Monday, December 26, 2011

A nice Christmas

I hope everyone had a great Christmas! Ours was very nice, though it started a bit early, at around 6:30 AM when James leaped from bed and headed down the hall.

Actually, I'd woken up at 2:30 and couldn't sleep, so I sneaked downstairs at 3:00 to put the presents under the tree. Just as I finished, I looked out the window and saw that it had started snowing! It went on snowing most of Christmas Day, so against all the odds, we had a white Christmas this year.

The kids are getting older and more capable of waiting, so we were able to make the present-opening last about half an hour. I remember years when we were up before 6:00, and it was all over in about 5 minutes! And that usually involved Thomas opening EVERYONE'S presents for them.

Dean got me a new food processor, AND a blender! I'd asked for a blender because I'd needed a new one for several months, since James threw the glass pitcher out on the bricks in the back yard and smashed it. I'd specified that the pitcher would have to be metal or plastic, and both machines are nice, unbreakable plastic. I know it's not glamorous-sounding, but when you cook as much as I do you NEED some of these machines, and there are several things I just haven't made because I didn't have the equipment.

I gave him an electric blanket, because he'd grown very fond of an old one I'd picked up at an auction this summer. It was unused, in its original plastic, but I think it was at least 20 years old, and the wiring seemed a bit dodgy to me. One night, I think it caused the circuit breaker in our room to trip, so at that point I threw out the cord - I just don't like taking chances with electrical stuff. The new one is very soft and up-to-date.

For Emma, I got her the complete Twilight Zone dvd set. She's been asking for it for years, and I'm happy to see her taking an interest in live action drama instead of anime and cartoons. Besides, the Twilight Zone is classic; I may end up borrowing it to watch myself!

Tuesday, December 20, 2011

Government Goliath, Local Davids

I sent this local Ottawa story to Mark Steyn, in the hope he might write about it on his site or put it on his sidebar. It's similar to a story he's written about a few times, regarding a bridge near his little New Hampshire town that needed to be replaced.

This story, I think, is even a bit better, because it shows how government health care leads us on and on to more and more government dependence, even as the growing government does less and less for us.

A local man in poor health had to have his leg amputated this past year, and he required a ramp to be built at his house before he could go home. Not being related to a cabinet minister or a hockey player, he joined the line of supplicants for government funds to build the $4,800 ramp, and was turned down at every turn (with the encouraging promise that he could always reapply month after month until he finally succeeded). With no ramp, he couldn't leave the hospital, so he's been languishing in a hospital bed since August, at a cost to the government of over $90,000.

The story came to mercifully happy end, though, and, just as in Steyn's bridge case, it was no thanks to the multi-million dollar government do-gooder ministries. I'll quote the Citizen article, because it has that tell-tale ring of good common sense, practicality and neighbourliness that's becoming all too rare these days:

After I left him the details on a phone message Thursday, (local Conservative MP Jack) MacLaren called Friday morning to tell me what he was working on with Tom Black, president of the Ontario Landowners Association.

In addition to promoting property rights, MacLaren, a former president of the association, says the group helps people in need whenever it can.

As MacLaren sees it, it's almost Christmas, and what a "real nice Christmas event" this would be if Larry is reunited with his wife for the holidays without having to worry about returning to hospital afterward.

"I'm sure this man would be much happier, and much healthier, at home," he said. "Everyone wants to be home, right? He needs a ramp and it needs to be built. We have the people and the resources to do that, and we will do that."

The work could start as early as tomorrow and be completed by midweek. The ramp is going to be built in Black's barn and then assembled at Larry's house. MacLaren said the ramp will be built by volunteers who the association can call on. One building supplier has already offered a price discount on lumber.

Today's paper had a followup:
The people who promised to build Larry Torrington a wheelchair ramp so he could finally be released from Saint-Vincent Hospital obviously don't fool around.

The ramp was designed Saturday, built Sunday and assembled outside Larry's Stittsville house Monday.

With the ramp in place, Larry - who had surgery in March to remove the lower part of his right leg because of complications from diabetes - was expected to leave hospital and arrive home early this afternoon.


So to recap: Local newspaper alerts local MP of situation on Thursday; by Friday MP has contacted local community leaders and they have assessed problem and are figuring out how to solve it. Tuesday: wheelchair ramp is built and installed and Larry returns home.

This contrasts with 4 months of fruitless petitioning to several government sources of funding, resulting in nothing, and coincidentally costing over $93,000 in hospital expenses, covered by government health insurance.

Now, I don't want to be a Grinch; this is a genuine feelgood story, the good guys came to the rescue and everything worked out the way we would hope it should. But there's still something about this story that bugs me. It's not the insane difference between the money saved by one stingy government bureaucracy versus the amount squandered as a result by a different government bureaucracy, or how nobody could seem to line up those two items into one mind and decide, "This is ridiculous! Give the poor guy his ramp, and let's free up that hospital bed!"

No, it's the way things happened in such an unnatural order. Why was the simplest, most direct course of action the LAST resort? Why did Larry have to spend 4 months wasting his time entreating the government to take pity on him when help was just around the corner? Why do we resign ourselves to filling out endless little bits of paper to feed into an anonymous machine in the hope of getting what we need eventually, instead of speaking directly to the people nearest us, who know us best?

It's not just Larry - we all do this. I think Steyn is right when he warns about how government medical care changes the nature of our relationship with the government. We don't think it will, but we find ourselves just sliding into this supplicant position without even thinking about it.

What's even worse, it seems that as the government takes over the provision of more and more of our needs, it inevitably takes over bits of our life that we never willingly agreed to assign to them. Think about it: this whole story concerned the building of a wooden platform outside a man's house. If Larry's wife had wanted a clothesline erected at the back door, he would have just built it himself or hired a handyman to do it in an afternoon. But somehow because government medical care has gotten involved, a little bit of carpentry has suddenly become "government business", and we slump resignedly as we wait our turn for the government to get to us and take care of the business that we no longer even imagine can be done any other way.

Why do we do this? It isn't because we're getting better service from the government; look at Larry - he never got anything at all, at least, not what he wanted. There was plenty of what he didn't want - moping in a hospital, but nothing at all of what he, his doctors and everyone who knew him knew he needed. Maybe we have all decided that it's too hard to make personal appeals to people we know - it's shameful to reveal that we have needs we can't take care of ourself. And we worry too much about being a burden and a bother to people around us. But a government doesn't have a personality we have to worry about interacting with. We never really think "If I get this, then someone else can't have what they need" because it's never presented that way to us individually. We know that one department loses funding while another one gains it, but it's never personalized. Whereas, with real human beings, we might think "My son's family had to give up their vacation this year to help me to pay for my new furnace" and the resulting discomfort makes us unhappy.

Of course, by eliminating the possibility of getting personal help from someone, we also eliminate the other person's ability to be generous and experience the happiness of helping. Instead, we get our "stuff" - not very good, and maybe extremely late - and there are no messy human interactions to worry about. Even without intending to, letting government help us all the time ends up creating a distant, alienated society of people who don't know each other and don't know how to deal with each other.

Emergencies can still override this numbing effect, but in everyday life we seem to be slumping into a poorer, lonelier existence.