While in Paris recently, I visited Oscar Wilde's grave at Pere Lachaise Cemetery. it had a guard rail around it and a little notice requesting that people not deface the grave as the family has to cover the costs of cleanup. Sad. Soon after my return to Ottawa, the statue of Oscar Peterson at his piano outside the NAC was also defaced - or was it decorated or enhanced? - by the addition of gold paint to his eyes.

What was interesting with Oscar Peterson was that the family considered it vandalism while the artist was not quite so sure, suggesting it might have been intended as a statement about the evils of racism and that the gold paint represented tears. It was also, apparently, quite easy to remove.


I really don't condone the permanent or semi-permanent altering of a work of art in the way that was done with Oscar Peterson, even if it does stimulate some important discussions about racism. And yet, public art that is out on the street for anyone to experience is a little different from art in a gallery, where in most cases clambering about on a statue, let alone deliberately altering it in some way, is generally frowned upon. As for gravesides and memorial markers... well, I guess they're not exactly art; they're not exactly public either in the sense that decisions about the burial, ashes or commemorative markers are generally made by the next of kin; they ARE public in the sense that normally anyone may visit them, and usually without paying admission fees. Still, there was quite the foofarrah last year when someone in a festive mood strung a garland of Christmas lights around a bear-statue on the Sparks Street mall! And Lea Vivot's wonderful boy and girl on a bench statue that she placed ouside the Library and Archives of Canada under cover of darkness, and which was instantly popular with the lunchtime crowd of 9-to-5ers and frankly just about everyone very nearly was banned because it hadn't gone through the proper channels!

Then, of course there's tagging and graffiti. Graffiti is often quite witty; tagging perhaps less so. I do support the idea of having some public areas where graffiti and impromptu works of art are permitted and even actively encouraged. One place it used to flourish was in the tunnels at Carleton University.

Which brings me to the recent uproar about a handful of frosh week facilitators who were seen - OFF campus mind you - wearing T-shirts with the words "Fuck Safe Space" on the front. Critics were outraged, claiming that these people were endorsing a "rape culture"; some supporters maintained the facilitators were merely protesting a rule that the facilitators must not use swear words.

Maybe both groups were wrong. Maybe the intent of the slogan was to promote the campus as a haven for both free love and safe sex, where people are, in the words of that classic 70s children's book, "free to be... you and me" regardless of gender identity and expression, sexual orientation, race, religion... well, you get the idea. The f-word is not necessarily a synonym for rape or sexual assault, but also includes sexual activity between consenting adults. And yes, I do consider that when it comes to intimate relationships, university students must be deemed to be adults, even if some first-year students are not legally old enough to drink or even vote.

I find it disturbing when language on campus must be sanitized like this. The university environment should foster lively discussion and intelligent debate, regardless of whether the views expressed are politically correct.
Until the past year or so, when I found myself in the perhaps-enviable position of not needing to lose any weight, I never realized the extent to which we are bombarded with weight-loss messages. On TV, it's Dr. Bernstein, Herbal Magic and Weight Watchers. The most popular magazines, particularly "women's magazines" like Chatelaine and Canadian Living, are loaded with health columns and recipes promoting weight loss. Turn on the news and you hear about government proposals to ban extra-large soft drinks or make junk food a controlled substance unavailable to anyone under the age of 18.

Apparently, 62% of Canadians are now overweight or obese. So having excess weight is now the RULE, not the exception. I don't dispute that a lot of health issues are correlated with being too fat, although I also think it's possible to confuse cause and effect. And surely we should be concentrating on eating a healthy diet and maintaining a reasonable level of physical activity, rather than focusing all our attention on the numbers on the scale.

And what I REALLY have to wonder is this: Especially given that the MAJORITY of us are overweight, why do we persist in treating fatness as a character flaw, or even the mark of a fundamentally bad person? Or a bad dad?

A 38-year-old Ottawa man has not seen his two sons, aged four and six, in a year. A judge ruled yesterday that they would be put up for adoption - mainly, it seems, because the man is obese and therefore deemed to be an unfit parent. The man has evidently shown a considerable amount of self-discipline and determination, managing on his own, through exercise and a healthy diet, to drop to 340 pounds from 525.

One wonders how much we, the taxpayers, have been paying to keep these two boys in foster care this past year, with a single mother with five other children. She may be managing perfectly well, of course, but meanwhile there's the natural father, willing and ostensibly quite able to care for them at no additional cost to the state. In fact, if we were to give the dad even half, or a quarter of what the foster mother is being paid for their care, that would no doubt make the family's life a lot easier right there, as well as saving money. A win-win situation, you would think.

As I've mentioned before, there's no freedom of speech or of the press when it comes to child welfare and wards of the state. They mustn't be identified in the media. But this man is talking about staging a hunger strike on Parliament Hill beginning tomorrow, to publicize his plight. After all, he has nothing to lose except weight.

An Ottawa-based survivor of foster care has put together an excellent website where you can read about some of the issues surrounding the child welfare system in Ontario. Amongst other initiatives is a lobby to have decisions of Children's Aid Societies appealable to the Ontario Ombudsman. It would be an important step towards greater accountability. See the following sites for more information:

http://www.afterfostercare.ca
http://fostercarenews.blogspot.ca
http://fostercare.proboards.com

and for a fascinating but scary video and reaction to it:

http://about.blakout.ca ("Voices silenced by fear")
What's the difference between a hoarder and an environmentalist? Well, I suppose it's a question of degree.

If you permanently stash your dishes in the oven, your plants in the bathtub and your tropical fish in the toilet bowl so that you can't answer a call of nature in the way that nature or modern civilization intends, then chances are you're a hoarder. But for the generations that remember the Great Depression or wartime and postwar austerity measures like rationing, and as a result are loath to discard things that can be repaired, renovated or repurposed, I'd say you were probably an environmentalist long before environmentalism entered the mainstream lexicon.

On March 31, an article in the Ottawa Citizen bore the headline "CAS removes children from hoarder's home". The alleged hoarder in this case was the children's grandmother, and the children consisted of a two-year-old girl and her two brothers, aged eight and eleven. All three children were seized earlier this year but the two boys have apparently been returned to their grandmother's care, while the girl is to remain in a foster home.

I would be curious to know why the boys, who had apparently been living quite happily with their grandmother for eight years before their apprehension, were considered eligible to return, while their sister was not. Frankly, I suspect it's because they were able to verbalize their wishes more effectively. Most two-year-olds are familiar with the word "no" but if you asked them to elaborate, few would be able to respond all that eloquently.

There is no word as to where the children's parents are in all of this, or even whether they are still living. Surely, though, a grandparent would in most cases be a good choice for providing some much-needed stability and continuity in these children's lives.

Or maybe not. But the point I would make here is this: WE'LL NEVER KNOW. Freedom of speech is not an absolute. Wards of state must not be named in the media. Child welfare cases are shrouded in secrecy. We have no choice but to fund the Children's Aid Society through our tax dollars (which, among other things, pay for that offensive series of TV commercials along the lines of "Meghan is YOUR Children's Aid!") Yes, I am sure they do some good things. But when they do not, when they ruin children's lives, just who exactly can be held accountable?
Hi again and welcome back to the blogcutter's café. One of the most important roles of the media in a democratic society is to expose the plight of the underdog, thereby generating righteous indignation and embarrassing the powers that be, or "overdogs" if you will, into doing the right thing. One master of that process is columnist Hugh Adami, who writes "The Public Citizen" column in the Ottawa Citizen.

In yesterday's column, Adami publicized the plight of Dan Brown, a security guard ousted from his job at NRC because somebody apparently complained he couldn't speak French. Does anyone remember the joke about the lifeguard who didn't save the drowning child because he couldn't swim - but he COULD speak French?

Now don't get me wrong. I love living in a bilingual milieu. Every language you learn is a new system for cataloguing your world, a new set of glasses through which to view your reality. But it must be said that more language and more languages does not always mean more or better communication. In fact, during my years in government, memo-writers often erred on the side of shorter and more cryptic communication because they knew it would have to be translated, and time was of the essence. I recall one particular instance when we were in the throes of reorganization, of a memo sent out to Headquarters and all the regions, where we had to do some research and dig up some information. Since I didn't fully understand it and didn't want to waste anyone's precious time, I phoned the project leader for clarification. I got that clarification but, as I pointed out to her, what she in fact was asking was something very different from what she had written in her original e-mail. I suggested she might want to sent out a follow-up e-mail to all the original recipients of the first one. If I had misunderstood it, chances are some of the other recipients might have as well. But no, she couldn't do that, she insisted, because if she took the time to craft such an e-mail, it would then have to be translated, and so on and so forth. So instead, I believe what ended up happening was she had to talk with each of the recipients individually, except maybe to those who didn't phone her for clarification (who probably went off and performed the wrong research). What a horrendous waste!

Another recent injustice in the Ottawa area that has had a certain amount of publicity lately has been the closing of Nicholas Hoare Books on Sussex Drive. The National Capital Commission raised the bookstore's already sky-high rent by a whopping 74% - and the markup on books is not high enough for the owner to make a go of things. Most commentators on the issue have been pro-bookstore, although a couple of influential columnists have come down on the other side too. What they may not realize is that Nicholas Hoare Books has been a great asset to the Ottawa community over the years. They were instrumental in establishing the wonderful "Books and Brunch" series at the Chateau Laurier (which regrettably marginalized it over the years, possibly due to the influence of Fairmont assuming responsibility for the property). They have sold tickets and passes to the semiannual Ottawa Writers' Festival since its inception. And of course, they have held numerous in-store book-related and other cultural events - book signings, gatherings of librarians, twelfth-night celebrations, the list goes on! I still hold out a small hope that with the attendant publicity, the NCC will see fit to do the right thing and back down on the rent increase.

Freedom of speech and freedom of the press are important human rights but, as our Charter makes clear in its preamble, no right is absolute, and there's the rub. We have things like "hate crime" legislation which inhibits or suppresses free speech and thereby, in my view, merely lends credence to the extremist views of certain factions. We have court settlements, the terms of which must not be publicly disclosed. And one biggie, which I'll have to save for another day - the veil of secrecy surrounding child "protection" proceedings which allows Children's Aid Societies to function virtually as a law unto themselves. And that is where I shall conclude my posting for today.

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