Friday, 29 August 2008

National Gallery Briefing Notes

As it will no doubt surface again and again, here are a few notes on the "National Gallery". In November 2007, there was an informative question and answer session by Jim Perchard to Mike Vibert.



Would the Minister advise members -
1. Who the members of the National Gallery Steering group are?
2. Who appointed the members of the National Gallery Steering group?
3. What the terms of reference of the National Gallery Steering group are?
4. Who was responsible for drafting of the terms of reference for the National Gallery Steering group?
5. What support, if any, is being given by States departments or bodies owned or controlled by the States to the National Gallery Steering group?
6. Which, if any outside consultants are advising the National Gallery Steering group or States departments over the proposal to develop a National Gallery on the Weighbridge site, the total estimated cost of all consultancy work in this regard and the mechanism in place for their funding?
7. Will the Minister make available any minutes of the National Gallery Steering group as an appendix to the answer to this question?

The reply gave the following information, with my notes:

1. The current members of the National Gallery Steering Group are: the Chairman of the Jersey Heritage Trust Jurat John de Veulle OBE, the Deputy of Grouville, the Connétable of St Helier, the Director of the Jersey Heritage Trust Mr Jon Carter, Mrs Melissa Bonn, Mrs Susie Pinel, Mr Jonathan Voak, Mr Robert Tilling, RI, MBE, Mr Ray Banks FRSA, the Curator of Art of the Jersey Heritage Trust Ms Louise Downie and the Cultural Development Officer Mr Rod McLoughlin. The group is chaired by the Bailiff, Sir Philip Bailhache.

Who are these people?

They can be divided into the following groups:

The Jersey Heritage Trust contingent is:
John de Veulle (Chairman), Seigneur of Augrès, Retired senior partner Ernst & Young
Mr Jon Carter, Director, Jersey Heritage Trust
Ms Louise Downie, Curator of Art, Jersey Heritage Trust

The States contingent is:
Connétable of St Helier, Simon Crowcroft
Deputy of Grouville, Carolyn Labey, Assistant Minister for Education, Sport and Culture

The States Quango contingent is:
Mr Ray Banks, Chairman Jersey Public Sculpture Trust
Mr Rod McLoughlin, Cultural Development Officer, Education, Sport and Culture

The commercial contingent is:
Mrs Melissa Bonn, the Channel Island representative for Christies, the fine art auctioneers.
Mr Jonathan Voak, founder of Atelier Limited. Atelier Limited is based in London and Jersey and deals mainly in 17th - early 20th century oil paintings, watercolours, drawings and etchings and offers a museum standard conservation service. The company operates from its office in Grouville, Jersey, and uses its London base near Tower Bridge to meet clients.
Mr Robert Tilling, local artist and jazz and blues player. Working primarily in watercolour, acrylic, gouache and charcoal, the majority of his work is based on local landscape and seascape. He is presently the Chairman of the Management Committee at the Jersey Arts Centre.

and finally, the "ordinary member of the general public" presence is represented by:

Mrs Susie Pinel, wife of Honorary ADC, Lieutenant Colonel John Pinel (Honorary ADC to the Lieutenant-Governor

2. The members of the Steering Group were invited to join by the Jersey Heritage Trust.
3. The Steering Group was established, following a meeting of the Jersey Heritage Trust in December 1999, "to produce a detailed feasibility study, project definition statement and outline architect's brief, identifying among other things a site and sources of funding".

In February 2008, it made its first and so far only public report. The report says the Weighbridge gallery could be funded by £10m from developer contributions from the Waterfront, and a £15m endowment from wealthy Islanders to cover running costs. They say the gallery should be run by Jersey Heritage, based across the Weighbridge square at the Jersey Museum. A pity they can't do the same for Island Youth facilities, or the Millennium Park!

4. The terms of reference above were drafted by the Jersey Heritage Trust which, as I have indicated, established the group. They follow a recommendation in the culture report of 2000 commissioned by the then Finance and Economics Committee.

5. Administrative support is provided within the Bailiff's Chambers. The Cultural Development Officer of the Education, Sport and Culture Department was invited on to the group this year to assist in the development of a strategy document for the group, as I recognise that if the matter were to be advanced it would be for me, as Minister for Education, Sport and Culture, to bring forward any such proposals. This work, which is currently in progress, includes obtaining the views of the Economic Development Department, the Economics Unit.

I've not as yet found anything relating to Philip Ozouf on this matter. He is keeping a low profile here.

6. Hopkins Architects are advising the National Gallery Steering Group on design matters. They are producing the following: a feasibility study report, an initial specification for the building, a three dimensional model, and perspective drawings to illustrate the urban design and architectural concept. This is under a fixed £30,000 contract with the Planning and Environment Department which is being funded though percentage for art contributions. The Economic Development Department has commissioned a report from Locum Consulting which is involved in a number of other projects related to the visitor economy. The question of the desirability of a gallery in this context featured in the Locum Destination Audit published in November 2006. The cost of the Locum report on the National Gallery is £7,500 which is being shared between the Economic Development Department and the Waterfront Enterprise Board.

7. As I have previously indicated, I intend to make public the strategy document when it is complete. I am advised that the Minister for Economic Development will also publish, with an accompanying note, the Locum Consulting report. The minutes of the National Gallery Steering Group, which date back more than seven years, are confidential to the group and it would be a matter of approaching the Chairman to seek the views of the group about releasing them

Don't expect any minutes then - this is Mike Vibert, the Senator who sat on the Kathi Bull report until it was released to the press. But in case you missed the consultation document , it was mentioned in Hansard back in 11 March 2008

Deputy G.C.L. Baudains of St. Clement of the Minister for Education Sport and Culture regarding the consultation on the possibility of Jersey having a 'National Gallery': Would the Minister advise whether the consultation on the possibility of Jersey having a National Gallery is being co-ordinated by the Steering Group and not the Education, Sport and Culture Department? And if so, why?

Senator M.E. Vibert (The Minister for Education Sport and Culture): A report has been submitted to me on the creation of a National Gallery for Jersey by a Steering Group established by the Jersey Heritage Trust and it is this report that is currently out for consultation. I have made it clear and the Steering Group acknowledges this in its own report that it is most important, that it is an opportunity for the public to respond to the contents of the report. I as Minister have therefore undertaken this consultation exercise. The report and the supporting document are published on the States website and hard copies available in the normal way from the Public Library, the States Bookshop and from the contact centre at Cyril Le Marquand House. Respondents are invited to make known their views to one of the Assistant Directors of Education Sport and Culture at my department. The consultation is therefore being conducted by my E.S.C. (Education Sport and Culture) Department on my behalf.

The consultation closed in April 2008. The only notification I was able to find in the JEP was a mention that it would be coming in February 2008, in an article by Ben Quérée. Hardly headline grabbing stuff! I suspect it was tucked away in the fine print of the Jersey Gazette.

If you want to look at the consultation documents, they are here:

Here are a few choice snippets from the Final Consultation Report, which sets out why we can call it "National" (a paragraph which is a good candidate for Private Eye's Pseud's Corner), and what it will cost - apart from Staff costs which are mentioned only briefly.

In this connection it is worth observing that the Isle of Man quite unselfconsciously and entirely without hubris refers to 'Manx National Heritage', 'Manx National Week' and the "Manx National Youth Band" to give but a few examples. It vigorously dismisses any suggestion that its 'national day' lacks legitimacy. Neither is this purely a matter of semantics; it has been remarked upon that this sense of cultural confidence unites the community and readily communicates itself to visitors.

The admissions income is derived from the model of Mont Orgueil Castle, a site administered by JHT on the basis of a £9 admission ticket and 65,000 visitors annually, with the resulting figure of £585,000 adjusted to take account of the number of free admissions whether school children, senior citizens or others entitled to free entry.

With regard to the cost of the temporary exhibition programme, the Locum report suggests that it would be desirable to invest more than the £250,000 allowed in the JHT forecast, given that the attraction of visitors (and particularly return visitors) is closely related to investment in an appealing programme of temporary exhibitions. Locum advocates an annual budget of £500,000 for this purpose.

The steering group has been concerned to ensure that appropriate allowance is made for the ongoing maintenance of the building. The annualised figure of £85,000 included above is derived from Building Cost Information

An endowment sufficient to yield the £500,000 required to operate the gallery and to make provision to retain its real terms value is likely to require around £15m in capital according to the figure provided by Locum [Locum p.6]. It is accepted that there would have to be detailed discussions about the amount required for the endowment, balancing the capital sum required with the investment policy as it relates to risk. The principle is accepted that this sum will be raised by fund-raising.

There are many variables to consider when projecting staff costs.

The key variable factors are set out below: Opening times 7 days per week 360 days per year 10a.m.-5.00 p.m. (Summer) and 10 a.m.-4 p.m. (Winter) This factor strongly Impacts on requirement for visitor service assistants, stewards and site gardiens.

Programme activity: Three major Gallery exhibitions per annum will need at minimum (in addition to administration and management time, curatorial, marketing, finance, conservation, etc provided centrally through JHT organisaton): a technician working (exhibition build), loans registrar (exhibition administration), assistant curator (writing associated interpretative material for each exhibition and providing educational programmes), design post (production of general information, educational and marketing materials)

Security: The number of stewards is a function of the chosen exhibition type, conditions of loan and design layout. It is assumed there will be an average of two on duty at all times. Stewards will also be trained to provide additional visitor information.

"A great deal of my work is based on the landscape and still life which is composed by a process of imaginative reconstruction in which both observation and memory play important parts" wrote Robert Tilling. There is a lot of imaginative and creative reconstruction in the proposals for the "National" Art Gallery.

Thursday, 28 August 2008

Average Nonsense

AVERAGE annual earnings in Jersey have increased by 4.3 per cent to £31,200 in the past year, according to official figures. But the increase is 0.4 per cent lower than in the previous 12 months, and the gap between pay rises and the increasing cost of living in Jersey has narrowed. The figures, released yesterday by the States Statistics Unit, shows that average weekly earnings have increased from £580 per week in June last year to £600 per week this year. But the increase in earnings was just 0.2 per cent higher than the RPI, which measures the rate of inflation, compared to 1.2 per cent higher in the previous year.

The regular report of misinformation is in the JEP again. All across the world, the measurement of national earnings have moved from the arithmetic mean, commonly known as the "average" to the median. The arithmetic mean is obtained by adding all the items up, and dividing by the number of items. The median is a statistical measure obtained by looking at the middle item in a distribution.

For wages, the distribution is not a balanced one - the normal distribution or "bell curve" - but a highly skewed one, with a few higher wages grossly outbalancing the majority, which is why the median is a much better measure.

As an example, consider (as wages in thousands), the following cluster:


Now this results in Average = 25, Median = 25. (For the average - the mean - we sum, and divide by 8 in this case, for the median, we take the middle of the distribution when laid out in ascending order.)

Now let's change two of the numbers to 20.


Note that we now have Average = 23.75, Median = 25. The average has slipped down slightly.

Finally, let's just replace one of those 20s with a salary of a managing directors of a medium sized finance company (and I'm sure there are plenty with higher wages) at 120. We now have:


Average = 36.25, Median = 25

Note how rapidly the average wage has shifted. We now have 87.5% of our sample well below the "average wage", but the median is still drawing substantially the most accurate picture.

If you want to see it graphed out with differences in the UK, go to:

(I've put a smaller version of that at the top of this blog, click on it for a bigger picture)

The UK, regarding the minimum wage, notes that:

When measuring minimum wage rates against the general level of earnings in the UK economy, we have regarded median, rather than average (mean), earnings as the more appropriate comparator. This is because of the disproportionate influence on the UK's earnings distribution of a relatively few high earners ­ which drives up the mean earnings figure.

All across Europe, Australia, America etc, the earnings statistics on wages use median rather than average. They did use average, but it was so misleading that they decided that a the median would provide a much better and more consistent measure, for the reasons outlined here.

The reason given in Jersey is that it is too difficult to get employers to supply information, yet such information is readily available from the Income Tax department, especially since the introduction of ITIS, and names and personal data could simply be stripped from the figures before number crunching. For now, take the figures given as representing the movement in wages that are appreciably higher than average, in order words, with as showing a general trend, but not one that is necessarily representative of the workforce as a whole. As a mathematician, I sigh every time these kind of statistics are trotted out, especially as they are never reported with any caveat about how misleading they are, and are no doubt swallowed whole by the general public.

Wednesday, 27 August 2008

Pour les Pauvres

Pour les Pauvres
(Jersey around 1620)

The lot of the landless man is hard,
For those left outside the farmyard,
When the farmer's family is large;
No pay for workers now to charge,
And so the begging does increase,
With such poverty, will not cease,
And little children beg for coins
For hungry bellies, aching loins;
At Church is set a box engraved,
For the poor, those now enslaved,
By despair, crying out for relief;
And to show the merits of belief,
After the Service, at every door,
Are collecting pots, making sure
That love will triumph over hate,
Even if they rejected a poor rate,
Ordered the beggars to the stocks'
This was the way of rich with poor,
Piety gives only so much, no more.

Jersey Dictatorship says Guernseyman

First, the right to vote is fundamental to a democracy. If the right to vote is to be of true significance to the individual voter, each person's vote should, subject only to reasonable variations for geographic and community interests, be as nearly as possible equal to the vote of any other voter residing in any other constituency. Any significant diminution of the right to relative equality of voting power can only lead to voter frustration and to a lack of confidence in the electoral process.

- Justice J. Cory, Canada

There is a most interesting statement by Deputy Jones in Guernsey, in which he says that "To be blunt, the Jersey system is little more than an elected dictatorship". He has some very harsh, but accurate comments about how the Jersey system works (or fails to work):

I could see the sense of an executive system of government for Jersey, providing that all the members of the States had been voted in on an 'Island Wide' mandate and could be de-selected by the same method. As I understand it, a partial Island wide voting system will not prevent the new proposed ministerial jobs going to those elected just in their parish.

Deputies and Senators make decisions that effect the lives of every man, woman and child in the Island, yet at present the electorate can only vote to elect or remove a handful of deputies who happen to stand in the parish where the voter resides.

More importantly once elected the politician, should they choose, can ignore the concerns of the rest of the island electorate. They need only take heed of the wishes of the voters in their own particular parish, secure in the knowledge that these are the only voters who will have the power to remove them at the next election. Given that position, is it any wonder that people who are forced by the system to vote on Parish lines, desert the ballot box when the views of the Parish are constantly ignored by States Members the voter had no hand in electing?

Guernsey, in fact, moved to a model that has been proposed by Deputy Roy Le Hérissier for Jersey - that of larger electoral districts that straddle Parish boundaries. The advantage of this is that while there is not the same Island wide mandate that occurs with Senators, the district mandate is spread over only seven districts, with the result that it is much harder for Deputies to gain election by just satisfying a small constituency base - as happens with some of the smaller Parishes in Jersey - St Mary, as an obvious example, or with Deputies having relatively small districts, enabling them to get in if rejected as Senatorial candidates. It is still not perfect, but it is a definite improvement on Jersey. Guernsey also removed the Constables from the States some time ago without many problems; they look after the local Parish affairs, which is especially useful given the larger electoral districts.

There are 45 People's Deputies elected in the following Electoral districts:

St. Peter Port South 6 (includes Herm and Jethou)
St. Peter Port North 7
St. Sampson 6
The Vale 7
The Castel 7
The West 6 (comprises St. Saviour, St. Pierre du Bois, Torteval, Forest)
The South-East 6 (comprises St. Martin and St. Andrew)

Other models - such as those of John Henwood - have been proposed for Jersey which retain the Parish system, but they all break down when it comes to fairly allocating an equal number of voters in a Parish to a set number of Deputies, and the reason that they do so is because it is next to impossible to fit St Mary into the equation. At present, two voters in St Brelade or St Helier are the equivalent of about one voter in St Mary, and unless the Parish population suddenly expands disproportionally (which the natives are keen to avoid), this disparity will be set to continue. Given that the consensus is that a smaller States is needed, there is no room for maneuver around this obstacle.

The Parish system is also under considerable pressure with the position of Rector. At present, each Parish has its own Rector, but the number of clergy available has been in steep decline. This means that District Churches (such as St Matthew, St Simon, All Saints etc) are being divided up (or closed) with total disregard for geography and population, simply to maintain the status quo, so that out of town Rectors - such as that of Trinity, have to also do services for All Saints in town. It is unlikely that this will be able to continue for the next decade, as Jersey already has a higher density of Anglican clergy than England, and there will come a time when one Rector has to split duties between two Parish churches. That is not just an ecclesiastical matter - the Rector also sits on the Roads Committee, and will have his (or her) workload doubled in this respect if the situation continues.

In England, the reforms of 1832, and the setting up of an electoral boundaries commission meant that the allocation of voters per member of Parliament was capable of being adjusted whenever there was too great a disparity. The key to this was the realisation that voting districts were fluid, and could be redrawn, and that they could in fact straddle County and City districts. Jersey has yet to grasp this nettle.;jsessionid=068AD774EAC8F8FC25AE44332B5D1316

Tuesday, 26 August 2008

Guernsey Watch: Across the Pond

The Guernsey Press is rather more critical than the Jersey Evening Post regarding the situation with the Jersey law courts. It is interesting that they have contacted the "current officer" in charge now that Lenny Harper has retired, and the news is the same - the judiciary are dragging their feet. Surprisingly, it actually comes out with a call for an independent enquiry! What the Guernsey leader writer is clearly worried about is any fall-out from Haut de La Garenne hitting Guernsey in what might be termed "guilt by association" - the feeling that this is the kind of thing which occurs - or could occur - in any of the Channel Islands. The argument is not that justice will hampered by the establishment - against which Mr William Bailhache has devoted considerable column inches in the JEP - but simply the perception that it may not be, and the consequent loss of public confidence. It is to restore confidence that an independent enquiry is called for.

THE TIMES used its second most prominent news page yesterday to carry further police criticism of the difficulties being experienced in getting suspects in the Haut de la Garenne child abuse inquiry charged and before Jersey's courts. It was a dramatic account and relied on what was described as a furious memorandum from the officer leading the investigation that is apparently part of the evidence in support of a High Court application seeking UK involvement in the matter. The development is a disturbing twist in what in many ways is proving to be a most unsatisfactory inquiry. At a domestic level, criticism of any one island is inevitably regarded externally as relating to 'the Channel Islands'... Increasingly the islands are becoming synonymous with child abuse, secrecy and cover-up and it is a taint that Guernsey can well do without.

Coincidentally, this newspaper contacted Jersey Police in the week over earlier national reports about the abuse investigations being hampered. A spokesman - not the outspoken Lenny Harper who was leading the case until his retirement - was quite open. The police view is that what was described as 'the top end of the judicial system' is slowing matters down by sitting on crucial files and refusing to allow charges to be brought. These are exceptionally damaging claims. For an independent police force to be openly critical of a supposedly independent prosecution service, trust and confidence must have broken down to a significant degree. Citizens have to be able to believe that wrong-doers will be brought to book without fear or favour and the hostility between investigators and prosecutors will shake that trust in the justice system to the core. If something as serious as alleged child abuse and even homicide that has been painstakingly uncovered in the full public gaze could be hampered by the establishment, the thinking will run, what else has been covered up in the past? Such suspicions - whether valid or not - exist here, especially among victims of child abuse. Perhaps an independent inquiry into the whole Jersey investigation is the only way of demonstrating that the islands can do these things properly.

However, a Guernsey lawyer feels that there is a good case against any intervention. Typically of a lawyer, he speaks of English courts having no jurisdiction over those in the Channel Islands, rather than the English government - e.g. the Privy Council - which as I noted declared the Jersey laws (against the Methodists) to be null and void a little over two hundred years ago. This was not an interference in a court case, but in some respects it was more far reaching, because it was overturning a law just passed by the States of Jersey, and declaring that the Crown could and should intervene even in the political law-making system if injustices occurred.

A HIGH Court action challenging the impartiality of Channel Islands' judiciaries should be thrown out, according to a senior advocate. John Langlois, who is also a former conseiller, said the English High Court had no jurisdiction over the Channel Islands and should therefore dismiss the action. The action is seeking to force Lord Chancellor Jack Straw and the Minister of Justice, Michael Wills, to intervene in the Jersey child- abuse investigation and appoint independent prosecutors and judges to handle the case. It was lodged at the High Court last week by Liberal Democrat MP John Hemming and Jersey senator Stuart Syvret. They have argued that Jersey's judiciary is not capable of being adequately impartial because of the island's close-knit environment. Senator Syvret claimed the question of objectivity also applied to Guernsey's legal system. But Mr Langlois said it had been established for centuries that English courts had no jurisdiction over those in the Channel Islands. 'I expect that the Lord Chancellor will tell the High Court that it has no jurisdiction,' he said.

Finally, with regard to the change to European time, Guernsey are happy to play a waiting game and see what the outcome is in Jersey first. The cheaper option! Apparently quite of few think that Jersey people will go ahead with the move to European time. What is clear from the tone of even those delaying the debate, is that if Jersey goes ahead, Guernsey may well follow suit, although they will probably wait even then to see how many problems over being out of synch with the UK will occur, thereby having an experimental situation on their doorstep at no cost to themselves, but probably considerable cost to Jersey, especially if a move does go ahead and it turns into an utter disaster.

GUERNSEY has stopped investigating a possible move to Central European Time. Chief Minister Lyndon Trott said the Policy Council had decided to defer any further work on the issue pending the outcome of Jersey's October referendum on the subject. 'We want to see how much support there is in Jersey first before we put any more time into it.' That decision has been slammed by former deputy Peter Roffey. At the February States meeting he placed a requete for the States to agree in principle to make the move to CET by March next year.

Weird Organisations with Local Membership

Generally trawling for interesting oddities, I came across a blog called "The British Centre for Science Education: Revealed"

It states that: The purpose of this blog is to examine the new group calling itself the "British Centre for Science Education".

We aim to shed light on the available facts concerning its membership, published statements and discussions. In doing so, we expect that you will come to the same conclusion as we have - that anybody taking it seriously needs to take another look. The evidence presented on this website tells a clear and damning story. I am confident that after reviewing the evidence on it, you will agree that the truth is clear. The BCSE are a fraudulent group of religiously-motivated con-men with whom no reputable scientist or educator would want to ever have anything to do with. In particular:

1. The BCSE is a "Centre for Science Education" which contains no actual science educators. Science teachers, lecturers, professors: none.

2. None of its leaders are employed either as scientists or educators at all. They are mainly IT workers and businessmen.

3. Almost all of the BCSE's core leadership have been exposed as dogmatic atheists. Those who aren't atheists share, for their own reasons, a commitment to oppose historic Christianity.

It was with some surprise then that I came across John Germain. This is not the former Constable of St Martin, but is, I am pretty certain, John Timothy Germain, whom I remember from days past as being something of a maverick - he allegedly once threatened to blow up a science teacher with a home-made bomb, and left the school (voluntarily!) shortly afterwards!

John Germain: John lives in Jersey, and is a militant atheist. In his own words: "I despise any person who even admits to worshipping- something". [BlackShadow post 1651]

There is a more detailed biography below:

John Germain: Germain was the first of the BCSE committee members to bale out. A militant atheist with no apparent qualifications in science education and certainly no grounds on which to present himself to law-makers and the media as a national expert, his own motivations were obvious enough. (The BCSE website described him as a businessman living in Jersey). In his own words: "I despise any person who even admits to worshiping- something"

According to the blog, and emails posted by himself, he left the group because

Germain had something of a fall-out with the BCSE's de facto leadership (particularly IT consultant Ian Lowe but also management consultant Roger Stanyard and IT worker Michael Brass). One of the issues that later irritated him was that he donated some of his own money to the BCSE so that they could obtain a post office box. 10 months later, and after several follow-up messages from Germain during the period to express his frustration, still no PO Box existed, leading Germain to call the BCSE leaders "liars and thieves".

Germain described the main cause of his leaving as being fellow committee member Ian Lowe, though he later described the BCSE leadership at large and particularly the two main players management consultant Roger Stanyard and IT worker Michael Brass as "self-serving tosspots" and "liars and thieves".

It is always curious to know what happened to people you once knew, and how oddball organisations attract members. G.K. Chesterton once noted that people who ceased to believe in God often became so credulous that they believed in anything - in this case, of the merits of the BCSE.

Sunday, 24 August 2008

Look a Like

Comedian William Bailhache of "The Goodies"

Attorney-General Tim-Brooke Taylor, Jersey

Is it my imagination, or does the well known Goodie, Tim Brooke Taylor, the actor, look like William Bailhache?

Saturday, 23 August 2008

GST, Food and the Devil's Bargain

Ministers back down on prices By Ben Quérée
MINISTERS have been forced into an embarrassing U-turn on GST exemptions. Faced by the prospect of a defeat in the States over exempting food just weeks before the elections, they have agreed to mirror the UK system of exempting non-luxury food items from the 3% sales tax.

People living in Jersey will no longer be charged the goods and services tax (GST) on food in future. The Council of Ministers has decided to scrap the 3% tax on food from next spring because of increasing prices.

GST on food in Jersey is to be scrapped. The Chief Minister, Senator Frank Walker, made the announcement this morning. It followed an emergency Council of Ministers meeting yesterday. .. GST was introduced in May and the levying of the three per cent tax on food was opposed by a number of States members. But the Chief Minister denied this morning's announcement amounted to a climb-down. Senator Frank Walker told Channel Online: "This is a positive and appropriate reaction to absolutely unprecedented increases in food and fuel costs. "It's no climb-down at all, the decision to keep GST at the lowest possible level and as simple as possible, as endorsed by the States on more than one occasion, was the right one at the time, but what we've done, while other governments talk about the increases in food and fuel costs that are international, they don't just apply to Jersey, we've reacted."

At first sight, a reading of the JEP article suggests that there are two kinds of food - "luxury" and "non-luxury", rather than the impression given by the other news stories that all food is "a non-luxury item" - in other words the kind of distinction made by Freddie Cohen, when he was suggesting GST would be taken off "healthy food". But the official statement at the Chief Ministers site does say "zero rating GST on food", so that is clear, despite the JEP saying "essential foodstuffs" and "non-luxury food items", which is terribly ambiguous, especially after Freddie Cohen's earlier suggestion.


There is a sting in the tail, though, and that is the official statement about GST being brought in "at the lowest possible level and as simple as possible". Note the "at the lowest possible level". Now that it is off food, what remains of the devil's bargain that it would remain at 3% for the next five years, as that seemed to be the bargaining counter by the Council of Ministers when it was introduced without exemptions.

It is also not off food until next April, giving plenty of time for another U-turn, once the new States are firmly under a new Chief Minister, who will therefore be able to re-assess the situation. The statement is giving them all a good "breathing space" so that it is not an election issue, but there is plenty of time for other considerations to be made.

Another question - will we now see GST on the till, as a separate total for till receipts from retail outlets? If there is no way of assessing which are GST at 3% and which are zero rated, then if a business is registered for GST, and buying food and non-food items, how will it know what the GST element is? At the moment, it is simple to calculate back on the total to get the net and GST parts, because all items at a retail outlet have GST applied. But if that is no longer the case, we are going to need to see the GST element separately on till receipts, even if they are giving items marked at gross. It will therefore be possible to calculate how much is added by rounding differences over an "add GST at the till" alternative.

Thursday, 21 August 2008

JEP Letter Misprint

"The best thing to do with the Watersplash", wrote Philip Sinel in his letter to the JEP, "is either to knock it down or scuff it up a but and turn it back into what I was before, something slightly eccentric with a bit of character".

I never knew that was how he viewed himself - something slightly eccentric with a bit of character - but there it is, in tonight's JEP, in black and white.

What is the betting that when it appears on the internet version - curiously it is not there yet, although other letters for today's JEP are - that "I was before" will be corrected to "it was before"?

Methinks Mr Sinel will not be best pleased!

Wednesday, 20 August 2008

Notes on Composting at La Collette

A few comments on the residents' problems associated with the composting site at La Collette. This is coming up again, with calls for it to be closed.

1) "Just a smell"

Smell is due to minute particles in the air being picked up by the olfactory system of the human body. To say that something is "just a smell" as has been reported in the JEP by some authorities is misleading; if you can smell something, some kind of particles are in the air. The question is whether those particles are sufficient to cause allergic reactions in some individuals.

2) Bad use of statistics

To say that workers at the site have experienced no side effects is again misleading. Workers are fit, healthy individuals who engage in this kind of work precisely because they are not susceptible to allergic reactions! They are not representative of the population as a whole. It is like checking to see how many gardeners suffer from hay-fever; if you suffer severely from hay-fever, gardening is unlikely to be your profession of choice!

3) The link between compost and allergy

That composting can cause allergic reactions in workers (who are not normally susceptible), can be seen at the Arkenas site on composting and solid waste management. Note the conditions - such as allergies or asthma - which should be avoided by those in proximity to compose. Clearly the effect of airborne particles is diluted by the wind, but nevertheless, it cannot be ruled out as a cause.

Just as individuals vary in their resistance to disease a few individuals may be particularly sensitive to some of the organisms in compost. The high populations of many different species of molds and fungi in an active compost process can cause allergic reactions in sensitive individuals, though most experience no adverse reaction. Conditions that may predispose individuals to infection or an allergic response include: a weakened immune system, allergies, asthma, some medications such as antibiotics and adrenal cortical hormones or a punctured eardrum. Workers with these conditions should not normally be assigned to a composting operation.

4) Seasonal evidence

It would be interesting to see if any the medical profession have noted any increase in patients attending surgeries from the areas possibly affected by La Collette. One aspect of composting mentioned by a House of Commons Select Committee ( suggests that this is dependent on climate and seasonal factors, and this should be borne in mind for any testing of emissions or reports of sickness.

Good control of aerobic composting sets optimum conditions for efficient decomposition. That creates an ideal habitat for the growth of micro-organisms including fungus. Fungi include pathogens and allergens harmful to people, livestock, wildlife or crops. Frequent lifting and turning is necessary for good management to aerate the mass of material. That causes fungal spores and fragments to be spread abroad and scattered in the wind. Some will remain aloft for days and travel many miles. They are subject to Stokes' equation and other physical factors and will not obey edicts from the Environment Agency anymore than the waves would retreat for King Canute. We are unable to verify the claim of the Composting Association that the concentration of bioaerosols reaches background level at 200 metres from the source. Some more independent people put it at 1,000 or 1,500 metres. Our own observation is that much depends on climatic conditions. It is seasonal and that is especially evident when fungus is carried with the Autumn mists. Remnants can establish new colonies on naturally decaying vegetation thus moving out more slowly but surely or they may contaminate the exposed finished compost.

5) Reducing odor - why it happens and best practice

There is an excellent site on composting facilities and odour management at:

This explains how a properly run composting site can reduce the odours to a minimum. It would be interesting to note which of the methods explained in this report is used by the States at the La Collette site to reduce foul odours (click on the link for the full report and details of procedures used).

A frequent problem encountered at composting facilities is the generation of foul odors. This fact sheet is intended to provide guidance and answer some questions about the origin of foul odors and how to prevent and manage them.

How are anaerobic odours generated?

Anaerobic odours can originate with the incoming feedstocks or bulking agents, which may have been stored without aeration for some time before transport to the composting site. Once those feedstocks or bulking agents are incorporated into the composting system, subsequent odor problems are usually a result of anaerobic (low oxygen) conditions. These odors include a wide range of compounds, of which the most notorious are the reduced sulfur compounds (i.e. hydrogen sulfide, dimethyl sulfide, dimethyl disulfide, and methanethiol), volatile fatty acids, aromatic compounds, and amines.

Ammonia is the most common odor that can be formed anaerobically as well as aerobically, and is usually more
noticeable on the composting site rather than off-site. This is due in part because it is lighter than air and rapidly rises up into the atmosphere. Noticeable ammonia losses are primarily a result of low carbon to nitrogen (C:N) ratio. However, pH is also a contributing factor. If the pH is around 9, there is a reasonable equilibrium. A higher pH forces more ammonium into the gas form which you can smell.

The Hungry Jumper: A Story for Children

(this is the only children's story I've written)

It was Harry's birthday. He was five years old. He had lots of presents. He unwrapped a big parcel. It was a jumper. It was a bright blue colour. "Try it on" said his mum. The jumper was a little large, but warm and cosy.

Then Harry opened his other presents. One was a box of chocolate sweets. Harry had the sweets. But he was rather messy. He wiped his hands on the jumper. "Yum, yum!" said the jumper. It was feeling very hungry.

Harry enjoyed wearing the jumper. He wore it at breakfast. Harry was a messy eater. He spilt cereal on the jumper. "Yum, yum!" said the jumper.

At lunchtime, Harry had chips with tomato sauce. So did the jumper! "Yum, yum!" said the jumper.

At tea time, Harry had jam sandwiches. The jam squeezed out of the sandwich. It fell on the jumper.
The jam was sweet and sticky. "Yum, yum!" said the jumper.

Mum looked at Harry. "What a mess" she said. After that, the jumper had to go into the wash. But soon it was back on Harry, and enjoying all the food he spilt. "Yum, yum!" said the jumper.

Years passed, and Harry was now nine years old. He was not so messy, and the jumper did not get so many tasty snacks. It was now a very hungry jumper. But sometimes he still wiped his hands on the jumper. "Yum, yum!" said the jumper, when that happened.

Mum looked at Harry. "The jumper is too small", she said. She took the jumper off Harry. She washed it.
Then Mum took the jumper to a jumble sale. The jumper was very sad, and very hungry. What would happen to it now? Would it ever eat again?

"Will this fit Peter?" said a lady, picking up the jumper from the table. "Try it on, Peter" said a man. And the jumper was put on a young boy who was five years old. "It fits well. I'll buy it" said the lady. She paid for the jumper, and Peter went off wearing it.

Peter was eating some chocolate biscuits. They melted in his hands, so he wiped the sticky chocolate on the jumper.

"Yum, yum!" said the jumper, happy again.

Tuesday, 19 August 2008

The Importance of Philosophy

Watching the final episode of Richard Dawkins "The Genius of Charles Darwin", I was struck by the way in which he and his opponents both bandied the word "evidence" about without considering the philosophy of evidence, that branch of thinking called epistemology. They kept on at each other, the creationist Wendy Wright saying "We want to teach the evidence", and Dawkins saying "no that's not what evidence is", and producing lots of examples of what he considered evidence, indeed evidence so obvious to him that he just could not understand why they didn't understand what scientific evidence is.

Personally, to state my own position, I do believe there are good evidential grounds for believing that evolution is true, and that the earth is 4.6 billion years old. On evidential grounds, that is, on grounds of well-attested historical evidence, I do believe that there may be grounds for believing that what are today called "miracles", but which the ancients termed "signs and wonders" have occurred. I will not rule out something in a narrative source on the philosophical principle "'If miraculous, then unhistorical" as an a priori rule, on the grounds of my own scientific omniscience. I keep an open mind on dowsing, despite Dawkins' experiments, because experimental designs can be flawed. Like a doctor testing hypotheses for an illness, experiments often are restricted to a narrow range, and the blood sample on the way to the Pathology Lab has a specific focus. A world of blind men would find it difficult to understand the nature of light, of day and night, but patches of darkness in trees, caves, and houses, where the rare sightedness of a few failed, in each case for different reasons. Tests in the dark would produce futile results. But this is to digress.

Philosophy matters because it exposes assumptions, and considers the different means by which we evaluate what we call "evidence". Historical evidence for unique events is obviously of a different order for the repeatability of scientific experiments. Dawkins mentioned the existence of Napoleon as something backed up by evidence, but did not go into any detail, or show how this was a different kind of evidence. But how we understand the different nature of evidence is important, and avoiding that kind of question leads to all the slippery conflicts between Dawkins and his opponents. But there is a parable of G.K. Chesterton which illustrates all this far better:

Suppose that a great commotion arises in the street about something, let us say a lamp-post, which many influential persons desire to pull down. A grey-clad monk, who is the spirit of the Middle Ages, is approached upon the matter, and begins to say, in the arid manner of the Schoolmen, "Let us first of all consider, my brethren, the value of Light. If Light be in itself good-" At this point he is somewhat excusably knocked down. All the people make a rush for the lamp-post, the lamp-post is down in ten minutes, and they go about congratulating each other on their unmediaeval practicality. But as things go on they do not work out so easily. Some people have pulled the lamp-post down because they wanted the electric light; some because they wanted old iron; some because they wanted darkness, because their deeds were evil. Some thought it not enough of a lamp-post, some too much; some acted because they wanted to smash municipal machinery; some because they wanted to smash something. And there is war in the night, no man knowing whom he strikes. So, gradually and inevitably, to-day, to-morrow, or the next day, there comes back the conviction that the monk was right after all, and that all depends on what is the philosophy of Light. Only what we might have discussed under the gas-lamp, we now must discuss in the dark.

Harcourt Nevada - August Briefing

More on Harcourt in Nevada. The two "account states" claims remain outstanding. Under United States law, account stated is a statement between a creditor (the person to whom money is owed) and a debtor (the person who owes) that a particular amount is owed to the creditor as of a certain date.

Moreover, it seems the existing claims were dismissed on legal technicalities rather than because they had poor evidence to the claims - at the heart of the judge's decision is that Nevada law provides few if any protections to members of LLCs (limited liability companies), which is how the development partnership was set up. The most notable comment relating to that is below:

John Manley, the lawyer for Glen, Smith & Glen, tells that there will be another round of complaints filed on behalf of his client that addresses the fact that Nevada law does not recognize fiduciary responsibility within an LLC.

So if you've read anywhere that Harcourt's case in Nevada is over, don't be too sure, despite their press releases on the same.

Harcourt Developments has had two claims filed against it in a Las Vegas court dismissed after a US judge ruled that the complaints could not be supported. Glen, Smith & Glen (GSG), a local US developer, was contracted as a 40% minority partner and was to sell the properties while Harcourt secured the finance. GSG alleged there had been a breach of contract and of fiduciary duty and that Harcourt was attempting to dilute its involvement in the scheme.

Harcourt said there was now only one claim remains against Harcourt Nevada which refers to its alleged failure to fund expenditures made by the manager of GSG Development Company in the sum of $2.1m (£1.1m). It said that it 'unequivocally denies these claims were within the approved budget and approved business plan' and said a detailed response and counter claim was being processed. The Court said it could not for now dismiss the claim and is awaiting proof of the allegations from GSG.

LAS VEGAS-District Court Judge Mark Denton has dismissed five of the seven causes of action in Glen, Smith & Glen Development's lawsuit against Dublin, Ireland-based Harcourt Development and its local subsidiary over Sullivan Square, a failed 1,300-unit luxury residential-over-retail project at Durango Drive and Interstate 215 valued at $1 billion. At the heart of the judge's decision is that Nevada law provides few if any protections to members of LLCs, which is how the development partnership was set up.

The lawsuit alleges two forms of "breach of contract" and two forms of "breach of fiduciary duty," as well as two forms of "account stated," the latter meaning Harcourt's project-specific LLC allegedly has not paid in full its share of the costs to date. After reviewing Harcourt's motion to dismiss, Judge Denton dismissed all but the two "account stated" claims.

"With respect to the [defendant's] contention that the Complaint fails to state claims for breach of fiduciary duty, Defendant is careful to point out that it is based on the relationship between a non-managing member, on the one hand, and the LLC and the other members, on the other. This would distinguish the LLC situation from a close corporation one where the law has become well established that ordinarily, and in the absence of a statute, organizational provision, or shareholders' agreement to the contrary, shareholders in a position of control do have a fiduciary responsibility to minority shareholders. "

"In this case, the operating agreement…does not state the existence of fiduciary duties of members inter se or to the LLC. The Court is thus persuaded by the line of cases cited by Defendant to the effect that under the circumstances alleged by Plaintiff to exist in this case – with reference, again, to the operating agreement and to the managerial role of the Plaintiff Glen, Smith & Glen Development Company, LLC – there is no claim stated by Plaintiff, either directly or derivatively, for breach of fiduciary duty."

In not dismissing the "account stated" claims, Judge Denton says "the Court is not at this time called upon to go beyond the face of the Complaint and items that can be properly considered on a motion to dismiss, and so the fact that, as the defendants put it, "the [plaintiff] does not allege any facts indicating that the parties agreed to a fixed amount for the debt or that Harcourt Nevada acquiesced to the amount claimed by the company," does not mean that the court cannot give effect to Plaintiff's allegation that "Defendant Harcourt Nevada became indebted to Plaintiff…on an account stated. Thus the Court Denies the motion…and will not for now dismiss the same."

Ryan Lower, one of the lawyers for Harcourt Developments, sent a letter to stating that Harcourt "unequivocally denies that it agreed to an account stated and then did not pay." John Manley, the lawyer for Glen, Smith & Glen, tells that there will be another round of complaints filed on behalf of his client that addresses the fact that Nevada law does not recognize fiduciary responsibility within an LLC.

"The significant thing is the court refused to dismiss the case as they asked and we are going to have a series of amendments. These types of arguments over the pleadings are pretty typical but what's really clear to us is this case is not going away until jury gets to decide it and that's the most important thing. The decision has to be a disappointment for Harcourt."

Monday, 18 August 2008

The Genius of Charles Darwin: A Review of Part Two

Another chance to see Richard Dawkins confronting an African bishop, and posing the deliberately provocative question: "I am an ape. Are you an ape?"

The presentation of apes to humans via skulls suggested that brain size was the deciding factor in our evolution. In fact we know that this is again a simplification, and not a good one. If Dawkin's had taken some time to look at Alfred Russell Wallace's work, rather than merely considering it the same as Darwin's, he would find this problem. Another biologist, Professor Ramachandran, states it succinctly:

The hominid brain reached almost its present size - and perhaps even its present intellectual capacity about 250,000 years ago . Yet many of the attributes we regard as uniquely human appeared only much later. Why? What was the brain doing during the long "incubation "period? Why did it have all this latent potential for tool use, fire, art music and perhaps even language- that blossomed only considerably later? How did these latent abilities emerge, given that natural selection can only select expressed abilities, not latent ones? I shall call this "Wallace's problem", after the Victorian naturalist Alfred Russell Wallace who first proposed it.

To consider this problem when looking at human evolution would have been more interesting that suggesting that brain size alone was the contributory factor, which is what Dawkins tended to do with his presentation of skulls. Skulls are all very well, but they are rather unformative in showing what was going on within them. That is where the cutting edge of work on human evolution is becoming focused, and that was entirely missing from the programme.

There was the usual muddle about self-genes, which according to Dawkins may contribute to acts of altruism towards members of one's own family, but only do so with humans towards the wider world because they "misfire". When he says that genes strive to make more copies of themselves, he means: "selection has operated to favour genes that, by chance, varied in such a way that more copies survived in subsequent generations." But when he says we can overcome our selfish genes, and considers selfish behaviour to be the outcome of the selfish gene, he is perpetuating the same muddle over the use of the word "selfish" that an animal specialist accused him of earlier in the programme. He stated that most biologists now accepted his notion of the selfish gene, which from a brief survey of the academic literature, looks more like wishful thinking than anything else.

In fact, to promote his idea of the selfish gene is not to celebrate the genius of Charles Darwin, because for Darwin, natural selection had to act on individuals. The reason for this Stephen Jay Gould makes very apparent:

No matter how much power Dawkins wishes to assign to genes, there is one thing that he cannot give them-direct visibility to natural selection. Selection simply cannot see genes and pick among them directly. It must use bodies as an intermediary. A gene is a bit of DNA hidden within a cell. Selection views bodies. It favours some bodies because they are stronger, better insulated, earlier in their sexual maturation, fiercer in combat, or more beautiful to behold.

If, in favouring a stronger body, selection acted directly upon a gene for strength, then Dawkins might be vindicated. If bodies were unambiguous maps of their genes, then battling bits of DNA would display their colours externally and selection might act upon them directly. But bodies are no such thing. There is no gene "for" such unambiguous bits of morphology as your left kneecap or your fingernail. Bodies cannot be atomized into parts, each constructed by an individual gene. Hundreds of genes contribute to the building of most body parts and their action is channelled through a kaleidoscopic series of environmental influences: embryonic and postnatal, internal and external. Parts are not translated genes, and selection doesn't even work directly on parts. It accepts or rejects entire organisms because suites of parts, interacting in complex ways, confer advantages. The image of individual genes, plotting the course of their own survival, bears little relationship to developmental genetics as we understand it.

The philosopher David Stove showed just how deficient the "selfish gene" argument actually is with his witty and erudite demotion job on the concept:

The truth is, 'the total prostitution of all animal life, including Man and all his airs and graces, to the blind purposiveness of these minute virus-like substances', genes. This is a thumbnail-sketch, and an accurate one, of the contents of The Selfish Gene (1976) by Richard Dawkins. It was not written by Dawkins, but he quoted it with manifest enthusiasm in a defence of The Selfish Gene.... His admirers even include some philosophers who have carried their airs and graces to the length of writing good books on such rarefied subjects as universals, or induction, or the mind. Dawkins can scarcely have gratified these admirers by telling them that, even when engaged in writing those books, they were 'totally prostituted to the blind purposiveness of their genes Still, you 'have to hand it' to genes which can write, even if only through their slaves, a good book on subjects like universals or induction. Those genes must have brains all right, as well as purposes. At least, they must, if genes can have brains and purposes. But in fact, of course, DNA molecules no more have such things than H20 molecules do.

Moreover, to suggest that genes alone are responsible for wider altruism is to completely ignore matters like "mirror neurons", which Armand Leroi, himself an evolutionary biologist, has explored, looking at the neurology of altruism, imitation and empathy.

Mirror neurons were so named because, by firing both when an animal acts and when it simply watches the same action, they were thought to "mirror" movement, as though the observer itself were acting. These neurons have been directly observed in primates, and are believed to exist in humans and in some birds. As Professor V.S. Ramachandran observes:

Mirror neurons can also enable you to imitate the movements of others thereby setting the stage for the complex Lamarckian or cultural inheritance that characterizes our species and liberates us from the constraints of a purely gene based evolution

Dawkins cannot find a place easily for altruism alongside his selfish gene hypothesis, so he postulates that altruism is because of "misfiring selfish genes". Genes would have been capable of promoting kin selection, but on a global scale kin selection cannot differentiate between close kin and strangers, hence altruism, acts of generosity to complete strangers. Why this occurs in some case, such as the kindly Professor Dawkins, who is clearly a caring man, but does not occur in other people, such as Robert Mugabe, is not satisfactorily explained; instead it seems more like an "explaining away" difficulties with the theory, or what Karl Popper called "immunising the theory" against any possibly falsification.

But to return to the Bishop, who said "I am a human being" and asked why monkeys were still around if evolution was true, Dawkins then went on to explain that in evolutionary terms, we shared a common ancestor, and we both had evolved. He also went on to comment that with the number of shared genes, it might be possible for human and genetically close ape relative to breed. In fact, this has occurred, but not in Oxford, so that is why Dawkins probably did not know about it.

The Soviet Union, in its effort to stamp out religion, was determined to prove that men were descended from apes. In 1926, a Soviet scientist named Ilya Ivanov decided the most compelling way to do this would be to breed a "humanzee" - a human-chimpanzee hybrid. Ivanov set off for a French research station in West Africa. There he inseminated three female chimpanzees with human sperm. Not his own, for he shared the colonial-era belief that the local people were more closely related to apes than he was. He stayed long enough to learn that his experiment had failed.

With regard to "social Darwinism", in a fascinating section, Dawkins concentrated on "big men", the Rockefellers etc, as promoting "the business survival of the fittest", which led to cases like Enron where a blanket policy of firing employees who were not ruthless enough led to people with no business ethics at all running the company to financial disaster. But he overlooked in his interview with a businessman, the idea that companies diversify and then see where the consumer buys, and expand on that, and cut back on other areas of their business. This kind of "corporate Darwinism" fits an evolutionary paradigm rather well, but it was just ignored, and not explored at all with Dawkin's focus on the Herbert Spencer school of Social Darwinism.

Lastly, apart from the incessant tinkly music (from a glockenspiel?), what also seemed most odd was Dawkin's anthropomorphisms. Repeatedly, again and again, he thrust at the viewer - alongside footage of predators catching and eating prey - the idea that nature was "brutal" "savage" "cruel". Perhaps he should read some Mary Midgley - in "The Concept of Beastliness: Philosophy, Ethics and Animal Behaviour". She notes:

We have thought of a wolf always as he appears to the shepherd at the moment of seizing a lamb from the fold. But this is like judging the shepherd by the impression he makes on the lamb, at the moment when he finally decides to turn it into mutton. Lately, ethologists have taken the trouble to watch wolves systematically, between meal-times, and have found them to be, by human standards, paragons of regularity and virtue. They pair for life, they are faithful and affectionate spouses and parents, they show great loyalty to their pack, great courage and persistence in the face of difficulties, they carefully respect each other's territories, keep their dens clean, and extremely seldom kill anything that they do not need for dinner. If they fight with another wolf, the fight ends with his submission; there is normally a complete inhibition on killing the suppliant and on attacking females and cubs. They have also, like all social animals, a fairly elaborate etiquette, including subtly varied ceremonies of greeting and reassurance, by which friendship is strengthened, co-operation achieved and the wheels of social life generally oiled. All this is not the romantic impressions of casual travellers; it rests on long and careful investigations by trained zoologists, backed up by miles of film, graphs, maps, population surveys, droppings analysis and all the rest of the contemporary toolbag.

She comments on the trap which Dawkins, alongside others, is falling into:

Actual wolves, then, are not much like the folk-figure of the wolf, and the same goes for apes and other creatures. But it is the folk-figure that has been popular with philosophers. They have usually taken over the popular notion of lawless cruelty which underlies such terms as "brutal," "bestial," "beastly," "animal desires," etc., and have used it, uncriticized, as a contrast to illuminate the nature of man. Man has been mapped by reference to a landmark which is largely mythical.

In the old days, Disney used to put on supporting items to the main feature, which were a kind of nature documentary which false attributed all kinds of human like motivation to animals. Although Dawkins is very selective in his examples of predators, it is not apparent whether he is not indulging in little more than a Film Noire version of Disney. He doesn't show how cruel and savage pandas are, or how brutal the average cow is, or indeed any one of a dozen herbivores who are present only as illustrations of carnivores at work.

If only in his contempt for theology, Dawkins had not been so dismissive of the notion of anthropomorphism when it has occurred - and been rejected - with respect to ideas of God, perhaps he would be more aware of it occurring in his own work.

And if I had to answer the question ""I am an ape. Are you an ape?" I would be inclined to say that I was a perpendicular hairless tree shrew. If you are defining lineage by past speciation, why stop - arbitrarily - with the ape? Why not go back to when we were common cousins with the vole?


The Genes That Make Us Human by Dr Armand Leroi

The Nature of Normal Human Variety by Armand Leroi

The Concept of Beastliness: Philosophy, Ethics and Animal Behaviour by Mary Midgley

Human Evolution: From Tree Shrew to Ape

Human Evolution

Barking up the Wrong Tree

An interesting extra snippet of information in Sky News:

Mr Harper's leaked memo gives an insight into methods of justice and governance on Jersey. It reveals that the island's Attorney General, William Bailhache, wanted to appoint an independent lawyer to assist the inquiry. Mr Harper quoted Mr Bailhache as saying this was "in order to prevent you from barking up the wrong tree at an early stage". Mr Harper wrote: "There was some discussion over his wish to have the lawyer placed within the incident room. I, the Association of Chief Police Officers, and others saw this as a highly unusual step, and objected to that situation." It also reveals that the Attorney General questioned the publicity that the police were giving to the investigation. Mr Harper claims in the memo that Mr Bailhache was of the view that "the circulation list for... police press releases is too wide and encourages wider comment". In response to that concern, Mr Harper wrote: "What would happen if we did indeed cut our circulation list? (The media) would... ask why. "When we gave the truthful answer that the AG thought it a good idea to curtail circulation and a wider coverage they just might, in the light of the many allegations of cover up against his office, think that they had here positive evidence of the 'wilful obstruction' which he was recently accused of. "No matter how unjust that might be, it would be an obvious outcome." Mr Bailhache told Sky News: "I can assure you that I am not going to discuss with the media any memoranda going to and fro with me and the police." He added: "The position is that Jersey has been delivering justice week in, week out for centuries. "There is no reason to think that it will not be delivered in any of the cases that are part of the current investigation."

Should the Attorney General be effectively directing the course of the enquiry? It seems that the phrase "in order to prevent you from barking up the wrong tree at an early stage", which I have not come across in any other media reports on the leaked memo, would indicate precisely that!

It is also interesting to see the comment that about police press releases being "too wide and encourages wider comment". Why should there not be wider comment? I think Lenny Harper's observation that this might just be considered "wilful obstruction" are very sharp and to the point.

Can we really rely on William Baillache's word that "There is no reason to think that it will not be delivered in any of the cases that are part of the current investigation", or if cases come before the jury, will he be issuing notes from the bench ""in order to prevent you from barking up the wrong tree at an early stage"? This is a strange notion of justice!

As for the note that "The position is that Jersey has been delivering justice week in, week out for centuries.". I suggest that he decide instead of going by what appears to be received hearsay, look into Jersey history. Here is an interesting example from Ragg's "A Popular History of Jersey", which I think is precisely pertinent to the present situation:

A curious case, too, occurred in the April of 1822, concerning the relationship of Lieut.-Bailiff Sir Thomas Le Breton, to John W. Dupre and J. Poingdestre, two complainants in a trial for forgery held in the Royal Court, which appears to have caused no little stir on the Island, and resulted in an appeal to higher powers, the plea being that the Bailiff, as both brother-in-law and nephew to the persons defrauded, was thereby not a fitting person to act as presiding Magistrate in the case. At least, such was the opinion expressed in Court by a Jurat named Anley, who proposed that the matter should be referred to the whole body of the Court. This was done on April 22nd, 1822, with the result that the full Court decided against the Bailiff. " From which extraordinary decision," says Le Quesne, "John Dumaresq, Procurator General, and Francis John Le Couteur, Advocate-General, appealed ; upon which it pleased His Majesty that the said order of the Royal Court be rescinded and the trial proceed with Sir Thomas Le Breton as presiding Magistrate.

So not much change then about "justice" either! How would Mr Bailhache comment on that case? Does he think the outcome - that Sir Thomas Le Breton should try the case - was just - given the clear conflict of interests? Was this one of those examples of delivering justice "for centuries", or was it more obviously a case where a principles of disinterested jurisprudence were overruled? I feel that if this happened today, the Attorney General would absent himself from the case because of a perceived potential conflict of interests, but in those days, justice - this is the "centuries old justice" - ran on different lines.

How would Mr Bailhache comment on that case? Answers on a postcard to the : The Bailhache Foundation for Historical Ignorance.

Sunday, 17 August 2008

Weekend Musings

The existence of social evils, that is to say, of social conditions under which many men are suffering, can be comparatively well established. Those who suffer can judge for themselves, and the others can hardly deny that they would not like to change places

- Karl Popper, The Open Society and Its Enemies

A CHARITY that helps Islanders in urgent need has been receiving letters from States departments asking for help for children and families whose needs cannot be met through the new income support system. Colin Taylor, of the William and Helena Taylor Trust, says that many people are falling through the benefits net. He regularly receives official letters from childcare officers, social workers and youth workers who work for the Heath and Social Services department asking for help for families with nowhere else to turn. He also receives letters from school heads requesting help for children. 'The people making these requests are professionals in their fields and must feel that there is nowhere in the system for them to go to help their clients. That is a situation that needs to be addressed,' he said.

The article in the JEP went on to say that - a year ago - Senator Paul Routier had sat down with Colin Taylor, and concluded that there was not a lot that could be done within the existing Income Support law, that most of the cases who were coming to Mr Taylor could not in fact be helped through the States system.

It strikes me that if you are a politician whose responsibility this is - like Senator Routier - and the law is not sufficient, then it is your duty to amend to law in order to prevent all the avoidable suffering and misery that this situation occurs. One year down the line, and it seems that nothing much has been done, and by all accounts the new income support scheme is worse than the old patchwork quilt. To say when people are falling through the cracks that "this is the law" sounds like the pitiless motto of Inspector Javert in Victor Hugo's Les Miserable:

Jean Valjean: You never temper justice with mercy?
Inspector Javert: No, we might as well understand each other, Monsieur Madeliene. I administer the law - good, bad, or indifferent - it's no business of mine, but the law to the letter!

Now that might be excusable for a civil servant, who after all, has to apply existing laws. I see no grounds for the law being used as an excuse to hide behind by Senator Routier. It is politicians who are responsible for policy, and they are responsible for reforming an existing law if it is not working as well as it might. The income support law was a reform on a grand scale, and it would be surprising if there were not problems arising which need to be addressed. As Popper notes:

Bearing in mind the general principle of learning from mistakes, and the function of experiments in science, social reforms can be viewed as experiments and sensible politicians will monitor the results and look out for unexpected complications, unintended consequences...

Why has Paul Routier done so little? Does he think that this is acceptable?

It often seems to me that many of our politicians need a grounding in the work of the philosopher John Rawls. In his "Theory of Justice", Rawls posed the following

no one knows his place in society, his class position or social status, nor does anyone know his fortune in the distribution of natural assets and abilities, his intelligence, strength, and the like. I shall even assume that the parties do not know their conceptions of the good or their special psychological propensities. The principles of justice are chosen behind a veil of ignorance

According to this, a just society is the one you would construct if you did not know where you fitted into the society - rich or poor - but had to decide how to organise the society based on this "veil of ignorance". As Rawls argues, if you do not know how you will end up in your own conceived society, you are not likely to privilege any one class of people, but rather develop a scheme of justice that treats all fairly. In particular, Rawls argues that the poorest members of society will be maximised, because you do not know if you will end up there.

That is a rational basis for improving our society when people fall through the cracks in the income support scheme - there is also the way of empathy, of considering the case of other people, and putting yourselves in their shoes, a task which many politicians seem singularly ill-equipped, with a few notable exceptions. It is likely that the reason why many in the States found Senator Syvret's speech at Christmas so disturbing was that it was clearly heartfelt, and called upon them to feel enough to make an emphatic response as well.

Simon Baron-Cohen, one of the psychologists who made the breakthrough about "theory of mind" in autism, is convinced that lack of empathy is at the root of many political problems, and in how they are shaped. This is his "dangerous idea" from the Edge Foundation "big question" of 2006:

Imagine a political system based not on legal rules (systemizing) but on empathy. Would this make the world a safer place?

The UK Parliament, US Congress, Israeli Knesset, French National Assembly, Italian Senato della Repubblica, Spanish Congreso de los Diputados, - what do such political chambers have in common? Existing political systems are based on two principles: getting power through combat, and then creating/revising laws and rules through combat.

Combat is sometimes physical (toppling your opponent militarily), sometimes economic (establishing a trade embargo, to starve your opponent of resources), sometimes propaganda-based (waging a media campaign to discredit your opponent's reputation), and sometimes through voting-related activity (lobbying, forming alliances, fighting to win votes in key seats), with the aim to 'defeat' the opposition.

Creating/revising laws and rules is what you do once you are in power. These might be constitutional rules, rules of precedence, judicial rulings, statutes, or other laws or codes of practice. Politicians battle for their rule-based proposal (which they hold to be best) to win, and battle to defeat the opposition's rival proposal.

This way of doing politics is based on "systemizing". First you analyse the most effective form of combat (itself a system) to win. If we do x, then we will obtain outcome y. Then you adjust the legal code (another system). If we pass law A, we will obtain outcome B.

My colleagues and I have studied the essential difference between how men and women think. Our studies suggest that (on average) more men are systemizers, and more women are empathizers. Since most political systems were set up by men, it may be no coincidence that we have ended up with political chambers that are built on the principles of systemizing.

So here's the dangerous new idea. What would it be like if our political chambers were based on the principles of empathizing? It is dangerous because it would mean a revolution in how we choose our politicians, how our political chambers govern, and how our politicians think and behave. We have never given such an alternative political process a chance. Might it be better and safer than what we currently have? Since empathy is about keeping in mind the thoughts and feelings of other people (not just your own), and being sensitive to another person's thoughts and feelings (not just riding rough-shod over them), it is clearly incompatible with notions of "doing battle with the opposition" and "defeating the opposition" in order to win and hold on to power.

Currently, we select a party (and ultimately a national) leader based on their "leadership" qualities. Can he or she make decisions decisively? Can they do what is in the best interests of the party, or the country, even if it means sacrificing others to follow through on a decision? Can they ruthlessly reshuffle their Cabinet and "cut people loose" if they are no longer serving their interests? These are the qualities of a strong systemizer.

Note we are not talking about whether that politician is male or female. We are talking about how a politician (irrespective of their sex) thinks and behaves.

We have had endless examples of systemizing politicians unable to resolve conflict. Empathizing politicians would perhaps follow Mandela and De Klerk's examples, who sat down to try to understand the other, to empathize with the other, even if the other was defined as a terrorist. To do this involves the empathic act of stepping into the other's shoes, and identifying with their feelings.

The details of a political system based on empathizing would need a lot of working out, but we can imagine certain qualities that would have no place.

Gone would be politicians who are skilled orators but who simply deliver monologues, standing on a platform, pointing forcefully into the air to underline their insistence - even the body language containing an implied threat of poking their listener in the chest or the face - to win over an audience. Gone too would be politicians who are so principled that they are rigid and uncompromising.

Instead, we would elect politicians based on different qualities: politicians who are good listeners, who ask questions of others instead of assuming they know the right course of action. We would instead have politicians who respond sensitively to another, different point of view, and who can be flexible over where the dialogue might lead. Instead of seeking to control and dominate, our politicians would be seeking to support, enable, and care.

Friday, 15 August 2008

Culpability and Respectability

The second blind spot in the Gaffer's make-up was that he, with an eagle eye which could pin-point a boy throwing a stone at two hundred yards, who knew every trick his charges could perpetrate, failed to understand that we had both resident and visiting pederasts.

Two gentlemen, always welcomed by The Gaffer and matron, shared a house in the town and asked the boys there for tea on Sundays. More than tea and cakes were involved however. I went to the house only once (the host's aged mother was blindly knitting while it all went on around her) and left quickly through a window when I could not dodge around the rooms any more. Others described how they had made similar getaways. One of these genial householders used to come to our home to play the piano for hymns on a Sunday evening and he later attained high civic office and sat as a magistrate.

- Leslie Thomas, In My Wildest Dreams: An Autobiography

I am not suggesting that any of the current Jersey judiciary is compromised in the Jersey child abuse enquiry to the extent given in the quotation above. What it does show - very clearly I think - is how these kind of people can be - to the outside world - devout and upstanding citizens, the kind of people in authority whom no one - especially those in authority above them - would easily believe to be capable of such crimes.

It is notable that with the case of Victoria College, and Jervis-Dykes, that this was very much the attitude of the Headmaster and the Deputy Head - that their colleague was a fine teacher, someone whom they and they boys respected, the head of mathematics, and therefore could not be guilty - it was the boy's word against his. Even when they could see that there was sufficient evidence accumulating of misconduct on off-Island trips, the Deputy Headmaster (now a Jurat) judged (or perhaps misjudged) that Jervis-Dykes should be allowed to resign "with dignity" because Jervis Dykes had served the College "in an outstandingly competent and conscientious way". If this had been so allowed, goodness knows where he might be teaching now.

Similarly, the mention of Wilfred Krichevski as connected with the Haut de La Garenne case has been greeted with considerable derision because he was a notable and respected politician, and therefore - it is assumed - could not be connected with the case. Why someone who was a child at Haut de La Garenne should pluck such a name out of the distant political past, or why someone should have such a grudge against him after so many years, seems to be questions not asked, and make me more inclined to believe that there might well be something in it.

Witnesses are deprived of credibility, and anyone in child care are vouched for by their colleagues, who cannot consider that their own judgement might be in error. More recent cases of this happening was (1) Anton Skinner, a man named in Panorama as being responsible for the child protection services when many examples of appalling abuse were concealed (2) The case of the McGuire's conduct at Blanche Pierre was unacceptable, but - in a report from 1990 - said that "by way of mitigation it was a stressful job...Mrs McGuire agreed to retire voluntarily from running the group-home - and would, instead, come and work in the Family Development Centre." (3) The letter written by Iris Le Feuvre thanking the McGuires on their retirement for their excellent work.

Or take this account by Stuart Syvret which highlights this problem:

I was asking Frank Walker a supplementary question to the effect that when I was H & SS Minister, senior civil servants had lied to me about the case of Simon Bellwood. Did he think it acceptable for civil servants to lie to politicians? Before he could answer, Senator Terry Le Main... interrupted and began shouting that it was "disgraceful" to ask such a question and that "civil servants didn't lie."

It is no wonder that a recent story in the Times notes that:

A furious memorandum from the senior detective in the Jersey child murder and abuse investigation claims that it has been hampered by prosecutors, destroying victims' faith in the justice system...Mr Lenny Harper claims that the island's Attorney-General and his office are held in "total contempt" by victims of child abuse after repeatedly failing to bring offenders to justice. Mr Harper's memo gives warning that potential witnesses are keeping silent because suspects are being freed without charge on apparently spurious grounds.. In another child abuse case, Mr Harper writes, the police experienced delays after sending a file this April to Mr Thomas about Jane and Alan Maguire, who had run a care home. A previous prosecution against the Maguires for assault was dropped for lack of evidence in 1998 by Michael Birt, QC, then the Attorney-General. Mr Birt is now the second most powerful judge as Deputy Bailiff. "Naturally, as I was Attorney-General at the time, I would not sit judicially in any case which may be brought in the future involving the Maguires," he said this week. The Maguires retired to France and no extradition has yet been sought.

Thursday, 14 August 2008

Ethics and the Finance Sector

Is Jersey acting to high ethical standards in its finance sector?

In order to answer this, we need to look at how offshore/onshore operates, and what business over here are actually doing, how money is flowing through the system, and how this fits into the global economy, and then ask - can Jersey make a difference in any way, and what ethical standards can apply?

Client confidentially does not help, as it tends to obscure what is actually going on, and lends itself to accusations of "secrecy" and "tax evasion". I think that there is an awful lot of nonsense talked by those who should know better, but possibly have their own hidden agenda, on the basis of far too little information, and a good deal of supposition and rumour which is treated as fact. One book on offshore practice by a U.K. academic suggests a parallel between Jersey's privateers and what he calls modern day piracy. That sort of approach does not strike me as unbiased or objective.

I have been looking just at banking, which is only one aspect of offshore business, and have the following preliminary notes, which shows how complicated matters are.One fact which appears evident is that tax evasion is possible by going "offshore" from one jurisdiction to another (which does not just mean Jersey and small offshore centres, but any place where banking takes place outside the jurisdiction in which someone lives), but that does not form the only part, or even a significant part, of offshore services. In other words, an American citizen can go offshore by placing money in a Canada bank. He might do this for tax evasion, but he might do this simply because of other considerations - he may have a better rate of return on Canadian investments, he may have property or business in Canada, and wants to avoid losing money on exchange rates, etc. This means that the money goes out of the American economy, and out of American banks, and they lose money from that, and this effects the American money supply, but that has nothing to do with tax evasion.

Because of lower overheads and operating costs, and lower internal tax regimes, offshore banks in places like Jersey can provide cheaper services and higher rates of return. An analogous economic system would be the difference between high street shops in Jersey and internet buying. Because of lower overheads (town rent, staffing, town rates, etc), internet shops can often provide cheaper prices that local stores, so tempting people to buy "offshore", but no one would suggest Jersey people should therefore "buy local" or be forced to do so. "

High ethical standards" have nothing to do with "shopping around", and while Jersey shopkeepers and tax authorities will lose money over internet shopping, I do not know that they could make claims that internet shopping is "unethical" because it is "harmful competition"!

So tax evasion is not the only issue in looking at ethics, there is also the issue of larger governments (who quite happily run their own offshore operations, e.g. the USA with its "International Banking Facilities (IBF)." ) using the excuse of tax evasion to bully smaller jurisdictions into making changes to their tax regimes that have nothing to do with tax evasion, but everything to do with protectionism. If you examine how the IBFs operate in the USA, it is exactly what Jersey is told it cannot do with exempt companies! In Europe, despite the drive towards tax harmonisation in the EU, even France still supplies special tax rates for particular entities with offshore links (i.e. they benefit non-residents!) - one example is the "patent holding company".

In this respect the EU's slogan of "unfair tax competition" looks as if it needs the phrase "from outsiders" added to it!Obviously this is only one aspect of offshore. There is also labour outsourcing, and the reasons why offshore trusts and fund management can provide better vehicles than onshore - but we can see that there are grounds for not taking "offshore" as a euphemism for "tax evasion", and when one begins to examine what is actually going on, the idea of "money stolen from other jurisdictions" while very emotive, is not true to the realities of the economy.

Going back to my internet shopping analogy, the competition means Jersey high street stores have a harder time making ends meet, but to say that internet shopping was "stealing money from local traders and the local economy" is to abuse the word "stealing". If one is a Marxist, that would be fine, and they often use such loaded phrases, but if one holds that a market economy should be open to competition, then it is not.

Is Jersey acting to high ethical standards in its finance sector? Probably, with the new Tax Information Exchange Agreements, better than before, but certainly not much worse than other countries. There is scope for all of them to improve their act. To single out small jurisdictions while avoiding larger ones that are more difficult to tackle - e.g. the U.S.A. - is more suggestive of a strategy of picking on easy targets than making an ethical stance.
Useful site for details on low tax vehicles - the link gives France, but other jurisdictions are available from the index.

Book of the post:

International Tax Competition, editor Rajiv Biswas