Tuesday, May 25, 2010

REDUX IV: Big Pigs and Little Wolves

I see that I have been being lax in pumping out the columns that hoards of you await impatiently each day. Yes, that means you too Fred. So once again I delved into the cobwebby archives, this time inspired by a lovely half hour spent in the class at Prince George's Ron Brent School. I was invited to read to the group of Grade 3 and 4 scholars and in sifting through the leftovers from my daughters' younger days, came across an old fav' - The Three Little Wolves and the Big Bad Pig. Years ago when Genoa hosted a G-8 summit, I had been moved to think of this inversion of the more familiar nursery tale not because of the role reversal but because of the sanguine moral of the retold version. Making these points again now in the immediate aftermath of the badly miscalculated Red Shirt siege in Bangkok and with another of these economic parlays soon to come to the bucolic Muskokas, I guess that's enough reason to dust this entry off and hope that in its own small way, it can help keep a humane perspective as the inevitable protests unfold with the ever-present threat of violence.


Death in Genoa, or the Pig/Wolf Alternative
(from the Coast Mountain News, circa July 01

Nothing, you think, is as unarguable as death. But differences in the pictures Canadian newspapers chose to run of the young G-8 protester dead on the Genoan pavement say otherwise. One photo showed diminutive Carlo Giuliani stone dead and bloody - and you can’t help but think: My God the Fascist bastards have finally killed somebody in their paranoid defense of globalization! But other photos seem to depict him of one of several aggressive hooligans about to toss a fire hydrant into a police jeep. He got what was coming, right? Or dead wrong?

Would you have shot someone waving this unusual “weapon” as you sat cramped up in a car? Or on the other side, if a carabineri aimed his rifle at your head might you have just tried to shield yourself with whatever was at hand? Misunderstandings abound in the deadly heat of such moments but only foretell far broader and deeper clashes of world-view.

That even the ultimately unambiguous fact of death can so divide and confuse us, symbolizes the widening gap between those who see the various annual gatherings of world leaders and bankers as a ushering in a new era of world prosperity and those who think “globalization” is at the roots of most that is wrong in our world. As one watches the path from the now almost innocent days of UBC bearspray to bloodshed in Seattle and thence to death in Genoa, the questions must be asked, where next? What happens in beautiful Kananaskis when Jean “Let them eat pepper”, “Grab them by the jugular” Chretien, hosts his compatriots at another meeting of the G (for Gluttonous?) 8? Already the limited access roads to this foothills paradise are being touted as a principal reason for this venue.

In seeking a way out of this inevitable escalation of violent means by both sides, political leaders and anti-globalist NGOs could do worse than study comparatively the well-known tale of the three little pigs and the big bad wolf, and Eugene Trivivas far less familiar inversion, “The Three Little Wolves and the Big Bad Pig”.

No question that the organizers of these incessant gatherings of lofty politicians, bankers and bureaucrats, have absorbed well the lesson from the original “Three Little Pigs” -- that only way to survive a wolf at the door, is to surround yourself with impenetrable fortifications. “Build it (strong) and they won’t come”, the wisdom seems to go.

You’d think that fifty years of the nuclear arms race might have taught the world that when you surround yourself with increasingly vicious armed guards, the other side will adjust its tactics to a higher and more dangerous level. Any reasonably intelligent national leader, social psychologist or child who has had time on life’s playground can tell you that “aggressive defense” begets a fearfully symmetrical response of escalation. It is a theoretically endless race but in reality has a very untheoretical and foreseeable ending – someone gets killed. And that is what happened on the road from Seattle’s 1999 World Trade Organization riots to young Giuliani on that street in Genoa. If you think you can end it all by lighting the fire and waiting for a wolf stupid enough to go down the chimney, you really do believe in fairy tales!

Here is where the alternative re-telling about the little wolves and the big bad pig may have teaching value for a lesson that Canada better learn before next year at Kananaskis. In this redone version, like the little pigs, the little wolves leave home warned by Mama Wolf to watch out for a roving sadistic swine whose purpose (unlike the Big Bad Wolf) is not to consume but simply to terrorize the cubs for the pure joy of doing harm. (Probably exactly what our esteemed political leaders believe to be the motivation of many anti-globalists)

The Little Wolves start where the three little pigs ended – their first abode is brick. When the Big Bad Pig arrives he goes through the ritual but futile huffing and puffing and gets out a sledgehammer which is predictably more effective. Escaping narrowly, the wolves go for a concrete home the second time around. Again the giant hog huffs and puffs before availing himself of a pneumatic drill and again sends the cubs scurrying for new shelter. House three is nothing short of a fortress one that would impress even the G8. There’s barbed wire, iron bars, armoured metal plates, steel chains and 67 padlocks, not to mention a video surveillance system. Mr. Big Pig breaks through the initial lines of defense but seems stumped for a few minutes. Alas he returns with dynamite.

After their apparently impregnable house is blown sky high, the little wolves do something that M. Chretien would not probably understand. They build a beautiful but utterly flimsy house of flowers. When the Big Bad Pig makes his inevitable appearance and does his huffing and puffing, he is overwhelmed by the wondrous fragrances. Instantly he is transformed into “the Good Big Pig”, and dances a tarantella to the little wolves’ amazement. They all end up playing “piggy-in-the-middle” and living together happily ever after.

Something to think about. Now you may say that the Grouse has spent one too many hours out in the eastern sun (yes I am on P.E.I.) to imagine for even a moment that there is a lesson from this tall tale applicable to the real world of violent protest and more violent defense. Still, bear with me, given the apparent lack of workable alternatives. I really believe a way must be found for these international high level gatherings to open the doors and bring in those who scream from the outside and who are so profoundly troubled by globalization. The press is telling us that the leaders are listening: fine, let the youthful idealists in to smell the flowers and not only affect but be seen to affect, decisions made, for the most part, by old men who, unlike those protesters, will not have to live all that long in the world they are bent on redesigning.

Wednesday, May 05, 2010

Turpel-Lafond For Premier!

Kash Heed, BC's one-time new wunderkind top cop, has just set the new and unlikely to ever be broken record for the shortest comeback in political history. Having resigned with some dignity a fortnight ago for relatively petty fund-raising irregularities in his riding, he surges back for less than 24 hours only to be toppled by a somewhat more startling revelation: Terrence Robertson, the crown prosecutor assigned to check out the first infractions and who cleared Heed of wrongdoing, turns out to have been from a law firm that had donated to the same campaign that was under Robertson's investigation. CBC calls this "the latest twist in a complicated political story," but I think it's not very complicated at all, much less so than my struggling teenager's Grade 10 math homework. It ain't corruption but, rather, blundering stupidity and that charge sticks right up into the Premier's office, if not orifice.

In turn, this is really so minuscule a failing compared to so much of what Gordon Campbell and his gang's hopefully sunset years (better if it's months) have entailed. Gord began his reign doing his Edward Scissorhands routine and has continued to work hard, when not letting his hair down in Hawaii, to deconstruct the provincial educational and medical systems. He threw all sorts of money at trying to pry open somewhat apocryphal moratoria on offshore oil and gas and no doubt, had he been successful, would have demanded a standard of environmental precaution at least as lax as the Gulf Coast of the USA to where his government dispatched numerous field trips so that we could learn from their impeccable engineering! In a Throne Speech shortly after the IOC's decision to let Lotusland host the Winter Olympics, the Campbell Government was even drivelling about lighting the torch with fuel pumped up from beneath the Queen Charlotte Basin! This monumental ignorance of what offshore exploration and development entails must have made even the most enthusiastic proponents wince.

Since then, offshore oil and gas for BC has crawled back into its cave, but Campbell and company continue to find other ways to devastate the social and physical environment. Most recently, having announced the highly improbable re-entry of the Site C dam on the Peace, they introduced legislation to try to stifle the work of one of BC's and Canada's most passionate public servants, Mary-Ellen Turpel-Lafond, the province's Representative for Children and Youth. This was a position created as a result of the 2005-6 Hughes review of British Columbia’s child protection system, following in the literal wake of countless cases where children purportedly under BC's care, were harmed, often mortally.

Turpel-Lafond was such a good choice that it's hard to believe the Campbell government made it. Hailing from the remote indigenous community of Norway House in northern Manitoba, she has been twice cited in Time Magazine as a young leader to watch, nationally and globally. She has a law doctorate from Harvard and a master's from Cambridge. She and the great national Aboriginal leader Ovide Mercredi co-authored a superb book about First Nations struggles, In the Rapids. One could go on but this is enough to say that when, inevitably, Campbell et al. reverted to their nature and blindsided Ms. Turpel-Lafond with legislation restricting her access to information to do her job, she didn't back down. As it stands, she will take the Office of the Premier and the Ministry of Children and Family Development to court over the new legislation. Definitely the wrong person to screw around with, Gord-O!

As this tragicomedy unfolds, the larger picture issue of provincial leadership hoves into view for me. I think of how Carol James, the NDP leader, has not ignited much enthusiasm as a potential alternative and also of how there have been increasing public musings on the need for a third party (again!) in BC - like we didn't get into enough of a mess as a result of Campbell's coup of the fallible but worthy Gordon Wilson's single-handed resurrection of the Liberal Party.

But I don't care who drafts her - a new party, the NDP or the faltering Canucks - we are indeed fortunate to have the likes of Turpel-Lafond at the helm of so crucial a portfolio as she now holds, and I want to be first to say that there is an even bigger ship of state, badly in need of her trusted, capable and knowing hands. Whether as the leader of a new party or - if the NDP has any smarts - of the current opposition, let's start the call now: Mary-Ellen for Premier!