Saturday, 31 January 2009
This book gives an exciting and well researched guide to the archaeological exploration of famous mysteries - "ruins widely scattered about the globe, in which the shards of history lie waiting to be sifted out of the dust heaps of myth and ignorance."
One of the most interesting of the mysteries which the authors investigate is the lost continent of Atlantis, about which "nearly two thousand books and articles have been written." The story of Atlantis "has given rise to speculations from the soberest science to the wildest fantasy."
Where did the idea of Atlantis come from? And what truth is there in a tale of a continent that was engulfed in a cataclysm, and lost beneath the sea?
Atlantis has its origins in the writings of Plato. In two of the Socratic dialogues, "Timaios" and "Kritias", Plato has the speakers tell the story of Atlantis, which was both the name of an island and the city on it - "a perfectly circular metropolis." In the centre of the city, as in the Athens of Plato's time, "were palaces, temples, race tracks and other public structures." It is clear from the detail which Plato gave that he was describing what was, from his point of view, an idealised and perfect state, like his "Republic". But he continues by making the story of Atlantis become a cautionary tale to his fellow countrymen: the people of Atlantis become greedy and corrupt, so that the gods punished them by sending a fearful earthquake which "sank Atlantis beneath the sea."
Other ancient writers saw this simply as "an allegorical fiction". Aristotle (Plato's pupil), Strabo the geographer and Pliny the Roman encyclopaedist "all took it for granted that Atlantis was a fiction, which Plato had made up to set forth his theories about the perfect state." Yet if Atlantis had existed, we might expect such writers to know of it.
However, in the later Roman Empire, there was a marked decline in critical standards, in failing to check up on facts. It is then that we find that "writers like Proklos the Neo-Platonist began to take the Atlantis tale seriously." He was the first of a great multitude who, over the centuries, speculated about Atlantis. The authors examine these theories and point out their deficiencies and faults, and argue cogently the' geological reasons why "whole continents do not sink out of sight overnight as the result of a few earthquakes."
But if Atlantis is just a fiction, what inspired Plato with the idea of a continent lost beneath the waves? In 426 BC, the year after Plato was born, there was "an earthquake wave than inundated the little Greek island of Atalante." There is such a close resemblance in names that it is almost certain that it is from this island that Plato derived the name of his vast continent "somewhere at the western end of the Mediterranean"; and it is the catastrophe that overwhelmed Atalante, magnified, that destroys Plato's fictional Atlantis.
Other investigations in the book deal with Troy, the Pyramids, the Round Table of King Arthur and King Solomon's Mines. This is an exciting book, well written, and a fine introduction to historical and archaeological research, often showing that fact can be even more curious than fiction.
Thursday, 29 January 2009
All are welcome to come to this, although clearly it is for Island Christians mainly, who have an active interest in social justice issues.
AMOS GROUP of CHRISTIANS TOGETHER IN JERSEY
Agenda for meeting on Wed. Feb. 4th at 5.45 at Pastoral Centre, St. Thomas .
1. Opening prayer
2. Draft response to proposed child employment law
3. Letter sent to Ian Gorst re income support system and some form of personal contact by staff with claimants
4. Welcome to Deputy Sean Power, Assistant Housing Minister, to talk about Housing issues. It is Homelessness and Poverty Action Week from Jan 31st to Feb. 8th.
5. Questions on the environment and energy. Deputy Anne Pryke and Louise Magris have both agreed to attend our March meeting. They will explain the political considerations in this area and will be happy to answer any questions so just a few minutes to propose some questions
7. Dates of future meetings Weds. March 4th, April 1st, May 6th
8. The Grace
Ed Le Quesne 29 / 1 / 09
"On leaving the Court the dismal procession will have filled up to Tower Hill, where there stakes were set up, the mother being placed in the middle. They were first strangled, but the rope broke before they were dead and they were cast out into the flames, and to Perotine Massey, in that raging furnace, a male child was born. He was picked out alive from the flames by a bystander the master gunner and surgeon "cannonier et cirugien" of the island called William House, and was brought by the Sheriff to the Bailiff, who said he was to be cast back into the flames. And by so saying has insured eternal infamy for his memory."[iii]
Foxe describes it this way:
"Then was the child had to the Prouost, and from him to the Bayliffe, who gaue censure, that it should be caryed backe agayne and cast into the fire. And so the infant Baptised in his own bloud, to fill up the number of Gods innocent Sayntes, was both borne, and dyed a Martyr, leauing behinde to the world, which it neuer saw, a spectacle wherein the whole world may see the Herodian cruelty of this gracelesse generation of catholicke Tormentors, Ad perpetuam rei infamiam."[iv]
This occurs in the time of Queen Mary in Guernsey, this is often mistaken for a witch trial, but the records make it most clear that it was as a Protestant heretic that she was killed, and on those grounds that she made her defence.
In the reign of Edward VI, she had married David Jores, a Norman Huguenot (Protestant) schoolmaster ( and also a minister) and refugee, at the Castel Church, the ceremony having been performed by Monsieur Noel Regnet, one of the French Huguenot pastors who had supplanted the original Catholic priests in the Guernsey Churches (and whom banished for disloyalty in 1554).
Jores was not present, because at the time of the trial he was in London. The charge by the Catholic Bailiff (appointed in the time of Queen Mary) was that "saving only to the commands of Holy Church they had not been obedient." The reply of the three women charged (including Perotine Massey) was that "that they would obey and keep the ordnances of the King and Queen (Philip and Mary) and the Commandments of the Church, not withstanding that they had said and fore the contrary in the time of King Edward the 6th in showing obedience to his ordnances and commandments .", which as D.M. Ogier points out[v], is a clear indication that they were staunch Protestants.
Unfortunately, apart from J.L. Pitts, most of the other books which cite this case do not make it clear that it was separate from the witch trials - L'Amy misquotes Pitts, and Hillsdon mentions the trial right in the middle of a section on witch persecutions! But it is unlikely that they would have been accused of witchcraft, as the "enqueste" on the 5th June, 1556, reported that "had always lived honest, respectable lives, and were deemed incapable of theft."
While the same kind of thinking lay at the root of both witch and heretic persecutions, the rules of evidence were quite different. Witch trials were made on the basis of often fantastical allegations about things happening (curses having effects), and torture was used to ensure that the "correct" form of confession was made (which is why as Pitts notes the form of the confession is often so similar). Heretic trials were made about beliefs, and those accused would defend themselves on the basis of those beliefs (as in the Guernsey case).
The end result was a tragedy in any case, as were the burnings of witches in Jersey, and having studied the period in depth, I am often staggered by the statements by some of the Crown authorities in the Island about Jersey's having "800 years of justice", when there was none for those persecuted in this way and it was the judicial (and not the church) authorities who sentenced people to death, and which I still find distressing to read about.
[i] See http://www.hrionline.ac.uk/johnfoxe/main/11_1583_1943.jsp
[ii] From Edith Carey's account of 16th Century Social History in Guernsey, an extract is at http://www.museum.guernsey.net/Cauches%20Witch%20Trial.htm
[iii] Edith Carey's account of 16th Century Social History in Guernsey
[v] See D.M. Ogier, Reformation and Society in Guernsey
Wednesday, 28 January 2009
The Minister for Transport and Technical Services (TTS), Connétable Mike Jackson, has been congratulating the staff in the Toilet Cleaning Section on recent achievements in the national Loo of the Year Awards announced at the end of 2008. This is the first time that TTS has entered this event and four of the five toilets entered received the top 5 Star Awards. The Toilet Cleaning Section entered the toilets at Corbière, Sand Street Car Park, Bouley Bay, Côtil du Grouin in St Brelade and La Mare in St Clement. The toilets at La Mare only narrowly lost out on 5 Star status. There were over 1,700 separate entries for the Loo of the Year Awards coming from all over Britain. The facilities are given a 1 - 5 Star Grading. This is awarded following an unannounced visit by an independent Loo of the Year Awards Inspector, who makes an assessment against set criteria which include: cleanliness, signage and communication, décor and maintenance, air quality hygiene equipment and overall management and customer care. In 2008, only 42% of the total entries achieved the top 5 Star Grading. "If you have pride in the work you do, it shows" said the Minister for Transport and Technical Services, Connétable Mike Jackson. "These toilets have been benchmarked against a national standard and have been found to be top class. I am delighted that the staff have received this recognition, it is well deserved."
Yes, it is all true! It must be true, I read it on the States website. What an odd world we live in!
But I wish they would check out the toilets at Minden Place Car park or St Catherine's Breakwater, both of which often are sadly lacking in cleanliness. The ones in the Parade aren't that nice either. It seems rather strange that they can enter only a few toilets, and I think this curious and strange award would be better if all the Island's public toilets were open to inspection, and the selection was random. Instead, no doubt the best kept ones were selected.
I'd also love to know what the "air quality hygiene equipment" means when it is at home. I googled it, and got the single reference to it being this article! Any suggestions?
Tuesday, 27 January 2009
How it came about that he was caught is related as follows. The general manager of the supermarket had seen the accused removing three carrier bags full of stolen merchandise from the stores, placing these under a blanket between the front and back seats of his car. The police report, which seemed to enjoy a somewhat melodramatic and stereotypic turn of phrase, noted that the accused "was seen to look round rather furtively" before placing the goods in the car. Whether the accused actually exhibited such an action of theatrical villainy is doubtful.
However, something in his manner aroused the suspicion of the general manager, who tells us that he hid around a wall to watch the actions of the suspect. Shortly, he decided that a crime had been committed, and asked the accused to produce a receipt for the goods. This being impossible, the accused was confronted with the question as to whether the goods were stolen. "Yes, I'm afraid so." was his lame reply.
"I realise I have been stupid." he told the police later, when they had been called up to the supermarket. "I don't even remember what I'd taken." his statement limped on, saying that he had picked up the icing sugar to begin with, "then one thing led to another."
"I have been very worried." he told the police. You may indeed have been worried, he was told by the police, yet that does not excuse theft. He was thereupon charged and arrested for theft.
Now he stands before me in the court, a pathetic little man. With not a spark of remorse, he just feels sorry for himself. Once, he had been in a good job, earning a decent wage as night manager. Now, of course, that is gone; he is unemployed, looking for a job, but with the added disadvantage of a criminal record. He must still try to pay off the high purchase on his car; without this, his chances of employment, already negligible, will become even more remote. He is getting divorced and will have to pay out maintenance for his wife. He has been living with a married lady and will, most probably, be cited if the husband decides to petition for a divorce; although, even now, the lady has kicked him out.
In the plea for his defence, it was stated that the accused, due to marital and extra-marital circumstances, was in a "highly emotional state". For some time, he had been living "under stress". This was his mitigating evidence. But if these were the circumstances which led to his downfall, it must be asked whether he is not, in some measure, responsible for such a situation. Wasn't he guilty of creating those very circumstances which he pleads in his defence?
"Court rise!" announced the usher, and we all arose as the magistrates filed back into the court room, after their deliberations. A quaint custom, I thought, this practice marking the entrance or exit of the magistrates. It seems to be purely decorative, serving no useful function, except it be, perhaps, to mark with deadly clarity that moment when the verdict is considered, and delivered. And that I have told you at the beginning: this verdict was guilty. But a verdict is a declaration, partaking of no deep comprehension. How may we understand this man?
A case of petty pilfering was attempted to be carried out with no forethought of penalty. Here, the only reason for keeping to the law was the supposition that the accused would not be caught, tried and convicted of the offense of theft. On being found out, he displayed no contrition at being caught stealing, but rather blames his stupidity, being careless enough to be caught.
Circumstances had weaved a tangled web around him, yet this same snare had been of his own doing. Before, it had been easy enough to break free from the web; he had acted without forethought, yet there had been no penalty, so that it had been easy to snap the strands again and again. But now he had over-reached himself, and entered the realm where the legal code coincides with the moral principle, and enforces it. This time, there had been the same perennial lack of foresight, that same disregard for the consequences of his actions. But now the law had captured him, and from this web was no escape, only a just retribution.
Why did he do it? Simply because he believed that he had nothing to fear, nothing to lose. And that is surely the reason for so much crime. If I am careful not to be caught, he reasoned, I may take these goods. Whatever the crime, the question never arises as to whether it would be wrong to steal, wrong to hurt others. Instead, we have today's criminal, a moral pragmatist: if I can get away with it, then it is right. And there, wretched man, the accused had sunk so deep into the abyss that he no longer felt the slightest moral compunction governing his acts.
In this case, I offer you just a glimpse of the abyss, no more. But it is enough. The accused was convicted. Yet it was not that he was a bad man. It was simply that he was not a good one.
Monday, 26 January 2009
Our own Jersey Constable and namesake, Michael Jackson, does not behave in any kind of outrageous manner, but he has recently come up with a few really "whacky" suggestions to improve parking.
One is to use the "Petit Train" from St Aubin's to St Brelade, which he says if used by commuters could release up to 30 parking spaces in St Helier, if the car drivers using it were all single car users. The Jersey Evening post has already pointed out one disadvantage - the passenger compartments are not water tight or well-shielded from the elements, which would lead to a very cold ride, and in case of high tides, a very wet one.
But a more fundamental flaw is that - unless it could be guaranteed that all the 30 drivers came from their own private parking spaces in St Aubin - those 30 cars would need somewhere to park - at St Aubin! Where St Helier might have congestion problems, it has nothing like the level of difficulty that parking in St Aubin has, and to add 30 cars to 9-5 stay in the car parks in St Aubin would significantly reduce the parking. I am sure the St Aubin businesses would have something to say about that! It is a perfect example of non-joined up thinking - "how can I reduce the impact of cars on St Helier", leading to completely forgetting the impact on St Aubin. But then Michael Jackson, as Constable, has his own private space at St Aubin's Parish Hall - don't forget that.
The other suggestion to tax private parking spaces is also poorly thought out. In fact, a number of these are already taxed because the landlords are businesses charging GST on the rental, so there would be a double tax impact. Moreover, if private parking became sufficiently expensive to act as a deterrent, the idea that this would make those commuters take to the bus is laughable. They would simply move to public parking, and the impact would be there instead. This might have a knock on effect so that some road users would take the bus, but it is only a might be.
Of course one set of private spaces are free, and therefore would presumably be untaxed. States members, and the senior Crown Officers, have their own private and free parking in St Helier, and it seems a bit unfair that they should consider other private car parking, and somehow exclude their own, which they do not even pay for. Guy De Faye, to give him credit for something, did take the bus in and out of St Helier, and somehow managed to get to States meetings on time without trouble. Perhaps Michael Jackson, as Minister for TTS, would set a similar example before penalizing others?
A park and ride scheme, perhaps around La Collette, with frequent buses, say minibuses every ten minutes over the rush hour period, would be a better suggestion, and has been tried before with a measure of success, and I assume the "Hoppa Bus" service suggested could accommodate this. Unfortunately, at the moment, the headline grabber is a picture of "Le Petit Train", and our own home grown "Whacko Jacko", who obviously aspires to be as colourful in the post as Minister for TTS as his predecessor for making really whacky suggestions.
Sunday, 25 January 2009
This book gives a clear discussion and criticism of the political philosophy which stems from Plato - the philosophy which seeks to fix society in an ideal state, and arrest it there. But Karl Popper does not simply seek to attack this philosophy; he also shows us how we may learn from Plato's mistakes, and so set forth a framework of political philosophy for a democracy.
What is "democracy"? Popper sees it as a convenient label for "governments which we can get rid of without bloodshed - for example, by way of general elections; that is to say, the social institutions provide means by which the rulers may be dismissed by the ruled." He points out that he regards the label of "democracy" as simply a shorthand means by which he may describe this sort of government, and that if anyone wishes to append a different label, he would not mind. It is the type of government described that concerns him, and not the choice of descriptive label.
Popper argues that Plato "created a lasting confusion in political philosophy" when Plato stated the fundamental problem of politics in the question: "Who shall rule the state?" In fact, to ask this question means that it has already been decided that political power is sovereign, unchecked, with the problem being "to get this power into the best hands." This is the problem of establishing a good government.
In contrast to this, Popper suggests that we should "face from the beginning the possibility of bad government." This alters Plato's approach so that we "replace the question: Who should rule? by the new question: How can we so organize political institutions that bad or incompetent rulers can be prevented from doing too much damage?" This is why "removal governments" (or, to use the shorthand label, "democracy") is so important: the if we can remove bad governments by peaceful means, then we are some way towards checking the power of bad or incompetent rulers. Moreover, as Popper points out, the various methods of democratic control (such as general elections and representative government) "are to be considered no more than well-tried, always open to improvement."
Another main thread in Plato's thought is the approach which Popper describes as "Utopian engineering". This approach is to draw up a complete blueprint for the society at which we aim, before "we begin to consider the best ways and means for its realisation, and draw up a plan for practical action." For example, in the case of a small island, we might draw up a draft plan for developments in housing, business, farming, roads, water resources etc. over the entire island, and then seek to implement it. One danger of the Utopian approach, as Popper points out, is that in order to implement the blueprint, it "demands a strong centralised rule of a few, and which therefore is likely to lead to a dictatorship." This is because "the reconstruction of society is a big undertaking which must cause considerable inconvenience to many, and for a considerable period of time." This means that those engaged upon such an undertaking will have to be deaf to many complaints."
This is a fascinating book, written with great clarity and perception. Moreover, unlike many books on philosophy, it is a book which makes you think!
Thursday, 22 January 2009
Scot in charge of Jersey abuse case accuses force of hounding him
Jan 18 2009 By Norman Silvester
THE POLICE chief who led a probe into child abuse at a Jersey children's home is under criminal investigation. Scot Lenny Harper, 56, has been called back to the island for a court hearing but has refused because he fears arrest as a "scapegoat". Harper, the former deputy head of the States of Jersey Police, has been accused of witholding vital information about the investigation to the police team that replaced him. And he is also alleged to have breached data protection and official secrets laws by leaking information about the investigation to the media. Harper, who was previously a deputy divisional commander for Strathclyde Police, was interviewed by Crown Office staff last week. On Tuesday, he received a letter from Jersey attorney-general William Bailhache ordering him to attend a hearing at the island's Royal Court on January 28. Harper, who lives in Ayr, said last night he did not have any evidence or documents which were not already in the possession of the Jersey authorities. He said: "I have been ordered to appear in Jersey at the Royal Court to give evidence and provide notebooks. "They also want to see a farewell card which my former staff signed which they say contains evidence.
"The order is not enforceable in the United Kingdom. "I have no evidence whatsoever to give or documents which the Jersey authorities do not have. They have spent many thousands of pounds trying to implicate me in Official Secrets Act and data protection offences on no evidence.
"I am being told that certain officials in Jersey are falsely briefing against me and I would need to be stupid to expose myself to these people."
Harper added that he had told the Crown Office in Edinburgh he was prepared to answer the questions in any British court.
He went on: "They are using me as a scapegoat so they can drop all the abuse charges. "Nothing should detract from the fact that there remain serious, credible allegations about the abuse of children in care in Jersey and these must be investigated." The inquiry centred on claims that children had been tortured and killed in secret chambers beneath the Haut de la Garenne children's home in Jersey. Police teams dug in the foundations of the disused home amid speculation that an abuse ring had been covered up for up to 40 years. But detectives now in charge of the case say there is no evidence that any children were killed despite Harper insisting the remains of "at least five children" had been found. Media reports claimed police had found evidence of a secret underground chamber, metal shackles and sites where children might lie buried.
The inquiry led to three men being charged in connection with abuse on Jersey involving girls and boys as young as eight. The Crown Office in Edinburgh confirmed yesterday they had been asked by the Jersey authorities to carry out investigations in Scotland into the abuse case on their behalf. A Crown Office spokesman said: "We are co-operating with the States of Jersey authorities in connection with their investigation regarding Haut de la Garenne." Graham Power, Jersey's chief of police and formerly deputy chief at Lothian and Borders, remains suspended in the fallout from the inquiry.
As I have said, we must not be complacent. We have limited resources at our disposal and we must use them at the right time to deliver the greatest benefit for all islanders. The Fiscal Policy Panel has set out, and I have accepted, clear guidelines on how we should consider use of the Stabilisation Fund. Any consideration for withdrawals should pass three tests:
- Timely: the impact must be at the time of the economic downturn not before or after the event.
- Targeted: the impact must be targeted on those individuals and businesses that will deliver the biggest impact.
-Temporary: policy should be temporary and must not have a permanent impact on government spending or tax revenue.
These are known as the three "T"s and I intend to apply these principles whenever the Assembly is asked to consider use of the stabilisation fund.
I agree with the Chief Minister that we must be disciplined and ensure that any proposals we bring forward focus on short-term investments aimed at helping local people and businesses to weather the storm; they must not be used to fund new initiatives that we would like to do in any event.
I read both the long piece by Philip Ozouf in the JEP last night, and the statement released, and given partly verbatim on BBC Radio Jersey, and I have yet to see what I would really like to know - precisely how do the States intend to use the stabilisation fund. Lots of talk about "research we have commissioned and the plans we are developing", but no fine details. How any one could fill 2 pages of the JEP and not mention any actual practical measures is beyond belief, but Philip Ozouf is a "master of spin" locally, so when he says we are "developing a package of economic stimulus measures", don't expect any details.
The last time there was a downturn, in Reg Jeune's time as President of Policy and Resources, the main way in which money was given to the economy was by bringing forward building and repair projects - in other words, capital spending programmes on bricks and mortar, which stimulated the building trade wonderfully, produced a nice economic bubble, and had a knock on effect on house prices (which rose), and which was therefore good news for builders, developers, estate agents, lawyers in property transactions, etc etc.
Of course now we have also economic development, which can run advertising campaigns (lobster anyone?) or go on trips to the far east seeking new and exciting opportunities! Quite whether that will stimulate the local economy, I have no idea.
In the end, it will probably be the tried and tested methods of Reg Jeune, dusted down, and put back to work, which will please some sections of the economy (builders, developers, estate agents, lawyers in property transactions etc) no end.
Meantime, do not expect a straight answer on what practical measures might be put in place. Philip Ozouf has obviously been taking lessons from Yes, Minister:
Sir Humphrey: Well Minister, if you asked me for a straight answer then I shall say that, as far as we can see, looking at it by and large, taking one time with another, in terms of the average of departments, then in the final analysis it is probably true to say that, at the end of the day, in general terms, you would find, that, not to put too fine a point on it, there probably wasn't very much in it one way or the other, as far as one can see, at this stage.
Wednesday, 21 January 2009
The Viscount has advised of the steps he has already taken and anticipates taking to identify and best protect any legal rights of the employees, given that there remains property in the Island belonging to Woolworths plc., the sale or assignment of which will need the sanction of the Royal Court. The Minister for Social Security is satisfied that every effort is being made to protect the legal rights of the former Woolworths plc. employees....Whilst Jersey does not currently have legislation in respect of redundancy pay, legislation does make provision for minimum periods of notice that an employer is required to give an employee on termination of their employment. These notice periods are longer than those required in the UK. In addition to being briefed by the Viscount, the Minister for Social Security has written to the joint Administrators to express his disappointment and that of the Chief Minister in respect of the failure to meet their statutory obligations under Jersey Employment Law - in particular regarding the failure to make payments in lieu of notice. The Minister has further requested a meeting with the Joint Administrators to discuss these and related matters.
If I fail to meet my statutory obligations under the law, and neglect to return my income tax form, or pay my Parish rates, or renew my driving license, or ensure I have insurance to drive, or breach the Data Protection Law at work, then the Law would be down on me like a ton of bricks, with summons, fines and probably in some cases threatened imprisonment. For instance, if I fail to make an income tax return, or make a fraudulent one, the following applies:
Legal proceedings may be taken if you fail to submit a Return at all. The penalty for this is a fine up to £5,000. The penalty for negligently making an incorrect Income Tax Return is a fine of up to £5,000 PLUS twice the tax which would have been undercharged by reason of the negligence. If you fraudulently make an incorrect Tax Return you could face imprisonment up to a maximum of 15 years and a fine.
If you are Deloites, the administrator, however, with the Employment Law, apparently, what you get is a letter expressing "disappointment" at your failure to comply with the statutory obligations. The Viscount may be acting on this matter, but there is evidently no letter warning you about this, no summons to the court, no statutory fine which should be imposed on the administrators as soon as possible, and no threat of imprisonment. Why have a statutory obligation if it evidently is not statutory to some accountant firms!
In the words of Lewis Armstrong, "what a wonderful world"!
An interesting area of Bayle's thought is what his critics termed his "paradoxes". One of these is the assertion "that atheists are not a social menace, and that a society composed only of atheists would be perfectly viable." Here, an atheist refers to a person who holds that religious beliefs are false, and therefore the moral values related to those beliefs can have no validity. So it would seem that such atheists would undermine society. Against this, Bayle argues that people are, in general, motivated in their conduct by "self-love", by behaving out of concern for reputation and out of fear of punishment; they only pay "lip service" to their beliefs. The result is that people are kept in check by moral principles regardless of their motivation, which may be devoid of moral and religious significance. The idea that good actions must be motivated by underlying moral values is, therefore, false. Moreover, even where such moral values exist, they are no guarantee of virtuous behaviour, as can readily be confirmed by observation. As Bayle comments: "It is no more strange that an atheist should lead a virtuous life, than a Christian should commit any kind of crime."
In his paradox about a society of atheists, Bayle is also arguing for toleration. He cleverly defends toleration for his beliefs with a more general argument, for if atheists are not to be feared by the state, then still less are heretics. It is clear that his thinking on this matter arose out of his historical situation. Elisabeth Labrousse shows how everything Bayle wrote can be seen as a response to the religious intolerance of his times. While this helps us to understand Bayle's thinking, his arguments should be assessed on the basis of their merits, and not their genesis.
It seems odd that people can believe one thing, and cheerfully practice something quite different, while remaining unconcerned by the fact that there is a glaring contradiction between belief and practice.
But it is not difficult to find many examples of this kind of hypocrisy. For example, a convinced atheist may be a practicing freemason, although the tenets of freemasonry demand a measure of religious belief. Another example is the concern of a young couple to have their child baptised into the Christian faith, although they actually do not believe it to be true.
Bayle helps us to understand how people live with such contradictions. These cases highlight the impotence of belief; they illustrate Bayle's argument that where belief contradicts natural inclinations, we conduct ourselves by our inclinations, rather than our belief. This is a book full of many insights and arguments which deserve to be carefully pondered.
Tuesday, 20 January 2009
It seems that most of the paintings in modern art (of the Turner prize variety) have long since parted company with the Platonic ideals of the True, the Good and the Beautiful. Instead, we are presented with walls full of their opposite - the False, the Bad, and the Ugly; we see pictures that distort, degrade and generally are aesthetically revolting.
Such paintings are usually presented as works of "the creative imagination". Now if Dr Frankenstein's monster can be described as a "work of the creative imagination", then I imagine that there is some justification for so describing a gallery of grotesques. But while Frankenstein - in Mary Shelley's novel - is sickened and disgusted by the sight of what he has made, some modern artists seem to revel in such sights. The rationale for this is that they are "breaking free", getting rid of all their repressions onto the canvas. If that is indeed the case, then why try to make the rest of the world look at them with admiration? Why not let such pictures adorn the bedroom or kitchen of the artist's own house, instead on unleashing them upon the public? I suspect, however, that the artist would be rather horrified at having them hang around the place.
Another favourite rationale is that the artist is showing what they have learned on primitive art. By this, of course, they really mean tribal art; they are not emulating the simplicity of prehistoric cave paintings. But while it is true that some tribal art is very grotesque, there are parts of tribal art and decoration that are aesthetically very pleasing. Why, if these artists are so full of the importance of tribal art, do they concern themselves only with a simplified version of its darker manifestations?
I do think that some modern art can be very attractive, but I think that such is usually the case when the artist is, to some degree, trying to measure up to some ideals of harmony or beauty; what is not attractive are the supposed attempts to
imitate another culture's art, which seem to succeed in producing only a pale and anaemic pastiche of the original.
Nor do I think much of the argument that modem art tries to portray the whole of reality - both the ugliness and beauty that are found in everyday life.
It is true that we should not thoughtlessly gloss over the unpleasant side of life, but modern art seems to make a point of dwelling there. There is a story of how Oliver Cromwell made it clear that he wished his portrait to be true to him - "warts and all." But when one considers an "acclaimed modern artist" such as Francis Bacon, it is clear that, if given a similar remit, he would probably have just painted the warts on their own.
The trouble is that the modern artist has forgotten all sense of the past; as a result, there is no greatness, but only fragmentary mediocrity. It would be nearer the truth to rephrase the saying of Franz Marc: "The 'creative' man knows the past by leaving in it pieces and not in living by it."
Monday, 19 January 2009
Stephen Le Feuvre spoke a lot of sense about the local economy, but some nonsense slipped passed. On GM food, he said it was banned in Europe, but present in Australia where he had been, and he said "the food still tastes fine, the people still look like normal people, the cows still look like normal cows".
This was facile and stupid. I couldn't believe he had said it. Everyone with any sense knows that if there are problems with GM foods, they will probably not show up on the physical level, like the mutants with giant heads so beloved of pulp science fiction.
It is more likely that, as with the discovery of prions causing BSE in cows and CJD in humans, it will be a slow discovery of any problems which will only become apparent after many generations.
In India, a recent report has highlighted the kinds of long term health problems which could emerge. A report on GM brinal (eggplant) notes that:
"If only 1 in 1,000 of exposed people later gets ill, or has an underlying illness made worse, then over a thousand million Indians would be ill and requiring treatment. This would result in a huge cost to the Indian government and community. It is therefore important to ensure that the safety assessment of GM brinal is sound and thoroughly covers all the major concerns of toxicology, allergy, and reproductive health. The studies presented by Mahyco are simply inadequate to determine these matters"
Another comment notes that:
"The changes in bilirubin indicate effect on hepatic functions. Study with lactating cows showed increased milk production indicating hormonal effects. If this is so, what are the implications on pregnancy, foetal health, reproductive functions etc. There is an obvious requirement for longer term studies especially on reproductive health. Absence of these aspects in Mahyco's dossiers is not acceptable, the doctors said. "
Regarding Australia and New Zealand, a recent report (January 2009) by Dr Judy Carman of the Institute of Health and Environmental Research, Australia focuses on the flaws in current research that has been submitted on the safety of GM foods. The report makes the following points:
While it appears the Mahyco has conducted a number of studies to show that Bt brinjal is safe to eat, in fact none of the studies are of any real use, for the following main main reasons:
* The type of studies undertaken are insufficient to be able to determine if GM brinjal is safe to eat. For example, there have been no reproductive studies and the studies that have been done often use animals and/or measurements that are inappropriate or insufficient measures of human health.
* Of those studies undertaken, the methodology and results are often insufficiently reported to be able to determine what the studies were actually measuring or how various variables were measured. Included in this, the statistical results have not been reported to a suitable standard. For example, means, standard deviations, and p-values, which would be required for any peer-reviewed scientific journal, are usually omitted.
* The sample sizes are insufficient to be able to find statistical difference for many measurements even if real clinical differences are occurring between groups. Indeed, much of the research presented by Mahyco could be regarded as being burdened with Type II error. This type of statistical error occurs when sample sizes are so low that the study cannot realistically be expected to find a difference between groups of animals even if clinical differences are occurring.
Saturday, 17 January 2009
This book contains a series of essays on the theme of "reflections in natural history"; it is an exciting book, extremely well written, and will undoubtedly confound anyone who imagines that natural history is not much more than numbering, listing and cataloguing. On the contrary, Stephen Gould demonstrates how evolutionary theory can unify and make sense of masses of disparate data.
I found one of the essays particularly fascinating because it shows how blind intellectuals - even scientists - can be to their own prejudices, and how uncritical speculation, in the absence of evidence, tends to follow the guidelines laid down by prejudice, and not portray what it fondly imagines to be "objectivity".
Consider the problem: how did man come to walk upright? In the traditional view, he learnt to walk upright just as a child develops from crawling to learning to walk; in this scenario, "upright posture is only the consequence of the higher development of the brain". So wrote von Baer, the great 19th century embryologist. Von Baer went on to remark that "all differences between men and other animals depend upon construction of the brain". Thus we emerge with a story of man's evolution from an ape-like ancestor in which the development of upright posture, tools, skills and speech are all a consequence of an increase in brain size. As he became more intelligent, man began to walk upright, to use his hands to fashioning tools, to develop skills and cunning in hunting, and later farming, and, on the way, developed language into the articulate form it takes today.
Unfortunately for this presentation, it is not actually based upon anything more than "intelligent speculation". When the facts began to be discovered they were in plain contradiction to this story. Our African ancestors, or near cousins, were small brained ape-like creatures (Australopithecus) whose anatomy (from skeletal remains) indicate a clear upright posture, no different from our own. Why did this come first, before increased brain size? Gould argues that it was the movement from tree-dwellers to ground animals that initiated the subsequent evolution of our ancestors to an upright posture. Walking upright left the hands free for using tools - the beginnings of our mastery of material surroundings. In turn this initiated the development of the larger brain required for more complex tasks.
However, the idealist tradition, of which Plato was the most eloquent spokesman, "encouraged an emphasis on thought as primary, dominating, and altogether more noble or important that the labour it supervised." It was the subtle and pervasive
influence of this idea that was simply accepted as axiomatic by scientists such as von Baer when presenting the traditional picture.
Other essays in this book cover equally interesting and instructive problems. Why did the Irish Elk become extinct? - not, as was claimed, because its antlers were so large that they stuck in the trees! Who was the naturalist on the Beagle when Darwin made his epoch making journey? - it was not Darwin!
Stephen Gould also assesses the popular portrait of past thinkers, such as catastrophists, and shows how they have often been misrepresented as cranks in a manner more reminiscent of caricature than proper history. This is indeed a thought-provoking book!
Thursday, 15 January 2009
The Trial is a novel by Franz Kafka about a character named Josef K., who awakens one morning and, for reasons never revealed, is arrested and prosecuted for an unspecified crime.
We seem to have our own version in Jersey, where a character called K. awakens one morning and, for reasons never revealed, is suspended pending an inquiry for an unspecified allegation.
This has happened since August last year. There is still no resolution.
K visits the advocate and finds him to be a capricious and unhelpful character.
Listening to the Radio Jersey report, about meeting on the suspension of K., the lawyer present for the trustees certainly seemed unhelpful. Capriciousness is a matter of opinion, but it sounded very much as if most of the people present would have judged the lawyer to be capricious.
K returns to his bank but finds that his colleagues are trying to undermine him.
As far as we can tell, the allegations may be something about people at Family Nursing which concerns K's colleagues.
The Trial is both a chilling tale that maintains a constant, relentless atmosphere of disorientation right up to the surreal ending. Superficially the subject matter is bureaucracy: an illustration of a truly twisted yet realistic brand of law and church.
In Jersey, trying to make any sense of what is going on with this suspension from the BBC report, and the various authority figures such as the trustees and the lawyers, a constant, relentless atmosphere of disorientation was very strongly in evidence.
I hope that this clearly Kafkaesque situation does not continue for much longer. In her statement, Karen Huchet said this suspension could not be regarded as a neutral act. Considering the length of it - apparently because of unforeseen complications, but we have no idea what they are - this is a grotesque travesty of justice, of the legal procedures seemingly being used, as in Kafka's Trial, to befuddle and confuse.
That is not to say that there might not be problems at Family Nursing. Mrs. Brennan in 2006 was awarded compensation pursuant to the Employment (Awards) (Jersey) Order 2005 in respect of her unfair dismissal claim, and Family Home nursing seem not to have followed best procedure in her dismissal.
Yet at least with a dismissal claim, there is a law in place, tribunals to assess the evidence, and publically published findings. There seems to be nothing of this with a suspension, instead the timetable disappears into a black hole, out of which no light can escape so that anyone can see what is happening. It is not transparent, it seems to have no statutory guidelines, not much oversight, and can go on for as long as necessary, although use of the word "necessary" in such ill defined circumstances borders on Stalinesque.
Wednesday, 14 January 2009
It is a kind of post-modern Freudianism, which looks for "latent racism" in attitudes, sees "internalised racism" in institutions and individuals (because of their background), and transposes the Marxist notion of "false consciousness" to the modern politically correct agenda.
It can be seen recently in the row over "Big Brother", where it is noted that:
Politician Tommy Sheridan has instigated a sectarian row in his home city of Glasgow after singing 'Fields Of Athenry' during a live broadcast of Big Brother. Channel 4 producers cut coverage during the broadcast, but enough of the song was heard to draw criticism from the Unionist community in Scotland. Rev. Stuart MacQuarrie, a chaplain at Glasgow University, told The Herald that 'Fields Of Athenry' is "anti-British" and therefore "racist" due to the song's reference about rebelling against the Crown. "This is an Irish rebel song," he said, "and so the song should not be sung on television, or indeed anywhere."
In fact, "The Fields of Athenry" is an Irish folk ballad set during the Great Irish Famine (1845-1850) about a fictional man from near Athenry in County Galway who has been sentenced to transportation to Botany Bay, Australia, for stealing food for his starving family. In its way it is making a protest, but so is Victor Hugo's Les Miserable, in which Jean Valjean is sentenced to the galleys for stealing a loaf of bread for his starving family. The protest is against a society in which such injustice existed, and I see no reason why these stories should not be told, and songs sung. It is in the remembering that we see how injustice works, and don't fall into those traps (or new versions of them) again.
The Fields of Athenry" was written in the 1970s by Pete St. John, and topped the Irish folk charts. It is a lovely plaintive song, which reminded me in many ways of the sad parting of Ovid from his family, when he is sent into political exile, and wrote the Tristia about his plight, and remembered all that was dear to him that he was about to lose as he set off away from home.
Here are the lyrics, and if anyone can find anything remotely racist about them, I think they have serious personal problems with their own obsessions. If you really wanted something that was rebelling against the Crown, then the Sex Pistol's "God Save the Queen" is both direct, and deliberately offensive.
This song is a folk ballad, and is no more racist than "Les Miserables". The Reverend Stuart MacQuarrie called it "vile, viscous and racist", so read on and judge for yourself.
By a lonely prison wall
I heard a young girl calling
Micheal they are taking you away
For you stole Trevelyn's corn
So the young might see the morn.
Now a prison ship lies waiting in the bay.
Low lie the Fields of Athenry
Where once we watched the small free birds fly.
Our love was on the wing we had dreams and songs to sing
It's so lonely 'round the Fields of Athenry.
By a lonely prison wall
I heard a young man calling
Nothing matter Mary when your free,
Against the Famine and the Crown
I rebelled they ran me down
Now you must raise our child with dignity.
Low lie the Fields of Athenry
Where once we watched the small free birds fly.
Our love was on the wing we had dreams and songs to sing
It's so lonely 'round the Fields of Athenry.
By a lonely harbor wall
She watched the last star falling
As that prison ship sailed out against the sky
Sure she'll wait and hope and pray
For her love in Botany Bay
It's so lonely 'round the Fields of Athenry.
Low lie the Fields of Athenry
Where once we watched the small free birds fly.
Our love was on the wing we had dreams and songs to sing
It's so lonely 'round the Fields of Athenry.
Tuesday, 13 January 2009
'What do you mean by that?' asked Carole. The landlord pointed to the crumbling wall of a long, low structure on the other side of the pub garden. 'Old milk depot, that was. Used to be full of tankers and floats. Been empty for five years now. Soon be a nice shooshed-up residential estate, though.' 'Really?' 'Yes, I've seen the plans. Go on, have a guess how many houses they're going to fit on to that site.' 'Eight?'
He gave a derisory laugh. If only. The answer is twenty-four.' "Twenty-four? On that space? Is there a lot of land the other side of the depot?' asked Carole. 'No. What you see is what you get. Within the perimeter of that existing building they are going to fit twenty-four residences. Starter homes, I think they call them. Two bedrooms and a pocket handkerchief of garden each.'
'Garages?' 'No. Won't be room for that.' 'So where are they going to park?' Carole instinctively asked the question any local would ask. Tethering High Street's already jammed solid. If High Tor didn't have a garage, I don't know what I'd do.' 'This is quite funny, actually,' said Ted, as he led them gloomily back across to the bar. 'Or at least it would be funny, if it weren't so bloody insane.'
'Right. OK, well, what I'm about to tell you is government policy - if that's not a contradiction in terms. You've probably heard there's a housing shortage in the south-east?' 'Yes' 'So, the various possible solutions to that are: build new towns; extend the outskirts of existing towns and villages; start nibbling away at the Green Belt. But no. What the government, in its wisdom, has decided to do is not extend the area of existing housing, but to develop brown-field sites.' 'Like the old milk depot?' 'Exactly, Carole. And on these sites they want a greater density of housing.' 'More people living per square metre?' 'That's the idea, yes. But, of course, if you're going to do that, then you've got to keep the footprint of each house pretty damned small. No room for fripperies like garages.'
Carole, the proud Renault-owner insisted, 'where are the new residents supposed to put their cars?' Ted Crisp grinned sardonically. 'Ah, now this is the clever bit. This is where the government suddenly does a little nod to the green lobby.' He pronounced his next words as though imparting the secret of life. 'Apparently, the fact that the new residents have nowhere to park will encourage them to make greater use of public
'But public transport round here's dreadful,' Jude objected. 'Yes,' Ted agreed. "That is the small miscalculation the government has made. You'd think they'd realize they'd got the whole thing arse-about-face. The sensible plan, a naive person might imagine, would be first to get good public transport, then build houses without garages to attract people without cars. But no, that's not the way this government does things.' He ran an exasperated hand through his beard. 'Don't get me started on this government.' 'Still,' he went on savagely, 'all be good news for the developers, won't it? They'll get a very cushy ride indeed - as ever. Nothing like a nice housing boom to boost the building trade, is there? Lots of profit for the developers, and the builders, and the decorators, and the plumbers, and the electricians, and their attendant army of local planners, and solicitors, and accountants and Uncle Tom Cobleigh and all."
- The Hanging in the Hotel, Simon Brett, 2004
This is a work of fiction, a very good detective story, with lots of humour and twists and turns - Simon Brett is a master of his craft.
But it was only about a year ago that Senator Freddie Cohen as Minister for Planning was saying that new housing - particular flats in St Helier - did not need car parking space, because that would encourage people not to own cars, and use public transport instead. Had Freddie been reading "The Hanging in the Hotel"? Or is it just that - like the Government in this book, Freddie wanted to make "a little nod to the green lobby".
As regards any lack of parking for flats out in the country, it is a non-starter. Perhaps Freddie should take the bus on a few occasions from St John to St Helier, especially at night or at weekends to see how deficient the service is for residents out of St Helier.
I notice that with the recent development at St Lawrence that this applied, even though there is a "shared public amenity car park area", the parking per house is not 100%. As the report noted:
The objectors remain concerned that only 57% of the proposed homes have garages and this issue was raised at the recent Public Hearing. In my report on the previous application, I commented that "ideally, applicants should aim to provide a garage for every family home". However, it is important to recognise that the provision of garages is not a requirement of the development brief, as long as suitable storage sheds are provided for bicycles and other domestic paraphernalia.
It reminds me of lifeboats and the Titanic! The bus service past St Lawrence is not quite as bad as that to and from St Johns, although it is much barer on a Sunday, and the nearby shops are hardly within walking distance so that unless you want a wheelbarrow, for a family with children, and a weekly shop, a car is needed more than in St Helier. As the Simon Brett story has it absolutely accurately - "And on these sites they want a greater density of housing. More people living per square metre? But, of course, if you're going to do that, then you've got to keep the footprint of each house pretty damned small. No room for fripperies like garages."
As for the sizes of many modern houses and flats, Freddie Cohen has said that the minimum has now been increased, so it will be interesting to see if any new housing developments will have little more than "two bedrooms and a pocket handkerchief of garden each."
Who will buy them in the economic downturn is another matter, of course, unless they can persuade the Minister for Housing to do all in his power to boost house sales, as for instance in trying desperately to lower the age for qualifications. In the book, everyman who is anyone in the town belongs to the "Pillars of Sussex", a philanthropic organisation whose membership includes developers, politicians, police, lawyers and newspaper editors! I'm off to the library to get another book of his; I can't wait to see what the next synchronicity between fiction and fact will be!
Monday, 12 January 2009
Senator P.F. Routier on Fort Regent:
Yes, I am very aware that Fort Regent's swimming pool is degrading. I can recall going to the opening of the pool, well, the day before it opened was my wedding day and I recall having a chat with my best man in the pool and discussing things with him about the wedding. Sorry, I am digressing. But certainly we need to find a solution for the pool. The reason we closed it: it was degrading and degrading and degrading. I recognise the regeneration of Fort Regent is a high priority and obviously the pool will be part of that.
Senator P.F. Routier on Culture
When it was decided to include Education and Culture and Sport and Culture together, there was a big debate about that, whether that was the appropriate thing to do. It was recognised that we needed to find a home for it. But, as I said in my speech, I believe that culture is within us, it is here. The whole Island is culture.
Senator P.F. Routier on Sport:
I always regret the way there has been a decline in the physical activity within schools. It is something that I believe that encourages ... I am a team player. I believe team sports are very good. I believe competition is very good and I think it creates a person ... it gives them the fight to get on in life, to be able to take part in sport. So, as far as I am concerned, I believe that we should try and get sport back into the curriculum.
Jersey's new Council of Ministers has vowed to make spending cuts its top priority. Chief Minister Terry Le Sueur says they're determined to make all possible savings and efficiencies and won't approve any extra spending unless it's matched by savings or income. Ministers have just completed two days of talks to shape up a new three-year plan for government. It's not yet cut and dried - all States members will have a say later this month.
These two days of talks involved ministers alone. No assistant ministers were present. This despite the fact that Terry le Sueur has stated his objecting of getting a greater interaction and involvement in assistant ministers in his speeches when trying for the role of Chief Minister.
"One aspect of the first three years of Ministerial Government which might be improved upon is the role of Assistant Ministers.", he said in his nomination speech, and he later mentioned that a greater interaction between Ministers and Assistant Ministers would be his preferred way forward.
Unfortunately, his words and actions don't seem to tally very well at the moment. No assistant ministers were present at the two days of talks, which is not an auspicious start, I would have thought, to giving them greater involvement!
Wednesday, 7 January 2009
The Burning Begins
In 1558, Queen Mary died, and Elizabeth came to the throne. The islands reverted to Protestantism, and the Calvinist form of Protestantism. The reason for this is simple - the Islands were French speaking, and persecution had driven the French Protestants (Huguenots) to seek refuge in the Jersey and Guernsey, bringing with them the French form of Protestantism, which took its lead from Geneva. During Mary's reign, some of the Protestant leaders in Jersey and Guernsey themselves sought refuge in Calvin's Geneva. So it is not surprising that, as Balleine's History notes that they "naturally gravitated to the French model." Under this model, there was "a complete scheme of government by ministers, elders and deacons", with Consistory courts for each Parish to watch, and where necessary impose penalties on those whose behaviour was deemed to be immoral and indecent. The iron hand of "La Police et Discipline Ecclesiastique" was a law which everyone had to obey, and the Calvinism catechism had four hundred questions and answers in which everyone had to be drilled to learn by heart!
As the Island was French speaking, the Geneva Bible was in use, and the services followed Calvin with a French Huguenot prayer book rather than the English book of Common Prayer. Jersey Churches were referred to as "temples", and the Reformation removal of church fabric continued, with a letter of 1561 noting the destruction of organs and stained glass windows. Unlike Lutherism, Calvinism had no place for rousing hymns, but only the chanting of metrical psalms.
In this new regime, there was no place for archbishops, bishops or deans, and while the Bishop of Winchester was nominally responsible for the Islands (from 1569), in practice a severely Protestant Channel Islands were a good bulwark against Catholic France, the old enemy, and Elizabeth I was too shrewd to interfere in the local ecclesiastical affairs of the Islands, if it was in her interest to turn a blind eye. In Jersey, she permitted the Huguenot prayer book in the Town Church alone "provided that the residue of the parishes continue the Order of Service ordained within this realm", but no efforts were made to enforce this order which was firmly ignored by the other Parishes.
There had to be a counter-reaction, and from 1559, we hear of night revels in Jersey, and masked men, seizing farmer's horses to ride through the countryside. Guernsey too had its masked revels, and young people in particular seem to have rebelled against the strict discipline imposed on every aspect of their lives.
It is with this background in mind that we can see how the witch mania developed. Clandestine meetings at night could fuel the suspicions of a severe Puritanical society, and unlike England until the Civil War, there was no judicial hierarchy to impose order from above and ensure good governance. Instead the local courts became the mechanisms by which injustices were perpetrated, and people were exiled, maimed, or put to death.
An End to Judicial Autonomy
It is only after the end of the English Civil War, the end of the Commonwealth, and the restoration of Charles II as King of England that we notice a cessation in the witch trials, and in 1661 Sir Philippe de Carteret became Bailiff on the resignation of Sir George de Carteret. The Royal Mace was presented to the Island by the King in 1663. Also in 1661, the Ecclesiastical Court was revived by Phillipe Le Couteur newly appointed as Dean of Jersey, and no infringement of Anglican Church order was permitted, and a French version of the revised prayer book, just issued in England, was translated by Jean Durel.
The Act of Indemnity and Oblivion (against any redress for any acts committed by Republicans short of regicide) expressly named Jersey, but Jersey Jurats tried to plead that it did not apply in Jersey, and only after English Law Officers had twice ruled otherwise, was on the third occasion registered in the Court Books to remove all doubt that it applied locally.
We can see here a vast change in the structure of Jersey society, from the removal of Rectors who still wanted to go the Calvinist way, and would not bow down to the imposition of the Anglican order, to the Jurats who also tried to implement their own rules of justice, and again, albeit more slowly, were overruled by the English Parliament in that body's ability to enforce its authority on the Island. With this background, we can better understand why it was that the witch mania ceased to have legal backing, even if the popular belief persisted. Once more the judiciary, while able to act independently, could be referred if necessary to the English Parliament (as in the case of the Act of Indemnity), and the kind of misrule in which the legal authorities, such as the Bailiff, could authorise burnings was no longer permissible because it ran counter to the English Crown's restoration of ecclesiastical and judicial oversight.
Witchcraft in the Channel Islands is still available at:
Tuesday, 6 January 2009
Just a note that Voice for Children (see above) is doing his bit for democracy by another good interview with Deputy Hill.
The link is above; it is a 2 min 40 seconds interview which asks the Deputy to explain the background behind his proposition.
"Voice" is providing a unique service that we don't otherwise get. True, there are video interviews about topical high-profile issues on Channel Television, but there are often other propositions which go through the States, and we don't get the chance to hear about the background of those. Voice provides an opportunity for the States member to explain the proposition to the public, and this is a small-scale, but potentially wide distribution that helps us understand the issues. And we can come back to it in a weeks time, or just before the debate. It is what a blog can do very well, but other media outlets, being more ephemeral in the duration of their material, cannot do. A notable voice not just for children, but for the public at large!
Phil Rondel next please, on P181/2008/Ministerial government: review?
I use two - Blogpatrol and Statcounter.
Blogpatrol records the number of "hits" on the site, but some of these can be historic. If someone has a link to your site, that seems to be also reflected in the blogpatrol statistics, so while it is a reflection of popularity - after all, why would someone link to you if they had not read your blog - as a real-time statistic it is going to increase over time. This is why the site Holiday in the Sun noted with some astonishment that his older blog was still getting more hits than his new one!
That is not to say that Blogpatrol cannot be useful. If you log in and look at the detailed information, this can be broken down on a day by day basis, so gives a better reflection that mere "hits", although I notice that if people have permanent links to your blog, of the kind that grab a snapshot of the blog, these are reflected in the "hits".
The Statcounter that I use shows only visitors not hits, and so is quite a lot lower. Then again, if people have a snapshot, or have signed up to get any postings automatically this will not be reflected, so the Statcounter is likely to be lower than it should be. But it is nevertheless more accurate than Blogpatrol in this respect, and has the additional advantage that it can be set up so that anyone can see the details on a day by day basis, so that it is open and transparent to others.
Regarding the effect the blog has on the political landscape, I would say probably about as much - and as little - as a hustings meeting. Blogs have their supporters, who often give a misleading account of popularity.
In cases like the Senatorial elections, the hustings probably had less immediate effect than a blog, because of the number of candidates, but in the longer term, the benefits of this - and posters, interviews, leaflets - raised the candidates profile so that they were not so much of an "unknown" when it came to the Deputies elections - although this is not an absolute guarantee of success - Nick Palmer and Cliff le Clerq both failed to be elected there.
In passing, I would note that Parish Assemblies, insofar as they resemble hustings, are often not good ways to represent the popular vote. Like hustings, they bring out the regular activists in the Parish, and it has not been unknown for a Parish Assembly of possibly ten or less to elect a Constables Officer, Procurer or Centenier, which when one considers the population of a Parish, seems very a very poor kind of representative democracy. Another deficiency is that they can be hijacked by lobby groups or commercial enterprises, who can "pack" the assembly with their supporters, and thereby secure a vote on matters which may effect hundreds or thousands of Parishioners. At least now some extra elections, such as those for Procurer, are beginning to have proper voting during the day and early evening, rather than just at an assembly, and I myself availed myself of this to vote in St Brelade.
Speaking of Procurers, I would just like to finish by noting that the other kind of media presence is making an impact, that of the poison pen writer. The recent campaign of hate against John Germain is quite horrific, and this kind of activism - unlike blogs - runs counter to democracy and debate. He has received abusive phone calls and post, and had his house sprayed with cream. This is a kind of activism the Island could do without, and I can only hope the culprit is caught.
Sunday, 4 January 2009
This is a vulnerability in our local economy, and if any steps can be taken to mitigate against it, they would take the form of encouraging local businesses where possible rather than UK chains, whenever a choice presented itself. Otherwise, I fear we may see more closures in the high street, and more unemployment. This is especially bad because we have no compensatory redundancy payment scheme, and while funding one will mean some kind of extra tax, possibly on employers, it is certainly time that it was considered.
Now New Zealand does not have any specific redundancy scheme in operation, but in June 2008, they commissioned a report on the matter which explores the options in great detail. The advantage of this is that they are looking at the kind of tax burden or employer / employee burden that this will involve, and also the state of the economy (i.e. an economic downturn) in their assessment of the pros and cons of the options. No doubt Jersey could get consultants to do the same kind of exercise, but most of the basic economic groundwork would, I am certain, have been done in principle in the New Zealand report.
The full report, well worth reading, is at:
Report of the Public Advisory Group on Restructuring and Redundancy
A summary of the funding models can be found at:
In considering options for compensatory funding models the Group agreed that the primary aim for any model is that there should always be money available to distribute for compensation to employees in the event of a redundancy.
Self Insurance - Employers remain responsible for funding statutory redundancy entitlements, and can fund that either through their own balance sheet or by taking insurance with a third party provider.
Compulsory Compensation Insurance - Employers remain responsible for funding statutory redundancy entitlements, and must take insurance with a third party provider to ensure payments are available even in an insolvency situation.
Levy - Employers (and possibly employees) pay a payroll-based levy to a centrally managed fund which then meets statutory redundancy payment costs (similar to the levy collection under ACC scheme, but with only lump sum compensation payable as per the statutory formula).
Contributions - Employers and employees (and possibly government) make contributions representing a small proportion of wages into one or more managed funds (similar to Kiwisaver) which then provides any lump sum compensation payable as per the statutory formula.
General Taxation - Government funds statutory entitlements from general taxation (effectively an enhanced social security or unemployment benefit in redundancy situations).
Options (b) through (e) offer higher funding certainty, but with varying degrees of compliance and administration costs. Options (b) through (d) potentially open another source of short and medium term investment funding in New Zealand, potentially assisting capital deepening and through that productivity. Options (b) through (e) could have reduced administration costs, greater efficiency and lower risks if they were firmly aligned with a similar funding scheme already in operation for another purpose (e.g. (b)) private income protection insurance, (c) ACC, (d) Kiwisaver, (e) Unemployment Benefit payments made by MSD) rather than set-up on a stand-alone basis.
Thursday, 1 January 2009
"Message Sending Failed: Try Again Later".
To some extent, this is an expected event, after all peak texts are going out. But what if there was a civil emergency, and the jolly Jersey Telecoms network simply went into the same kind of meltdown?
I remember - not just because of lines - a flakey cable phone system in 1987, after the great storm had hit Jersey with hurricane force winds. The land line would work, then be busy, then work. Tonight I got through on a land line to a mobile for around 3 minutes, which was enough to say "Happy New Year" before the network decided to disconnect me.
After 9/11, the BBC internet news was swamped and went under. Sky was the only internet news still functioning and available. The BBC learnt a lesson, and put in better internet servers and modem connections, and was not swamped when the London bombings took place. Jersey Telecoms has never had to face that kind of emergency, thank goodness, and I hope that it does not. But I do wonder how well the infrastructure would cope with a major emergency.
Not to end on a sombre note, but a quizzical one, no one seemed bothered with the masses of fireworks shooting into the sky over the Thames. It is a shame that Terry MacDonald could not have been allowed to set off some of his over St Aubin's bay for the New Year.
And I would also like to take the chance to wish the Bailiff well. Earlier this evening, I was asked (at dinner) why I didn't like him. I have to say that I positively adore him! For a satirist, someone who produces gobbets of material at the drop of a hat (or an official speech) is a godsend, and I'd be at a loss without him. If I ever met him, I would certainly thank him, and tell him to keep it up! I can also only hope that some of the new intake of States Members can fill the void left by the departing ones, and judging from one of this weeks JEPs, I'd say James Reed is promising.
Putting my historical hat on, readers may be interested to note that the Scottish New Year celebrations are not very ancient pagan (although the Roman world did have its celebration), but date from the Reformation. The Puritans in charge in Scotland frowned on a religious day - Christmas - being subject to frivolity, but they had no objection to fun and games on a non-religious day. The canny Scots moved the celebrations for Christmas to the New Year instead!
Anyhow, wishing all my readers a very happy new year! Unless you are in America, in which case, happy 2009 in around five to eight hours!
Book of the post:
Stations of the Year by Ronald Hutton