To play pick-up sticks, you start with a handful of long slender pieces of wood, hold them upright and allow them to fall in a heap on the table.
The players then take turns at removing the sticks one by one without disturbing any of the others in the pile.
Disturb a stick, and, depending on which version of the game you’re playing, you miss a turn or you are out of the game. To excel at this game, a player needs a keen eye, a steady hand and a delicate touch.
The difficulty of this “simple” real-world exercise should remind us of the perils of intervening in any complex system, be it a piece of machinery, the human body, the natural environment or a social institution — and the difficulty increases exponentially when you go just a bit beyond the complexity of pick-up sticks.
It is a truism among biologists that you can never do just one thing: remove one seemingly insignificant species from an ecosystem and there’s no telling how many other species will suffer; alter the body’s chemistry just slightly and you can set off a totally unforeseen and untoward chain of events, which is why the side effects of new medications can be so devastating.
Interfering in the daily operations of social institutions can be just as devastating, and as this latest, mindless, slash-and-burn government foray into justice, education and tourism clearly indicates, there has been little or no thought given to the consequences of such massive, indiscriminate cuts. The recent sudden reversal of Justice Department layoffs tells us just how little thought actually went into this exercise in the first place.
The players in this game of pick-up sticks are evidently intent on removing everything they can, without the slightest regard for how seriously their blundering interventions might disrupt the lives of ordinary people.
Consider, for example, the closure of schools, with the ensuing breakdown of child-friendly, small-town environments and the busing of small children, for hours, to and from large, impersonal, amalgamated schools.
For all the finesse they’ve shown so far, these players might just as well be sorting through the pile blindfolded, wearing boxing gloves.
What will happen when these experts start applying the same treatment to our already-ailing health-care system?
How will these cuts affect the desperately needed repairs to our crumbling bridges and highways?
Only one thing matters
But according to the Dunderdale government, none of this really matters: the significance of all this suffering and the importance of our crumbling infrastructure pale in comparison to the urgency of “developing” Muskrat Falls.
This project, we are assured, will sweep away the provincial debt, “secure our future” and provide us with a cornucopia of material blessings.
Muskrat Falls is a deal that was done in secrecy with the help of Bill 29, and apart from some short-term construction jobs, it offers no potential benefit to anyone except for a small coven of the already-wealthy. For everyone else, it will be a huge liability in the form of an over-priced, obsolescent environmental disaster.
The 2013 budget that was spawned by the Muskrat monstrosity is as phony as a three-dollar bill. “A Sound Plan, a Secure Future”? Yes, as in the sound of a giant toilet flushing our money away, with
Nalcor operating the handle.
Yes, as secure as the debt that will keep this province in shackles for the next 50 years.
This government’s cold-hearted arrogance is exceeded only by its breathtaking stupidity.
Tony Rockel writes from Placentia.