Convivium was a project of Cardus 2011‑2022, and is preserved here for archival purposes.
Small TalkSmall Talk

Small Talk

An eclectic and ecumenical roundup of incidents, events and oddities that catch our editor's eye.

Raymond J. de Souza
7 minute read

It's our first regular issue, and we already have a reader taking vigorous objection to what I wrote in the preview issue last October. You can see what Bill Blaikie has to say in On the Table.

We look forward to letters from what we know is an intelligent and articulate readership. You may even disagree with that characterization, but please do so in an intelligent and articulate way. My friends at the National Post recently asked readers who write letters to the editor why they did so. Various reasons, from vainglorious to high-minded, were offered. Former Foreign Affairs Minister Barbara McDougall wrote in with her view:

"The question is not so much why people take the time to write letters to the editor but why so many people don't. The point is not to have one's voice heard, or to promote one's point of view; it is to enrich the fabric of public debate with an exchange of views from which we all take something away, or learn something new. I have rarely written to the editor, but my New Year's resolution is to write more. Thanks for kicking off an interesting discussion."

We look forward to our readers following her example, even if you simply wish to have your voice heard. Just because you enjoy the sound of your own voice doesn't mean that others won't enjoy it too.

The Queen keeps the custom of going up to Sandringham in Norfolk for Christmas, where she is joined by the 01 rest of the Royal Family. They depart soon after, but Her Majesty remains until February, spending the anniversary of George VI's death and her own accession (February 6) in the same house where her father died. The Daily Mail reports on the arrangements during her extended stay:

"Bizarrely, the Christmas decorations stay up throughout that time, at her insistence."

Bizarre? Contrary to current commercial practice, where the Christmas season begins shortly after Halloween and ends with the early dawn opening of the first store on Boxing Day, the Queen may be observing an older tradition. That liturgical sense of the season begins on Christmas and extends for a biblical 40 days until the feast of the Presentation of Jesus in the temple, February 2. The nativity scene in St. Peter's Square keeps that calendar. What is "bizarre" depends on what is taken as the original standard of reference. Perhaps Her Majesty prefers to prepare for her anniversary remembering that she who inherited the Crown is but a servant of the newborn King.

Charlotte Gray is one of Canada's most celebrated historians—chair of the board of directors of Canada's History—but she does not care much for Canada's history as a constitutional monarchy. In a long whine against the federal government's emphasis on the Crown in Canada, she does not care much for Canada's history as a constitutional monarchy. In a long whine against the federal government's emphasis on the Crown in Canada, she longs for the days when Adrienne Clarkson called herself the "head of state" and served deliciously cosmopolitan fusion cuisine at the sort of Rideau Hall dinners Charlotte Gray got invited to. Now it's just boring David Johnston, and no one at Rideau Hall is trying to usurp the Queen, as was the custom during the Clarkson-Jean era, when the viceregal office was enduring its CBC captivity. How to deal with the massive enthusiasm Canadians showed for the visit last summer of the Duke and Duchess of Cambridge? "It seems equally likely that the crowds who mobbed them on Canada Day would have done the same for Brad and Angelina," says Gray. Really? Celebrities draw paparazzi in the dozens and gawkers in the hundreds. No celebrity draws hundreds of thousands, as the Duke and Duchess did, as did the Queen herself in 2010 or the Queen Mother 20 years ago. It simply doesn't happen. Argue against Canada's Crown if you wish, but don't do it on the grounds of popular acclaim. Some might prefer to eat fusion cuisine with Hollywood celebrities, but the people prefer the Royal walkabout. David Johnston, who aspires to represent the Queen rather than to be one, knows this.

Drew Brees shattered the single-season passing record this year, an NFL record that had stood for 27 years. The New Orleans Saints' quarterback threw for an astonishing 5,476 yards. He is also no slouch in the post-game interview metaphor department. Herewith his remarks after defeating the Detroit Lions in the playoffs:

"We were pulling out all the stops. We play aggressive. We're not going to apologize for that. That gives guys in the huddle a lot of confidence. We're not going to pull the reins back. It's pedal to the metal."

That's three metaphors in 40 words—one musical, one equine and one automotive. An impressive hat trick.

Justice must "be seen to be done" said the Lieutenant Governor of British Columbia in the Speech from the Throne last fall, announcing the government's decision to request that the trials of the Stanley Cup rioters be broadcast. The rioters' crimes were largely drunken vandalism. How are such trials more worthy of being broadcast than, say, those of alleged murderers? Perhaps the reason is that the riots showed that the provincial and civic authorities were not up to the task, despite good reason to believe a riot might be in the offing.

After all, it had happened before. So it would be advantageous for those authorities to be seen as tough in the courts, instead of inadequate in the streets. The judges should be reluctant to permit the courts to be used as instruments in the government's public relations strategy.

The Bluewater District School Board in southern Ontario has a roiling controversy on its hands: that parents should be notified when their young children are being exposed to explicit sex education contrary to their values? No, of course not. The controversy is whether children, having already obtained a signed permission slip from their parents, might receive a free bible from the Gideons. No one is forced to take a bible, of course, but the concern is that the school district might be seen to be endorsing Christianity by allowing a 75-year-old tradition to continue. Most of the parents who came to the board's hearing on the matter, being sensible people, saw no threat to good order in a voluntary bible program. But the program surely will be abandoned, as it already has been in the larger school districts, as nothing is usually less offensive than something. That summarizes rather too much of contemporary public education.

When Pope Benedict announced new cardinals to be created in a ceremony on February 18, the Vatican Press Office was feeling, well, pressed to get out biographies on the 22 new choices. Reporters found it odd that many of the bios noted that the bishops "were Catholic." Turned out a little cut-and-paste from Wikipedia had been used. Nothing a bleary-eyed undergrad hasn't been tempted to do, right? Not catastrophic, and easily corrected, but rather embarrassing. Not everything is progress—these are problems that didn't arise in the days when the daily bulletin was put out on parchment.

In January, former Liberal leader John Turner told his party's convention that after the religious ministry, there is no more honourable vocation than public service. Religion and politics have been two themes intertwined in Turner's long public career. Serious about his Catholic faith, when he was charged in 1968 with the Liberal government's liberalization of the law against abortion, he was in something of a quandary. In an impressive new biography, Paul Litt takes up the tale:

"As the abortion debate heated up, Turner wanted to be absolutely sure that he and the bishops understood one another. He invited the executive of the Canadian Conference of Catholic Bishops for dinner at the Cercle Universitaire, a private club in an old mansion on Laurier Avenue in Ottawa.

There he laid out the government's case along with his perception of his duty as a Catholic and as a minister of the Crown. He told the bishops that the compromise position represented by the omnibus bill was the best they could hope to get. This was, for Turner, a moment of high drama – he dreaded being forced to choose between personal faith and public duty. He would always remember the happy moment when Bishop Alexander Carter, president of the Conference, concluded, 'Gentlemen, I think John has convinced us. Let's have a drink.' "

Turner bears responsibility for his own actions, but the nonchalance of Bishop Carter requires an accounting, too. If Turner's pastors in the faith had steeled his nerve rather than softened his conscience, things might have turned out very differently indeed. Turner dreaded choosing between personal faith and public duty; Bishop Carter ought to have encouraged him to see that the former served the latter. Even if it delayed drinks.

Much attention was given to advice in the journal Obesity that, its own name notwithstanding, doctors should avoid using the word obese when discussing weight with their patients. Over at the Canadian Obesity Network (more rebranding needed there), advisors are producing guidelines for doctors to use. The Obesity Network should get in touch with Tim Hortons, which knows something about Canadian brands. On January 23, Tim Hortons unveiled a new sizing scheme. What was previously a "small" is now an "extra small," a "large" is now a "medium," and the "extra large" is just "large." That leaves room for the new "extra large" – 24 ounces of doubledouble goodness. Just that easy – "medium" is now "small." No change, no drama, no hurt feelings. Couldn't the same be done for obesity? (No word on whether the jumbo-sized cups will allow room for Tim Hortons to put the apostrophe back where it belongs.)

It seems eight hours a month watching YouTube videos was leaving a lot of people with too much spare time. Fortunately, Netflix allows those empty hours to be filled up for a bargain. The streaming video company announced that in the third quarter of 2011 its 20 million subscribers watched, on average, 33 hours of video per month. The advantage of Netflix is that it renders unnecessary the trip to the video store or library, and even does away with the onerous task of opening that DVD case. But with at least 40 hours a month on Netflix and YouTube, to say nothing of the rest of the Internet, North American popular culture is headed for a crisis. Who will have any time to watch TV?

"No one gets hurt, no one gets diminished," says Rob Katzman, explaining the harmless fun of his business, Leopard's Lounge & Broil in Windsor, Ont. Not just steak available there, mind you. They offer entertainment. For example, dwarf tossing. It's an acquired taste to be sure, which some in Windsor, Ont., are not quite cosmopolitan enough to appreciate. Jennie Berkeley for one, who complained to her city councillor about the airborne nanus: "The event objectifies and degrades an entire class as lesser people." Miss Berkeley is right, of course; little people are not lesser people. Dwarf tossing is degrading; which is likely why Mr. Katzman thought his regular clientele might enjoy it. Leopard's Lounge is a strip club.

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