Convivium - Faith in our common life

Convivium Volume 1, No. 4


Small Talk

by Raymond J. de Souza

Back to school. After an intensive morning of academic rigour, what to eat for lunch to keep the mind and body ready for learning? Last year began the implementation of a new nutrition policy for schools in Ontario. Didn't know that the Education Act had a "trans fat standard"? It does, and other stipulations to keep doughnuts and other deep-fried delectables away from the children. Whether the children are losing weight is doubtful, but school revenues are slimming down. The Ottawa-Carleton District School Board estimates that it lost $900,000 in revenue from its cafeterias last year, and the Toronto District School Board, $1.2 million. Cafeterias across the province experienced losses of 30 per cent or more, and the take from vending machines was even more belt-cinching—more than a 60 per cent decline. The kids, it turns out, are not gobbling down the apple wedges and celery sticks in the cafeteria but are going off campus to spend their lunch money on fries and pizza. How will schools make up the revenue? Does the Education Act ban bake sales, too?




Remember the 1992 World Series when the U.S. Marine Corps colour guard marched out with the Canadian flag upside down in Atlanta? The Marine Corps, not to mention the Atlanta Braves, was mortified. At the 2012 London Olympics, extraordinary measures were taken to avoid any similar embarrassments. For the most part it worked, save for the little mix-up with the North Korean and South Korean flags. "Like with everything, this can happen as soon as you get humans involved," said Niccy Halifax, organizer of the medal ceremonies for London 2012. Indeed, the fiery angel observed as much as he watched Adam and Eve make their way out of Eden.




Speaking of Original Sin, after presiding over the closing ceremonies of the Olympics, Prince Harry recuperated from his exertions in Las Vegas. He was photographed cavorting naked with several women, which set off a very large debate about whether British newspapers should publish the photos (they largely did not) and a rather smaller debate about the suitability of the prince's behaviour. Boris Johnson, mayor of London, was in a sympathetic mood, no doubt remembering the criticism he faced when he was sacked from the shadow cabinet after he lied about his longterm adulterous affair and his mistress' abortion. "I think it'd be disgraceful if a chap wasn't allowed to have a bit of fun in Las Vegas. The real scandal would be if you went all the way to Las Vegas and you didn't misbehave in some trivial way." Using strange women as sex objects may indeed be trivial in the mayor's mind; after all, even the worst case scenario can easily be remedied at the abortion clinic. But his argument is novel. He argues not that lads will be lads, and therefore bad behaviour is regrettable but to be expected. It's that lads should be laddish, and bad behaviour is to be encouraged. The real scandal, Johnson argues, would be virtuous behaviour. The real scandal is that the mayor's view is wholly unremarkable.




On the whole, the London games were a ratings success, so much so that CTV likely broke even instead of losing money as it did on the Vancouver Games. Olympic broadcasts seem to have more promotional videos than athletic competition. CTV produced one extolling the history of Great Britain: "From Chaucer to Coldplay, from Shakespeare to the Beatles, this could be their finest hour." Finest hour? London 2012 was the most expensive venture undertaken by Her Majesty's Chancellor of the Exchequer since the Second World War, so one supposes that is what prompted the allusion. Was Churchill wrong when he stated in June 1940 "that if the British Empire and its Commonwealth last for a thousand years, men will still say, This was their finest hour"? He was, for less than a hundred years later, CTV apparently thinks that beach volleyball rather than fighting on the beaches is the best that Britain has to offer.




The finest hour may be a little beyond many Britons. In fact, the waking hour seems beyond them. They call them Neets—16- and 17-year-olds "not in employment, education or training." In other words, what an English headmaster in a gentler age would have called layabouts or slackers. The Deputy Prime Minister and Leader of the Liberal Democrats, Nick Clegg, wants to give them a hand. The Youth Contract authorizes some £126 million to get the Neets going. First they need to get out of bed, so firms have been contracted to make wake-up calls to the sleepyheads. Britain has a venerable tradition of both nannies and the Nanny State, so perhaps it was inevitable that eventually the State would finally get around to waking up the children. But who will make the porridge?




One of the small joys of adulthood is loathing the music young people listen to. Or it used to be. The MP3 generation listens to all its music on earphones, so no one else knows how bad it is. But it seems that digital music purchasing has now confirmed what everyone suspected: older music is better. For the first time in its history, Nielsen Soundscan reports that albums classified as "catalogue," meaning they are 18 months old at least, outsold recent albums in the first half of 2012. On the live performance front, here's the latest from the Saddledome in Calgary, advertising the fall con-cert schedule. Justin Bieber and Carrie Underwood are featured, but the rest of the lineup is a little long in the tooth. Roxette is on the bill—the Swedish pop duo from the early 1990s that has apparently been hiding in Sweden since. And then the Red Hot Chili Peppers, Bob Dylan, Neil Young and Leonard Cohen. No one who has listened to the old wants the new, as the Biblical passage does not say but could well have.




I had sensible parents who encour-aged their children to read. And I had a sensible older brother who had a subscription to Sports Illustrated when it was the leading title in the golden age of sportswriting. Every issue had an extended article that aspired to be genuine literature. Frank Deford was the master of the art, and it's quite pos-sible that it was Deford who was my first introduction to the sheer joy of good journalism. I don't think I ever wanted to be Frank Deford when I grew up, but it certainly was hard to imagine a better job than he had—crafting the words to tell the stories of sports, which are the stories of life if properly told. His autobiography, Over Time: My Life as a Sportswriter, recently came out and is, like every-thing he has ever written, a great and wide-ranging read. Using the unlikely analogy of the decline from classy burlesque to vulgar pole dancing in the exotic arts, Deford laments the decline of great sportswriting. "Fifty years from now when some old man says that back when he was a boy, he read sportswriters in newspapers and magazines—that is: in print—I hope he speaks kindly of us. Otherwise, no one will appreciate what sportswriting was really like at its apogee. I fear all you'd know would be blogs and/or statistics—the pole dancing of sports journalism." It would be hard to imagine how life could be better without ESPN or TSN, but the ubiquity of sports on cable and online has choked off the oxygen needed for those leisurely reads in the back pages of Sports Illustrated. There are still great sportswriters around, but they are limited to short columns. Some are trying to remedy that by long-form journalism on their websites, but it somehow seems inadequate to the task. It is sad; and now that their art is disappearing, perhaps we notice how much we ought to miss them. "Sports journalism has been such a crucial economic part of the daily press that it ought to be recognized more, if only because it's kept a lot of newspapers in business. And yeah, I know, it's the toy shop. But some toys are very well made. Really, we aren't the pole dancers of journalism." Good toys teach boys about the good life and, at their best, the sports pages did just that.




The death of a newlywed bride is a great tragedy. The death of Maria Pantazopoulos, 30, was that and more. The Montreal bride had married in June and was participating in a "trash the dress" photo shoot. The hours of photography on the wedding day itself are apparently insufficient, so the bride puts her dress on again a few weeks later and has herself photographed "trashing the dress"—rolling around in a barnyard, getting muddy climbing a mountain or frolicking in the water. Pantazopoulous was in the Ouareau River north of Montreal when her dress became waterlogged and dragged her under the surface to her death. "Trashing the dress" is typical of ideas so colossally stupid that only the nuptial-industrial complex could convince sane women to embrace them. The idea peddled to credulous brides is that there is no point having a wedding gown gath-ering dust in a closet when it could be given a grand send-off in a lucrative combination of extravagant waste and bridal vanity. Brides inclined not to asso-ciate their marriages with trash of any kind would be wise to keep the dress—for future use by a daughter or granddaughter, for a penurious friend or, according to a lovely custom, as the source of material for baptismal gowns or even dresses for their daughters' First Holy Communion. It's terribly sad that this bride went under the waters. Let's hope the fad of trashing the dress goes there, too.




Writers on the front page, back page, and especially online are inclined to use the exclamation point more frequently. Excellent! Or alarming?! It's likely a con-sequence of email and texting, which seem to invite promiscuous use of perpendicular punctuation. Are we more excited now than we used to be? Or is it the opposite—are we drowning in so much text that we need the exclamation point to catch our attention, like those red exclamation points that show up in my inbox, begging to be read immediately. Immediately! There is, of course, a website dedicated to recording the excessive use of exclama-tion points: excessiveexclamation.blogspot.ca. That's all good fun, but over at the Smithsonian Magazine, they take a more serious look at the history of the exclamation point, which seems rather sombre for so whimsical an adornment to our writing. We are told there that F. Scott Fitzgerald likened the employ of exclamation points to "laughing at your own jokes." Well, some of us like laughing at our own jokes. After all, if the joke is funny, why not laugh at it? And if it isn't funny, why tell it in the first place? If you are funny, laugh at your own jokes. And if you have something to say that needs exclaiming, by all means exclaim it!



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About Raymond J. de Souza

Father Raymond J. de Souza is the Editor-in-Chief of Convivium, chaplain at Newman House (the Roman Catholic centre at Queen's University), a parish priest, and a Cardus senior fellow, in addition to writing for the National Post and The Catholic Register.

His columns can be found at www.fatherdesouza.ca.