Friday, 27 February 2015

Look A Like

Constable Nick Hewer of St Clement

Len Norman, Alan Sugar's right hand man on "The Apprentice".

Is it my imagination or does Constable Len Norman look like Nick Hewer?

Thursday, 26 February 2015

Wolf Hall: TV Review

“Wolf Hall” is a very dark drama, not least because it makes no concessions to modern lighting, and uses tallow candles to light buildings as much as it would have been done. The half glimpsed silhouettes show us a world full of flickering shadows and light.

The core performance has to be Mark Rylance as Thomas Cromwell. Very much a man of the world, he builds spiders webs by his network of spies to entrap the unwary, and is first and foremost, set to do his master’s bidding – that is, the wishes of Henry VIII.

There’s a certain motivation in him for revenge on those who brought about the fall and destruction of his former master, Cardinal Wolsey, and it is interesting that it is Anne Boleyn, not Cromwell, who seeks to put Thomas More’s name on the list of those who supported Elizabeth Barton in her prophecy against the King. Cromwell knows More is innocent of this, and contrives a way around Anne’s wishes in the matter.

Cromwell has for so long been portrayed as the schemer, the nasty piece of work, the henchman doing Henry VIII’s bidding. Having Leo McKern play Cromwell in “A Man for All Seasons”, and Donald Pleasance play him in “The Six Wives of Henry VIII” make him very much a villain, and in the case of Pleasance’s performance, almost a cardboard villain.

Rylance’s Cromwell is an altogether more subtle character, with feeling and religious sensibilities. He won’t put Thomas More on a list, because he knows that More is innocent of that crime. And yet he still frames legislation that needs an oath of loyalty to the King, which traps all those who have integrity and doubts, including More. He doesn’t like torture, and prefers his network of informers, but he’s still prepared to let More be executed, partly at his contrivance.

One of the best scenes was after Henry had fallen from his horse, and just recovered – Cromwell hitting him in the chest to get his heart beating is effective, but probably fictitious – and Cromwell discusses how things might have been with Master Treasurer Fitzwilliam. It’s the lull after the storm, a reflective two-hander that is a delight to watch, as each displays scepticism about the other’s views.

It appears that Henry did suffer some kind of brain damage as a result of the fall, when he was unconscious for nearly two hours. As Michael McMarthy notes, “the king, once sporty and generous, became cruel, vicious and paranoid”.

This slightly unhinged King was well brought out by Damian Lewis, who suddenly turns on Anne, when she calls upon the King to give up jousting for the sake of the Kingdom, and he says “Do you wish to geld me too, Madam”.

Throughout the series, the shadows are lengthening, and in the final episode we saw Cromwell acting against Anne Boleyn, on behalf of the King. He threatens violence, but doesn’t use it, but the threat itself of violence, unrecorded, and the dark cells of the Tower are enough to get enough confessions.

The King needs guilty people, and Cromwell is not fussy about the truth of the accusations. It is enough that those accused are guilty men, guilty of past crimes, although, as Cromwell states, not necessarily those crimes they are accused of. He needed to find enough guilty men to satisfy Henry.  It is also a chance for him to settle old scores against those who brought down and mocked Wolsey.

Claire Foy as Anne gives a brilliant performance, haughty and often cruel as the Queen, but suddenly aware of how vulnerable she is, and taken to the tower. Her trial, when she answers “No” to all the questions, goes well until she is forced to say “Yes” to giving money to one of her alleged suitors. She realises in an instance that answer will seal her fate.

Her speech and trembling final prayers were extremely fraught, and we saw the executioner swing the sword, and heard the thump as it severed the head, but rightly this was more effective in not showing it. We are shown the reaction of the spectators, and we should not forget that executions were very much a spectator sport. Would people watch today if there was still public hanging?

I think the culture has shifted from the 1960s when the death penalty was removed from the statute books as a mark of a civilised society, and today’s population, brought on a diet of visual atrocities from war zones, coupled with the desensitising effects of sadistic shows like “I’m a celebrity” would probably pay to watch. Our world has become crueller than it was; closer to the Tudors.

Was she guilty? What mattered to the Henry and Cromwell was that she should be found to be guilty. Executions had to be conducted by due process of law, and Cromwell showed himself adept at manipulating events within the limits of the law. And yet even there is a touch of compassion: he knows that Anne is beyond saving, but he asks her to be contrite and confess so that he can try to safeguard her daughter Elizabeth.

Archbishop Cramner does not come out of this well. He finds it incredible that the accusations should be true, yet as it is the King accusing Anne, he says that it must be true because Henry would not act if there was not sufficient evidence to prove Anne unfaithful. Under Edward VI, of course, he was in his element pushing forward the Reformation agenda, but under Queen Mary, he recanted of his past.

Cramner only seems to have finally found a courage that eluded him when he realised that his recantation was not going to save him from burning, and then he retracted his confession, and thrust the hand which had signed the document into the flames. History is full of “what ifs”, and I cannot help wondering what might have happened if he had been quietly pensioned off after a very public retraction rather than sentenced to death.

Cromwell, in the end, is greeted by Henry, his master for doing his bidding. But he knows he is caught in a trap from which he cannot extricate himself, and sooner or later, the same fate which others suffered may well be his too. And he has changed, in this telling of the story, from one who sought to support the King but act, according to his lights, justly, to someone who will use any legal means to achieve his ends, whether they are, in fact, just or not. Legally, everything is done with due process, but morally, he has been in the process of selling his soul to the devil.

Wednesday, 25 February 2015

TV Review: Call the Midwife

“Call the Midwife” still keeps up very high standards, and some wonderful touching moments – the birth at the gypsy camp, the diabetic and her lover. This series has been perhaps more thematic than past ones, but that has worked very well producing strong drama.

I was not sure how Linda Bassett as Phyllis Crane would fit in; at first she seemed something of a stereotype – someone who was something of a fusspot, but her character, and the way it is played by Linda Bassett has made for some very powerful drama indeed.

Vaughan Sellars is the local boy who has been at Borstal, but is trying to put his life right, but she understands that. He asks her how she knows. "Do you know someone who went wrong?" “I was the wrong ‘un, Vaughan”, she replies. This strand of the story is about acceptance. The pregnant diabetic girl Paulette Roland loves him, but her mother can, initially, only see Vaughan through the eyes of prejudice. But by saving Paulette, at the cost of going back to the Courts, she comes to see that he loves her daughter as much as she does.

Sister Mary Cynthia is goodness personified, slight, seemingly timid, kind and caring, and you would have thought it was difficult to believe a story with such a sweet character, but again the story works well. We see how she cares for the gypsy about to give birth, and the gypsy’s slowly dying mother, who wants to remain in the camp until she dies. After the grandmother’s death, in traditional fashion, the Vardo, or gypsy caravan, is set alight, a wonderful sight.

The goodness of Sister Mary is in contrast to the town people, who see the gypsies as rogues and vagabonds, who imagine the young girl with child is underage and unmarried. The viewer is meant to see that is wrong, and that the Council, evicting the gypsies, is pandering to those prejudices. Unfortunately, those attitudes have not gone away, even today, and there are still as many prejudices, often ill-founded, against those who have chosen a nomadic existence on the road.

Part of the joy of “Call the Midwife” is its depiction of the 1950s Poplar, bringing back a lost time within living memory, and showing both the light and the dark.

We have moved on in some ways – homosexuals – as in a recent episode – are no longer sentenced, as Alan Turing was, to a medical treatment with side effects, supposedly for their own good. But other attitudes are still as much present today as they were then. In that respect, it becomes a period mirror, reflecting our own times back in its own stories, and showing us how we can face and overcome our own hidden prejudices.

Tuesday, 24 February 2015

The Centralisation of Power in Jersey Today

I’m reprinting today a letter to the JEP from former Deputy John Young, as it highlights some worrying trends. I would add to that the following:

- The increasing use of Ministerial decisions to avoid the States debate, not on routine matters, but on important matters which have in the past been taken before the house.

- The absence of any Ministerial decision with regard to the latest missive from the Social Security Minister on long term incapacity. Is this the start of a new trend?

On the Waterfront, which forms part of the substance of John Young's letter,  I was also very disappointed by the argument of Ian Gorst. He implied again and again that the lawyers Crill Collas were biased with their criticism of the legality of the destruction of the car park. Their statement was flawed because they were acting for a rival organisation who wanted their own office complex to be the one of choice. But what matters is the legal case, and if it stands up, not whether it is put by lawyers acting on behalf of little green men from Mars.

As C.S. Lewis noted, “The motive game is so uninteresting. Each side can go on playing ad nauseam, but when all the mud has been flung every man’s views still remain to be considered on their merits.”

Lewis termed the approach that Ian Gorst took on BBC Radio Jersey, “Bulverism”, and argued that it is a logical fallacy (it is also called the genetic fallacy):

“You must show that a man is wrong before you start explaining why he is wrong. The modern method is to assume without discussion that he is wrong and then distract his attention from this (the only real issue) by busily explaining how he became to be so silly.”

That is almost exactly what Ian Gorst did on BBC Radio Jersey, distracting attention from the arguments presented by Collas Crill by diverting attention to who funds them. We really deserve better than that.

Letter from former Deputy John Young.

Urban trees are scarce and lift the spirits nowhere more so than in St Helier. Those in the Esplanade car park were a delight until our SOJDC decided the trees had to make way for our office development. Those who mourn their loss are seen as standing in the way of progress.

Is this a clash of alternative visions for St Helier,. whether our capital becomes a good place to live. or an overcrowded economic powerhouse? Is there a bigger underlying message of the power exercised by our government?

The way the trees'- removal was carried out with no advance warning despite a States scrutiny inquiry into the development shows just how powerful our government has become. The dismissive remarks of the chairman of SOJDC about the scrutiny review show that the executive is under instructions to press ahead with the Esplanade development, regardless.

There are other worrying signs, the support of the Council of Ministers for the proposed high-density development of the Gas Works site against the views of residents. They supported the Port Galots development which would have removed the last remaining open view of the Harbour and Elizabeth Castle from the residents of St Helier. It has taken a public outcry to put a`stop to it. We as taxpayers are left with the loss of £400,000.

How do such things happen? Our Chief Minister, Senator Ian Gorst, imposes collective responsibility on all his ministers. SOJDC and States Property Holdings take, their instructions from our Treasury Minister, Senator Alan Maclean. He is directed by the Council of Ministers and our Chief ' Minister, independent thinking will lose him his job. The safeguard is our Planning Minister, but he is also under direction from Senator Gorst. Next week in the States, powers of the Planning Minister are to be transferred to unaccountable civil servants who in turn are under direction by the States chief executive. Such centralisation of power is without precedent in Jersey.

Senator Gorst won a huge mandate at our election, yet how democratic is his government? His ministerial nominations were made on the basis of personal acceptability, leaving out Senator Zoe Cameron.

Two of his ministers and five assistants were elected unopposed. Senator Gorst's government has an inbuilt majority in the States, supported by the majority of Constables and those Members who are ambitious for future advancement.

Efficient, yes. But where are the checks and balances on government power? We have a reform party of three members who seek to form an opposition, we rely entirely on the minority of States Members who maintain their independence and exercise their own judgment. We have a scrutiny system, which does not have the power of UK Parliamentary Select Committees, is under-resourced and largely disregarded by ministers.

The reality is we now have a one-party political system in Jersey. Democracy requires we need stronger scrutiny, greater safeguards and public scrutiny of our government by all possible means, using social, conventional media, parish, public meetings and petitions.

In our next elections we will all need to become more open to political organisation and alliances and ultimately to political parties.

Monday, 23 February 2015

Long term incapacity: A Singular Lack of Transparency

On Monday more islanders who are on long-term incapacity allowance will be required to look for work. This is an allowance paid weekly to those whose lives are impaired by a physical or mental condition.

Currently, anyone having “30 per cent or below loss of capacity” is designated as suitable to work, but on Monday the level will be raised to include those having “35 percent or below loss of capacity”. The aim is to encourage more Islanders into work, particularly those also on Income Support.

The press release, entitled “New rule for long term incapacity allowance” is published on the States website. It notes that:

“LTIA is a health-related benefit which is based on the individual’s mental or physical condition. It does not assess their ability to work and many people receiving this benefit are already working.”

“The proportion of people who only receive LTIA, but who still work, is three times greater than the proportion of people who are working and receiving both that allowance and Income Support.”

“The people who are affected by the change are being contacted by Back to Work and will be offered appropriate training and support to look for work.”

But there are unanswered questions about this change. For instance, who decided it? Was it the Social Security Minister herself? Did she consult those who assess long term incapacity allowance, such as doctors? How did they respond? Was it more of a political decision than a medical one?

A sample of the form is available on the department website, and covers a wide range of medical conditions, some physical, some mental. I notice that one of the physical ones – “I cannot stand for more than 30 minutes without the support of another person” would almost apply to me! Although I would phrase it differently - I cannot stand for more than 30 minutes without having to sit down or suffer increasingly acute back pain. Fortunately my work is sedentary. But it illustrates a matter I will return to: the kind of work you can do depends upon your capacity.

The mental incapacity part of the form does say “complete this form yourself or with help from someone who knows you, such as a family member, carer or support worker” which I think should in fact say “or with help or by someone who knows you” as the person concerned may not be in a state to complete any form with help, only for another person to complete it on their behalf.

Somehow or other these details, and an assessment by a doctor, goes into a black box, and out of it emerges, among other things, a percentage relating to the loss capacity for work. There is no detail of how this rather occult process works.

This contrasts, for instance, with California, which has guidelines on assessing this in detail. In the preamble, it notes that:

“In determining the percentage of permanent disability, account shall be taken of the nature of the physical injury or disfigurement, the occupation of the injured employee, and his age at the time of such injury, consideration being given to the diminished ability of such injured employee to compete in an open labor market.”

“A rating can range from 0% to 100%. Zero percent signifies no reduction of ability to compete in an open labor market while 100% represents legal total disability. Total disability does not mean that the employee cannot work, but rather represents a level of disability at which an employee would not normally be expected to be able to successfully compete in an open labor market. Permanent partial disability is represented by ratings between 0% and 100%.”

It also explains that:

“Two distinct systems are used to describe a disabling condition - the objective/subjective index and the work capacity index. Either or both indexes may be used to describe a particular condition, and each, when used, yields its own disability rating . When both are used, the index producing the higher rating is used.”

“The objective/subjective index is a composite of objective and subjective factors. Objective factors are physical losses or losses in function that are directly measurable. Typical examples would be amputations or reduced range of motion of a joint. The Schedule provides standard ratings for many impairments, frequently at their most disabling extremes. Subjective factors are those which are not directly observable or measurable, the most common being the disabling effects of pain. Pain is characterized in terms of body part affected, intensity, frequency, and activity giving rise to the pain. Typical examples are constant slight pain in the back or moderate pain in the elbow on heavy lifting.”

And goes on to explain the other index:

“The work capacity index characterizes limitation in relative rather than absolute terms. That is, the disabling condition is described in terms of a percentage loss of pre-injury capacity for the specific individual. A typical example of work capacity limitation would be a "loss of approximately one-quarter of (the injured worker's) pre-injury capacity for lifting."

And there are detailed guidelines for determining his, with a summary as follows:

“Two different sets of work capacity guidelines have been devised to correspond with large functional systems of the body. The Spine and Torso Guidelines apply to injuries of the neck, back, pelvis, abdomen, heart, chest, and lungs. The Lower Extremity Guidelines apply to hip, leg and foot injuries”

“After the occupational variant is found, the standard rating is modified for occupation by reference to tables found in Section 5 of the Schedule. Find the standard rating in the column entitled "Standard Rating Percent" and read across the table to the column with the letter reflecting the appropriate occupational variant.”

So there are a lot of factors involved in these assessments, and the one advantage the California system has over the Jersey one is that it is not occult, in the meaning of the word as “hidden”. It is transparent, and explains exactly how it works, how doctors and other professionals assess a condition. Jersey is completely lacking in transparency. California, for example, notes that:

“The Schedule creates an arrangement of disabilities and values which stand in relationship to one another. It provides the structure necessary to assign a standard to a non-scheduled disability according to its seriousness. For example, "a leg disability requiring the injured worker to sit for approximately 3 hours of the work day" would be a disability that falls midway between two scheduled disabilities, "Disability Precluding Prolonged Weight-bearing" (20%) and "Disability Resulting in a Limitation of Weight-bearing to Half Time" (40%) and would be assigned a 30% standard.

In fact, although it is detailed in schedules and guidelines to follow, it also gives examples of injury which cause incapacity, for example:

“A 43 year old grocery checker sustains an injury to the major elbow resulting in inability to do repetitive gripping with the hand.”

Repetitive strain injuries can impact on the ability of an individual to use a keyboard efficiently, for instance with touch-typing, and I know of an individual who in fact suffered from this severely. That may also impact on grip, as with the grocery worker shown, which in turn restricts the capability of the individual to undertake many kinds of work, even if they do not suffer other forms of disability.

Now what work someone can do will be restricted by their incapacity. A British Columbia report from 2013 gives an example:

“An orthopedic unit nurse and a nurse case manager both suffer a spine injury that limits their lifting to no more than 25 pounds. The impact on each of these nurses would be significantly different. The orthopedic nurse would be unable to perform her pre-injury occupation because her work demands are very physical in nature including heavy lifting related to patient handling. On the other hand, the Case Manager work is sedentary in terms of physical demands so likely she would be able to perform her pre-injury occupation".

If the kind of work the individual is capable of is not taken into account then the percentage incapacity on a purely medical basis will vary, and of course, the incapacity, while not restricting an individual from working, may well limit the employment opportunities available to them.

What really would be helpful, but what we probably won’t get, is the types of incapacity in that 5% gap between 30 per cent or below loss of capacity and 35 per cent or below loss of capacity. We have no examples of the kind of people whom this will effect, or the kinds of work they will now be expected to look for. Will “appropriate training and support to look for work” also take into account appropriate work?

What it appears from the terse press release is that a number of individuals will receive communications telling them to contact the department, to look about finding employment.

And we are not told how tactful that communication may be, and how much the entire press release is trading on the idea that the Minister is targeting those lazy work-shy people who claim incapacity but would be perfectly capable of working.

A tactless communication could cause considerable stress, and a sample of the kind of letter sent would at least be reassuring. Letters sent by social security in the past have not always been models of tact and diplomacy, and seem to have been penned by people who have lost sight of the fact that there are human beings at the other end of their sometimes threatening missives.

The impression coming forward in the media it that this more an exercise to save money than to benefit those people who might like to work, but can’t. The 2% blanket cuts requited from departments may well have prompted this sudden change more than any medical consultations.

If it was genuine, then surely it should be brought in tandem with the disability components of the discrimination law. That this is preceding that, and unconnected with it, suggests budgets rather than welfare are the driving force, as with proposed prescription charges.

Faced with saving money, the Minister decides that a change in percentage incapacity can claw back some funds. There has not, as far as I am aware, been any public consultation, because that would cause delay, take time, and the Medium Term Financial Plan is pressing.

Sunday, 22 February 2015

Rehabilitation and Forgiveness - Part 1

Rehabilitation and Forgiveness - Part 1

For Lent, I have been reading a biography of John Newton. Newton joined the Navy but then became a Captain of slave ships. After a very stormy sea in 1748, his ship almost sank off Ireland, and he awoke in the night and called out to God, as the ship filled with water. The cargo sifted and blocked the hole, and they were able to make it safely to port.

That was the start of his conversion to Christianity, but he continued to ply the slave trade, although he took more care of the slaves themselves. By this time, he had stopped himself swearing, and given up gambling and drinking, and was reading the bible.

After suffering a stroke in 1754, he gave up the sea, but continued investing in the slave trade. He became tide surveyor at Liverpool in 1755, studying in his spare time Greek, Hebrew and Syriac. He applied to be ordained as a priest in the Church of England in 1757, but it was to be seven years before this was accepted. He received Deacon’s orders in 1764 and was appointed curate of Olney. He became well known for his friendships with non-conformists, and for his pastoral care as much as his beliefs.

In 1788, 34 years after he had retired from the slave trade, Newton broke a long silence on the subject with the publication of a forceful pamphlet “Thoughts Upon the Slave Trade”. He was now a confirmed abolitionist and lent his support to William Wilberforce. In his book, Newton speaks of “a confession, which ... comes too late ... It will always be a subject of humiliating reflection to me, that I was once an active instrument in a business at which my heart now shudders.”. He had copies of the book sent to every member of parliament.

The story of John Newton is a story of change, of how a man so steeped in such an evil trade, can come to see the error of his ways, and can even fight against what he had done in the past. It is a story of redemption, and shows us how people can change for the better, whatever their past mistakes.

Newton went blind, but he penned these verses:

Amazing grace! (how sweet the sound)
That sav'd a wretch like me!
I once was lost, but now am found,
Was blind, but now I see.

There is a blindness that is to do with how we judge people, and how the burden of their past can affect how we treat them in the present. It assumes people cannot change – you cannot teach an old dog new tricks, a leopard doesn’t change its spots – these maxims reflect what we so often think.

In a time of Lent, what better to give up than old grudges and let eyes be opened to change that can happen? It is not so much for their sake, as for ours. People to change for the better. Let's not be blind to that.

Saturday, 21 February 2015

Angels with Dirty Faces

For today's poem, I took theme of angels, which is currently that in a poetry group I belong to.

The title of course, is pinched from the James Cagney film of the same name. I watched a lot of old black and white films when I was young and that was a very good one.

I wanted to get away from the Angels of "Touched by an Angel", the TV show, all sweetness and light, and go back to the letter to the Hebrews - "Do not neglect hospitality, because through it some have entertained angels without knowing it."

Angels with Dirty Faces

Touched by an Angel, so joyful and sweet
But is that really how it is? Such a dream
That they should be perfect, so very neat
Or is it rather things not as they seem?

Did you see that beggar, asking for aid?
And did you turn away, go swiftly by?
He looks dirty, smelly. Don't be afraid
He was an angel. And that's not a lie.

And the old woman, says funny things
Do you turn away, leave her outcast?
And did you expect angels with wings?
Don't be afraid, and see truth at last

Angels with dirty faces, found all around
Love knows the way, love there is found