Monday, 31 March 2008

Paganism ancient and modern

I had an interesting discussion with a member of the Pagan federation at the weekend. What struck me most was the degree in which the supposed "information" about Wicca in particular, but other forms of neopaganism as well, is derived from a kind of Chinese whispers in which it is disseminated by books, magazines, the internet, but very little accurate checking of sources takes place.

Some of the stuff is plain nonsense. One article I glanced at berated Christians and Muslims for their Holy Wars, and said that Paganism was not like that, it was a peace loving belief. That may be true of modern neopaganism, but ancient paganism was just as violent and bloody. What tends to happen is that all the records - for instance one of the earliest being the death pits at Ur - are either taken as another form of paganism, but not the one we follow, or any records which describe druids, for example, as involved in human sacrifice, or decapitating enemies, is brushed aside as Roman propaganda, as if the Romans were a gentle peace loving people who wanted to portray their enemies in the worst light. (All the animal sacrifice of the Roman Empire is ignored; all the human sacrifice in the Middle East is glossed over.) Given than Roman paganism was quite happy to indulge in mass crucifixions on enemies, burnings, sending Christians into the area to be devoured by wild beasts, it is unlikely that they would have made that kind of moral argument. If anything, they would have reported it because it was their opponents alternative way of waging war, and therefore instructive to know about.

Druids and mistletoe: it is worth noting that mistletoe was, until fairly recently, rarely found in Scotland and did not grow in Ireland until its introduction in the 18th century. So when we read "The holy magic of the mistletoe was well known to the druids", we have to wonder: if it was so important, why didn't the druids in Ireland introduce it there? In fact, the sole source for this is Pliny the Elder, who was a great collator of miscellaneous information, but whose critical sense was non-existence; he never seems to have worried about checking his tales, which is why he reports that one of the attributes of garlic is that by rubbing it, one can de-magnetise loadstones (magnets)! His works are full of this - a mix of accurate stuff, and bogus stuff, all lumped together. The "Golden Bough" of its day!

Halloween or Samhain: this is the 31st October, when the druids and ancient celtic peoples celebrated the time of the dead, or some such stuff, and has been taken over by the Church. But what on earth were the druids doing adopting a fixed Roman calendar for a date? What did they do before that calendar existed? It is more likely that - if they did celebrate such a day - it would have been the astronomical cross-quarter day, which is not a fixed date. There is no evidence they ever adopted a Roman calendar of fixed dates (and how would it have shifted with the Gregorian reform to the Julian calendar which put the solar year back on track?) As usual, lots of nonsense spouted by people who don't stop to think.

Then there is the old idea that witchcraft was an underground pagan religion, most popularised by Margaret Murray on the basis of very selective evidence from Scottish witchcraft trials. Murray carefully selected all the parts the trial records which would support her thesis, and deliberately fudged numbers so she could have enough for her ideas about a coven. Modern historians, examining all the records, and not just Scottish ones, have come to a more complex conclusion, and one that finds no credence for Murray's views. We actually have some records where notes were smuggled out from those in prison, and they tell a story of being forced to answer questions to matters they didn't believe in as Christians, but because their accusers were simply prepared to torture the truth that they wanted to hear.

What of the hereditary witch, who gained her knowledge from her mother or grandmother?

Jenny Gibbons gives one description of this:

"One woman had her grandmother's diary, which contained a couple herbal remedies. From these two recipes, she deduced that gran must have been a Witch, part of an ancient tradition stretching back to the Stone Age."

This is probably why some people say things like:

"As a Hereditary witch, I think I could also be classed as a Hedgewitch, because although I have the gift from my mother, I express it through herbs and such."

From the studies of Owen Davies, it seems clear that this kind of muddled thinking is typical. What may happen is that some things are passed down - perhaps herbal remedies, charms, incantations - what would be better called folk-custom. The individual invariable comes across modern literature on Wicca etc, and absorbs that and what happens is a kind of cultural contamination, where the new knowledge swamps the old, and changes its significance. What this also has to do with is priority claims - basing authority on something inherited, rather than the Wicca that is known to be largely the creation of Gerald Gardner. It is interesting that one of the earliest breakaway groups was Alexandrian Wicca - the tradition founded by Alex Sanders. For many years Sanders insisted he was a Hereditary Witch, taught by his grandmother, but he eventually confessed to basing his tradition upon Gardnerian teachings.

The Farrars, who have been involved in the Gardnerian form of Wicca, note that:

Over 30 years, we have seen no evidence to suggest modern Wiccan practise goes back beyond the 1950's. In fact, we have plenty of evidence to the opposite. We do not feel that this invalidates modern Witchcraft, quite the reverse: although the practise is young, the underlying philosophies are ancient and still valid, even in today's modern society. For us witchcraft is a dynamic, evolving tradition which will has survived for this reason. We believe that the likes of Gardner, Sanders etc. did what was right for their period of history; we feel it is important that we should do what is right for ours! They did make mistakes, but don't we all - its all part of the learning process.

Friday, 28 March 2008

Completely ludicrous memes for which there is no evidence

Came across this quotation:

Moderate believers implicitly encourage the idea that faith is something to be respected - that it's all right to believe in
completely ludicrous things for which there is no evidence. - Susan Blackmore

It might be a good argument, or the start of one, if it didn't come from someone who describes themselves as "psychologist and memeticist Susan Blackmore" on her website, and who has written a whole volume about the existence of memes "The Meme Machine". Where's the evidence, Susan?

When you see religions as mind viruses that evolved over thousands of years in competition with other, similar, mind viruses, it's easy to see why they have acquired the powerful adaptations they have....Religious memes capture people's time to get themselves spread. Just as the common cold virus makes people sneeze to get itself spread, so religions make people sings hymns and say prayers, and chant and so spread the word of God. They also induce them to part with large sums of money to build glorious mosques, churches and synagogues and to pay the wages of priests who in turn spread the word of God. And how did they get this way? They got this way because less effective versions of the religions, with less dangerous tricks and weapons, failed to infect enough people.

Analogy is not proof. C.S. Lewis, writing many years ago, described this mode of argument as "Bulverism". Bulverism is a logical fallacy where rather than proving that an argument is wrong, a person instead assumes it is wrong, and then goes on to explain why the other person held that argument. It is essentially a circumstantial ad hominem argument. He noted that:

"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 so silly."

He also notes how this method works, and in a good deal of detail, shows how it is fallacious, and how the user - in this case Susan Blackmore - assumes that her own beliefs are somehow "pure" and "immune" to these "memes"; she has, in other words, claimed a priveliged position, on which she can see how people believe silly things.

Here is Lewis in detail on the problem:

The Freudians have discovered that we exist as bundles of complexes. The Marxians have discovered that we exist as members of some economic class. In the old days it was supposed that if a thing seemed obviously true to a hundred men, then it was probably true in fact. Nowadays the Freudian will tell you to go and analyze the hundred: you will find that they all think Elizabeth [I] a great queen because they all have a mother-complex. Their thoughts are psychologically tainted at the source. And the Marxist will tell you to go and examine the economic interests of the hundred; you will find that they all think freedom a good thing because they are all members of the bourgeoisie whose prosperity is increased by a policy of laissez-faire. Their thoughts are "ideologically tainted" at the source. Now this is obviously great fun; but it has not always been noticed that there is a bill to pay for it. There are two questions that people who say this kind of thing ought to be asked. The first is, are all thoughts thus tainted at the source, or only some? The second is, does the taint invalidate the tainted thought - in the sense of making it untrue - or not?

If they say that all thoughts are thus tainted, then, of course, we must remind them that Freudianism and Marxism are as much systems of thought as Christian theology or philosophical idealism. The Freudian and Marxian are in the same boat with all the rest of us, and cannot criticize us from outside. They have sawn off the branch they were sitting on. If, on the other hand, they say that the taint need not invalidate their thinking, then neither need it invalidate ours. In which case they have saved their own branch, but also saved ours along with it. The only line they can really take is to say that some thoughts are tainted and others are not - which has the advantage (if Freudians and Marxians regard it as an advantage) of being what every sane man has always believed. But if that is so, we must then ask how you find out which are tainted and which are not. It is no earthly use saying that those are tainted which agree with the secret wishes of the thinker. Some of the things I should like to believe must in fact be true; it is impossible to arrange a universe which contradicts everyone's wishes, in every respect, at every moment. Suppose I think, after doing my accounts, that I have a large balance at the bank. And suppose you want to find out whether this belief of mine is "wishful thinking." You can never come to any conclusion by examining my psychological condition. Your only chance of finding out is to sit down and work through the sum yourself. When you have checked my figures, then, and then only, will you know whether I have that balance or not. If you find my arithmetic correct, then no amount of vapouring about my psychological condition can be anything but a waste of time. If you find my arithmetic wrong, then it may be relevant to explain psychologically how I came to be so bad at my arithmetic, and the doctrine of the concealed wish will become relevant - but only after you have yourself done the sum and discovered me to be wrong on purely arithmetical grounds. It is the same with all thinking and all systems of thought. If you try to find out which are tainted by speculating about the wishes of the thinkers, you are merely making a fool of yourself. You must find out on purely logical grounds which of them do, in fact, break down as arguments. Afterwards, if you like, go on and discover the psychological causes of the error.

If some of the thinkers like Dawkins or Blackmore took notice of this, we'd have a little less of the "mind virus" nonsense.

If I was going to be naughty, I'd ask: can a "virus of the mind" show up visibly as a side-effect, for instance, in funny hair colouring that really doesn't suit someone, so that they don't notice it?

Rumor has winged feet like Mercury

I've seen this allegation posted on a number of sites:

"Media reporting of the breaking child abuse and murder scandal in Jersey have conspicuously omitted to mention that Governor of the Jersey Home for Boys (Haut de la Garenne) during the 1970s and 1980s was the island's current Bailiff, Sir Philip Martin Bailhache KGB. "

No one ever has any kind of documentary evidence to show it is true!

I am rapidly coming to the conclusion that this allegation is a confusion between Haut de La Garenne and Victoria College.Sir Philip Bailhache was chairman of the governors at Victoria College in the early 1980s when Jack Hydes was Headmaster. This can be checked in the JEP records of that time, especially with regard to the annual prize-giving ceremonies. It makes sense, because he was a distinguished Old Victorian (and is now a trustee for the Victoria College Foundation).

That does not mean that he was in any way complicit or informed about the concealment of the abuse cases there - in particular, he was not mentioned in the Sharp report, which did mentioned all the people who were involved, including one prominent member of the board of governors, Francis Hamon (another Old Victorian).

The other related allegation doing the rounds is that is that Sir Philip Bailhache is a freemason. The unstated conclusion is that he must therefore be part of a Masonic conspiracy to cover matters up

However, if those stating this, checked their facts, they would find - on a freemasonry site - the following:

"A garden for residents of Les Amis in St Saviour, Jersey, a charity associated with the local Mencap, has been provided by the island's freemasons from its 1999 and 2000 collections. The main objective is to offer care and support in residential settings to adults with learning difficulties. The Province of Jersey organised the design, obtained planning permission and arranged for the contractors to undertake the work. Sir Philip Bailhache, Bailiff of Jersey, opened the garden. Although he is not a mason, his father and grandfather were, the latter being Deputy PGM between 1947 and 1959."

So it is pretty clear that Sir Philip Bailhache is not a freemason.

I know this will be unpalatable to those who like conspiracy theories (with Masonic influence), but whatever one may think of the Baillif - and I think he is completely and wholly wrong to take the "no need to apologise" line at a time when the Australian government has done the opposite (I've posted on that before on this blog) - let's have some solid facts rather than half-baked rumours.

"Some report elsewhere whatever is told them; the measure of fiction always increases, and each fresh narrator adds something to what he has heard."

[Lat., Hi narrata ferunt alio; mensuraque ficti
Crescit et auditus aliquid novus adjicit auctor.]
- Ovid (Publius Ovidius Naso), Metamorphoses
(XII, 57)

A particular combination of talents

In the Yes, Minister episode, "The Bed of Nails", the Prime Minister's special advisor, Sir Mark Spencer, is meeting with the Cabinet Secretary, Sir Arnold Robinson, in 10 Downing Street. They are seeking a minister who would be willing to take on the implementation of the new Integrated National Transport Policy.

Sir Arnold: It calls for a particular combination of talents, lots of activity but no actual achievement
Sir Mark: I see, then Hacker is the man.

Hearing the recent press release by Frank Walker, it seems that what he is asking for is:

a) a public inquiry, possibly chaired by an eminent QC, with "full legal powers" - whatever that means is not spelt out, but I imagine it means that in accordance with a public inquiry of this nature, legal immunity will be granted to those taking part. It does not mean, even if the hint of a suggestion is there, that the inquiry will be involved in the judicial process.

b) the inquiry to start only after all criminal and civil cases relating to the abuse have been heard

Why is this?
Any person summoned before a Committee of Enquiry, or who gives evidence to such a committee – immediately gains immunity from criminal prosecution for any matter being considered by the Committee.

So in conclusion, this means the inquiry, as noted on Channel Television last night, is unlikely to take place before 2010, possibly later. It would therefore seem premature to announce that one will be set up - note the paragraph

Until police investigations are completed, it remains unclear exactly what questions will remain unanswered at the end of the process and any proposition lodged now may need to be amended.

Why then have an inquiry proposed at this juncture, when it really is just an appearance of activity, or, as Sir Arnold says " a particular combination of talents, lots of activity but no actual achievement"?

The Chief Minister's full statement reads: "The Chief Minister, Senator Frank Walker, is asking the Council of Ministers to consider proposing a public inquiry into all the issues surrounding allegations of historic abuse at the island's children's homes.

The Chief Minister and the Council of Ministers have made it clear since the announcement of the historic child abuse police enquiry that all required resources will be made available to enable the investigation and any subsequent criminal proceedings to be completed effectively. At this time this must be the top priority for the Island.

After criminal proceedings have been completed, there may still be unanswered questions about the way in which children have been cared for in Jersey in previous decades. The Chief Minister believes that the only way to ensure that there is total transparency in relation to this issue is for a full public inquiry to be held in due course and he hopes the Council of Ministers and all members of the States will share this view.

Until police investigations are completed, it remains unclear exactly what questions will remain unanswered at the end of the process and any proposition lodged now may need to be amended.

If the Council of Ministers agree to the proposal, they will ask the States to agree that, once the present police investigation into historic child abuse in Jersey and any associated criminal proceedings are concluded, a Committee of Inquiry should be established in accordance with Standing Order 146 in order to investigate any issues which remain unresolved in relation to the operation and management of Jersey's Children's services, and in particular Haut de la Garenne and all other care homes for children in Jersey from 1945 until 2000, with the membership and terms of reference of the Committee of Inquiry to be agreed by the States at that time."

"There have been suggestions of cover-ups, there have been suggestions of a lack of robust investigations, all of these will be I think comprehensively answered by the fact that we want to have a fully independent committee of inquiry with full legal powers, chaired I hope by an eminent QC from the UK. And we will then demonstrate that we are doing everything we possibly can and doing it in a thoroughly open way which I'm sure everybody in Jersey demands and would expect from us." - Senator Frank Walker

Thursday, 27 March 2008

The Treaty of Lisbon

The Treaty of Lisbon is one more step on the road to a Federated Europe, but I would not see it as the final one. At the moment, the UK still possesses a measure of economic independence (taxation, interest rates) and we have still not joined the single currency.

As far as an ideal goes, a federal Europe has a lot going for it; as far as the reality goes, just look at the Auditor's signing off the European budget for the last 10 (or more years); they won't because the accounting is so bad.

Looking at the Danes and the French the last time there was actually any attempt to find out what ordinary people wanted - rather than impose it from above - a lot of other people do not like the idea of a vast Federated Europe with even less democratic checks and balances than it has at present (which are few enough).

As Tony Benn noted:

"Of course Europe must cooperate for the benefit of all its peoples, and the world, but that cooperation must be on a democratic basis that underpins and entrenches the rights of all its citizens to govern themselves through their own elected parliaments, harmonizing their policies slowly and by consent in line with the wide variations in the conditions that each face."

The EU fails the defining and fundamental test of democracy, because the people have no power to sack their rulers. This is how the European Commissioners get elected:

On 29 June this year the EU Heads of State or Government nominated José Manuel Barroso to succeed Romano Prodi as head of the Commission. Mr Barroso's nomination was approved by the European Parliament on 22 July by 413 votes to 251, with 44 abstentions. The President-elect then put together his team of 24 Commissioners, one from each Member State, and allocated them their portfolios.

Not much scope for the bod in the street to have their say....

So, in summary, I think some of the negative comments about the EU are justified by the facts, for instance:

a) controls on the EU budget so poor the auditors won't sign them off
b) unelected commissioners making law and policy decisions
c) Poor democratic checks and controls

Regarding "sovereignty", I find it interesting that the unity of geographic areas under one "state" umbrella is so often taken for granted; it is, of course, largely the result of accidents of history, some involving land-grabbing territorial invasions, others involving accidents of inheritance by rulers (e.g. James I of England=James VI of Scotland).

On definition of the State , according the philosopher David Copp ("The Idea of a Legitimate State.") is that state is "a system of animated institutions that govern the territory and its residents, and that administer and enforce the legal system and carry out the programs of government"

But given that this has arisen by historical accident, it often has no mechanisms or means of dealing with dissent, and peoples who have been - in the past - welded into the whole, to the detriment of their own minority culture; equally, separatist movements have no well-thought out mechanisms for withdrawal. The result is often a power struggle, sometimes a violent one, which is really not the best way for intelligent people to work things out.

With the EU - looking at that definition of State, it is clear that the EU is moving towards a kind of State - "a system of animated institutions that govern the territory and its residents, and that administer and enforce the legal system and carry out the programs of government" - and is thereby coming into conflict with the smaller States which make up its geographical base. Again, the same power struggle - played out in terms of sovereignty - comes into play through want of any better means of making decisions and respecting cultural diversity.

Income Support

Jersey has a new centralised income support scheme, but a letter in the JEP highlighted that people are having problems with it. A letter relating to this was in the paper yesterday (details below).

I wonder if any survey of any kind is planned to see how people are coping with the new income support scheme. This is one of several anecdotal cases of people writing to the JEP from having problems with income support.

It is not clear to me what mechanisms are in place for assessing feedback in relation to the scheme, and addressing any deficiencies; after all, it is unlikely that any brand new scheme of legislation will be perfect from the start. Lack of complaints do not necessarily mean the scheme is working well, but may just mean that people imagine that their concerns may be ignored and dismissed.

I notice from the Minutes of the Scrutiny sub-committe that they are looking at a "call for evidence" which may well address this issue "once the system has bedded in". That is mentioned in the January Minutes. Now that we are in March, and GST is only one month away, is there any definite scale for that or plans for how it is to be implemented? We shall see.

Income Support system is not doing its job

From Peter Marriott.

80 Journeaux Court,
St Helier.

I AM prompted to write this letter because it affects not only my wife and myself, but also all elderly disabled or semi-disabled persons, of whom there are many who, for various reasons, cannot use the bus.
We are 70 and 77 years old respectively and many people like us find it difficult getting on to a bus or getting to a convenient collection point, so we have to use our own cars.
We were able to maintain our limited independence with the help of the transport allowance, but that has now been removed, thereby depriving us and restricting our everyday activities which we previously enjoyed.
Other readers' comments would make the authorities reconsider, perhaps. As I see it, all the new Income Support scheme has achieved is to further humiliate the very people who need it most.

Published 26/3/2008

Wednesday, 26 March 2008

Notes on Buddhism and Peace

I think the Dalai Lama is one of the greatest men of peace that we have ever seen, but as far as Buddhism as a religion that is always peaceful goes, the historical record says otherwise.

A glance at history reveals that Buddhist organizations have not been free of the violent pursuits so characteristic of religious groups. In Tibet, from the early seventeenth century well into the eighteenth, competing Buddhist sects engaged in armed hostilities and summary executions

In Sri Lanka the 20th century civil war between the mostly Buddhist Sinhalese majority and the Hindu Tamil minority has cost 50,000 lives.

The Buddhist monk Buddhist monk Elle Gunavamsa wrote:

The sword is pulled from the [scabbard], it is
Not put back unless smeared with blood.
I turned by blood to milk to make you grow
Not for myself but for the country
My brave, brilliant soldier son
Leaving [home] to defend the motherland
That act of merit is enough
To reach Nirvāna in a future birth

In South Korea, thousands of monks of the Chogye Buddhist order fought each other with fists, rocks, fire-bombs, and clubs, in pitched battles that went on for weeks. They were vying for control of the order, the largest in South Korea, with its annual budget of $9.2 million, its additional millions of dollars in property, and the privilege of appointing 1,700 monks to various duties. The brawls partly destroyed the main Buddhist sanctuaries and left dozens of monks injured, some seriously.

I'm not saying that Buddhism is not non-violent, just that not all Buddhists, especially in Sri Lanka at the present, live up to the precepts of Buddhism, or reinterpret them to take the initiative in acts of violence.

That doesn't mean that the ideals are worthless, far from it, but we must be careful about painting too rosy a picture of how Buddhism may have worked out in practice; it is not as close to us as Christianity, and the historical picture (as with crusades, for example) is not so easily known to us. I've just summarised a few pointers to show things are not quite as rose-coloured in the Buddhism garden as might appear at first sight to be the case.

The Fall of the Roman Empire

Gibbon attributes the fall of the Roman empire largely to the introduction of Christian monasticism, when "the sacred indolence of the monks" sapped the vitality of Roman civilisation.

Gibbon was wrong!

One of the main causes of the Roman Empire's collapse was galloping inflation. While it was expanding, it was ok, but when it ceased to expand it faced major problems, from soon after the reign of Marcus Aurelius. Once the Romans stopped conquering new lands, the flow of gold into the Roman economy decreased, and the prices of goods increased. The maintenance of a standing army was an increasing burden on the Imperial treasury, and the failure of Emperors to address the problems of inflation led to a rise in depositions. In the period 186-286 AD, Rome had had 37 different emperors - 25 of whom were removed from office by assassination.

To maintain the army meant to reduce living standards back home, and so the defence budget was cut over time, meaning that borders were ill-defended against invasion.

Monks didn't come into it. If anything, at this stage, the monasteries became the few surviving centres of learning (if they survived) preserving texts (such as the codifications of Roman law and learning) as the rest of the Western Roman Empire collapsed under internal pressures and barbarian invasions.

Life of Brian's Multitude of Messiahs

The First Century was rife with Messianic claimants (examples below), but because most people don't study the histories of the period, they think that Jesus was the only one around. In fact, Monty Python's Life of Brian was closer to the truth than people realise!
We have, as a minimum list around this period:
  • Judas the Gallilean
  • Theudas
  • the "Egyptian" (unnamed)
  • the "imposter" (unnamed)
  • Menahem
  • Bar Kokba
What happened to them? They were either killed by the Romans, or fled capture. Either way, they were never heard of again. Their followers were killed, or dispersed, and they were not heard of again either! The movements died with the leaders.
Oh, I missed out Brian!

From Josephus it appears that in the first century before the destruction of the Temple a number of Messiahs arose promising relief from the Roman yoke, and finding ready followers. Josephus speaks of them thus: "Another body of wicked men also sprung up, cleaner in their hands, but more wicked in their intentions, who destroyedthe peace of the city no less than did these murderers [the Sicarii]. For they were deceivers and deluders of the people, and, under pretense of divine illumination, were for innovations and changes, and prevailed on the multitude to act like madmen, and went before them in the wilderness, pretending that God would there show them signs of liberty" (Josephus, "B. J." ii. 13, §; 4; idem, "Ant." xx. 8, §; 6). Matt. xxiv. 24, warning against "false Christs and false prophets," gives testimony to the same effect. Thus about 44, Josephus reports, a certain impostor, Theudas, who claimed to be a prophet, appeared and urged the people to follow him with their belongings to the Jordan, which he would divide for them. According to Acts v. 36 (which seems to refer to a different date), he secured about 400 followers. Cuspius Fadus sent a troop of horsemen after him and his band, slew many of them, and took captive others, together with their leader, beheading the latter ("Ant." xx. 5, § 1).

Another, an Egyptian, is said to have gathered together 30,000 adherents, whom he summoned to the Mount of Olives, opposite Jerusalem, promising that at his command the walls of Jerusalem would fall down, and that he and his followers would enter and possess themselves of the city. But Felix, the procurator (c. 55-60), met the throng with his soldiery. The prophet escaped, but those with him were killed or taken, and the multitude dispersed (ib. xx. 8, § 6; "B. J." ii. 13, § 5; see also Acts xxi. 38). Another, whom Josephus styles an impostor, promised the people "deliverance and freedom from their miseries" if they would follow him to the wilderness. Both leader and followers were killed by the troops of Festus, the procurator (60-62; "Ant." xx. 8, § 10). Even when Jerusalem was already in process of destruction by the Romans, a prophet, according to Josephus suborned by the defenders to keep the people from deserting announced that God commanded them to come to the Temple, there to receive miraculous signs of their deliverance. Those who came met death in the flames ("B. J." vi. 5, § 3).

Menahem ben Judah.

Unlike these Messiahs, who expected their people's deliverance to be achieved through divine intervention, Menahem, the son of Judas the Galilean and grandson of Hezekiah, the leader of the Zealots, who had troubled Herod, was a warrior. When the war broke out he attacked Masada with his band, armed his followers with the weapons stored there, and proceeded to Jerusalem, where he captured the fortress Antonia, overpowering the troops of Agrippa II. Emboldened by his success, he behaved as a king, and claimed the leadership of all the troops. Thereby he aroused the enmity of Eleazar, another Zealot leader, and met death as a result of a conspiracy against him (ib. ii. 17, § 9). He is probably identical with the Menahem b. Hezekiah mentioned in Sanh. 98b, and called, with reference to Lam. i. 17, "the comforter " (comp. Hamburger, "R. B. T." Supplement, iii. 80).

With the destruction of the Temple the appearance of Messiahs ceased for a time. Sixty years later a politico-Messianic movement of large proportions took place with Bar Kokba at its head. This leader of the revolt against Rome was hailed as Messiah-king by Akiba, who referred to him, Num. xxiv. 17: "There shall come forth a star out of Jacob, and a scepter shall rise out of Israel, and shall smite through the corners of Moab," etc. (Yer. Ta'an. iv. 7; Lam. R. to Lam. ii. 2), and Hag. ii. 21, 22; "I will shake the heavens and the earth and I will overthrow the thrones of kingdoms. . ." (Sanh. 97b). Although some, as Johanan b. Torta (Lam. R. to Lam. ii. 2), doubted his Messiahship, he seems to have carried the nation with him for his undertaking. After stirring up a war (133-135) that taxed the power of Rome, he at last met his death on the walls of Bethar. His Messianic movement ended in defeat and misery for the survivors.

Judas the Galilean (6 CE)

Sources: Flavius Josephus, Jewish War 2.433 and Jewish Antiquities 18.1-10 and 18.23; Acts of the apostles 5.37.

Theudas (about 45 CE)
Sources: Flavius Josephus, Jewish Antiquities 20.97-98 and Acts of the apostles 5.36.

Story: Between 44 and 46 CE, one Theudas, about whom Josephus is predictably negative, caused some consternation with what seems to have been a claim to be the Messiah.


Abusive Comments and Politeness

Vitriolic attack by Senator Syvret

Interesting article by JEP with above headline (see details below). The print version also mentioned that Stuart Syvret had pointed out that (a) the notice only mentioned not filming in the States Chamber; (b) members have in the past been allowed to film without needing to obtain permission in private rooms; (c) the notice is only displayed at one of the entrances.

No comment on whether this was true or not. I would have thought that the JEP should at least check out the veracity of his comments; it is poor journalism that does not ask questions like that. By the look of the piece, they got both his account of events and the Bailiff's reply from his blog; there does not seem to be any suggestion that they checked with the Bailiff.

What is the betting that the notice that Syvret claims was there has been replaced by more comprehensive ones on all the doors?

But the JEP is not the only one to be restrictive about the truth. I have repeatedly asked Senator Syvret about the nature of the allegedly abusive emails he is supposed to have sent to his officials, but he has steadfastly (a) refused to be specific about the matter (b) not permitted my questions to appear on his blog.

In reference to another person's comments, he does address the issue, albeit in generic terms:

The profound reluctance to engage with the truth which we see manifested in your comment is, actually, one of the principle causes of the multi-decade failure to expose and punish child abusers. You, like most States members, clearly attach far higher importance to "politeness" than you do to protecting vulnerable children. It is, essentially, the cultural cringe of Jersey politics. Never mind the abuse, battery and rape of children – just as long as we're all terribly polite about it.

I think that is a completely false dichotomy. And here is an example of why.

When Esther Rantzen engages with child-care issues, she does not need to indulge in virtiolic polemic of the kind that Senator Syvret does, and yet she gets her point across, probably better, because that kind of rhetoric always suggests some kind of point-scoring. She managed to make Senator Frank Walker squirm on Newsnight because of the callousness of his infamous "shaft Jersey internationally" phrase, and she managed to do that speaking softly, politely, but firmly, and bringing the matter back to the children who had been abused. In fact, her intervention was probably more damaging to Senator Walker than Jeremy Paxman's more bruising one.

Esther Rantzen, the founder of the children's charity ChildLine, says Jersey's isolation was a large part of the reason the scandal remained hidden for so long. "Small communities, such as islands, churches or children's homes, make it very difficult for children who are suffering abuse to safely disclose it to someone," she says. "The children tend to feel that all the adults are part of the conspiracy and therefore they dare not ask for help in case it gets back to their abuser."

The idea that politeness and a "reluctance to engage with the truth" are opposed is a false dichotomy.

Vitriolic attack by Senator Syvret
By Ben Quérée

SENATOR Stuart Syvret has launched a vitriolic attack on the Bailiff after being asked to leave a room in the States Building where he was filming an interview without permission.

In an angry e-mail from Senator Syvret, who was sacked as Health Minister because of abusive verbal attacks on his staff and others, Sir Philip Bailhache was accused of 'deranged megalomania and arrogance' and a 'near-fascist approach'.

The e-mail followed an episode on 17 March when Senator Syvret was asked by an usher to leave the offices below the States Chamber, where he was being filmed by a French TV crew.

Senator Syvret demanded an explanation from the Bailiff for his actions in having him removed from a room that was not otherwise in use.

In a reply made public by Senator Syvret, Sir Philip said that there was a standard prohibition against filming inside the building, which is displayed inside the door of the main public entrance.

He added that Senator Syvret must have known about the rule because he had sought and gained the necessary permission for a television crew to film inside the States Chamber.

Tuesday, 25 March 2008

Jersey around the World

Some of these are blogs, some newspapers of the countries involved. All are concerned with Haut de La Garenne, Child Abuse in Jersey, Stuart Syvret, and invariably, some version of of the idea or phrase like "culture of concealment". Some reference Panorama.

Methinks it will be difficult to put the genie back into the bottle, unless we distribute multilingual versions of Chief Minister's press releases!

Spanish versions

German Versions,48623.html,1518,537533,00.html,1518,537913,00.html

Portuguese Versions,,MUL311284-5602,00.html

Polish Versions,40762

French Versions

Finland Versionään+todisteita+lapsenmurhista+Jerseylla/1135234349528

Swedish Versions

Denmark Version

Hungarian Version

Isle of Man



Forgiveness of Island Sins

I was trying to explain the concept of "forgiveness of sins" and some aspects of Christianity to some non-Christians the other day.

There were a few easy matters, for example, the Easter idea, mentioned in the creed that Jesus "is seated at the right hand of God". That is metaphorical language, and a local example would be to say that a "high-up official" in Jersey would not necessarily be found on the top floor of Cyril Le Marquand House!

Forgiveness of sins, however, is a very strange idea. How can one person somehow take away the sins of many others? There is no definite understanding of that in history, only various people's attempts to come up with analogies which help to point the way. For what it is worth, here is a modern one, which is presented in a dialogue.

What has happened in Australia recently?

The Prime Minister has issued an apology on behalf of the Australian government and people, for the policies that were in practice against the aboriginal peoples.

How has this been received?

For the most part, with satisfaction that something has at last been done.

Is the Prime Minister guilty of any of these practices?

No, and he was probably also born after they were dismantled.

So he is completely innocent of these offences?


How then, can he offer apologies to the aboriginal peoples? He is just one man.

Because of who he is, because of the unique position he has, as Prime Minister, he can take on this role, and offer apologies on behalf of others.

Has everyone been happy with this?

No, a few have rejected his apology.

That, in a nutshell, is one way of looking at forgiveness of sins, how one individual can stand in for many, even though innocent himself. Of course, the analogy should not be pushed too far, but it does supply a good way of looking at things, without any convoluted religious terminology.

Why have I headed this blog, forgiveness of Island Sins?

Because, curiously, what has happened in Australia, that kind of model, does not seem to apply to Jersey over the child abuse case at Haut de la Garenne. Time and again those in a position to offer an apology, the Chief Minister, the Bailiff, have said that it is not necessary, that it is not needed, that there is no need to apologise. They are innocent.

All the more reason, perhaps, why they are in the best position to give such an apology?

Monday, 24 March 2008

Planning a Disaster Area

Reading the recent JEP, and having looked at the Waterfront "Masterplan", I am rapidly coming to the conclusion that planning in Jersey - once for those of us with old memories - called Island Beauties Committee - should be renamed the Ministry of Island Uglies. Freddie Cohen can join the ranks of the Ugly Ministers who have preceded him - Nigel Querree, who soon lost his Green credentials, and John Le Sueur. The only one not to "go native" was Norman Le Brocq, who produced the Island Plan, an excellent piece of work which his successors are dismantling piece by piece.

Points in case:

a) Swansons site - one of those charmless glass, steel and concrete very rise (7 stories) office developments, towering over and completely at odds with the style of the neighbouring buildings. As usual, safety considerations are neglected - try asking the fire service how to deal with a fire on 5th storey and rescue people above! I did a study of high-rise buildings and fire safety in a submission to the present Minister for Planning regarding the high residential buildings, and it was completely ignored. Equally, as an example of exemplary design, it is lego-pseudo-Corbusier, the kind of pot-boiler architecture that passes for office building these days, and completely bland and featureless.

b) The Waterfront "Masterplan", otherwise known as the Town Sump, because of its ability to drain water and prevent Gloucester Street from being flooded. A document replete with images of various pleasant architectural facades, often in classical styles, from around the world, and leafy avenues of trees, with the rhetoric that asks the question "Wouldn't it be nice if Jersey was like this?". Well, indeed it would! I would love to see a Stockholm style facade. But I fear from the available evidence that it will be the kind of functional building of glass, concrete and steel noted in the previous paragraph. The icing on the cake is the section of a far of St Helier plan from above, with the suggestion that Jersey - as an international finance centre - needs a Waterfront office centre commensurate with that status. And then compares this with the other major centres such as London, New York, etc. Delusions of grandeur! I think I might send Freddie Cohen a copy of E.F. Schumacher's "Small is Beautiful", inscribed with the message - "It is better than Big is Boastful". It is not so much a masterplan, as a way of planning a disaster area!

c) Portelet Holiday Camp site - the previous plans were passed, but then having one foot in the door, the developer flung in a bigger set of plans, and gave an artists impression from the air, to minimise the impact that it might have on the unsuspecting planning minister.

And one success story....

Nothing to do with Freddie Cohen. The planning meeting at St Aubin rejected wholeheartedly the idea of reclaiming land for car parking as a bad idea. One of the arguments I liked the best - we've looked across the bay and seen the Radisson Hotel as an example of what might be expected with land reclamation, and as far as we are concerned, that is the kind of distance we want to keep that kind of development! Thank goodness this was a Parish matter, settled by the Parish, and not by the Ministry of Island Uglification.

Wednesday, 19 March 2008

Arthur C Clarke has died.

Arthur C Clarke has died.

The last of the "giants" from the Golden Age of Science Fiction, has died at his home in Sri Lanka, aged 90.

Along with Isaac Asimov and Robert Heinlein, he was one of the most prolific and popular authors, and notable collaborated with Stanley Kubric on the screenplay of 2001: A Space Oddessy, based loosely around the kernel of Clarke's own short story "The Sentinel". 2001, was of course, back in the 1960s, when the millenium was deemed to begin. By 1999, however, the purists had lost to the populists - a case well argued by Stephen Jay Gould (Questioning the Millennium).

Clarke's three laws

1) When a distinguished but elderly scientist states that something is possible, he is almost certainly right. When he states that something is impossible, he is very probably wrong.
2) The only way of discovering the limits of the possible is to venture a little way past them into the impossible.
3) Any sufficiently advanced technology is indistinguishable from magic.

His best work was probably his short stories, and like the other "giants", his later work, especially the collaborative sequels on his novel "Rama" tended to be overlong, rambling, and not as well written as the shorter novels of his younger days; a failing he shared in common with Asimov and Heinlein. His best stories were "Childhood's End," 1953; "The City and The Stars," 1956; "The Nine Billion Names of God," 1967; "Rendezvous with Rama," 1973; "Imperial Earth," 1975; and "The Songs of Distant Earth," 1986.

He also proposed the idea of the geostationary satellite (and would have made millions if he had patented the idea), which is the fundamental means by which telecommunications can encircle the globe.

The worst of his later work was fronting "Arthur C. Clarke's Mysterious World" in which he had to introduce in a sceptical manner pieces about strange phenomena such as Bigfoot , Ufo's , the Inca Crystal Skull , Sea Monsters, after which the filmic section proceeded to ignore that and present an X-Files narrative which completely undermined his comments. The series was acclaimed, probably by the same viewers who enjoyed the X-Files later.

His will asks for a completely secular burial: "Absolutely no religious rites of any kind, relating to any religious faith, should be associated with my funeral" However, at other times, he adopted a more ambivalent attitude. He commented in one interview that many people "confuse religion with a belief in God.. Buddhists don't necessarily believe in a god or a supreme being at all, whereas one could easily believe in a supreme being and not have any religion."

On Trust

Two letters in the Jersey Evening Post looked at the subjects of secrecy and freedom.

The first looked at the recent trip to the UK regarding the Haut de La Garenne affair, and again highlighted the lack of information; it did not mention that Jersey has no Freedom of Information Law comparable to the UK, but what I think, reading the letter, it does show apart from that is the lack of trust people have in elected officials. Much as Tony Blair and New Labour managed to destroy the British People's trust, however slender, in politics, the Jersey Government is doing nothing to endear itself to the trust of its people.

We are told that two of the Island's public servants, the Attorney General and Bill Ogley – requested a meeting to discuss the Haut de la Garenne affair and indeed flew to London for that purpose. Amazingly, we are also told that Senator Walker refused to say whether such a meeting was taking place, leaving us to learn the necessary details from the UK. When will Senator Walker finally get the message that he was elected to act for the people of this Island and that the culture of secrecy which he seems determined to perpetuate will surely lead to the eventual downfall of Jersey's constitutional arrangements?

The second letter takes a different view, about how free the Islanders are, and how free speech is allowed. It highlights, quite correctly, the hyperbole coming from a certain section of the public about Jersey.

WE heard Nick Le Cornu being interviewed on BBC Radio 4, when he compared Jersey society to the old eastern bloc countries, in particular Nicolae Ceausescu's Romania. We understand that Mr Le Cornu's point was that Jersey is a closed society where people are afraid to say what they think and feel. The fact that he is allowed to make these rather outlandish accusations just shows how wrong he is. We find his political rantings rather strange, as he is someone who has quite freely used letters and articles in your publication to make his points. Also, the fact that he has the platform of the BBC nationwide to broadcast his views just proves that we are a free and open Island.

What does this have to do with trust? I think that the States of Jersey, and the Council of Ministers need much more transparency" (to use a buzz word) than at present, and if they fail to realise this, then conspiracy theories will abound. Paul A. Silverstein, a professor of anthropology, notes how "conspiracy theories are the primary means through which information is exchanged and personal posturing accomplished in a game of hermeneutic one-upmanship", but how these also become legitimate because of the lack of openness from governments: "Conspiracy theories' legitimacy.. derives largely from the tactical manipulation of knowledge and secrecy by the government."

The past record of "concealments" at Haut de La Garenne, Blanchepierre, Victoria College, Greenfields, where victims have not been heard, or only heard after truth of events has emerged, can only be addressed by a deliberate effort to counterbalance that; whether Jersey politicians have the will to do this remains to be seen. But until they do - and the first letter gives an example of what should not be happening ( - there should have been notification before, and a briefing to the public afterwards- ), then conspiracy theories will flourish, and Jersey society will become awash with malicious gossip, and society will be polarised.

The Dangers of Demonisation

The issue of a provision for young people on the subject of a Waterfront Skateboard and Youth and Community Centre came up in the States recently. I quote below Jacqui Huet's impassioned plea for facilities for young people, and I have also selected from the debate two speeches by Frank Walker. The first was in response to a motion to "reference back" the debate so that it would not be voted on until another States sitting, and the second was before the final vote.
For those who have an idea of Frank Walker as Jersey's "bogeyman", it may come as a surprise how much effort he has put into this proposal, and how - unlike Philip Ozouf - he is concerned to support the proposition against the delaying tactics of Bob Hill. The final vote is also given, so that it can be seen who voted for this provision. It will be noted that the following members were missing, including Stuart Syvret:
       Senator Stuart Syvret – en défaut
       Connétable Thomas John du Feu of St. Peter – ill
       Deputy Peter Nicholas Troy of St. Brelade – ill
       Deputy Carolyn Fiona Labey of Grouville – en défaut
       Deputy John Alexander Nicholas Le Fondré of St. Lawrence – en défaut
       Deputy Shona Pitman of St. Helier – en défaut
For the full debate, see:
Deputy J.J. Huet of St. Helier.

We have 10 St. Helier Deputies and a St. Helier Constable that lives in the Parish and we have some of our Senators that live in St. Helier and they - except for one Deputy of St. Helier- are well aware, I think, that our children for a long time had no space about, i.e. be it to mooch or whatever teenagers do which we have all had I think at some time or another.  I think this is long, long outstanding, and it is for a long time we have tried site after site after site and each time there is an excuse, an excuse, an excuse.  Usually the excuses are noise, and you have to be fair if it is close to an elderly folks' home, or people where they live on a continuous… but this is not one of those sites.  The reason against this site as far as I can see is cash.  That is solely all it is.  It is way out from anywhere else.  It is not going to affect people that live around it, and it is central and this is what we need.  Can I please ask, please, please, let our children have somewhere.  The children of St. Helier are a lot more confined, dare I say, than if you are lucky enough to live in the Parishes and have a lot more space and that to roam and a lot more freedom, I might say.  You are very, very restricted in St. Helier.  We have very few spaces like this that are always moving our children on because they are causing a disturbance to somebody.  This is a place that they would not be causing a disturbance to somebody, and I please ask you to finally give our kiddies somewhere to have for themselves.


Senator F.H. Walker:

I have been supporting and working to an extent alongside Deputy Fox and Deputy Gorst in all the incredibly hard work they have put into this over many months.  They have, I think, left no stone unturned in trying to find a site for a skateboard park.  They and I have been frustrated time and time again.  I have to say I am frustrated again this morning.  Honestly, what sort of Assembly are we when we cannot take a decision on something like the location of a skateboard park?  The last thing we need is a reference back.  We need to take a decision.  This is just fiddling around at the edges and I am very sad that the Deputy of St. Martin brought the proposition.  Sir, Deputy Fox, Deputy Gorst and others have investigated other sites, they have come to the conclusion and they have provided the information to support that conclusion that this site, although I accept not ideal, is the only chance we have got to provide a skateboard facility in the foreseeable future for our young people.  So let us not delay any longer, let us get on with it, let us vote for or against, but for goodness sake let us not go back over the same thing again and agree to this reference back.  In my view it should not have been brought and I hope it is comprehensively thrown out.

Senator F.H. Walker:

I will not repeat what I said and what many other Members have said in the last debate but much of the debate has centred around other sites.  Well, following the meeting that I had with the Assistant Minister for Economic Development on Friday, I contacted the Property Services Department and asked them for a list of the potential alternative sites and I was given this late on Monday.  There are 6 potential sites that have been identified, but they have all been looked at already and all dismissed for one reason or another.  So there is no other potential site to provide this facility that anyone is aware of in the short term.  Sir, I am under no doubt at all that if we do not vote in favour of this proposition, we will be ensuring that there will be no skateboard park for our young people for a considerable time to come.  Now, I do echo the comments, I think, of the Constable of St. Helier and one or 2 others that if we vote yes, then that might encourage the opponents of this particular site to work their socks off basically to find a better alternative if, indeed, one can be found within a reasonable timescale.  That is a good motivation, I think, if we vote yes.  One way or another, we will get a site.  If we vote no, we will not get a site and it is really as simple, I think, as that.  I do accept and I am saddened that Harbours have come in for quite such a battering in the debate although I do accept that their concerns are genuine.  I am not sure that all of them necessarily stack-up but I believe they do have bottom line concerns which are genuine.  Sadly, for whatever reason, they have come through too late and there was every opportunity prior to us receiving the sheets we did yesterday for that information to come through.  Although I acknowledge their concerns, I do think that we have to proceed.  It is not an ideal site, but I think we have to proceed.  When I made my statement that this was the site for the park, it was on the clear understanding that it had the unanimous support of all parties involved, including Economic Development.  I am saddened that although Deputy Maclean did ask me to add a caveat to my statement, which I did, which was that we needed more information from Harbours, that was the strength of any comment that was made and, despite a number of meetings involving all relevant parties, there was no indication of opposition.  So, Sir, not an ideal site but I really think the choice is do we go here or do we go nowhere and I urge the House to support Deputy Fox and commend Deputy Fox for the incredibly hard work he has put into trying to achieve this result and in coming forward with this proposition.  [Approbation]

The Deputy of St. Martin:

Could I ask the Chief Minister, that bearing in mind this request is to go to the Council of Ministers, has this proposition been considered by the Council of Ministers and have they got the support of the Council of Ministers?

Senator F.H. Walker:

It has not and in all honesty I do not think it is in any way necessary for it to do so

The Voting on the skateboard park:


POUR: 26





Senator F.H. Walker


Senator L. Norman


Senator T.A. Le Sueur

Senator P.F. Routier


Senator P.F.C. Ozouf


Senator F.E. Cohen

Senator M.E. Vibert


Senator T.J. Le Main


Connétable of Trinity

Senator B.E. Shenton


Connétable of St. Lawrence


Deputy G.C.L. Baudains (C)

Senator J.L. Perchard


Connétable of Grouville


Deputy of Trinity

Connétable of St. Ouen


Connétable of St. Brelade


Deputy of St. Mary

Connétable of St. Mary


Connétable of St. Martin



Connétable of St. Clement


Connétable of St. John



Connétable of St. Helier


Deputy S.S.P.A. Power (B)



Deputy R.C. Duhamel (S)


Deputy A.J.D. Maclean (H)



Deputy A. Breckon (S)


Deputy K.C. Lewis (S)



Deputy J.J. Huet (H)





Deputy of St. Martin





Deputy C.J. Scott Warren (S)





Deputy R.G. Le Hérissier (S)





Deputy J.B. Fox (H)





Deputy J.A. Martin (H)





Deputy G.P. Southern (H)





Deputy S.C. Ferguson (B)





Deputy of St. Ouen





Deputy J.A. Hilton (H)





Deputy G.W.J. de Faye (H)





Deputy P.V.F. Le Claire (H)





Deputy D.W. Mezbourian (L)





Deputy of St. John





Deputy I.J. Gorst (C)