At the Right Place
Ottawa is host to “Canada’s newest millionaire” after a gentleman bought 6/49 tickets to break a fifty dollar bill at a Preston Street bodega. According to a CTV report Mr. Paul Hindo merely asked for “quick picks” in order to get change for his bill. A computer gave him its idea of random numbers. Days later a barrel of rubber balls spat out their random numbers. Result: a cheque for $22 million.
The fact there is no ‘system’ or mathematical quackery involved can be encouraging or discouraging. On the plus side the story reinforces that winners need only be in the right place and time to win. The Lottery Plague, uh, ‘Dream’, is spread by the idea that anybody can be a winner; one need only buy a ticket to get in on it. Of course you have to ignore the fact that five million other players won nothing.
On the other hand it also illustrates that winners do not arise by careful plotting, analysis, determination and hard work. In other words; you cannot win the lottery by anything you do. You are not playing the lottery, it is playing you.
After yet another futile toss of a couple bucks into the pot, I had a discouraging thought: “There’s No Help Coming”. For the umpteenth time I realized I would never win a lottery. Winning, unlike giving in to the urge to play, is not inevitable. We don’t all get a ‘turn’. Most people realize this and act accordingly. They are what we call “non-players”. But lottery players have to ignore this reality to feed their obsession.
When the phrase first came to me it simply meant I would have to keep working for a living rather than have manna fall from heaven. Since my income ain’t what it used to be this was not an uplifting message. I texted this slogan to a friend on June 9th: “No Help Coming”, to find out what he thought. He took it to refer to the fact that Big Government would not be there when you need them. We are all basically on our own. That’s the great thing about t-shirt slogans. The reader can find what they want in them.
Wrong Place and Time
Within a week I was stunned to see the phrase appear in relation to a horrible tragedy. The Grenfell Tower fire has killed at least 79 people and shattered the lives of thousands more. The building burned with frightening speed, overwhelming emergency crews and forcing residents to save themselves and neighbours as best they could.
One man, in touch with his trapped family by cell phone, had to tell them: “There’s no help coming.”
Characteristically for our present age, political foes immediately began blaming each other for the horror. For the ‘left’ it was result of government cutbacks. The residents of public housing are poor and taken for granted by the “rich”. On the ‘right’: local Labour councillors approved of the combustible materials on the building. Some suggest it was chosen for its eco-friendly credentials, not safety.
Apparently fire officials told residents to stay in their apartments. This only makes sense if the fire is under control. You don’t want residents clogging up the hallways and stairwells to hamper firefighting efforts. Instead, too many people never got a chance to flee.
It’s obvious that one mistaken judgement after another contributed to the tragedy. An apartment building, hundreds of feet higher than ladders can reach, was redecorated with the wrong materials. Fire warning and suppression devices were obviously inadequate. (Apparently, residents had complained since 2013 about disconnected fire alarms and sprinklers). We have to assume England has modern building standards compelled by law, no exceptions. Even if fire safety inspections are less frequent in 2017 than they were in 2010 or 2001, surely the relevant officials could order remedial work whenever its need became obvious. Indeed, the building was issued just such an order by the London fire brigade in November 2016.
So if architects and safety experts, local and national politicians, emergency crews and all the rest of modern political infrastructure can’t keep you safe, what’s a citizen to do? I don’t subscribe to the nihilist/libertarian paradigm that suggests zero government is workable. And of course I’m no fan of the intrusive Leviathan that seeks to dictate people’s thoughts and actions while claiming to educate their children and ensure their health care. Liberal governments in Canada provide perfect demonstrations that creating dozens of Cabinet posts to serve endless special interests does not improve governance. (Still waiting for Conservative governments to act on this).
Obviously there are things governments can do in whole or in part. They don’t need to deliver health care or education; just make sure everybody has an equitable crack at it. They sure as hell don’t need to sell alcohol or lottery tickets. Government, as an expression of society’s priorities, is there to protect the vulnerable and punish the wicked. It is not there to approve personal opinions and force undesirable options on unwilling adults. It should be there when people are at real risk of someone else’s ignorance or incompetence.
As always, when the unthinkable happens and hindsight seems to suggest it never should have, there are multiple answers and none. Big Government cannot keep you any safer than Bigger Government. Small or Lean government can hand off responsibility to others but they must ensure those others are ready and competent to take over. What it boils down to is people.
There are people in charge and most of us don’t know who they are. We assume only the most competent attain positions of authority, but can’t test this in advance. Perhaps we should take a moment once and a while to question who they are and what they’re up to. Right now, everybody should write a letter to local authorities and ask them about the Grenfell Tower tragedy. Ask about local buildings and fire codes. If you get back a bunch of reassuring bumpf from a local politician; then at least that tells you something. If they say they have contacted other authorities to raise your point that tells you something more. It tells you that as a citizen, you have a right to know, and a responsibility to participate. We have a responsibility to let the ‘watchers’ know we are watching them.
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