Thursday, 24 April 2014

The Jersey Goons How

The following clever pastiche came my way, and by way of amusement, I thought I'd share it with my readers. It's a light hearted piece of amusement at the expense of local politicians, full of some rather groan worthy word play (which I adore). If you have never heard of the Goon Show, it probably will not be as funny, and you should acquaint yourself first with the madcap antics of Peter Sellers, Spike Milligan and Harry Secombe to enjoy it properly.
 
PRESS RELEASE:
 
The Jersey Goons How
 
The Jersey Goon How is an Island comedy programme, based on the celebrated Goon Show series produced and broadcast by the BBC Home Service from 1951 to 1960. The original Goon Show's chief creator and main writer was Spike Milligan aided and abetted by Harry Secombe, Peter Sellers and Michael Bentine.
 
The scripts were a mixture of ludicrous plots with surreal humour, puns, catchphrases and an array of bizarre sound effects. Many elements of the show satirised contemporary life, parodying aspects of show business, commerce, industry, art, politics, diplomacy, the police, the military, education, class structure, literature and film.
 
The Jersey Goons How recreates the comedy of yesteryear for a contemporary audience.
 
Principal Characters/ : played by:
Neddy Seagoon: E. N Gorse (Chief Monitor)
Eccles: Rob Hugh-Dammel (Monitor for Planking and Embarrassment)
Bluebottle: Ozzy Philips (Monitor for Treachery and Racecourses)
Henry Crun: Alan 'Mick' Lane (Monitor for Esoteric Embellishment)
Minnie Bannister: Donald Farmhand (Asst. Monitor, Esoteric Embellishment)
Hercules Gryptype-Thynne: Phillipa Backache (Monitor for Eternal Frustrations)
Count Jim Moriarty: Ian Le Beancan (Monitor for Homes and Fairs)
Major Denis Bloodnok: Dame Pam Ryke-Spooner (Monitor for Help and Bombshell Impunity)
 
Minor Characters / : Played by:
Spriggs: Shawn Leigh Powers (Chairman, Planking Appreciation Panel)
Little Jim: Jerry Masson, (member - Planking Privileges and Panel Procedures)
Throat: Fergus Sanderson (Suspect Accounts Committee)
 
Music by:
Le Gobbledegooks
featuring Tadfort Montier and 'Mad' Sam Zemac
 
Produced by:
Wewuzdone Productions
 
In association with
Ringbinder Enterprises
(The State of Jersey Company)

Tuesday, 22 April 2014

The Incinerator

This blog is taking a few days off for the Easter Holidays.

Before I go, however, I leave you with a soliloquy that is a pastiche of William Shakespeare's "All the World's A Stage".

This is about our wasteful society.

The Incinerator
 
All the world's a tip
And all the men and women merely dumpers;
They have their exits and their entrances;
And one man in his time fills many bins,
His acts being seven ages. At first the infant,
Using many thousand disposable nappies
And then the whining school-boy, with his crisps
And coke cans dumped, dropping his chewing gum
On the roads to school. And then the lover,
Leaving pizza boxes and discarded beer cans
Drunk with his girl. Then a driver,
With gas guzzling cars, cigarette smoked at speed
Thoughtlessly thrown onto pavements as he goes
Even in the road sweeper's mouth. And then the justice,
In fair round belly with good capon lined,
And dustbins full of empty vintage wine bottles
Full from Vin d'Honneurs and modern instances;
And so he plays his part. The sixth age shifts
Into the obese and slipper'd pantaloon,
Leaving dog mess on green paths as it has always done
His youthful hose, well saved, a world too short
For his vast shank; and his big manly voice,
Lost in grunts as he sits on the sofa, eats
And channel hops the day away. Last scene of all,
That ends this strange eventful history,
Is house clearance to incinerator of lifetime junk
False teeth, contact lenses, moth balls, and everything
Excepting the deceased, burnt himself elsewhere.

Monday, 21 April 2014

Is Britain a Christian country?

David Cameron has stirred up trouble from some disaffected atheists by calling Britain a "Christian country", and in turn they have said

"We wish to object to his repeated mischaracterising of our country as a 'Christian country' and the negative consequences for our politics and society that this view engenders."

"Politicians have been speaking of our country as 'a Christian country' with increasing frequency in the last few years. Not only is this inaccurate, I think it's a wrong thing to do in a time when we need to be building a strong shared identity in an increasingly plural and non-religious society."

But in fact David Cameron makes a specific reference in that regard which addresses that very issue:

"Being more confident about our status as a Christian country does not somehow involve doing down other faiths or passing judgement on those with no faith at all. Many people tell me it is easier to be Jewish or Muslim in Britain than in a secular country precisely because the tolerance that Christianity demands of our society provides greater space for other religious faiths, too."

And he went on to say:

"Crucially, the Christian values of responsibility, hard work, charity, compassion, humility, and love are shared by people of every faith and none - and we should be confident in standing up to defend them."

Now when we look at those values, it is not clear that they are specifically Christian. I think they emerge as part of Christian influence, but it is an influence on the margins. It has nothing to do with creeds. It comes from the history and culture as much as from the faith of the people.

Tolerance has not, after all, been a specific Christian virtue, and indeed for much of the past two millennia, Christianity has been marked by either intolerance and subjugation to those of other faiths, or by tribal warfare within. But it grew out of Christianity nonetheless. The seeds can be seen in Elizabeth I, who decided that how people behaved was a matter for the State in matters of religion, but how they believed was their own affair - "I have no desire to make windows into men's souls."

But it was the English Civil war, above all else, that brought religious tolerance to the fore. It was a time of political intolerance, and there was still marked antipathy to Catholicism, and even Anglicanism. Notoriously the Puritans abolished Christmas. Yet they had to tolerate within their ranks, a blossoming of many religious flowers - Shakers, Quakers, Levellers, among them.

So while it is assumed that tolerance is a particularly enlightenment value, associated with such luminaries as the philosopher John Locke, I prefer to take a more Tolstoyian view of history. It is the broader sweep of events which sowed the seeds of tolerance, rather than individual figures. While Locke certainly promoted tolerance in some respects, he also invested heavily in the slave trade.

A good deal of actual belief by people is not post-Christian, or non-Christian, it is what I would term "folk Christian". These are the values enumerated by David Cameron, not the values believed in by those who profess creeds, and talk of a living faith in Jesus Christ.

These are the people who sing carols, who enjoy nativity plays, who go to church at Christmas, and know the story of the shepherds and the three wise men, and the stable. It is also presents, Christmas cakes and Father Christmas.

A Christmas Carol by Dickens is this folk-Christian par excellence - full of compassion, generosity, love, blessing - against greed, intolerance, and the purely material. But there is actually very little Christianity in it, apart from Church bells, and singing hymns. The nearest in comes is when Tiny Tim speaks of how it would do people good to see a cripple like him because it would remind them of he who made blind people see, and the lame walk.

They may go to church at Easter, but Easter is associated with chocolate eggs as much, and hot cross buns. Lent is marked by pancakes at its commencement rather than Lenten fasts. Giving up something for lent is like a New Year resolution, it is not specifically religious, but it comes from Christianity nonetheless. September is Harvest festival, harvest supper.

June in Jersey is pilgrimage to Elizabeth Castle for St Helier's day, and like Chaucer's pilgrims, I would imagine that some people go because it is an event, a ritual journey. It is like the many people who came to the beach maze in St Brelade's bay. Then there is Remembrance Day, wearing of poppies, symbols of a desire for a world of peace, and thankfulness for those who gave us our freedoms with their lives.

And newborn babies are christened in Churches. Weddings and funerals take place in Churches. They are places for rites of passage. People don't, as a rule, go to church, but they believe in some kind of afterlife, and some kind of deity.

All of these come from the trunk of Christianity, but they are offshoots. That is where the atheists fail to connect. They cannot appreciate the deep roots of the folk-religion. It appears a very superficial matter, something left over once Christianity has largely gone. But they are wrong. It is in fact something that has always been there in one form or another.

"Pride comes before destruction, and arrogance before a fall" says the proverb in the Book of Proverbs in the Old Testament. Too wordy, and the folk Christianity pulls it into our culture, and collapses it to "pride comes before a fall". It is in many was symbolic of how folk religion works. It works by taking part of something that is already there, and forgetting the rest, or adding to it.

Stories change over time, but they are told and retold, and survive in different forms. Fairy tales are banished to the nursery, but movie makers are going back to them, because there is a raw power in the mythical. George and his dragon may be less told today, but Arthur is still popular. And he fights for good against the forces of evil.

In a sea of rationalism, there are strong counter currents of romanticism. Hence the popularity of psychics, of Druidry, Wicca, the Celtic past, all of which are seen as New Age revivals, bringing back something old from a semi-mythical past. But this home-grown diversity is, by and large, engendering more tolerance in today's society.

David Cameron was not entirely right when he described Britain as a "Christian country", but he was not entirely wrong either. There is a folk-Christianity, which may not have quite the sharp specifics of a photograph of Christianity, appearing more like an impressionist picture of Christianity, rather fuzzy, but it is still very influential, and permeates our society more than we may realise.

Sunday, 20 April 2014

The Resurrection of Osiris

There have been attempts in the past to link the resurrection of Jesus to that of Osiris, but apart from the superficial picture of a god dying and rising again, there are no similarities. The fine details of the Osiris myth are quire different from the Gospel resurrection narratives. George Frazer's Golden Bough was probably quite responsible for this kind of argument; as an example, he conflated different fire rituals together when the only common element was that they were fire rituals.
 
In this poem, I have taken the myth of Osiris very much as a conflict between elemental forces, the ordering of nature, and the chaotic elements in nature. The chaotic, as we see with climate change, can be very devastating, but spring still comes, and the green shoots still rise from apparently dead soil. There is a cycle of death and rebirth mirrored in the story of Osiris, and in that way, it does echo the Christian idea of resurrection, when Paul talks of a seed having to fall into the ground and die before emerging to new life.
 
The Resurrection of Osiris
 
Awake, awake, O king, from death
Open the underworld's dark door
Wake from slumber, take a breath
A spark of life within once more
 
From your loins, Isis gave birth
With Thoth and his healing rod
Gives joy in heaven and on earth
Reborn in Horus, god from god
 
Set was raging storm and fire
And tore the body, into pieces
Osiris scattered, end of desire
War of gods, it never ceases
 
The seed of Osiris flowers still
Hope for mankind to yet fulfil

Saturday, 19 April 2014

The Death of Osiris

There are different versions of the death of Osiris, and this poem is drawn from some of those. In this version Osiris is the king, the power of order in nature, and Set the power of the chaotic in nature. As climate change takes hold, it seems the chaotic is coming out once more.

The Death of Osiris
 
Over Egypt, Osiris was the King
Descended from the mighty Ra
On his hand, an turquoise ring
In the heavens, a brightest star
 
Isis was his consort, his queen
The child of the earth and sky
By the Nile, land grew green
Gone was parched soil so dry
 
Set was strife in wind and rain
Sealed Osiris in a box of lead
Into the Nile, bound by chain
Until the mighty king was dead
 
Egypt laments the god who died
Into the underworld, our guide

Friday, 18 April 2014

Presidential Politics

Is Jersey moving towards a Presidential style of politics?
 
There are two proposals which give rise to concern, especially in a small jurisdiction, where power is delicately balanced between two bodies - the Council of Ministers and the States Assembly.
 
From time to time criticised, it is the Troy rule which helps to keep the balance between the two and ensures that the Executive cannot run roughshod over the Assembly. There has to be a degree of consensus in the way the States operates.
 
This has, however, been reduced in part by the ability of Ministers to make decisions without having to bring them to the Assembly. It is to the credit of Ian le Marquand that there was a proposition on the introduction of tazers, and a debate by the Assembly. It could quite easily, and quite legally, just slipped through as a Ministerial decision.
 
Ministerial decisions can be viewed on the gov.je website, but you have to go and look for them. It would be helpful, I think, if a list of them were prefixed to Hansard, like the written questions and answers, so that they would be instantly available. Otherwise, they have a tendency - as happened with the change of IT policy - to slip through under the radar, undebated, not scrutinised, and for the most part unreported. This is not good for democracy.
 
The States has the ability for members to bring a private proposition to rescind a Ministerial decision, but this is rare. Guy De Faye's attempt to allow a private developer to dig up private gardens to provide access to mains drains was the last such, and it was slapped down very quickly, But on the whole, decisions are not noticed, not because they are uncontroversial, but because their reach is more global; in the case of Deputy de Faye, it was only the sharp eye of Senator Ben Shenton which prevented it being carried out.
 
Now the Chief Minister has a proposal which would permit the Chief Minister to present the Council of Ministers as a "slate", and on a third rejection by the Assembly, his final "slate" would automatically be approved unless a vote of no confidence was made in the Chief Minister himself; as he would have only just been elected, this is unlikely in the extreme.
 
So the Assembly's ability to decide who is Minister is severely curtailed. I would be in favour of the Chief Minister putting forward candidates individually for election, rather than the Assembly being able to nominate them, but this presents an "all or nothing" scenario, with a force through on the third undertaking. That reminds me of the Parliament Bill which can force legislation approved by the Commons through the Lords, but here it seems to operate in reverse; by giving the Chief Minister this power, it is akin to the Lords being able to force legislation through the Commons.
 
The Chief Minister will also have the power to "hire and fire" or even reshuffle recalcitrant ministers, and alter the remit of Ministries. This is a good deal of power and patronage, and with a newly introduced "collective responsibility", which ensures that the Council of Ministers brooks very little dissent.
 
While it has been the case that Ministers have at times behaved with scant consideration of any opinions or discussion with the Council of Ministers, it is questionable whether strengthening control at the centre is the best way. This opens the way  not to government by consensus, but government by control, where the Minister who steps out of line can be forced into adopting policies foist upon him by a majority of the Council of Ministers.
 
If it had to be unanimous, that would provide better protection, and I could see the point in that. But as it is, it means that power blocks within the Council of Ministers - and this was identified back in Frank Walker's time by Ben Shenton, hardly someone on the left - can push their agenda through. History has demonstrated that given the opportunity, an "inner ring" invariably develops, and to give this more power under "collective responsibility" is a mistake.
 
But now there is a proposal which also gives monetary incentives to appointments. It has been suggested by Senator Philip Ozouf that Ministers should receive more monetary reward for their services than backbenchers. He states: "The current level of remuneration cannot attract individuals to stand for the States and fulfil different roles with different time commitments."
 
Coupled with a power to "hire, fire and reshuffle", this would provide the Chief Minister with monetary incentive as well to keep Ministers in line. In a large assembly like the UK, where most members are backbenchers, that is not so significant. In a small jurisdiction like Jersey, it wholly changes the structure of the States, and upsets how it works.
 
A Minister may work hard - or delegate lots to his or her Chief Officers, and scarcely put in appearances. And yes, I won't but I could name some of the latter, in previous assemblies and the current one. Those in the States probably know who they are anyway. Some Ministers and Assistant Ministers are very diligent; others far less so.
 
And for research, when backbenchers put together a proposition, they may spend hours or even days researching, where the Minister delegates to their officials for information for a reply.
 
Ministers have the support of vast army of civil servants and at CEO to do the donkey work - and that's certainly what some of them do or have done in the past. A former Minister once said that that the good thing about being a Minister was that he had to do very little actual work. Most of his work entailed PR, attending meetings with other Ministers and 'briefings'.
 
Now differential salaries would mean a marked change in the balance of power. The ability to "buy" and give patronage is a tremendous stick to keep people in line, and coupled with the proposed hire / fire/ reshuffle powers proposed by the Chief Minister, will concentrate power massively in the centre.
 
I would hope that the backbenchers generally would see this and vote against both propositions. If not, they would effectively put themselves out of government albeit still being part of it - on paper. Their influence would be almost demolished.
 
And of course, let us not forget the allure of power - and financial reward. There will also be an incentive to support the executive by some backbenchers in the hope they too would be elevated to the ranks of the elite at some point - and gain a big increase in salary to go with it!
 
"The reality is that the current single-level salary is not commensurate with levels of remuneration for similar senior posts available in the private or not-for-profit sectors" says Philip Ozouf.
 
When I read that, I think of the "Yes Prime Minister" episode "A Real Partnership":
 
Hacker: Where's the one-page summary for the Cabinet?
Sir Humphrey: The Janet and John bit? Here it is. It's more or less the same as last time. Comparable jobs in industry.
Hacker: On whose salary are the comparisons based?
Sir Humphrey: The directors of BP and IBM, naturally.
Hacker: You don't think that might be challenged as untypical and above average?
Sir Humphrey: No. Of course, we don't mention them by name. Just ''typical industrial firms''.
 
Or indeed, in Philip Ozouf's phrase "similar senior posts available in the private sector"!
 
The States may decide that some States members are "worth more", but I think that to a disillusioned general public, seeing States members pay rise in a recession, and allowances slipped by, the phrases "gravy train" and "snouts in the trough" will be well used come the next election if the States pass this proposition.

Thursday, 17 April 2014

Maundy Thursday

 "The 1948 Palestinian exodus occurred when approximately 711,000 to 726,000 Palestinian Arabs fled or were expelled from their homes, during the 1947-1948 Civil War in Mandatory Palestine and the 1948 Arab-Israeli War. The exact number of refugees is a matter of dispute. But around 80 percent of the Arab inhabitants of what became Israel..Later, a series of laws passed by the first Israeli government prevented them from returning to their homes, or claiming their property. They and many of their descendants remain refugees." (Wikipedia)
 
Thinking about the plight of the Palestinians prompted this poem. The decision to expel them may not have taken place in an upper room in Jerusalem, that is a matter of poetic licence, but it probably did take place behind closed doors.
 
It is one of the ironies of history that the Jewish peoples, in exile for so many years from Israel, should in turn send the Palestinian people into exile, especially as they are genetic cousins. And sadly power games still dominate Middle Eastern politics today, as they did outside an upper room two millennia past.
 
Maundy Thursday
 
Upper rooms in Jerusalem
And behind closed doors
Talking about "us" and "them"
Hate leaves residual spoors
 
Palestine behind barbed wire
An exiled people, driven out
In poverty they live so dire
Why do not the hills cry out?
 
Upper rooms upon one day
Washing feet, a servant song
Another choice, another way
Instead another path so wrong
 
These power games forget the poor
When will it end, and be no more?
 
 
Notes on Genetics:
 
Tomas Rees commented in 2009 that:
 
 "The genetics of Arabs and Jews have been pretty extensively researched. The classic study dates to 2000, from a team lead by Michael Hammer of University of Arizona. They looked at Y-chromosome haplotypes - this is the genetic material passed from father to son down the generations. What they revealed was that Arabs and Jews are essentially a single population, and that Palestinians are slap bang in the middle of the different Jewish populations."
 
"Another team, lead by Almut Nebel at the Hebrew University, Jerusalem, took a closer look in 2001. They found that Jewish lineages essentially bracket Muslim Kurds, but they were also very closely related to Palestinians. In fact, what their analysis suggested was that Palestinians were identical to Jews, but with a small mix of Arab genes - what you would expect if they were originally from the same stock, but that Palestinians had mixed a little with Arab immigrants."(1)
 
The geneticist Harry Ostrer showed more linkages:
 
"The Law of Return, the Israeli law that established the right of Jews around the world to settle in Israel and which remains in force today, was a central tenet of Zionism. The DNA that links Ashkenazi, Sephardi and Mizrahi, three prominent culturally and geographically distinct Jewish groups, could conceivably be used to support Zionist territorial claims -except, as Ostrer has pointed out, some of the same markers can be found in Palestinians, distant genetic cousins of the Jews, as well. Palestinians, understandably, want their own 'right of return'."
Links 
(1)   http://epiphenom.fieldofscience.com/2009/01/shared-genetic-heritage-of-jews-and.html
(2)   http://www.forbes.com/sites/jonentine/2013/05/16/israeli-researcher-challenges-jewish-dna-links-to-israel-calls-those-who-disagree-nazi-sympathizers/