Canada's Premier Hub For Faith In Common Life
Small TalkSmall Talk

Small Talk

Our editor-in-chief watches the radio for crimes and punishments.

13 minute read
Small Talk August 1, 2015  |  By Raymond J. de Souza
Like Convivium? , our free weekly email newsletter.

It was rough going. CBC radio's flagship program, Q, took a severe hit when it was revealed that host Jian Ghomeshi was fond of sexual violence of a supposedly consensual sort with women. Ghomeshi was shown the door after showing his superiors photos he thought would exonerate him. So the CBC relaunched the show, leaving the sordid past in the past. Last spring it began anew with a fresh approach. A new name was chosen: q.1 Not the old Q, with its bad CAPS LOCK bullying, but the new q, all friendly and lowercase. I don't know how the new host pronounces q differently from Q. I don't actually know who the new host is and am unlikely to find out as I don't listen to CBC — cbc? — Radio. The old show business quip is that an ugly person "has a face made for radio." Seems like the approach of the CBC, employing a new visual brand for an audio medium.

It's hard to keep up in the rapidly changing media environment. Even the venerable BBC — ALL CAPS, please and thank you — got tripped up when, during a rehearsal for the Queen's death, a reporter tweeted that Her Majesty had in fact died.2 The BBC was embarrassed. Imagine the apology offered to the Prince of Wales! Of course, the Queen is fine and on September 9 will become the longest-reigning monarch in British history. Queen Victoria acceded to the throne on June 20, 1837, saw to Canadian confederation 30 years later, and led the Empire into the 20th century, dying on January 22, 1901. Queen Elizabeth II became sovereign upon the death of King George VI on February 6, 1952, while she was in Kenya. Her coronation was the first internationally televised event, for which many Canadian families bought their first TV sets. After 63 years, she is nobly reigning in the age of Twitter. #GodSavetheQueen

The Queen is the head of the Church of England, which, despite — or perhaps because of — State privileges, is having a rather rocky time of it, pew-filling wise. There are things to be done about that, but the Catholic Church in Norway knows how not to do it. In Norway, the State pays millions to churches depending on the number of adherents. Since 2010, the Catholic population has almost doubled from nothing (66,000) to next-to-nothing (120,000). A smashing success story for the new evangelization? No. It turns out the Catholic diocese of Oslo has been counting foreign residents from Catholic countries in their population without bothering to check whether they were even Catholic. 3 Lucrative, but not licit. The bishop of Oslo says it will now stop. The fraudulent counting, one hopes, and not the evangelization.

State co-operation with the Church is not always a matter of graft and corruption. It can be a good thing. Consider prison life in Sicily. The tough-on-crime crowd likes to remark that life behind bars is a State-paid holiday: "Three hots and a cot" beats working. That's unlikely, but at least one convict prefers State accommodations to clerical penance. David Catalano, a Sicilian convict, was sent to serve his sentence with a community of Capuchin friars. He escaped, was sent back and escaped again. The second time, he took no chances, heading right for the police station and asking to be sent to the jail in Nicosia. "Prison is better than being at that hostel," Catalano said, finding the regimen of the friary to be rather too austere.4 The Sicilian State might consider sending some money the Capuchins' way to house more prisoners. The deterrent effect might well trim the corrections budget and, contrary to usual practice, even effect some correction.

You never know when crime might strike. For example, at an American gas station, upon discovering that petrol vendors have still not figured out how to accept foreign credit cards at the pump, a hapless Canadian has to make his way inside as if negotiating a complicated currency transfer. Such was the case for Stephen Pickford of Montreal, who was robbed at gunpoint in Detroit as he made his way to the cashier.5 Turns out the Canuck knows a thing or two about the American way. He argues that if he had been able to remain at the pump, he would not have been robbed. Hence he is threatening a lawsuit against the gas station for its Canadian-unfriendly pumps. Pickford's mugging took place on American Thanksgiving. What better way to celebrate the American way than with cheap gas, guns and litigation?

Turkeys are for Thanksgiving, but grilling is for the summer time. How to tell if that steak is properly cooked? Small Talk offers a technique, apparently well-known but new to us. Feel the fleshy part of your palm at the base of the thumb with an open, relaxed hand. That's what raw meat feels like. Now lightly touch the tips of your index finger and thumb together; feel that fleshy part now for what a rare steak feels like. Use the middle finger and thumb, and the fleshy part of the palm hardens up to what a medium steak will feel like. The ring finger gives you what a well-done steak feels like; and the pinky finger tells you that your steak is over-cooked. Handy! And if you are too afraid to touch your finger to a sizzling steak, serve sushi.

He's back! Summer means big action pictures. This year that meant Arnold Schwarzenegger in Terminator Genisys, cruising into cinemas a mere 31 years and four sequels after the original Terminator. Arnold is tough but only halfway to the Queen's longevity mark. The Terminator franchise, as such things are apparently called, presents a bleak 21st century in which a villainous IT network allied to lethal machines threatens the existence of humanity. Arnold saves us from that frightening future. But what is more frightening: that dystopian future or that, in the past, Arnold was twice elected governor of California, America's most populous state?

California's gubernatorial politics are strange. Jerry Brown, the incumbent, is both the 34th and 39th governor, having succeeded Ronald Reagan in 1974 and Arnold Schwarzenegger in 2010. Known once upon a time as Governor Moonbeam, he likely could match Arnold in knowledge of fantastical tales of alien life. Governor Brown came to Canada this summer, which is a good time to talk about global warming, as it avoids the awkwardness when such conferences take place during a howling winter storm. Toronto played host to the Climate Summit of the Americas in July, about which Rex Murphy wrote, "[Premier Kathleen] Wynne has this week been hosting a climate summit with California's governor Jerry Brown and Al Gore, both high cardinals in the zealous Church of Global Warming (Mr. Gore used to be Pope of that church, but the real Pope is now its Pope too)…."6 I doubt the Holy Father thinks going from successor of Saint Peter to successor of Al Gore is a step up, but much of the world thinks it fabulous. After all, Saint Peter never won the Nobel Peace Prize.

Ontario's premier was proud to host the Climate Summit given her party's Green Energy Act. Introduced in 2009, it promised a vast new green economy paid for by small increases in energy costs. Costs in fact soared, so much so that the province had to introduce a rebate on electricity bills. And those benefits? A study by the Consumer Policy Institute and Energy Probe found that 90 per cent of wind power subsidies went to just 11 companies; 60 per cent of the subsidies went to six companies with more than $10 billion in annual revenue.7 Almost $2 billion in subsidies has been given out for wind power since 2006, and the Ontario Power Authority projects $8 billion in subsidies over the next decade, $13 billion in the next 20 years. The vast majority of these subsidies are going to multinational energy behemoths, paid for by higher electricity rates for Ontario businesses and households. It is a massive transfer from ordinary citizens, including the poor, to billion dollar companies. In Robin Hood, wearing green meant taking from the rich to give to the poor. The Green Energy Act from Queen's Park operates rather differently from Sherwood Forest. In Ontario, green means the government takes from the poor to fund the rich.

The Climate Summit of the Americas had to compete for public attention with the white-hot fervour of public excitement for the Pan American Games, which make the wind-power project look like a bargain. Costing some $2.5 billion to host, the Games were being flogged to Torontonians as an excellent way to get a train from the railway station to the airport, a new housing development on derelict lands and a spiffy new velodrome in Milton. Toronto should be grateful. It could have been stuck with a costly stadium that lies unused — a legacy of the Olympics from Montreal to Beijing. A useful little train to the airport for only a couple of billion means Toronto got off easy.

The Pan American Games were an endless source of novelty for Small Talk. Who knew that they had a torch relay? It didn't make it to Wolfe Island, but it did make it to Kingston. Alas, I was not able to get over to town for that, so I had to content myself with reading about it. It turns out the Pan American flame comes from the ruins of the great Meso-American city of Teotihuacan, near present-day Mexico City. Lit at the Temple of the Sun, the flame is whisked from its pagan, nature-worshipping roots straight to Canada to be paraded through the public thoroughfares with nary a mention of its origins. Whatever the flame means, it could not be related to the human sacrifices offered in Teotihuacan and environs, which were not rare before the spirit of pan-American brotherhood took root among the native peoples of the region.8

Pan-American brotherhood is rather exclusive, not the full universality of the Olympics. To be included you have to be, well, pan-American. So you are not allowed to fly a flag of a non-participating country at the venues,9 which must be a bit of a downer for the various communist travellers from Venezuela to Cuba to Bolivia who might indeed welcome the nostalgia of the old hammer and sickle flying abroad. The Bermudan flag, on a happier note, is like the old Red Ensign, with the Union Jack in the corner. So that flag could be flown, but the Union Jack itself would get you thrown out. The Bermuda and Ontario flags are more or less the same design, both versions of the Red Ensign. The ushers at Pan Am venues must be well trained, indeed, to distinguish between the two at a distance so as to confiscate the contraband heraldry.

The Pan American Games are full of deeper meaning. For example, the media guide helpfully pointed out that the Rogers Centre, where the opening ceremonies were held, was intended to "represent the womb."10 When the centre first opened, the joke was that the CN Tower, long the occasion of phallic-themed snickering, would now be joined by an enormous, well, complementary structure. Of course, it was a joke back then. Now it's serious performance art.

People of a certain age remember that it was at an international sporting event in Canada that Bruce Jenner — "the world's greatest athlete" — was first introduced to the world, winning as he did the decathlon at the 1976 Montreal Olympics. Thirtynine years on, Bruce reintroduced himself to the world as Caitlyn Jenner, to the fevered laudations of just about everyone. When Bruce electrified the Olympic Stadium in Montreal, no one then thought it represented the womb. To the contrary, in those benighted days, Mayor Jean Drapeau defiantly declared that his Olympics could no more run a deficit "than a man could have a baby." Monsieur le Maire had no idea that his stadium's champion would give birth to a whole new world.

Miss Jenner, all glammed up for the cover of Vanity Fair, might provoke some of her admirers to think more broadly about such matters. For example, the homeless girls on the streets of Cairo. Some dress up like boys not due to explorations of gender fluidity but because pretending to be a boy is a defensive measure against the horrific sexual violence meted out to girls on the street.11Vanity Fair might not have time for those girls, preoccupied as it was with the courage of Caitlyn Jenner preparing for her cover shoot.

Are you enjoying this article?
Subscribe to our weekly newsletter and never miss another one.

Sexual assault more readily makes the news when it happens in places where rich people go, like Ivy League schools. Dartmouth College has announced that come this fall, a new sexual assault program will be rolled out for students. This is not your father's sexual assault awareness program — a desultory hour of admonitions from the counselling office during frosh week. This is a four-year program designed to accompany students throughout their undergrad years on campus — and beyond, should they study abroad.12 It may, indeed, be a good idea. But the question arises: Why does the Ivy League, which boasts the brightest students in the country and from around the world, require four years to teach men that being beastly to women is wrong? A possible answer might be that some of the other things promoted on Ivy League campuses might encourage men to think of women as sexual objects to be exploited. But that is a matter the Ivy League is clever enough to leave alone.

College football season is around the corner. Last year, Harvard had its best season. For years, athletics at the Ivy League schools were secondary, as the schools did not award athletic scholarships. But Harvard gives generous financial aid — some 70 per cent of its students get aid, and 20 per cent attend for free.13 Harvard's endowment is so big that it could easily forego tuition altogether. So Harvard decided to get into the athletic recruiting game. Athletic scholarships are not necessary — the usual financial aid made available to student-athletes will do. Harvard spent $776,000 on recruiting for men's sports alone in 2013-2014, more than the entire budget of several Canadian football programs. A new 24,000-square-foot training complex was built in 2007, and significant investments have been made to hire new coaches and staff. Harvard can drop several million on its football program and no one would even notice. There is nothing wrong with Harvard spending money to be the Harvard of college football. It is just another example of the extreme wealth of Ivy League schools. But if they can put that money toward elite athletes, why not everyone?

Concern about violence gripped the United States this spring — and not only from criminals. An uneasiness spread as Americans began to realize that their police forces were armed to the teeth and rather quick to pull the trigger. How quick? Police in the States, on average, shot and killed two people a day in the first five months of 2015 (according to a Washington Post analysis that shows 385 people shot and killed by police during that time). That's a lot of violence and a lot of incompetent policing. Aren't the police just returning hostile fire though? In part, yes. An on-duty law-enforcement officer is killed every three days in America.14 So in a typical month, 10 officers and 60 citizens are killed in violent encounters with the police. The news is not that America is occasionally seized with indignation by lethal encounters with the police but that such encounters have become a normal part of daily common life.

Police in Toronto are unlikely to be involved in an exchange of gunfire, but there are some rough spots in the city. One was not far from my old neighbourhood, Parkdale, which is now rapidly gentrifying. The Palace Arms is a long-stay hotel at the corner of King and Strachan, and after 53 years of running the flophouse for welfare cases and others down on their luck, Bernie Tishman and his family are selling it. Developers dropped a cool $14 million for what they will soon tear down, making room for the umpteenth new condo tower on that stretch.15 Where will the poor tenants go? No one knows. Perhaps no one cares. Cardus has done groundbreaking work on the soul of cities, focusing particularly on the need for religious institutions to have a presence downtown in order for cities to thrive. It's the churches that look after those who need to be looked after. But places like the Palace Arms did their bit too, providing a refuge for men seeking privacy and affordable downtown living. At $195 a week — cable, utilities and weekly maid service included — it was possible for a welfare cheque, augmented by bottle collecting and other such activities, to cover it. Cities with valuable real estate have less room for the Palace Arms. Downtown, the poor find fewer open arms at all. The heart of the city has grown cold, like the steel and glass of the condo towers that clog its arteries.

Jim Caviezel, who played Jesus in The Passion of the Christ, took a turn recently as Bob Ladouceur (When the Game Stands Tall), who coached high school football in California. Ladouceur won 151 straight games, going 12 seasons without a loss. Caviezel realized that coaching football was a means to a higher end: "What I learned as I got to know about [Ladouceur] is that he really wanted to create good men. He wanted boys to become men of virtue who can be depended on. It just so happens that the positive virtues that he instilled in his students and players — the tenacity, dedication, all those virtues — transferred onto the football field with incredible results."16 I don't know it for sure, but I would be rather confident that Ladouceur's players did not end up on campus as the men who assault women. Something the Ivy League might note.

This fall brings a new BMW dealership to Kingston, Ont. Something we haven't had and likely thought we couldn't support. After all, isn't the BMW a little rich for a town of professors and prison guards? To the contrary. "Kingston is a little bit recession- proof because of the government jobs, the penitentiaries and the military. Obviously, having Queen's (University) here as well. So there's a lot of people who would be considering BMWs as well here," said the new manager about his target clientele. The luxury foreign sedan was once thought the preserve of captains of industry, private-sector tycoons. No longer. The money is in the public sector now. Not bad, as they say, for government work.

We recently marked the 200th anniversary of the conclusion of the War of 1812, which, among other happy outcomes, resulted in my home of Wolfe Island — then known as Grand Île — remaining Canadian. We are on the border, but not American. Technically pan-American, I suppose, but not enthusiastically so. The Red Ensign flies at the rectory.


Convivium means living together. Unlike many digital magazines, we haven’t put up a digital paywall. We want to keep the conversation regarding faith in our common and public life as open as possible.

Like Convivium?

, our free weekly email newsletter.