is just extraordinary.
CO: And why do you think, what inspired him to project it from an Arctic point of view or from a polar point of view?
DR: Although it exaggerates the Antarctic, you know, the Antarctic is quite big at the bottom, although I think he loved that because that was the really unknown part of the world, and it enabled him to populate it with all these fantastic monsters and beasts and so on. But for the rest of the world it gives a better depiction of the relationship of the continents than the Mercator map does. You know, we know that Mercator distorts hugely in the northern and southern hemisphere. So Monte's North Polar — it’s actually called the north polar azimuthal projection — is a more accurate depiction of, you know, these are all trying to put a globe, which is a three dimensional object into a flat two dimensional space — not easy to do.
CO: And of course there are all these arguments that we have now about how mapmaking has been so Eurocentric for so long, it's about us and about where we saw ourselves in the world, and that made it diminished the value in the size of so many other parts of the world.
DR: Well, exactly and that's what's unusual because for Monte, he was a European. You know, he flourished in Milan, Italy, he was a nobleman, he was a geographer. For him to choose this projection is quite unusual because it is almost deemphasizes Europe when you look at it. I mean, Europe is shown naturally at its size and there’s such a difference between that and the Mercator projection.
CO: As you mentioned this map is very characteristic of the time in that it's beautiful, it's a work of art. It has these supernatural creatures, mythical creatures in it. Why would he include that? Why was that that so much a sort of part of that time of mapmaking?
DR: Well, he was like many of his fellow map makers in that regard, although he really went to town with this one in terms of the numbers of monsters and ships and, you know, King Philip of Spain in a huge boat floating in the Atlantic. They didn't like empty spaces, Carol, on their maps and there were many places that they did not know the names of towns and locations so they filled them up with trees, monsters — they just used it as a pallet. And it's so artistic and interesting that it just, it grabs us today.
CO: Who was he — Urbano Monte — what do you know about him?
DR: Well, we know that he came from a noble Milanese family. He lived in Milan, he was wealthy enough to spend his life engaged in his passion, which was geography. So he wrote books on geography, he made this map, he taught students. He was quite a fascinating figure and the only thing that is sad for him is that he was never really able to get this map published. He had family problems, we know that, at the end of his life. If the map had been published then it would be more widely known. So that's why he's been relatively obscure. That's why all my colleagues in the historical map world are so fascinated that we've been able to find this copy and also put it online. You know, it's now available for everybody to see, both as individual sheets, and as the assembled 10 foot map.
CO: And we will make sure our listeners can link to this map and it is absolutely stunning to see, and I appreciate speaking with you Mr. Rumsey. Thank you.
DR: My pleasure.
JD: David Rumsey is a map collector. We reached him in Reno, Nevada. And if you'd like to see some photographs of the 16th century Monte map, complete with magical creatures and mermen, head on over to our website: www.cbc.ca/aih.Back To Top »
Part 3: No-Fly List, Reading: Bone Button Borscht
Guest: Yousuf Ahmed
JD: In Ottawa today a Commons committee got an earful from someone whose child shares the name of a person on Canada's no-fly list. And, if a pair of students at Western University are right, the number of Canadians affected by that list may be a lot higher than we thought. The public safety minister will not say how many Canadians are affected but the students have done some rough math and they believe the number could be 100,000 or more. Yousuf Ahmed is doing undergraduate in medical science at Western. We reached him in London, Ontario right after an exam.
CO: Mr. Ahmed, how did you come up with your estimate of 100,000 people possibly being on this list?
YOUSUF AHMED: So what we did was we took the names of 50 people that had been reported publicly as false positives of Canada's no-fly list, and they want me and my colleague Rayyan Kamal did, is we went on 411.ca and we counted the number of Canadians that matched those names or were reasonable aliases. What we found was that there was an average of around 50 matches per name. There was 966 David Smiths and 106 Michael Youngs.
CO: We should point out that David's Smith’s not just a random name David Smith, who is also a senator — a senator David Smith — he's told us on this show that he's been stopped a number of times because his name matches a name on the no-fly list. All those David Smiths are in the same boat as he is.
YA: Exactly, if your name's David Smith that means you're on the no-fly list, right. And the unfortunate thing is if you haven't traveled you may not even know that, so you may be stuck for the first time depending on your name and you may hit you like a brick wall. In 2007 the Canadian government stated that the no-fly list contained about 2,000 listed names. So we just extrapolated the average of 50 names per person based on our sample and this lead up to 100,000 Canadians. This is possibly a low estimate because this 2,000 names figure from 2007 has likely grown. And also Canada 411 may not pick up every single person.
CO: Because also there are lots of people now who don't get a landline, they don't register in the directory, they have they have cell phones and also you wouldn't necessarily have, even if it was a landline, the name of the person is on the list who is in that household.
YA: Yep, exactly.
CO: Now what's your personal interest? Why was this so interesting for you to pursue?
YA: Well, it starts I guess with my family. All my brothers and I — I have two younger brothers — we’re all on the no-fly list. And it's been like since the time we were, from time I can remember, pretty much. We'd be going on vacation, family vacations, and we'd be looking over our shoulders at the check in counter waiting for what seemed like hours over the time when we travelled. We’ve been questioned before, we've even been asked what our local library was by airport officials, so that's my personal connection to this.
CO: When you say that you're on the list and your brothers are on the list, you're not on the list, your name is on the list — a name like yours, well identical to yours — it's not you who's on the list, right?
YA: Exactly, yes. So our name matches someone who is on the list for whatever reason that we may never even know. But we're not physically on the list, it’s just our name. And the sad thing is that the only thing connecting us to that person on the list is our name. There's no additional identifiers, like date of birth, passport numbers, social security number. Imagine if you take date of birth and just cross-reference it against those who are on the list. I'm sure you could get it down from the 100,000 people to just a handful that are rightfully on that list.
CO: This is the issue, isn't it? This is what people have been saying. We've interviewed people whose kids, babies are on this list because their name matches that they go through all kinds of things trying just to get their kids on trips with them, and they know they're going to have a lifetime of this if this isn't sorted out. What are you hearing from the minister public safety about what they're going to do about it?
YA: Well, actually just today in Question Period, Ralph Goodale called our 100,000 number bogus. But the thing is he didn't offer an alternative number, he simply just called the bogus. And he's it seems like he's been deflecting this for a long time, he's been made promises that let's get your redress system. But what he seems to think is that Bill C-59 is the answers, and to our group of no-fly list kids, Bill C-59 will simply just allow us to be officially told that we are on the no-fly list. Clearly we know this because we've been fighting this for some period of time. What we think is necessary is a technical solution for this technical problem and that requires funding. But we haven't gotten a definitive timeline or anything from Mr. Goodale, and that's what we've been pushing for. We've been pushing for answers, really.
CO: There was supposed to be money put up in order to put in place a system like that in the US, is that right?
YA: Yes, the US has had a redress system operating for a long time, and they have a greater population. I think Mr. Goodale, it seems like Mr. Goodale is making excuses for something and delaying this process for whatever reason, and that's the that's why we're so, I guess, fed up with this almost.
CO: Now you're not a statistician nor is your friend. You're studying medical science, and so when you come up with this number this is pretty crude math you’re doing, very simple math to come up with 100,000. Would you agree with the public safety minister that that you don't really know how many people are on the list?
YA: Well, what I can say is that from our calculations there was 100,000 Canadians, but if there aren’t just tell us a number. Don't just say it's bogus give us some more information.
CO: And it's again these aren't people who are on the list, these are people who are affected by the list.
YA: Yup, if you have a name that matches someone on the list you are on the no-fly list as a false positive.
CO: What do you say to those who would argue that while this is a small price to pay for security?
YA: Rob Goodale once said that it’s just a 10 to 15 minute delay. And from what I can say it's absolutely not. From the experiences of us and other members, people have had their passports taken away, they’ve been held in rooms being questioned. They may see it as a small price to pay for security, we see this as a breach of our fundamental privacy rights. And we also see this as a bad data sharing issue. I'm sure you've heard of the scenario of Maher Arar in which because he was flagged in a foreign nation they didn't know what to do with him. So he was held there and he was tortured.
CO: We’ll leave it there. Mr. Ahmed, thank you.
YA: Thank you for having me.
JD: Yousuf Ahmed is studying medical science at Western University. We reached him in London, Ontario. And as Mr. Ahmed mentioned, Ralph Goodale the Public Safety Minister, was asked about the number of people on Canada's no-fly list, both in Question Period and before. Now he didn't exactly call Mr.Ahmed's 100,000 number bogus. Here is what he said to reporters outside the house.
MINISTER RALPH GOODALE: Well, I can't comment on that particular research. I haven't seen it to understand the methodology. It certainly seems highly speculative, but on the issue of the defects in the design of the list, they go back to the creation of the list in the first place in about 2007. The decisions were taken at that time to design it in a certain way that appears to have embedded some very serious design flaws. Over the course of the last 18 to 24 months the impact of those design flaws has become more and more obvious. So we are working very hard to fix them. The first requirement is to give the government the legal authority to shift this from being an airline-run system to being a government-run system. The legal authority to do that is contained in Bill C-59. Once we get that legislation we'll draft the appropriate regulations and then design the computer system, which really requires a complete from-the-ground-up remake. The issues with respect to finances are issues that the government deals with every day, we're working on a whole variety of issues that need funding, recognising that this is an important one that. We do not want to travellers, particularly children, to suffer the kind of stigmatization that some of them have experienced. So it's an important issue to deal.
JD: Public Safety Minister Ralph Goodale speaking to reporters earlier this afternoon.
[Music: Ambient Guitar Plucks]
Archive: Pentagon Trans Decision
Guest: Professor Kenneth Catania
JD: The message is at last clear — transgender people welcome. As of January 1st the US Pentagon will officially allow transgender people to enlist in the military — much to the chagrin of Donald Trump. You may remember that in July the president created a fog of uncertainty with three tweets in which he announced that he was banning trans people from serving. That stunned everyone, including the Pentagon, which directed all questions to the White House. Well now, a federal judge has denied President Trump's request to delay an Obama-era order that allows transgender people into the military. From our archives, here is guest host Helen Mann speaking with Kendall Balentine, a transgender U.S. military veteran. This is from July.
KB: Well it just creates an open door for people that have hatred, or bigotry, or any form of dismay with something that they don't understand, to just lash out and attack.
HM: What are you hearing from currently serving transgender service members right now?
KB: I've talked to two that I know of, both in the Marine Corps. They're frightened. They're absolutely frightened. They don't know what the next steps are. They don't know where they're going, and these are people that actually served in Iraq, abroad, and were in war zones.
HM: Now of course President Trump says he talks to generals in making this decision, but what do you think?
KB: I don't, I don't think that he did. His justification was simple. It was cost of money and medical expenses. They've already done the cost analysis on this, the Pentagon did, and they figure $8.5 million, meaning surgeries and so on and so forth. This man spent over 20 million dollars in less than 80 days traveling to Mar-a-Lago. I don't understand it.
HM: Where do you think this is headed? It's getting very little support, at least in social media and from public statements from even some fellow Republicans. Do you think this is going to actually change policy?
KB: What he did, and what he's going to get out of this, is going to have the opposite reaction that he was hoping for. We are going to benefit from his ineptitude.
HM: How do you think?
KB: Well people, first off are discussing it, and we're not discussing a bathroom. We’re discussing somebody's proudly serving in the military. The only bad outcome out of this is those that are serving today. He endangered our own troops. The commander-in-chief just endangered his own troops. Shameful.
JD: From our archives that was guest host Helen Mann in conversation with US military veteran Kendall Balentine in July of this year.
Reading Bone Button Borscht
Guest: Andrew Stobo Sniderman
JD: It is to be expected at this time of year — even though it does always seem unexpected — most of Canada is cold, which makes it the time of year when we must brave the frigid temperatures, whine about the frigid temperatures, and begin buttoning our jacket straight to the top. Speaking of buttons today marks the first day of Hanukkah, which means it is time for our annual Hanukkah reading on As It Happens — a story of buttons, a story of borscht, and a story of miracles. Here's former As It Happens cohost Barbara Budd with Bone Button Borscht, written by Aubrey Davis and published by Kids Can Press.
BARBARA BUDD: One dark winter's night, a ragged little beggar hobbled along a lonely road. It was snowy and bitter cold, but in his head it was warm and rosy. He saw a blazing fireplace and a table loaded with bowls of borscht, noodle pudding, roast chicken, fruit, nuts and a jug of wine. And his host was saying ‘more chicken Mr. Beggar’ And he was saying ‘oh no I couldn't eat another bite.’ There's nothing like being a beggar he thought, such good it brings out in people. They share, they give. And me I get a little something too, it's perfect. The beggar reached the crest of a hill. He peered out through the driving snow into the night. “So where's the town?” He asked himself. “There should be a town at the bottom of this hill I can't see it.” As he walked downhill small, shadowy houses slowly took shape on his left and on his right. “That’s fine,” he said. “Now I see the town, but where are the lights, where are the people?” He knocked on a door. “Please, a little food for a poor starving beggar?” he cried. A face appeared in the frosty window and then vanished. There were footsteps and then silence. The beggar went to another house and knocked. “Please help me. I'm hungry and cold.”
“Go away,” called a voice from within.
“No, just let me in for a few minutes even?”
“No, go away.”
So the beggar moved on from house to house and door to door. But no one would help him. “What is wrong with these people?” he wondered. He trudged further down the road. Suddenly he spotted a thin line of light in the snow. He followed it to a crack in a doorway, pushed the door open and went inside. It was a synagogue. “Oh, thank God for synagogues he cried,” and rushed inside. As he warmed himself by the stove he looked around the room and suddenly he spotted a man in the shadows. It was the synagogue caretaker the shamas. “Shalom aleichem, peace be with you,” called the beggar the shamas did not answer. That’s strange thought the beggar. A glimmer crept into his eye and the corners of his mouth turned up ever so slightly, he had an idea. He grabbed one of the bone buttons on his coat and tugged, off came the button. Off came two more and another and another. But still the shamas did not speak, but now he was looking at the beggar, now he was curious. The beggar counted the buttons. There were five. “If only I had one more button,” he said. The Shamas said nothing. “If only I had one more button.” Still, the shamas was silent. “Oh, if lonely I had one more button,” finally the shamas spoke. “Look, mister I won't give you a button. Nobody in this town will give you a button.”
“Why not?” Asked the beggar.
“Because we’re poor Mr. beggar, we don't give to each other anymore. So why should we give even a button to a stranger?”
“Why?” Asked the beggar. “Because with one more button I could make us a soup. I could make a nice hot borscht.”
“That's ridiculous,” scoffed the shamas. “Impossible, nobody makes borscht from buttons.”
“Mr. Shamas,” said the beggar. “I'm shocked. Haven't you ever heard of bone button borscht?”
“Bone button borscht?” Asked the shamas.
“Let me explain.” Said the beggar. These buttons in my hand are very special. With just one more button from you, I can make bone button borscht for the whole town. I can make for you a miracle. Mr. shamas.”
Well, naturally the shamas was very curious.
“All right,” he cried, “I’ll get the button.” And he ran to the door. “Wait,” called the beggar. “I'll need bowls and cups and a knife and a ladle and a spoon. Oh, and a pot, maybe?” The shamas sped down the road to the tailor's door and knocked.
“Mendel, Mendel give me a bone baton,” he called.
“No, go away,” shouted Mendel.
“No, Mendel you don't understand. The button isn't for me,” said the shamas, “It's for the little beggar in the synagogue. He's going to make a miracle.”
“With my bone button?” asked Mendel. “What's he going to do raise it from the dead? Teach it to sing maybe?
“No Mendel, he needs it for the borscht, he's going to make borscht from buttons.”
“That's impossible,” scoffed Mendel. “Nobody can make borscht from buttons.”
“Listen, Mendel,” said the shamas, “Give me the button. What's it going to hurt? Maybe we'll have a miracle.”
“All right,” replied Mendel. “I'll give you the button, but I want to come too, I want to see this miracle.”
“So come,” said the shamas. They ran to the house next door and knocked.
“Leah, Leah give us a wooden spoon.” They cried.
“No,” she shouted. “Go away.”
“Leah, it's not for us, it's for the little beggar in the synagogue he's going to make a miracle.”
“With my spoon?” Asked Leah, “What's he going to do? Use it to part the Red Sea, teach it to dance maybe?”
“No Leah, he needs it for the borscht. He's going to make borscht from buttons.”
“That's impossible,” scoffed Leah.
“Look, Leah give us the spoon. What's it going to hurt? Maybe we'll have a miracle.”
“All right,” replied Leah. “But I want to come. I want to see this miracle.”
“So come,” said the shamas and the tailor.
“And my family too,” she added.
“So bring them,” they said. So Leah, her family, Mendel and the shamas marched down the street. They banged on doors. They begged and they borrowed cups and bowls, a ladle, a knife and a huge soup pot. Along with all these things, the crowd grew. As it trotted its way up the street towards the synagogue others came to their windows and doors.
“Where are you going? They asked. “What are you doing with that pot? And the people in the street replied. “There’s is some beggar in the synagogue who says he can make borscht from buttons.”
“That's impossible,” shouted the people in the houses, but they were curious. So they grabbed their hats and coats and they joined the others. By the time the shamas reached the synagogue the whole town was with him. The people crammed themselves inside. The beggar looked up and cried. “Shalom aleikhem, peace be with you.” And there was a long silence. Then someone called out.
“So Mr. Miracle Man, make us a miracle.”
“You want a miracle?” The beggar asked. “I'll give you a miracle. “Pot,” he cried. And they put the pot on the stove. “Water,” they poured in the water. “Button,” they gave him the button. Plunk, plunk, plunk, the beggar dropped in all the bone buttons. He picked up the wooden spoon and stirred. When the pot began to steam and bubble he spooned out some water and took a sniff. “Not bad,” he said. “But it could be better.”
“What could make it better?” asked the people.
“A little sugar, a little salt, a little pepper — that could make it better,” replied the beggar.
So they brought him sugar and salt and pepper he sprinkled them all into the pot and stirred. Then he took another sniff. “Not bad,” he said “But it could be better.”
“What could make it better?” Asked the people.
“Have you got any pickle juice that could make it better,” replied the beggar. So they brought him pickle juice and he poured into the pot. The beggar stirred and then he stopped. He looked at the people, he looked at the pot. He looked at the people again. Then he shook his head.
“You've got problems Mr. Beggar?” asked the shamas. The beggar frowned. “Wait,” said the shamas. And he ran to a cupboard and brought back a bulb of garlic. “Would this help Mr. Beggar? He Asked.
“Why not?” Laughed the beggar.
“Mister beggar, I've got some carrots,” someone said, “And I've got beets,” called another. “I've got onions.” “I've got beans would these help Mr. Beggar?” They asked.
“They wouldn’t hurt,” laughed the beggar.
So the people ran off and returned with their arms full of vegetables. The bigger sliced them all, he danced, he chopped, he shredded. Then he dumped them into the bubbling pot and he stirred that borscht round and round. “Do you know what we have here?” Asked the beggar, “We have a beautiful borscht. That's what we have, a very tasty borscht. Now some people say a little bit of cabbage really brings out the flavour, but I'd say keep it simple. Who needs cabbage for borscht?”
At the back of the synagogue a woman waved her arms. “Mr. Beggar you want cabbage? I've got cabbage Mr. Beggar.”
And before he could reply the woman was gone. She returned with a sack full of cabbages and handed it to the beggar. He looked at the cabbages. He looked at the people. Then he shrugged his shoulders and began to chop. He chopped until every last cabbage had been added to the borscht. The people watched the steam rise from the pot. They listened to the bubbling borscht, they smelled the rich sweet and sour aroma as it filled the synagogue. Bellies rumbled, mouths watered and everyone pressed in closer when the beggar finally ladled some borscht into a cup. It was deep red and thick with vegetables. He blew on it. He blessed it. Then he dipped in his spoon and he tasted it.
“So Mr. Beggar, how does it taste?
The beggar smiled, “Not bad. Who wants to try some?” Everyone in the room rushed forward. They snatched cups, they grabbed bowls. “Borscht, borscht, borscht,” they chanted. The beggar patiently ladled steaming hot borscht into every bowl and every cup. Soon everyone was sipping and slurping borscht. Then the people raised their arms. They rolled their eyes towards heaven and they cried out “Delicious, perfectly delicious. This is the best borscht we have ever tasted. The little beggar did it. He made borscht out of buttons. It's a miracle.”
And then, like magic bread appeared and boiled potatoes and roast chicken and wine. The people ate it and they laughed. They laughed and they ate. And then they brought out accordions and violins and they sang and they danced for hours after delightful hour. And when the last slurp of borscht was slurped, the last dance danced, and the last songs sung the shamas invited the beggar to spend the night at his house. The next night another family took him in, then another and another. One day the beggar gathered the townsfolk together to say goodbye. “Oh please don't go,” they begged.
“I must,” he said.
“But you buttons. How can we make borscht without your magic bone buttons?”
“And how can I fasten my coat without buttons?” Asked the beggar. “How can I keep warm without buttons? So they traded with the beggar. They gave him brass buttons for bone buttons and then the beggar left and they never saw him again.
The years passed. One by one the beggars bone buttons were lost. But it is a strange thing — a wonder perhaps — the townsfolk learned they didn't really need the buttons. They learned to make borscht without them, and they learned to help one another without borscht, even in hard times. And that was the real miracle the beggar left behind.
JD: That was Barbara Budd reading Bone Button Borscht to mark the first day of Hanukkah. So keep your radio tuned As It Happens this December for more of our holiday readings including, of course, our annual airing of The Shepherd which is going to be this year on Friday December 22nd.
CBC would like to acknowledge the support of the Broadcasting Accessibility Fund.