Saturday, June 11, 2011

I just like this obituary on 'the Lindbergh of hobbyists'

From a Wall Street Journal obit:

"On a clear Saturday evening in early August of 2003, Maynard Hill stood on a hillside on Cape Spear, Newfoundland, started the motor on his model airplane and heaved it into a light wind.

Thirty-eight hours and nearly 1,900 miles later, the 11-pound plane with a six-foot wingspan landed in Ireland, the first radio-controlled model to make a trans-Atlantic crossing.

Mr. Hill, who died Tuesday at 85, was the dean of model airplane hobbyists and spent decades setting records for altitude, duration, speed and distance. His planes outflew those of the Soviets in competitions during the Cold War.

During the 1980s and 1990s, he developed unmanned aircraft for the armed forces, expendable models carrying radar-jamming equipment, cameras and antitank weaponry.

But despite decades spent convincing Pentagon brass to embrace his ideas, Mr. Hill was a poor fit with the gold-plated contractor's culture and dropped out of defense work.

'He didn't believe his planes should be used for war,' said his wife, Gay Hill."

The rest is here.

A patient's perspective on mental health emergency services

The route to in-patient mental health care on Vancouver Island is through the Archie Courtnall Centre, or psychiatric emergency services. Patients can wait more than a week, sleeping in chairs, before a bed becomes available.
Tara Levis offers a patient's perspective.

"Psychiatric emergency services is nothing short of a nightmare. It is a holding cell for people at rock bottom, waiting for a transfer to the in-patient unit. It is a small room, overseen by a glassed-off nursing station, that at some points holds over a dozen people.

Claustrophobia sets in the minute I walk through the secured doors and if I'm not on edge to begin with, I most certainly am bordering on psychosis when the door shuts and I am confined at the mercy of an overburdened health-care system.

My personal items are examined with a fine-tooth comb and promptly locked away until further notice. I am allowed to keep a journal and a book. I want to cry when they take away my cellphone, my last connection to the outside world apart from the public phone they provide, which is always in use. The items on my person must be guarded at all times as theft is rampant in PES. Blink and my stuff would be gone, likely to be sold for cigarettes."

Read the rest, please, here.

Friday, June 10, 2011

Nurse-family initiative means better lives

It's proven. Support disadvantaged women during pregnancy and through the first two years of their children's lives and you produce positive changes in their lives.
The B.C. government deserves full credit for being the first in Canada to launch a nurse-family partnership program that will see nurses work closely with first-time moms who need support.
Specially trained public health nurses will connect with women early in their pregnancies beginning next year. The nurses will visit once a week during pregnancy and in the infant's first months, with visits tapering to monthly by the time the child turns two.
It's not a new idea. The approach has been used in the U.S. for more than 30 years and results rigorously tracked. And they are impressive.
That's not surprising. Lots of women have great support networks when they become pregnant, and the skills and resources to solve any problems that do come up. They've learned useful lessons growing up they can apply to the challenges of pregnancy and child-rearing.
But others don't. They're poor, perhaps alone in the world or less well-educated. Some have more experience with bad parenting than with good examples.
The program targets those women, likely about 5,000 a year in this province.
The nurse visits to talk about healthy eating and living during pregnancy, planning for the birth, relationship issues -- really, anything the women wants to talk about. For women without real support or advice, the presence of one caring, competent person in their lives makes a huge difference.
The visits continue after the baby is born, with the same goals of providing support, skills and helping mothers make smart decisions and plans.
The benefits seem obvious.
But major long-term research on U.S. versions of the program, which in some cases followed the life course of the mothers and children for almost two decades, are shocking (in a good way).
Dr. Charlotte Waddell, director of the Children's Health Policy Centre in the Faculty of Health Sciences at Simon Fraser University, says nurse visits can mean dramatic improvements in life for mothers and children.
"Even if that's all you do, you can track the mother and child 15 or 20 years later and find that not only is the mom doing much better, but the kids stayed in school," she says. "They didn't get involved in crime, they were at less risk of substance abuse, and there was a significant reduction in conduct disorder."
On one level, it's stunning that a brief intervention -- less than three years -- in the lives of mother and child can set them on a course that helps determine, 19 years later, a teen will be less likely to be involved in crime.
But on another, it's not that surprising. The program sets in a motion a whole range of changes which cascade through the participants' lives.
The research found, for example, that mothers in the program tended to delay any subsequent pregnancies for a longer period than peers who did not have nurse-family support. That meant more time for their first child, and more opportunity to find work and maintain a stable life.
The research also found that mothers who had received the support were more likely to be economically self-sufficient and in stable relationships in future years.
Children were healthier and one study found a 48 per cent reduction in cases of child abuse and neglect, and a 56 per cent reduction in emergency room visits during the child's second year of life. They also did better in school.
The B.C. program is part of a $23-million Health Start effort aimed at mothers and young children.
While governments are often not good at long-term efforts, particularly on social issues, this is an example of just how great the benefits can be.
Not just economically, although society can count on reduced future costs and greater contribution from those involved.
But we will, for a relatively small investment, be changing lives.
Footnote: The details will matter. Success depends, for example, on finding the right nurses to do the work and stability in the nurse-family relationship. It takes time to build trust and understanding; changes that disrupt the relationship undermine results.

Thursday, June 09, 2011

HST adds $5 million to B.C. Ferries expenses

From B.C. Ferries latest financial report:

"On July 1, 2010, the harmonized sales tax (HST) became effective, combining the existing 7% provincial sales tax with the 5% federal goods and services tax (GST) into a single tax of 12%. We expect this tax to add approximately $5 to $6 million annually to the cost of our operations. The HST will also increase the price to our customers for our food and certain retail offerings. Our vehicle and passenger tariffs which were exempt from GST will be exempt from HST."

Which means the HST will also result in higher ferry fares,

Tuesday, June 07, 2011

Liberals just won't face persistent poverty problem

A Times Colonist editorial thought it "baffling" that the government has repeatedly refused to set out a plan to reduce poverty.
Any competent manager understands the need for plans, the editorial observed, and the Liberals have campaigned on claims of competence.
It's not baffling. I've been a manager. I was keen on plans for people who reported to me. If they set out their targets and what they would do to achieve them, I could look at results and assess their effectiveness.
The government wants to avoid that kind of accountability.
It's a shabby position. Especially for a government that, after a decade in power, has still left more than 500,000 people - and 87,000 children - living in poverty.
There has been progress in reducing the number of people whose lives are blighted by poverty.
But, objectively, not much. The B.C. Progress Board, set up by Gordon Campbell to provide reports on government effectiveness, tracks the poverty rate.
It has found B.C. has ranked tenth among provinces every year since the board was created in 2002. More people live in poverty here, year after year, than in any other province. Their numbers have been reduced, but not enough to move B.C. from last place.
B.C. has also had the highest rate of child poverty, according to StatsCan, for seven straight years. The number of children living in poverty has decreased, but, again, not fast enough to move B.C. from its ranking as the worst in Canada.
That's hard to reconcile with Gordon Campbell's claims about the best place on Earth, or Christy Clark's talk about families first.
This should be a fundamental issue for any government. Research has shown that growing up poor greatly increases the likelihood of a lifetime of problems. The Progress Board notes that "people with low income may experience more physical and mental health problems, rely more on charity, attain lower levels of education or have higher secondary school dropout rates."
Leaving aside the human cost and suffering, poverty loads costs on to future generations just as surely as large government deficits do.
The Campbell government repeatedly refused to accept the need for a plan to reduce poverty, and Premier Christy Clark has so far taken the same position. The Liberals say they are doing lots of things that reduce poverty, from policies to increase employment to tax cuts.
But it's striking that when the government decided climate change was an issue, it set legislated, specific targets for reductions in greenhouse gas emissions and developed a plan to meet them.
As it's striking that, after 10 years, progress hasn't been enough to raise B.C. from its ranking as the most poverty-ridden province.
The editorial was right. "Any competent manager" knows a plan is the first step toward achieving goals.
In this case, it would start with an analysis of the current situation - the causes of poverty, the demographics, the policies that have been tried. It would look at anti-poverty efforts in other jurisdictions and learn from success and failures.
And then it would set targets and action plans with timelines, accountability and budgets. Progress would be assessed and the plan adjusted.
It's an obvious, necessary approach to dealing with any problem.
Such a review would identify easy first steps. About 37,000 children are in families living on disability or income assistance. There are among those living in poverty; a single parent with two children who is deemed employable gets up to $660 a month for housing and another $623 a month for everything else. That's poverty. Addressing that - by letting parents earn some income without being cut off, or increasing rates for families - would cut child poverty by 40 per cent.
But the first step is a plan. And by refusing to accept the need - and the accountability for results - the government is ensuring too many British Columbians remain mired in destructive poverty.
Footnote: The New Democrats introduced the Poverty Reduction Act on the last day of the legislative session, which set out a reasonable approach to developing a poverty plan. The Liberals won't support it, but if Clark is serious about "families first," they should announce their own plan.

Would you buy this submarine?

From today's Times Colonist, a photo of the HMCS Corner Brook, one of the four used British submarines Canada bought in 1998.
And the Corner Brook is actually supposed to be in good shape.
The submarine is in the news because it struck the ocean bottom in exercises this week, the latest chapter in a sad and costly bungled purchase, which I explored here.

Sunday, June 05, 2011

Clerk's appointment violates democratic principles

From a good Times Colonist editorial on the appointment of Craig James as clerk of the legislature.

"Our political system includes measures designed to keep a check on potential abuses by the party in power. A key principle is that some positions must be seen to be entirely non-partisan.

"Once again, the Liberal government has violated that principle.

"This week, the government imposed its candidate for clerk of the legislature, a lifetime appointment. The quaint title doesn't reflect the position's importance. The clerk, through advice to the Speaker, interprets the rules of the legislature for MLAs from all parties."

Read the rest here.

For background, here's the column I did on the same issue when James was appointed interim chief electoral officer by the Liberals - another post that's supposed to be made by all parties.

The clerk appointment highlights how wrong the Liberals were in putting James in the chief electoral officer role for 15 months. The officer is supposed to be completely independent and serves a fixed term of two elections plus one year.

But the inevitable perception is that James knew he was a candidate for the $250,000-a-year clerk job during his times as interim chief electoral officer. And that taints the public view of his true independence in making decisions on recall efforts, the HST initiatives and other issues.