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Small Talk

Father de Souza checks out Big Daddy but keeps an eye out for paparazzi. Also: marriage begets babies—who knew?; a sister's true love

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Small Talk January 1, 2013  |  By Raymond J. de Souza
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A story in the Daily Mail captures how completely the sexual revolution has been, well, revolutionary: "A woman who was told she had only a one per cent chance of conceiving with IVF became pregnant naturally—on her wedding night. Nicola Medina and her partner spent more than £40,000 over three years on fertility treatments, but each time it failed. When the 30-year-old learned that there was only a tiny chance of a successful pregnancy with IVF, she all but accepted she would never have a child of her own. Now, however, she is celebrating the news that she's beaten the odds and is expecting a baby girl in May. Her husband, Karl, 40, said: ‘I would've married her seven years before if I'd known this was going to happen.' Mrs. Medina said: ‘It's a miracle. When we found out the dates, for us to conceive on the wedding night is amazing.' The couple, who have been together since 2005, had three cycles of unsuccessful IVF in 2009 after trying for a baby for several years." Marriage leads to babies! Seven years of cohabitation, invasive medical procedures and exhausted bank accounts—what more could be done in pursuit of a child? Perhaps an elderly aunt advised them to try marriage as a last resort. The sexual revolution was the great decoupling—sex from marriage, sex from love, sex from babies, marriage from babies. The Medinas might be learning to put them all back together again.


Britain is an inexhaustible source for discouraging news. Celestina Mba is a 57-year-old caregiver for children with severe learning disabilities in southwest London. She loves her work and wishes to continue, but she also loves her Baptist faith and insists on not working on Sunday. At first, the managers of the care home agreed not to schedule her on Sunday, as there were other workers willing to do those shifts. As time went on, the managers insisted Mba work on Sundays and punished her when she refused. Mba resigned, but filed a suit on religious liberty grounds, arguing that the care home ought to accommodate her religious beliefs. She lost in the High Court. Justice Langstaff, the senior judge in England and Wales for these types of employment cases, ruled that not working on Sunday was not a "core component" of Mba's faith. He upheld a lower tribunal ruling that because lots of other Christians work on Sundays, it cannot be that rest on the Lord's Day is a Christian religious requirement. In Britain, the employment tribunal decides how central the Third Commandment is to the Christian life. One can only imagine how the Sixth Commandment would fare, given the tribunal's grounds for their decision. Apparently if enough people cease to practise their faith, the right to practise the faith is correspondingly attenuated. Aside from being beyond the competence of the State to determine the "core component" of religious faith, the tribunal's decision turns the standard human rights logic upside down. Instead of protecting the rights of minorities—in this case, religiously observant Christians—it penalizes the minority unless they follow the majority's mores. How does this benefit the patients? It is very difficult work, for which staff who look upon it as a vocation should be highly desired. The patients are now protected against having someone care for them who is motivated by her love of God. One expects the patients would have come to a different decision than Justice Langstaff. But no one asked them.


The 100th edition of the Grey Cup last November occasioned a year-long celebration, including a set of documentaries about the Grey Cup on TSN called Engraved on a Nation. Sports stories, at their best, are about so much more. But it is also possible to stretch too far. One episode, "Western Swagger," attempted to wrap Pierre Trudeau, Peter Lougheed, the constitutional negotiations of November 1981 and the National Energy Program all into a treatment of the 1981 Grey Cup between the Edmonton Eskimos and the Ottawa Roughriders. Edmonton was down 20 to 1 at halftime but won on a last-second field goal. The producers attempted to draw a parallel between Edmonton's football dominance and Alberta prevailing at the 1981 constitutional talks. In search of melodrama, they got the history wrong, describing the 1981 deal as a "written foundation, the backbone of Canada—our destiny, for the first time ever, was in the hands of Canadians." Hardly. And one would fervently hope that our destiny is not determined by the deal cooked up in the Château Laurier kitchen. But much like the 1981 Grey Cup, there was an improbable last-minute quality to Trudeau's constitutional agreement. You may recall the Prime Minister's inspiring words at the end of the signing session: "Let's take this and run before anyone changes his mind."


The lessons of suffering were learned well by the O'Bara family of Miami. Edwarda O'Bara died recently, at 59, after more than four decades in a coma. She was cared for at home by her mother until her death five years ago, and then by her sister, Colleen. In 1970, Edwarda was a high school student when she slipped into a diabetic coma. Before losing consciousness, Edwarda asked her mother, Kaye, to promise never to leave her alone. Kaye promised her daughter, and she kept that promise. After Kaye died, Colleen took over. "She taught me so much, and I'm talking about now, after she was in the coma. She taught me so much about unconditional love that I couldn't say I had it before. She taught me about patience that I didn't have before. I learned so much from taking care of my sister. It's like I grew up overnight," Colleen told the Miami Herald. Asked if she ever considered not taking up her mother's heroic task of caring for Edwarda, Colleen said she never considered it. "She is my sister. I love her." Love endures all things, Saint Paul told us; the O'Baras showed us.


The harried passenger does not, I expect, spend much time on the various artistic exhibitions one finds at the airport. Yet at Pearson airport in Toronto the other day, an installation caught my eye. Created by Cathy Griggs, and titled "Freedom," it consists solely of a panel with black lettering: "Pain Makes Me Think / Thinking Makes Me Wise / Wisdom Makes Me Free." That is not always true, for pain can be destructive and often does not lead to either wisdom or freedom. Pope John Paul II defined suffering as the "pain of the soul," and in the Christian's cruciform vision of life, suffering can indeed be a path to genuine liberation. Not a bad theological prompting in the airport, which one hopes was occasioned by profound reflection and not the experience of air travel.


Popular Catholic blogger Rocco Palmo commented upon the new cardinal from Manila, Chito Tagle, noting that the young Filipino archbishop is rather savvy on social media, in his post "Facebook Est—At Long Last, A Cardinal of the Social Media Church." At last? Facebook was launched in 2004, and only became widespread some years later. A social media cardinal in less than a decade? Seems quite rapid for a college that is nearly one thousand years old.

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The chief executive of the Toronto District School Board, Chris Spence, resigned after being caught in plagiarism of a rather spectacular sort in a column he wrote for the Toronto Star. The National Post's Chris Selley, reviewing the evidence, called it "hands down, the worst case of plagiarism I have ever seen in a newspaper: multiple sources, none of them even mentioned never mind cited, copied in most cases word-for-word, including some passages that purport to describe Spence's own experiences in sport and education—experiences that greatly inform his inspirational persona, by the way." Given that the school board has a policy that punishes student plagiarism by awarding a zero, Spence's decision to resign was the right one. More puzzling were the comments of chairman of the board Chris Bolton to the Toronto Star: "As in all learning situations, we see this as a learning experience and we support [Spence] totally in his bid to make it right." Except that Spence is not a student in a "learning situation." He's the chief executive of the board of education. He is the teacher, and one who undermined what the school board is supposed to be teaching. His resignation might make his flagrant plagiarism an actual "learning experience" for Toronto's teachers and students.


It is a constant lament of some that Canadians drive too much and take transit too little. My hometown, Calgary, is often accused of being built for the automobile, which used to be thought a feature but is now considered a bug. So it was much celebrated when Calgary opened a new light rail transit line in December, an 8.2 kilometre stretch that cost a cool $1.4 billion. The new year has brought upgrades to the Chinook station—well known to me, as I took the bus to high school from there. Chinook Station will close for eight months. Transit is expensive to build and maintain, and requires short-term pain for apparent long-term gain. That's likely why we don't have as much of it as we would like. Also, once boys graduate from high school, they consider it more fun to drive.


Ubiquitous cameras, smart phones and social media make one wary of where one is seen. I was at the Rogers Centre for a Blue Jays game last season, the guest of one of my former students. Afterward, he suggested that we repair to something called Big Daddy's Crabshack and Oyster Bar, across the street from Roy Thomson Hall. Roy Thomson I was familiar with; Big Daddy less so. So I inquired as to what exactly Big Daddy got up to in his crabshack. I had no worries that my host, an admirable young man in all respects, would propose giving our patronage to a disreputable establishment, but a priest is unusually cautious. It turned out to be quite a delightful New Orleans-inspired place—the ambience rather suitable for those who prefer to talk rather than shout—and the seafood was excellent. So I felt rather bad about suggesting that something might be amiss. But now—vindication of my suspicion. I was reading the 45th anniversary edition of the American Spectator, featuring greatest hits from the past, which included a local-colour piece on the 1988 Republican National Convention in New Orleans. Andrew Ferguson reports on the scene: "First I saw Senator James McClure sauntering down Bourbon Street, the legendary avenue of gin joints and flesh parlours. I caught sight of him as he passed Big Daddy's All-Female Wrestling Parlor. He didn't stop, I admit, but he was smiling and the incongruity—what's wrong with this picture?—startled me." Big Daddy's in Toronto describes itself as a "Bourbon Street bistro," so I was not wrong to be wary. In 1988, it was an incongruous mental picture. Today, it could be an actual picture twittering across the Internet. Nothing to be worried about on King Street, but a reminder to be careful: double-check before Father is photographed at Big Daddy's.

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