Friday, 1 August 2014

Truant Members Caught by School Prefect

A number of the major absentee States members have hit back at Jeremy Macon’s figures, describing him as a “School Prefect”.

One of the tasks of a Prefect is to “maintain discipline”, and by showing who is playing truant, we can get a better idea of how important our representatives think it is to represent us, the voters, in the house. And in the meantime, we get excuses...

Notably Philip Ozouf makes a distinction between “house keeping” votes and those on important subjects. But the spreadsheet supplied contains a page which contains all the items on which votes were counted, and it can be seen that Jeremy Macon has excluded all the “house keeping” items like passing regulations, various re-appointments of boards etc. This is a bit of special pleading by a Senator who has been caught out!

Just skimming through some of the more recent votes, I see that Philip Ozouf was absent for:

Charities Law, the Road Traffic Law Amendment – on helmets for bicycles, some votes on the Island Plan, the Regulation of Jersey Care, International Criminal Court Act 2001: extension to Jersey, Draft Passports (False Statements and Forgery) (Jersey) Law 201- Articles 1 to 10,

None of those would appear to be house keeping, and it is not as if he is not present for other votes on the same day. He has simply decided to pick and choose which ones to stay for and which ones he will be absent on. There is no “excused attendance”, “out of island”, “ill”, etc.

He may be hard working in other areas, but he is a slacker when it comes to attendance at votes that he does not consider important. I wonder if the electors think that they elected him to decide for himself what to vote for, and when to be absent without leave?

And why are so many Constables low down, with the notable exceptions of Michel Le Troquer and (a bit further down, but not too bad) Juliette Gallichan. Simon Crowcroft does particularly badly, but others including Len Norman don’t fare especially well either.

Citing Parish matters is not sufficient excuse. If Parish matters take up so much of the time, perhaps the Constables should not be in the States, after all. Or perhaps they simply need to learn to delegate and not micromanage their Parishes.

Deputy John Le Fondre

Deputy John Le Fondre cites a virus, but being off ill is not counted. This virus seems to strike at inopportune times, allowing him to be present for some votes but not others, during the same day. Looking at the 8th July, as an example, we a persistent pattern where (like Philip Ozouf but more often); he is present for some votes in the day, and not for others.

Are we to believe he struggles to keep going, but every so often has to take a rest outside the Chamber? Incidentally, when he has been ill, it has been consistent, for the whole day, or from a period onwards in the same day.

Civil marriages: same sex couples (P.102/2014) – second amendment - agreement to reduce the lodging period so allow the matter to be debated at present meeting Pour

Redundancy payments: businesses which have ceased trading Suspension of Standing Order 32 to allow matter to be considered at the present meeting. Not present for vote
Date:

Redundancy payments: businesses which have ceased trading reduce lodging period to enable the matter to be considered at the present meeting. Not present for vote

Civil marriages: same sex couples (P.102/2014) – second amendment Pour
Civil marriages: same sex couples (as amended) Pour

Draft Aircraft Registration (Jersey) Law 201- Not present for vote
Draft Air Navigation (Jersey) Law 201- Articles 1 to 51 and Schedules 1 and 2 Pour
Draft Air Navigation (Jersey) Law 201- Third Reading. Not present for vote

Civil marriages: same sex couples (P.102/2014) – second amendment. Pour
Civil marriages: same sex couples (P.102/2014) – second amendment - reduce lodging period to enable amendment to be debated at present meeting Pour

Shirkers

One of the statistics which is missing is the record of those who are present for roll-call and then bunk off. I believe that Senator Ben Shenton did this a good deal, possibly because of business commitments. He did, however, decide that perhaps the dual commitments to the States and his business meant that States got short shift, and did the honourable thing, and stepped down at the next general election.

I wonder if Deputy James Baker falls into that category. He has been absent for a number of votes. And those, as Jeremy Macon points out, are not those where there is a legitimate reason – “out of island”, perhaps as Assistant External Relations Minister.

If Deputy Baker is part of a trade delegation in Dubai, sky diving or going up in hot air balloons or on camel rides to improve our relations with Arab States (and I’m only going by his Facebook and Twitter feeds here), or travelling by First Class at Gatwick, that is not reflected in lack of voting records.

But his constituents might ask how much he can represent them, either when he is not voting, or when he is in Arab states:

“Eating great food and recovering from a day of meetings, site visits and a spot of skydiving.”

Somehow it rather reminds me of when Prince Andrew was a UK Ambassador for Trade

Long Term Illness

The problem of long term illness is one which needs addressing. I recall that Vernon Tomes was often absent because of illness (something not the case with Deputy Le Fondre). And Constable Frank Amy was injured and away from the States for a prolonged period.

Notably, of course, one Deputy has been ill for a long time because of fighting cancer, and has young children.

It seems heartless to have raised this subject before, and deprive them of perhaps much needed income, so it is only as we approach elections that I am bringing it up.

I notice Article 8 disqualifies a member from the States if they have not been resident in Jersey for a period of more than 6 months. However, they could be in the Island, but not turn up to the States for a period of more than 6 months for a variety of reasons (incapacity, making a political statement etc).

I have asked PPC to consider for a future agenda amending Article 8 to include absence from States sittings for a period of more than 6 months.

I think that the same principles would apply – namely that the member was not fulfilling their obligation to represent their parishioners in the Assembly? As the election period is set to increase to 4 years, I think that is an important matter to consider.

This would not cover periodic absence, but it would mean that long term absence would ensure that the electors would still be represented.

Thursday, 31 July 2014

Centralising the Rates?

I've just been reading "Property Tax Review: Publication of Green Paper and Pwc Paper"

I wonder how much Price Waterhouse were paid for their review of property tax. That is not stated here!

The preamble states that the purpose of reform is not to raise additional revenues, so I suppose we can take that with a pinch of salt (and in fact a close reading suggests a sack of salt).

In fact, on reading the report, it is certainly likely to raise rates. It states that:

“it aims to ensure that Jersey’s property tax system is put on a sound footing, by identifying principles to help shape the development of a modern, efficient, coherent property tax system”

“Jersey’s property tax system should be joined-up, balanced and have no unintended consequences, while also supporting the States strategic objectives.”

Philip Ozouf has been at the managerial thesaurus, and almost overdosed on it, to write that sentence. Notice the “empty” linguistic qualifiers, words which sound good, but are so devoid of meaning that almost anything can be read into them – “joined-up”, “balanced”, “sound”, “modern”, “efficient” and “coherent”. It is as if nothing has been learnt since the time that George Orwell wrote “Politics and the English Language”:

“as soon as certain topics are raised, the concrete melts into the abstract and no one seems able to think of turns of speech that are not hackneyed: prose consists less and less of words chosen for the sake of their meaning, and more and more of phrases tacked together like the sections of a prefabricated henhouse”

How to Make a Failure Sound Like a Success

This is a marvel from the start of the review:

Jersey has undertaken considerable efforts in recent years to stabilise its public finances by broadening its tax base. Steps already taken include: 

• Increasing the number of taxpayers by introducing GST, so that all Islanders contribute to the cost of running the Island, while still protecting the least well-off through targeted benefit payments 
• Strengthening the personal income tax base to reduce the reliance on income from corporate taxpayers, through the implementation of 20 Means 20 and the gradual 5 withdrawal of most personal tax deductions, allowances and reliefs from higher earners  

What has happened, of course, especially after the loss of “deemed dividend”, is that profits tied up in companies stay in companies unless paid to shareholders, and if non-Jersey shareholders, no dividends ever make their way back to Jersey. As it is, this disaster of a policy has left a “black hole”, which has been plugged by the introduction of GST.

But dressed up in the way the report does, you would think it was something planned rather than an act of desperation, clutching at what the Isle of Man had already proposed.

Modernising the basis for charging annual property taxes

“One of the reasons why recurring property taxes are an appealing source of revenues is that the tax base can be relatively stable and does not reflect the same fluctuations that other types of taxes do.”

In other words, you can’t physically move property in the same way you can shift funds from a bank account!

Revaluations of Property

“The rateable value of all properties in Jersey is based on their notional rental value in 2003 adjusted, first, to ensure that similar properties had the same rateable value, and then adjusted to reflect any significant changes to the properties that have taken place since 2003. Under the Rates Law, it is not possible to undertake a mass revaluation of all properties in the Island.  ”

“This means that for many ratepayers, the rateable value of their properties has not changed since 2005. While this does provide a degree of certainty for ratepayers, it also means that rateable values in 2014 do not reflect changes in relative property values over the past eleven years””

“A revaluation exercise would however allow an adjustment to the proportion of total rates paid in respect of different types of property to reflect the current value of those properties. If, for example, offices are proportionally more valuable now in comparison to other commercial properties than they were in 2003, then the proportion of rates paid by offices could be increased while the rates paid on other types of commercial property would fall.”

In fact this is a gross over simplification. Any changes or improvements to properties since 2003 have been reflected in rates. It does not appear that the preparers of the report have talked to rates assessors anyway. As the current system

“PwC suggest that taxpayers could be asked to assess the value of the property themselves. Another option could be to undertake a revaluation exercise of all domestic properties in the Island on a regular basis, such as every five or ten years, and base assessments on that. “

So in addition to rates, either a costly revaluation could be done of the whole island – and that better be done in one go, or the burden for valuation falls on the ratepayer – an extra expense. And how can it be guaranteed that this is more “objective” than the existing system.

There was a disaster in the 1980s, under the time when Len Downer was Constable in St Brelade, when the revaluations (after all it is a large exercise) could not be done in one year. The result was one year in which half the Parish was one on revalued properties, and half on the unrevalued properties, some rates rising by 14%, some relatively static. If anyone thinks that a revaluation of a large Parish is a simple system, they should think again.

If the revaluation comes from professional valuers, who is paying for them? The Parish or the States, in which case the burden will again shift to the rate payer or the tax payer.

The current system, we are told:

“is not set up to raise significant revenues: The current rates system allows a low level of revenue to be raised in an efficient way, but it would struggle to collect significantly higher sums, if the States decided to increase the amount of tax raised from property.”

So here we have the core of the reform – to allow the States to grab more from the Island rate! Quite how “significantly higher sums” coheres with not “raising additional revenues” is another matter, but I suppose a policy which describes itself as “coherent” is unlikely to be so.And how much higher will the Island rate go?

And there is more on this:

“The current system allows for very few reliefs for those who cannot pay, and it is left to the discretion of the parish authorities to waive or reduce the rates assessment in the case of genuine hardship. This is possible when rates are set at very low levels, but would be more difficult to apply in a consistent manner if rates assessments were higher and more people found it difficult to pay. A modern property tax system would build in targeted reliefs, so that those on the lowest incomes were protected from the effects of the tax. “

“The current rates system is efficient and cost-effective to administer. However, if a larger amount of revenue was to be collected, it may not be possible or appropriate to continue to rely on the goodwill of volunteer assessors and parish authorities.”

So instead of a fairly simple system, cheap to administer, we are having suggested a more complex system, with a calculation of reliefs, perhaps not unlike the tax system, and instead of volunteer assessors, we are talking a paid professional workforce. How much that will cost is another matter, but you can be sure that it means rates will rise!

The bottom line, never states, but I suspect lurking beneath the surface is to move to a rating system which is collected centrally, and then handed out to the Parishes. It is a move towards the Government and County Council system in the UK.

Do Parishes want to lose control of their finances? This question is nowhere asked, not surprisingly, but it is clearly implicit in the recommendations.

Installments

I do think one deficiency of the current system is the problem for those on lower incomes to pay. Most Parishes do permit an instalment system, but it is on request. Yet income tax is collected on an instalment system (ITIS), and property insurance (often pretty hefty) can also be paid by standing order. It is about time the Parishes bit the bullet, and started to suggest a standing order system for repayment, initially perhaps over 3 months, but gradually to a twelve month period.

The move to a three monthly instalment system would ease the burden on the rate payer, but also would mean that Parish revenues would not be significantly effected, especially if it had to take the first instalment immediately, so balancing the time displacement of revenue against those who pay their rates towards the end of the period for payment anyway.

Windfall Tax and Capital Gains Tax

“Introducing a land development tax to tax the owner of land which has increased sharply in value as a result of a States decision to change the use to which it can be put. “

Former Deputy Daniel Wimberley tried to get this through the States, and it is a suggestion which has considerable merit. It ensures the States gets some benefit from the “windfall” that rezoning land can bring to the owner and developer.

“Charging all property owners, apart from owner-occupiers of residential properties, on the uplift in the value of their property which is not attributable to their own efforts when they sell, subject to the introduction of a rate of return allowance or some other measure to limit the amount charged to tax”

This seems much more difficult to implement. Do you consider itemised bills on improvements done, and how do you incorporate these into the value of the property? How exactly do you limit the amount charged? In effect, this is a capital gains tax, but it is only specified in the vaguest of terms.

I think the French system is much better and simpler. Charge a 100% capital gains tax for the first year, and then on a sliding percentage scale, so that after so many years (perhaps 5 or 10), it reduces to zero. It discourages speculators, but means that those who invest time into improving their property can benefit from it.


Wednesday, 30 July 2014

Double, double, toil and trouble

“A rift between the Channel Islands and the Diocese of Winchester could cost hundreds of thousands of pounds more than what was initially reported, it has been revealed. The islands split with the diocese over the handling of an abuse complaint.  The Church of England previously said it had spent £190,000 on the rift. But, a leading lay member of the Church in Jersey has suggested it has cost £645,000, which has been disputed by The Diocese of Winchester.” (BBC News)

Is this a self-appointed “leading” lay member of the Church in Jersey? I was under the impression that the New Testament was all about humility, and didn’t Jesus have some rather strong put downs for those who sought status and power among his own disciples.

In fact, this “leading lay member” is so reticent that they don’t even give their name, while at the same time making all kinds of allegations about cost. It is all rather cowardly. Anyway, anyone following the story can probably guess who this individual is likely to be.

Of course what we can see happening is more stirring the pot. Rather than looking for better relations with England, this seems designed to make matters worse. Blessed are the troublemakers... – I think not. I think I’d sooner bless the cheesemakers.

In fact this whole business of making mischief seems less akin to something Christians do, and more like something from the witches of Macbeth, who appropriately mention a “crapaud” (perhaps a prophetic saying about a "leading" lay member of the Church in Jersey):

In the poison'd entrails throw.—
Toad, that under cold stone,
Days and nights has thirty-one;
Swelter'd venom sleeping got,
Boil thou first i' the charmed pot!

The Dog Days of Summer

 “Park wardens and government workers are being given powers to police dog-fouling in Jersey. Transport and Technical Services staff (TTS) and park wardens will check dog owners are clearing up after their pets in the island's parks and beaches.  No-one has been prosecuted under the scheme so far. TTS Minister, Deputy Kevin Lewis, said it was very difficult to monitor the problem, but extending powers was the best hope. The wardens have been given legal authority to approach and take the details of people in parks who do not clear up after their dogs. Tony Andrews, Director of St Helier Parks and Gardens, said this could then lead to owners being prosecuted. He said: "If there is a genuine mistake and the owner wasn't sure the dog had done that then it will be words of advice. "The wardens have the power to take that person to a parish hall inquiry and if they are not happy they can go to court. The regulations are strong, they are there, it is just a case of getting it policed. (BBC News)

“It is just a case of getting it policed” is probably the most significant statement there! Dog owners in sight of other people will usually clear up dog mess, and it is those out of sight who usually let matters slip by. They think – “no one has seen me, I’ll just leave this”. It is a very selfish attitude, but one that is very hard to police.  And how many wardens are there, and how many places where dog owners can go that are out of sight?

I suppose perhaps the main town parks could be addressed, but how what counts as a success? How much does it cost for a park warden to patrol and ensure that no fouling has taken place? It also mentions powers given to TTS Staff. Are these people going to carry some form of identification?

And suppose the warden confronts an individual? Will they get a genuine name? There is no legal requirement for anyone to carry ID. A person might just have a dog, some car keys, and a bag for dog mess – or not, if they are caught.

In short, this is about as effective as a litter law. I walk around a number of country walks, including St Brelade’s Bay, where there are bins in plenty, and there is still litter left around. At Les Creux, I saw a litter bin with rubbish scattered around its base – and it was not full. Empty tins, crisp packets, cigarette butts – dumped by lazy people.

Unless there are people apprehended, fines, and good publicity on that, enough to put the fear of god into people, they won’t break the habit of a lifetime. Even then, they’ll probably just be more circumspect about dog mess or litter, but at least it may deter some people. But I can’t see cases getting to Court.

“It is just a case of getting it policed” is a masterly piece of understatement!

Tuesday, 29 July 2014

Philip Ozouf: Some Questions and Observations

Unanswered Question on Plemont

When he was supplying all that information about funding Plemont, was Philip Ozouf aware of the budget, and the projected deficit?

As readers may remember, money was channelled from the criminal confiscation fund to the police HQ budget, releasing money earmarked for that to go back to central reserves, and therefore available to help fund the purchase of Plemont.

There’s a gap of only about two weeks before his presentation of financing the purchase of Plemont, and the news that there is a shortfall in the States accounting. I find it hard to believe that came like a bolt from the blue, and he had absolutely no idea when he was sorting out the finance arrangements.

And why can’t he plug at least some of it by an extra transfer from the confiscation fund to the new police HQ build, and using that to feed some much needed funds back into the central reserves? After all, he has set a precedent!

Selling the Family Silver

The chances are the shortfall will be dealt with by selling off some of the States property portfolio, and perhaps shares in the electricity and water companies. This is not good business practice. It is a one off “get out of jail card”, and what happens when the same problem arises, and the funding has gone. We will not be passing “Go”, or collecting anything on the way.

Moreover, the steep price rises, and poor maintenance of infrastructure (certainly with regard to water utilities) in the UK show what happens. The consumer is secondary to the shareholder, and prices rise for shareholders to get better dividends. At the moment we can ensure a fair return, but not excessive, is made, and the infrastructure is not neglected. Do we really want the UK route?

Twitter

On twitter, yesterday morning.

Vote.je ‏@Voteje
The work of elected States members is divided into a number of areas. What do they do? http://bit.ly/1ozfm9e    #voteje

But if you clicked on this, you got the website:
http://www.vote.je/why-vote/what-states-members-do/

With a blank page!

Not particularly helpful, although Reg Langlois will probably have fun with it!

It now has been corrected by the time you read this, and instead of a blank page, something has tuned up, as Mr Micawber said.

Summer Break

A reminder that the summer sees less blogging and shorter blogging!

Monday, 28 July 2014

Stuart Syvret: A Case of Timing

The Case of Stuart Syvret

Former Health Minister Stuart Syvret has been ordered to pay debts of almost £68,000 to the Treasurer. The Royal Court ruled today (Friday) that the Treasury was entitled to claim back the cost of legal fees relating to previous court battles.  But Mr Syvret argued that Judge Howard Page QC was conflicted and the court was corrupt, in that the Judge was "friends with the Prosecution." He asked the Judge to "recuse himself" and step down from the case on the grounds of bias, but his application was declined.  Mr Syvret claims the debts that the Treasurer is seeking are unjustified. He said, "The purported debts against me have no validity, they are fraudulent and have been obtained through dishonesty." He claims the Treasurer is pursuing the debts illegally in order to bankrupt him so that he cannot stand for election in October. (CTV News)

The former Senator applied to the court for an adjournment and then an appeal against the case. Howard Page QC said, "We will not allow you to use this court as a platform for your wider views." He ruled, "We are not prepared to grant you further extension of time. This is simply a matter of debt outstanding." Mr Syvret says he will now appeal against the court's refusal to grant an appeal.

I see Stuart Syvret is in Court. There is no way on earth he has £68,000 and they must know that. I am not too up to date with the Jersey law, but assuming it works like the UK law, if he cannot pay, they can enforce bankruptcy proceedings.
 
Timing is clearly significant. Why on earth has there been a delay until now? It could have been enforced months ago, after all, it is not likely there is a rich old granny, waiting in the wings, about to die! And even if there were, if bankrupt, the Court could claim the monies anyway. After all, the costs relate to Syvret's 2011 conviction for data protection offences and a failed attempt to sue the States.
 
Which means that while the debt is not "fraudulent" - he has incurred the debts - the timing may not be not "simply a matter of debt outstanding". I cannot see that the Court would delay matters out of the kindness of its heart. One month or three months is unlikely to impact on his inability to pay.

It therefore certain appears to be at least partly political in motivation. If he has also had this action threatened once before, once the Pitman's lost their seat, the clear intention is to force bankruptcy before the election nominations, or before he has a chance to declare himself as a candidate.

"It's interesting that these debts appeared to have been forgotten about until the day after the two deputorial seats were declared vacant when the Pitmans were bankrupted out of the States," he said. "Suddenly after several years these debts were resurrected and two enforcement officers came pounding at my door telling me to turn up at court and that was the day after the two seats were declared vacant.
"That effectively stopped me and intimidated me from being a candidate"

Now the claim must have been initiated by the Treasurer of the States, or on her behalf, but she has resigned. That leaves a bit of a hiatus so one has to wonder if the Treasury Minister was involved in the action? Could this indeed be another reason Laura Rowley decided to call it a day? But, with her gone and a successor yet to be officially appointed, just who is pulling the strings and making decisions at Treasury?

Summer Holidays

Now the summer is upon is, this blog will have a bit of a rest. There will be fewer and shorter postings as I want to enjoy the sunshine, and get some healthy walking!
 

Sunday, 27 July 2014

The Price of a Soul.

There is an interesting question which has been suggested as a social experiment. How much would you be prepared to sell your soul for? Would you sell it for £10? If in all seriousness, I offered to buy your soul from you, would you sell it to me?

I suspect that quite a few people would not, and even those who did, would feel uncomfortable about what they had done, even if they were staunch atheists. There is something rather unsettling about the idea.

What precisely is a soul? I remember that Donald Soper, when he went on his soapbox at Hyde Park, was once heckled by someone who asked him what shape a soul was. Quick as a flash, Lord Soper replied "Oblong. Next question please". That of course, was merely a ruse, and a bit of sharp repartee by someone who was a master of speaking in Hyde Park and dealing with heckles. It doesn't really tell us anything about what he thought, or whether a soul is oblong or not.

There are clearly dictionary  ideas of a soul, and they come down to the idea that the soul is a kind of essence of what makes us human, which can be thought of as incorporeal. But it can be difficult to pin down exactly what is meant.

When Johann Tetzel said in the 16th century ""As soon as a coin in the coffer rings / the soul from purgatory springs" (or is purported to have said), his idea of a "soul" was perhaps more like a ghost, a kind of shadow person. Certainly the ways people are depicted in paintings of the period suggest souls are embodied in some form.

In the ancient Pagan world, most Greeks followed Homer in believing that the soul was an insubstantial shadow, which lived an impoverished existence in the underworld after death

In fact, it is very hard to picture something disembodied, and certainly impossible to portray it in any visual form except perhaps symbolically.  But perhaps part of the problem is that we think of souls in terms of essence rather than process.

It is easy to say that the soul is the essential part of who we are, in other words, what makes me myself, despite changes in my physical appearance. But how do we mix identity and change?

The waterfall is an analogy which has been used here. The water is constantly flowing, continually changing, and yet the pattern of the water as it falls (let's not be too fussy about erosion) remains the same as we watch it happen. We have both continual change, and an unchanging pattern.

But whether we identify soul with self, or think it is something different, may well depend on different religious perspectives. What is certain is that there is quite a strong folk-belief entrenched in our culture and mythology about the existence of souls. That is why even atheists may find it unsettling to sell their souls.

They may not believe that souls exist, but that is in the realm of the intellect, and as Freud and Jung showed us, we are not creatures of pure rationality. Subconsciously, to sell a soul means giving someone else some kind of power over you. It may not be rational. But we are not rational either. The idea that we are simply very sophisticated computers is an importation of a false metaphor which over simplifies the complexity of biological organisms.

Some people, of course, may have already sold their soul. In 2010, Game Maker introduced a special "immortal soul clause" to the contract signed before making online purchases. It read:

"By placing an order via this Web site on the first day of the fourth month of the year 2010 Anno Domini, you agree to grant Us a non transferable option to claim, for now and for ever more, your immortal soul. Should We wish to exercise this option, you agree to surrender your immortal soul, and any claim you may have on it, within 5 (five) working days of receiving written notification from gamesation.co.uk or one of its duly authorised minions."

And it went on to provide an opt out clause:

"We reserve the right to serve such notice in 6 (six) foot high letters of fire, however we can accept no liability for any loss or damage caused by such an act. If you a) do not believe you have an immortal soul, b) have already given it to another party, or c) do not wish to grant Us such a license, please click the link below to nullify this sub-clause and proceed with your transaction."

Very few people actually read these clauses, but if they had, they may have noted that this clause was inserted on 1st April!

So would you sell your soul? The most famous story about this, and one I really liked, was Robert Louis Stephenson's  short story "The Bottle Imp".

Keawe, a poor Native Hawaiian, buys a strange bottle from a sad, elderly gentleman who credits the bottle with his fortune. He promises that an imp residing in the bottle will also grant Keawe his every desire.

Of course, there is a catch - the bottle must be sold at a loss, i.e. for less than its owner originally paid, or else it will simply return to him. The currency used in the transaction must also be in coin (not paper money or a bank cheque/check). The bottle may not be thrown or given away. If you throw it away, or give it away, it just returns.

All of these commands must be transmitted from each seller to each purchaser. If an owner of the bottle dies without having sold it in the prescribed manner, that person's soul will burn for eternity in Hell.

It can be read online here, and I'm not going to give the ending away.
http://gaslight.mtroyal.ab.ca/bottlimp.htm

Saturday, 26 July 2014

Last Battleground

The background for this is the conflict in Gaza and Israel. At the centre of the conflict is ideology and belief, yet at the periphery is the greater truth, that those involved in the conflict are genetically from the same stem, very close genetically. It would not be too far a metaphor to call them brothers, but brothers tied up in a conflict which no one seems able to resolve, each intent on the destruction of the other. Hence the reference in this poem to the ancient story of Cain and Abel.
 
Hamas has pledged the annihilation of Israel, and Israel will not meekly accept this, but it fights indiscriminately, and the children suffer, the massacre of the innocent, another story with resonance here. And killing the innocent never achieves your aim.
 
And lastly, the title of the poem, and its last lines bring to mind another conflict. There is an episode of Star Trek by the same name, about two races at war with each other because each sees the other as different, and as an enemy. Both these aliens are black and white.  Half of their body is black and half white. But one is black on the right side and one is black on the left. Spock suggests that they must have a common ancestor, but they cannot see that, and how close alike they actually are. They are too bound up in the conflict.
 
Last Battleground
 
You cannot see how alike you are
It is your near cousins that you slay
The genetic distance close, not far
Formed from earth, the same clay
 
Rockets fired, death alone has reign
It is once again like Herod's time
Massacre of children, mark of Cain
O why can't you see this is a crime?
 
Your cousins just wanting to destroy
Fire rockets against you, killing more
Never minding deaths of girl or boy
In the never ceasing, endless war
 
Let this be your last battleground, end all
Lest in pride and arrogance, you fall