Thursday, 30 July 2009

Mobile Consequences

GUERNSEY is almost at saturation point for mobile phones, according to Sure marketing director Paul Taylor. A report shows there are 63,000 mobile customers in the island for a population of about 62,000. The report, compiled by the Office of Utility Regulation, found that from December 2009 the telecoms market increased by 4.5%, yet despite the number of mobile customers remaining largely unchanged, the average spend per customer had increased by 8.4%. There were also more than 22,000 internet customers. Mr Taylor said that the mobile market was nearing its limit.' Based on the population, it is hard to see how much more this can grow and so the challenge now for all operators is to work a lot harder by offering customers excellent service, network reliability and value for money.' However, he believed there was room for growth within the internet market, which had seen a 6% increase in the last six months. But a spokesperson for Wave said Guernsey did not have a finite market, because technology was always changing, and it was confident that growth would continue. '(1)

This is in some respects like Jersey's car market, where there are almost as many cars as people in the Island. When these figures are considered more carefully, it can be seen that there is some degree of oversaturation, because I simply cannot imagine under fives, for example, with a mobile phone, yet they must form part of the figure of 62,000.

There is no mention of recycling in the article. At present, as usual with a consumer society, there are searches underway for new sources of key minerals such as coltan, used in the manufacture of phones. But if more phones were recycled, the mineral could be re-used. What recycling there is seems to be limited and patchy, but if part of the licence given to mobile phone operators included a clause to provide recycling facilities, and ensure phones were recycled free of charge for a small discount on new phones of perhaps 5%, then it would be built into the system. The operators want their licenses, and what could be simpler?

As it stands, the main source for coltan is the Congo, where it fuels the war effort:

"The surging global demand for mobile phones has been helping to bankroll armed groups in Eastern Congo's conflict," said Annie Dunnebacke of Global Witness. "Mobile phone manufacturers need to undertake checks all the way up their supply chains to make sure they are not buying from mines controlled by militias and military units." (2)

It is not just mobile phones, but all kinds of electronic equipment that fuels the conflict:

The conflict in the Democratic Republic of Congo, formally Zaire, is complex, complicated by the struggle for power over the country's vast resources by actors within and outside Congo. In recent years, one particular mineral, coltan, has been at the center of the fight. The precious ore is mined in rebel-controlled areas at the expense of national parks and depletion of wildlife. Coltan is a key element in cell phones, computer chips, nuclear reactors, and PlayStations. The market for the mineral has greatly increased in recent years, exacerbating conflict in Congo. (3)

And this has environmental consequences as well. It destroys farming land, and wildlife reserves are despoiled. In particular the gorilla population may well be driven to extinction because of the pressures on their habitat by the mining operations:

Farmers have been forced off their land or into mining as war has ravaged their land. Miners threaten the environment of eastern lowland gorillas. Miners are killing elephants and gorillas on wildlife reserves and national parks. While the numbers of wildlife are dwindling, the environment is being degraded ("Miners" 13 April 2001; "Cell" 2 May 2001). Coltan mining provides great wealth for warring sides, takes away the livelihoods of people who live on the land, and destroys wildlife. (4)

It is about time that some kind of "ethical sourced" badge rather like the "free range" or "fair trade" other product labels are provided on mobiles and other equipment using coltan so that the consumer can make an inform decision as to whether it should be bought or not. Coltan has other sources such as Australia, and need not fuel the war in the Congo.

I don't think the operators will do this of their own accord, and perhaps the law needs to be changed so that they have to state the origins of their supply. But as Leo Hickman mentions in the Guardian, "Without a cast-iron certification scheme to guarantee these claims, there is sadly still no way for consumers to know they are not complicit in this trade."(5)

Lastly, there are two local collection points for recycling mobiles:

Jersey Telecom Retail Outlet
Jersey Post Office counters

Do you have one lurking in a cupboard or drawer, gathering dust? Why not recycle it?


Wednesday, 29 July 2009

Protect the vulnerable

As I forsaw a few blog entries ago, the States Business Plan is make "easy savings" at the expense of those groups who cannot pose a threat, hence the news about Mencap now facing cuts. Reneging on promises is nothing new for social services.

JERSEY Mencap is devastated to learn that funding for its respite home for children with learning disabilities could be withdrawn. If Health and Social Services go ahead with its plan to cut services as part of the Business Plan it would be reneging on a promise it made to the charity in 2007 to take over the £200,000 running costs of Maison Allo in St Saviour next year.(1)

I possess a minuted meeting in which on which one of the senior managers of social services gave his firm promise that one youth respite service for an autistic young man would not be cut until a suitable adult provision that provided the same respite would be put in place. Of course, the promise has been broken this year, and the respite service is being completely removed. Broken promises, whether in writing or not, are the order of the day, and if there is so little trust in Jersey's government, it is surely something they have brought upon themselves.

What is shocking about these new Mencap cuts is that Paul Routier, who is in the government as an assistant minister only found them lurking in the annex to the 2010 Business Plan, and clearly was not involved in the consultation in any way. The annex, at 266 pages, is an extremely good way to bury bad news, except that everyone is now going through it with a fine toothcomb.

Everyone it seems thinks these cuts are verging on the desparate, and even James Reed, the educational secretary says he will not implement the cuts for his department. Peter Body, the editor of Jersey Business Brief, and someone who does talk a lot of sense (even if I lampoon him affectionately every so often), thinks they are a complete disaster, and it is clear that if something is not done, they will be the largest collective suicide note in the States of Jersey.

There has been no public debate on priorities, and to launch a debate by States debate will be divisive when consultation would have so much better. There is talk of massive industrial action collectively by the Unions, and so much anger that it could bring the Council of Ministers down. That assumes, of course, that those supporting the plan would have the guts to resign if it was thrown out, but politicians, I am afraid, are not known for such integrity.

Finally, here is a letter from Ed Le Quesne (2), who calls for the States to ensure the vulnerable are protected. It appeared in the JEP, but is well worth a wider audience:

IN September, the States will be debating a business plan with real choices to be made about budget priorities. Early ideas seem to lack a moral framework.

A priority should be to maintain and even extend services to vulnerable groups. It is not the time to cut back on building up proper services for vulnerable children and families, as outlined by the Williamson report.

It is not the time to cut back on the Alcohol and Drugs Service, or other health promotion initiatives, or the valuable work of the Bridge. Jersey has one of the highest proportion of working women and they and their families need support.

We should ensure a living wage for the lowest paid by steady rises in the minimum wage, and the States pension should continue to be raised, as it is the main income for many elderly people.

The pay freeze should not extend to everyone, but only kick in above a threshold level where people have enough money for discretionary spending. Perhaps the additional work related pensions paid to retired civil servants, teachers like me, should not have a rise for a while.

The waiting lists at housing trusts show there is still a need for more social housing. Young people around the income support threshold find extra work means an almost equal loss in benefit, and they really struggle with rent levels in the private sector.

Education for work-related skills and at university is still important.

We are a relatively low-tax economy and some of the ideas considered at the time GST was introduced should be looked at again to raise more income from the relatively prosperous.  Charges for those able to pay should be introduced more widely in the health service to maintain important services for the vulnerable.

Investment in energy efficiency and sustainability is urgently needed and should not be an easy target for unwise cuts.


Tuesday, 28 July 2009

Respecting the Office: A Philosophical Comment

Stephen Regal was on the BBC Radio Jersey this morning in the "Thought for Today", and there was a good deal about honour and respect for authorities, and how we must have an orderly society.

He also stated that while one may disagree with the holder of a high office, one must "respect the office". The notion that a particular kind of office may itself be corrupted in some form seems to be overlooked. If we have any kind of progress towards a more democratic society, it is because "offices" themselves have been subject to criticism and change.

A good example in Jersey was the abolition of the automatic right of Jurats and rectors to form part of the States of Jersey. The powers of their office were diminished, and in the case of the rectors, apart from minor parish matters like the roads' committee, they were relegated to the position of private citizens. It could be argued that their office was still respected but what is this "office" which remains Platonic and immutable whereas the visible signs apart from mere nomenclature have changed significantly.

One book on the subject of political institutions (1) says that the British respected "the office of king without unduly exalting the incumbent, provided he kept within the limits of his office", yet we are also told that the position of the monarchy was weakened "through the emergence of cabinet government ". But if that is the case, then we are holding onto an abstraction, an ideal, which is being torn apart from the actuality.

If we consider the case of the "rector" where part of the office of rector was being an ex officio member of the States, we can see that the "office of rector" which is disconnected from the actuality of what the office entails, because that office after reforms no longer entailed membership of the States. And if the office can be whittled away like this, what precisely is left? It is a kind of Aristotelian thought, like transubstantiation, in which the "substance" of the office is disconnected with the perceived outward appearance or "accidents". It comes close to what I think Whitehead called "the fallacy of misplaced concreteness" where one makes the "accidental error of mistaking the abstract for the concrete".

Another contradiction comes when the holder of one office shows no respect to another office. For this example, I give Ian Le Marquand, when magistrate, criticising the office of the jury:

"Oh, gosh, you are going to get me into hot water now if I give an honest answer....The Jurats are an excellent institution and long may they remain. The sensible, wise people of experience who make decisions of fact are working alongside a professional judge...In fact, if I had my own way I would have all trials dealt with by Jurats and would abolish the jury trials."(2)

If we can criticise Magistrate Mr Le Marquand (as he was then), and extend this to criticise everything that a holder of an office does, then what is beyond criticism? Where does the "office" exist that we are supposed to honour and respect? Where do we locate the "office" apart from the incumbent? Is it the robes, the fact that he sits in a particular place, and is empowered to deliver judgments (which may not be beyond criticism, because they pertain to the person?). I am reminded of the Platonists who defined man as "a featherless biped", whereupon Diogenes the Cynic promptly plucked a chicken.

Are we to take a legal definition of office as applying, but the legal definition, as with the rector, changes over time, and must therefore be subject to criticism. In the case of the rectors, the ex officio membership of the office was seen as undemocratic, and in this regard, it was the office rather than notable benevolent rectors that did not deserve respect but abolition.

Perhaps honour and respect should be accorded the office by formal observances - for instance, in a court, being smartly dressed, and standing for the prayers. Yet these trappings are in fact both culturally and historically conditioned. If I am a Muslim woman, perhaps I would want to wear a Burka in Court as my mark of respect. And if one admits that what constitutes "smartly dressed" varies from one society to another, should this be imposed by a "When in Rome" kind of authoritarianism? But where is the justification for such a maxim? I am not saying that people should not be "smartly dressed" (whatever that means in a particular society), but I am saying that how we define smartly dressed needs a good deal more justification than some vague appeal to "respect the office". If I turned up in a Victorian frockcoat, which was presentable attire for by ancestors, would that count as respect or disrespect?

It seems to me, therefore, that "respecting the office" is a rather vague term, which is largely used to impose the authority of one person upon another; it is rule by cliché. With regard to respect for an authority, I am inclined to show general politeness for the most part, but not because of the office, but simply because I adhere to the position and caveat so perfectly expressed by Mikhail Bakunin:

In the matter of boots I refer to the authority of the bootmakers; concerning houses, canals, or railroads I consult that of the architect or engineer. For such or such special knowledge I apply to such or such a savant. But I allow neither the bootmaker nor the architect nor the savant to impose his authority upon me. I accept them freely and with all the respect merited by their intelligence, their character, their knowledge, reserving always my incontestable right of criticism and censure.

(1) "Political Reconstruction" by Karl Loewenstein (1946), p166
(3) Mikhail Bakunin, What is Authority, 1871

Monday, 27 July 2009

The Little Flowers Of St Francis

"The Little Flowers Of St Francis" Translated by E. M. Blaiklock and A. C. Keys: A Review
This is a new translation of "The Little Flowers of St Francis," being a collection of  tales about Francis of Assisi which came into completed form in the late 14th century.
This may seem a large gap when we consider that Francis lived from 1182 to 1226, but the tales had circulated for some time before they reached this final completed form. "The Little Flowers" draws from both an earlier oral tradition and documents, and some of this material dates from the time just after the death of Francis. So while we may expect stylistic embellishment, the stories can be considered to be fairly reliable.
This is an excellent translation, which brings Francis and his companions to life, It includes many well-known stories, such as Francis preaching to the birds, taming the wild wolf of Gubbio, and receiving the awesome gift of the stigmata on Mount La Verna.
There are also tales that tell of Francis preaching and praying and how, once, he "found himself in a position of agonising doubt as to whether he should keep himself free for uninterrupted prayer, or should give his energies at times to preaching," Other tales reveal his great humility, and his care for the poor, especially those afflicted in body and spirit. Of the many treasures to be found in this book, I single out one which shows how Francis still challenges us today:
"The blessed Francis would often say to the friars, 'These three things I commend to you, namely: restraint in the face of an unbridled appetite for knowledge; prayer, which the Devil with many futile efforts is ever intent on nullifying; and the love of poverty, and holy poverty".,

Thursday, 23 July 2009

The Smugglers

Now landing on the darkling shore
Mooncrested waves upon the sand
Stones crunching, as if ancient lore
Psammead stirring under land

Lantern lit, the smugglers come
Barnacled boats upon the beach
Chests of contraband for some
And gold for crew's share each

Night riders galloping in night
Away from the Custom spies
Upon the dunes, out of sight
Hid from the Excise eyes

Drink beneath a smugglers moon
With yo ho ho, a merry tune.

Wednesday, 22 July 2009

Efficiency or Triage?

People in Jersey could see cuts in public services and a possible increase in taxes over the next few years. That's according to the latest States Business Plan. Falling tax revenue will lead to a public debt of 51 million next year and 70 million the year after. 156 million pounds from the rainy day fund will be injected into the economy, but that alone won't be enough - all States Departments are being told to cut spending by half a percent. The business plan will debated by the States in September. (1)

Listening to the presenters going through the business plan, it seems to me that what we will be getting is a form of selective triage. Triage was originally defined as a medical model:

Triage is a process of prioritizing patients based on the severity of their condition. This rations patient treatment efficiently when resources are insufficient for all to be treated immediately. The term comes from the French verb trier, meaning to separate, sort, sift or select.(2)

But it has been taken over to a business model:

Within each category, the desired outcomes and goals are ranked based on the "threat" presented to the company if the outcome or goal is not achieved and the level of "outrage" that will occur should the threat be realized.(3)

Within the business model, as it could be applied to public services, we can see how those least able and most vulnerable can be isolated, segregated, and have services cut back or curtailed. There is no threat from these groups, and they can be treated as insignificant; there is little or no threat to politicians, especially with three years until the next election.

Against simple poverty, the States of Jersey has in place the income support scheme, which - however much it has defects - attempts to keep people above the breadline. This is in part a matter of justice, but also a means of averting confrontational politics. The Trade Unions often represent the poorer workers in society, and their ability to take industrial action, and withdraw labour, and for it to escalate into a general strike, is always a potential threat.

The recent strike at the Airport in Guernsey was potentially very damaging to the Island's image as a well-run finance centre, and the Chief Minister, Deputy Lyndon Trott, intervened extremely rapidly to concede to enough of the strikers demands to defuse the strike.

But other minority groups, such as carers of those who are mentally handicapped, or suffer from varying forms of dementia, or the elderly on meagre State pensions, but owning their own home, can find and have found services cut back or means tested (another way of cutting back), because they don't have the same pressure that they can put upon the States.

The easy option, then, is to remove respite care, or provide it only as a paid but subsidised service ("user pays"), or provide services free only to those who get above a threshold, which may include not owning one's own home. It is the easy option, because the groups it targets can be vocal, but they pose no significant threat to the States. I have been in touch with several people, and it is clear that this is happening now. It may be curtailed to a few hours respite, or one morning per week, which actually is little use, because what these people need is a decent break from the stress of being carers, and a longer time provided less frequently would be a better option.

Support for people wanting to give up smoking is another area under threat, according the report on BBC Radio Jersey. The logic is clear: if people want to give up, why should this be subsidised by the tax payer? The fact that this may lead to less of a burden on the health service in the long term is forgotten, and like Yes Prime Minister ("The Smoke Screen"), there is also the income being generated by taxes on tobacco which would be lost which is probably also lurking in the background.

The buzz word for all this is "prioritise". I think it should be "triage", as it would provide a better description of what processes of thinking are taking place. Hard decisions are being made, and the essence of these is - where can cutbacks be made without meeting significant opposition and the threat of massive social disorder. That may seem unduly cynical, but I will argue that it is built into the model that works with terms such as "efficiency" and "prioritise".

Robert Halpern provides a warning from the great depression of the 1930s:

As relief budgets shrank and demands on those budgets increased, the differentiated responses to different family situations and the balance of responsibility for relief among public and private agencies that had just begun to be worked out, collapsed. New, often harsh, and in some cases bizarre rules for providing relief were created. Some local rules required social workers to wait until families were completely destitute before approving relief In New York City, a rule called "Skip the Feed" required local offices of the Department of Welfare to skip every tenth family seeking relief (Hall 1971:12). Casework was also rationed. Agencies struggled constantly with whom to select for relief-related monitoring and follow-up. Some developed triage systems for deciding who could benefit most from supportive casework services-for instance, families at neither too high nor too low risk, with neither too many nor too few problems. (4)

Harry Moody has also questioned if this is the way to go with regards to the aging population:

As more and more professionals provide services to the aging, the expense grows greater, yet there is dissatisfaction with the services provided. Is there a way out of this dilemma of greater needs and limited capacities, or must we face a "politics of triage" that leads either to privatization, on the one hand, or rationing of services, on the other? (5)

Fundamentally, where the use of the words "efficiency" and "prioritise" can be so bad is that they conceal the moral choices, and instead it seems more like putting a mechanic to work on fine tuning the machinery of government. The moral values behind the words is lost, and the drive for efficiency - in effect a form of triage - can lead to picking targets where there can be seen to be substantial (and often quick) results for the finance and manpower used, which is not necessarily the right thing to do. This is brought out very clearly by Christopher Hudson in his discussion of prioritisation of mental health provision:

The seeming conflict between the principles of triage and need is one of the philosophic bases for many of the policy discontinuities involving the community mental health movement interest in primary and secondary interventions and recent state efforts to provide tertiary and rehabilitative services... Those in most need should always be given service priority, but priority should be given to those most able to benefit from service when persons of similar disability or need are considered. For instance, if a mental health center has developed effective services for their most seriously disturbed and has resources to program for either their moderately disturbed children or adults, a persuasive argument can be made to then concentrate on a program for those children, considering their longer remaining life span.(6)

The UK government's introduction of targets for hospital waiting lists is a good example of how "efficiency" can fail to provide a good service. The unintended consequence was that instead of concentrating on patient welfare, strategies were evolved to meet targets, which meant that the quick and easy result took precedence over the long term with uncertain outcomes. It was the absence of thinking about real goals, and assuming that a technical "fix" would provide a solution that ultimately led to the policy failing.

The same kind of strategy, of looking for visible effectiveness in the public sector was subjected to a very clear critique by Lipsky in his 1980 book "Street-Level Bureaucracy: Dilemmas of the Individual in Public Services.". Again, he points out that when "effectiveness" is the target, that is precisely what the public service worker wants to deliver, and this can easily lead to a worse outcome for many people.:

Public service workers stereotype clients as a reaction to an unstoppable stream of demand, determining who is worthy enough to receive service or attention-as in the case of a public defender who pushes a few cases to trial, while many other cases languish. Yet as Lipsky states, by modifying goals to best serve a few clients upholds a public image of effectiveness, but is not truly representative of a public benefit (Lipsky, 1980).

Triage and prioritising strategies ask: "How can we get best value with limited resources?" But the question implicitly assumes that "best value" is obvious, or can easily be measured in financial terms, or in terms of the results (with their short-term bias and quick fix mentality). But it may be the case that we should spend on something not because there are visible results, but because it is the right thing to do. A good example of this would be environmental values:

Environmental problems have an ethical dimension. They are not just about the efficient use of resources. Justice in the distribution of environmental goods and burdens, fairness in the processes of environmental decision-making, the moral claims of future generations and non-humans, these and other ethical values inform the responses of citizens to environmental problems (8).

We are told that "all States Departments are being told to cut spending by half a percent", which may be a worthwhile target given the state of the economy, but the debate on where to cut and why, and the moral justifications for doing so - which should have been part and parcel of the Strategic Plan - has yet to take place.

In English, the word "economy" has three meanings: avoidance of a waste of money; control and management of money and other community resources; a social or household a system of political economy; these have nothing to do with ethics. But in Chinese economy, "jing Ji" (Ching Chi, in the old alphabetic system of writing), is related to ethical value for it means "governing the world in harmony to bring about the well-being of the people."(9)

(4)  "Fragile Families, Fragile Solutions: A History of Supportive Services 
for Families in Poverty." , 1999
(5) Abundance of Life: Human Development Policies for an Aging Society,
Harry R. Moody, 1988
(6) Dimensions of State Mental Health, C. Hudson, 1991

Tuesday, 21 July 2009

Moon Landing Memories

Today is 40 years since Neil Armstrong set foot on the moon. Everyone who was there has their own memories, and here are a few of mine.

The theme tune from Richard Strauss' music "Also Sprach Zarathustra", with its loud bonging beat as the rocket took off, and disappeared, a tiny flare on the screen.

James Burke, who seemed to be everywhere, with his trademark jokey delivery. Except when Patrick Moore popped along, bow tie, monocle in eye, with that strange staccato style of speech that he had.

Pictures of the control centre at Houston, with all the desks, machines, and men, and all the machines in the background. Yes, computers once were like a Gerry Anderson show!

Creeping down in the middle of the night with my father (so as not to wake my mother and sister, who didn't want to see the landing), and watching the usual fuzzy picture of 425 lines on the TV being more fuzzy than usual, as one very fuzzy shadow moved slowly down the screen and Neil Armstrong uttered his immortal words "One small step....", and feeling somewhat cheated.

I know it was real and not a conspiracy filmed on a movie set  by Stanley Kubrick because I saw 2001 A Space Odyssey, and quite frankly, if he'd done the moon landing, you would at least have been able to see Armstrong not a silhouette. Incidentally, modern digital image enhancement has managed to make him just slightly more visible.

The number of graphics of the orbit of the lunar module, the descent, the orbiter, docking procedures, the way back to earth, all with dotted lines mapping out the paths. That fine artwork has been replaced by the bland sameness of digital 3D imagery and I think it's a pity. My particular favourite, the zigzag line connecting a telephone in the Oval Office to the Lunar module on the moon, like a Frank Bellamy Dr Who illustration.

The notion that the president of the USA, Richard Nixon, could pick up his phone for that historical phone call and be connected directly to the moon. That was surely the height of cool science! I wondered what it would be like if I could dial - would I get Buzz Aldrin or just a buzzing noise? The 50,000 dollar question: did Nixon tape the conversation?

The feeling that in Harold Wilson's words, this was "the white heat of the technological revolution" and there was no telling what science could achieve. And years later, a sense of disappointment that the great dream of science turned sour, and that my children's generation would never see a human being standing on the moon.

Splashdown, the capsule, parachute billowing along the ocean, and the helicopters and navy ships coming to pick it up. And wondering what happened to all that space debris, the lunar module, the orbiter. Space litter, and the throwaway culture. Something must be better, and when the space shuttle came along, that gave a new hope. There was even one called Enterprise.

Will we again boldly go?

Monday, 20 July 2009

The Rising Cost of Scaffolding

This came up in the session of Hansard for 1 July 2009:

6.1.10          The Deputy of St. Martin:
Would the Chief Minister not agree that thousands of pounds could be saved; just remove the scaffolding which has been surrounding St. James' Church for so long?  [Approbation]  Will he take some steps to have a word with the Minister for Education, Sports and Culture?  [Laughter]

Senator T.A. Le Sueur:
I can certainly have words with the Minister for Education, Sports and Culture, and indeed, with the Minister for Planning.  I suspect that the continued existence of scaffolding around St. James' Church is a matter of public safety and I would not want to jeopardise public safety in the sake of simple economies.  What we need to do is have a resolution for that issue and not have the scaffolding ongoing for ever and ever.  That resolution, sadly, seems to have taken longer than I would like to have seen, and longer - no doubt - than the Deputy of St. Martin would like to see.

One of the building sites notes that:

While it may be convenient to rent scaffolding for the odd project, if you are a contractor, it may be more economical to buy your own scaffolding. (1)

And a posting from October 2004, gives an idea of the cost for a large house in England:

I've just been quoted £2,800 for independent scaffold to a large house, 20m x 15m x 3 lifts plus lattice beams over 2 conservatories. This is for one month, then it's £88 per week. Admittedly this is for one visit to erect only (not separate visits during house construction as the house is already there!) . Price includes all labour, two ladders, all safety equipment (brick-guards, mesh debris netting etc) . This is in the South-East too!! (2)

Now £88 per month = £4,756 per year, and given that it has been there for several years, and there seems no likelihood of it being removed in the foreseeable future, might it not be more economical to buy the scaffolding. If it was no longer needed, it could be part of a States "pool" which could be utilised on any other long term project, so the capital cost would not be wasted. Contractors could still be used on those occasions when it is erected, and when it is taken down (if that will ever be the case!).

Has a cost / benefit analysis of rental against purchase been done?


Same Sex Marriages: A Comment

I recently received an email from a States Member in which it was stated:

I have come to the conclusion that civil partnerships are actually a red-herring and, in fact, and insult to non-heterosexual couples. The state has no business in proscribing that two people cannot get married due to their sexual preferences. Religious groups are free to discriminate based on their beliefs, but marriage as a State sponsored institution must be open to non-straight couples. To do otherwise is for the State to condone that 'gay and lesbian unions are not worthy of the honour and recognition that state sanctioned marriage confers.' For me, this is not a position I can adopt.

I am afraid I disagree on purely pragmatic grounds. While it is true that the scope of what marriage entails has differed (see historical sketch below), for Jersey to change its laws to be widely different from the European and UK locality could lead to all kinds of problems. While I admire the passion with which this case is stated, I think that pragmatism should be the best way forward, rather than faith.

The word "marriage", which has all kinds of religious baggage associated with it, and also has the State muddling the waters.

In England, until 1753, when Lord Hardwicke's marriage act was past (which is only about 250 years ago), a formal ceremony of marriage was not needed, and a marriage just consisted of two people deciding to live together as husband and wife - and declaring so publically, which usually meant to the village or town where they lived. One form of this was obviously the Church marriage, especially as in those days the Church functioned as a place where public notices as well as religious ceremonies were observed. The Marriage banns is a legacy of that. Even now, the Church does not in fact "marry" the people, it presides over them marrying each other.

Previously, people could be married at as early as seven years of age, but until the participants reached the age of consent of 14 and 12 years, such marriages could be voided easily. The act was precipitated by a dispute about inheritance in a Scottish marriage! But after that date, the State raised the age to 21 and took control of marriages, as it were.

Elsewhere in Catholic Europe, reforms were made earlier. In the 1500s, there were many marriages taking place without witness or ceremony. The Council of Trent was so disturbed by this, that they decreed in 1563 that marriages should be celebrated in the presence of a priest and at least two witnesses. Again the need for a public witness is important.

Now it seems that there are two ways to go with same-sex relationships. One is to expand the scope of marriage to include same sex relationships, or another - which is more or less what has happened in the United Kingdom. Wikipedia puts it very succinctly:

Civil partnerships in the United Kingdom, granted under the Civil Partnership Act 2004, give same-sex couples rights and responsibilities identical to civil marriage. Civil Partners are entitled to the same property rights as married opposite-sex couples, the same exemption as married couples on inheritance tax, social security and pension benefits, and also the ability to get parental responsibility for a partner's children, as well as responsibility for reasonable maintenance of one's partner and their children, tenancy rights, full life insurance recognition, next-of-kin rights in hospitals, and others. There is a formal process for dissolving partnerships akin to divorce.

The problem with expanding the scope of the term "marriage" is that

(1) it is likely to meet a good deal of religious opposition, tied into definitional argument as to what the term "marriage" means. In fact, the meaning of marriage changes in different cultures and different times, and the Old Testament shows no problems with polygamous relationships, which were clearly practiced by the kings of ancient Israel. But the meaning of marriage has over time become more restricted in terms of the legal boundaries which set out what constitutes a valid marriage in many countries.

(2) it would muddle matters when people move to different countries where marriage still has a more restrictive meaning. This kind of muddle can be seen very clearly when laws have to deal with people who come to live in a country with monogamous marriage from any of the 48 countries which accord legal status to polygamy, and often only one wife is accorded legal status and rights. Many immigrants come from Muslim cultures where their polygamous unions were legally recognized, and the question has been raised "Why then should a legally sanctioned marital relationship(albeit legally sanctioned in another country)be subject to criminal penalty?" That is bad enough, and further muddle should surely be avoided.

(3) Were Jersey to permit same sex "marriage", and widen the legal scope of what that meant, there would also be problems when people relocated from here to elsewhere, and their legal status would not be recognised in Europe or the UK. This would be like the new move by the States to give complete training to local teachers here, which means that if they went to work in the UK, they would need to obtain a PGCE qualification to do so. Likewise a same sex marriage in Jersey would require an extra Civil Partnership in the UK to be undertaken to accord the same rights.

Consequently, I'd say that to bring in a civil partnership would be the better option. That way if someone moved to a jurisdiction in which that also applied, they would have the same legal benefits. Most civil-union countries recognize foreign unions if those are essentially equivalent to their own; for example, the United Kingdom lists equivalent unions in Civil Partnership Act Schedule 20. Jersey would simply join the lists.

At present, people who move to Jersey from the UK who have a civil partnership lose their legal recognition, which may catch them by surprise with regard to the laws of inheritance.

Human rights, although one might think it came into the issue, does not - there is an article by a Professor of Law here, which I give an extract of:

Does the European Convention on human rights require equal access to legal marriage for same-sex couples?
by Professor of Human Rights Law, Kings College London, Robert Wintemute

In domestic law marriage is only permitted between persons of opposite gender, whether such gender derives from attribution at birth or from a gender recognition procedure. Same-sex marriages are not permitted. Article 12 of the Convention similarly enshrines the traditional concept of marriage as being between a man and a woman (Rees v. United Kingdom, 1986). While it is true that there are a number of Contracting States which have extended marriage to same-sex partners, this reflects their own vision of the role of marriage in their societies and does not, perhaps regrettably to many, flow from an interpretation of the fundamental right as laid down by the Contracting States in the Convention in 1950.

With the links that Jersey has with the UK as a Crown Dependency, and patterns of immigration from there to here, I think that as a matter of good government it should not accord UK citizens less rights in this matter if they come to Jersey, and should pass - at the very least a law - validating the legal rights of any Civil Partnership entered into by those people coming from the United Kingdom. Of course the ideal solution would be Jersey's own Civil Partnership law.

There may come a time in which same sex marriage will replace Civil Partnerships as an option of choice in Jersey, but for the pragmatic reasons stated, I do not think the time is yet.

Thursday, 16 July 2009

Esplanade Development Halted

Deputy Philip Rondel's proposition has effectively halted the Waterfront development. This was "to agree that the development of the proposed Esplanade Quarter and other areas of the St. Helier Waterfront (including the sinking of the Route de la Libération) should be deferred until there is a significant improvement in the economic situation in Jersey, with clear indicators of economic growth, and to request the Chief Minister, in accordance with Article 22(a) of the Articles of Association of the Waterfront Enterprise Board Limited, to give directions to this effect to that company."

There were interesting votes:

Three people abstained:
Senator Terence Augustine Le Sueur
Connétable Daniel Joseph Murphy
Connétable John Martin Refault

The Council of Ministers and Assistant Ministers  were all for it apart from the maverick vote of Terry Le Main:

These were for (Pour) the proposition:
Senator Paul Francis Routier
Senator Philip Francis Cyril Ozouf
Senator Alan John Henry Maclean
Senator Bryan Ian Le Marquand
Connétable Michael Keith Jackson
Deputy James Gordon Reed
Deputy Ian Joseph Gorst

Assistant Ministers
Deputy Jacqueline Ann Hilton
Deputy John Alexander Nicholas Le Fondré
Deputy Sean Power

and these against (contre):
Senator Terence John Le Main

Freddy Cohen "declared an interest" and thereby fudged his own response. As he has as far as one is aware no commercial interest in the Waterfront, one can only assume he means departmental interest, which would not strictly speaking necessitate pulling out of the vote - after all, he didn't do that when he brought the Masterplan to the States in the first place. Why not simply abstain?

The non-council members were pretty unanimous in support - For (pour) votes by:
Senator Alan Breckon
Senator Sarah Craig Ferguson
Deputy Robert Charles Duhamel
Deputy Frederick John Hill, B.E.M.
Deputy Roy George Le Hérissier
Deputy John Benjamin Fox
Deputy Judith Ann Martin
Deputy Geoffrey Peter Southern
Deputy Collin Hedley Egré
Deputy Kevin Charles Lewis
Deputy Philip John Rondel
Deputy Montfort Tadier
Deputy Angela Elizabeth Jeune
Deputy Daniel John Arabin Wimberley
Deputy Trevor Mark Pitman
Deputy Anne Teresa Dupre
Deputy Tracey Anne Vallois
Deputy Michael Roderick Higgins
Deputy Andrew Kenneth Francis Green M.B.E.
Deputy Jeremy Martin Maçon

Against (for some strange reason!):
Deputy Paul Vincent Francis Le Claire

With the Constables, reactions were mixed but mostly supportive with two abstentions (as listed above).

Connétable Alan Simon Crowcroft
Connétable John Le Sueur Gallichan
Connétable Michael Keith Jackson
Connétable Silvanus Arthur Yates
Connétable Graeme Frank Butcher
Connétable Peter Frederick Maurice Hanning
Connétable Deidre Wendy Mezbourian
Connétable Juliette Gallichan

Connétable Kenneth Priaulx Vibert
Connétable Leonard Norman

Finally, the following were ill:
Senator Stuart Syvret
Senator Ben Edward Shenton
Deputy Carolyn Fiona Labey

and these not present:
Senator James Leslie Perchard
Deputy Edward James Noel
Deputy Anne Enid Pryke
Deputy Shona Pitman
Deputy Deborah Jane De Sousa (excused attendance)

Wednesday, 15 July 2009

Letter to the JEP

Do you know anyone who often starts their letters "I feel that I must write..."? Yes, that is Bridget Murphy, whose latest battles have been against her fellow Catholics on the subject of vegetarianism, and she actually argues that "Thou Shalt Not Kill" not only applies to her fellow human beings, but also to animals as well!

Anyhow, here is my response, printed in the JEP. All the names given are real historical people, who did actually do what is recounted here, until the last paragraph! That's not to say I believe plants have feelings - I'm just mentioning people who do - but I thought it was a quirky and somewhat surrealist counterpoint to Mrs Murphy! I'm sure it won't silence her, but it might make her think before sounding off again!

Dear Sir,

I feel that I must write in to protest against Bridget Murphy's argument that "Thou Shall Not Kill" necessitates vegetarianism. It is well known that vegetables have feelings too.

The Indian scientist Sir Jagdish Chandra Bose began to conduct experiments on plants in the year 1900, and found that plants appeared to respond to shock by a spasm just as an animal muscle does. One account notes that a visitor to his laboratory, "vegetarian playwright George Bernard Shaw, was intensely disturbed upon witnessing a demonstration in which a cabbage had violent convulsions as it boiled to death". Research on vegetable feelings was later taken up by American scientist Cleve Backster in 1966, when he demonstrated changes in the plant's electrical conductivity if threatened with fire.

Prince Charles himself notably accorded plant life a degree of sentience when he memorably said "You must talk to your vegetables" in 1986.

Vegetables are living too, and to apply "Thou Shall Not Kill", as Bridget Murphy does, purely to animal life and in support of vegetarianism is protoplasmic discrimination. On behalf of the League Against Cruelty to Vegetables, which was founded by the late Douglas Adams and Dame Lettice Sprey, I would ask her to think again.

Tuesday, 14 July 2009

Harcourt's Titanic Problem

In the week in which a vote was taken to again defer any decision on Phil Rondel's proposition to stop the Waterfront Development until the economy improves, other forces may well conspire to halt Harcourt Development's ability to come up with a bond. In Ireland, they have troubles of their own.

Back in December 2008, not that long ago, the JEP reported (1):

HARCOURT Developments have released pictures of their other waterfront development. The images show the £100 million Titanic Signature project in Belfast that is to be built by the Irish company which was at the centre of a multi-million pound court battle over the Esplanade Quarter development.... Titanic Quarter is to be created on the site where the ill-fated White Star Line vessel was built. It is due to include a five-storey, boat-shaped Titanic centre, which is scheduled to open in time for the centenary of the boat's sinking in April 2012. The attraction will incorporate a state-of-the-art flying theatre, Titanic-themed banqueting suite, conference facilities, café and family restaurant. Up to 600 jobs are expected to be created during the construction phase. It was announced last week by the Northern Ireland Executive that £40 million of public money was to be invested in the project.

But now the Irish Times reports (2) that there are problems with the project:
Tuesday, July 14, 2009 BELFAST BRIEFING: An ambitious attempt to capitalise on the city's relationship with the Titanic is in deep trouble. ..There has always been an element of plain bad luck associated with the Titanic's doomed maiden voyage. Now, more than 97 years later, it would appear the element of bad luck associated with the Titanic has not run out. Its latest victim, to all appearances, is the £97 million (€113 million) Titanic Signature Project. The project marks one of Belfast's most ambitious attempts yet to capitalise on the city's unique relationship with the Titanic tragedy. It involves the construction over three acres of land in the Titanic Quarter in east Belfast of an "iconic", state-of-the- art building that would stand more than five storeys high. This futuristic building would be home, among other things, to a " Titanic -experience exhibition", and " Titanic -themed banqueting suite". It has been estimated that the initiative could deliver a tourist boost of £30 million to the local economy if it succeeds in attracting in the region of 400,000 visitors a year. The initial plan was to have the Titanic Signature Project up and running by 2012 in order to cash in on the centenary celebrations of the Titanic 's doomed departure from Belfast. But the Titanic Signature Project appears to be languishing under the ship's legendary cloud of bad luck and, in turn, it has also enveloped at least one Dublin-based company operating in the North.

Construction of the project was expected to begin last January. Almost seven months on, there is little evidence of any progress. This is primarily because the key funders behind the project have been caught up in a legal wrangle that is shrouded in as much mystery as the Titanic itself. The Titanic Signature Project will be part-funded by the North's Executive, which is contributing, £43.5 million towards the cost. The Belfast Harbour Commissioners, together with Titanic Quarter Ltd, will contribute a further £43.5 million, while Belfast City Council has earmarked £10 million towards the initiative. But the groups funding the scheme have yet to sign a crucial legal agreement which, according to the North's Department of Enterprise, sets out the terms relating to the "funding, development and operation" of the project. Why this agreement has caused a stumbling block is a question none of the funders are keen to answer.

For tax reasons, the Titanic Signature Project will be owned and operated by a charitable foundation, the Titanic Foundation Ltd, with a board of independent trustees. But in the meantime, the Department of Enterprise is the lead government agency on the project. It is unwilling to shed any light on what has happened to the Titanic Signature Project. A spokesperson for the department said it "would not be appropriate to disclose the detail" of the legal agreement or, in short, provide an explanation as to why it is the only stumbling block standing between Northern Ireland and a multimillion-pound tourist initiative. But until the agreement is signed, construction of the project is effectively mothballed.

This poses a major problem for the North because millions of pounds of public money have been earmarked for the project.
But it also creates a considerable headache for the Northern Ireland sister company of Dublin-based Harcourt Developments. Harcourt Construction (NI) holds the contract to develop the scheme because Harcourt has exclusive rights over the former Harland and Wolff site.
Harcourt has been closely involved with the east Belfast site since it set up a subsidiary, Titanic Quarter Ltd in 1998, to get involved in the regeneration of the 185 acres of lands previously home to former shipbuilder. The site itself remains in the ownership of Belfast Harbour Commissioners, but Harcourt holds the development rights for the Titanic Quarter. Unlike most major construction projects involving substantial amounts of public money in the North, Harcourt did not have to tender for the Titanic Signature Project because of its exclusivity rights over the Titanic Quarter. But it had to agree to a stringent set of conditions to ringfence the funding for the project.

A Belfast City Council a spokeswoman said Titanic Quarter Ltd had fully met all the conditions it required to secure its £10 million funding. However, she said the council would not sign the funding agreement for the Titanic Signature Project until all the other funding partners had agreed to do so. Titanic Quarter Ltd had initially warned that it needed to start "excavation works in January 2009 in order to complete all works for first quarter 2012". It is now significantly behind schedule and the hundreds of construction jobs which the project promised to deliver for the North during the economic downturn have never materialised.

Although Titanic Quarter Ltd says it remains confident that the project will be finished on time, some doubts are beginning to surface. If there is a not a major breakthrough soon on the Titanic Signature Project, Belfast will have only a ghost of chance of capitalising on the centenary of the Titanic 's very bad run of luck.


Monday, 13 July 2009

Sex Offenders Register

The news that Jersey is finally going to have a sex offenders register is a welcome one. However, on listening to Ian Le Marquand on BBC Radio Jersey, he did mention that this would be very restricted in terms of access. While I can understand the reason behind this, in the United States, and lately in the United Kingdom, disclosure is in fact becoming more open, rather than less so, and I wonder if Jersey should keep a sharper eye on developments in the United Kingdom, so that it would be easier to add the necessary provisions to move that way if required.

The general position on registers and their access is well summarised in Wikipedia:

In some localities, the lists of sex offenders are made available to the public: for example, through the newspapers, community notification, or the Internet. However, in other localities, the complete lists are not available to the general public but are known to the police. In the United States offenders are often classified in three categories: Level I offenders, who are at low risk to reoffend; Level II offenders, who are at moderate risk to reoffend; and Level III offenders, who are at high risk to reoffend. Information is usually accessible related to that risk (information being more accessible to the public for higher risk offenders). There are penalties for failing to register as required.(1)

An example of this can be seen in the Californian web site, although this does now apply to all States in the USA. It has a searchable register, but notes that:

Not every registered sex offender will appear on this Internet web site. As explained on the Summary of the Law page, approximately 25% of registered sex offenders are excluded from public disclosure by law. Whether public disclosure is permitted is based on the type of sex crime for which the person is required to register.(2)

The reason for this kind of disclosure - and why it is called "Megan's Law" is not arbitrary. It was to redress significant defects in the existing law, defects which resulted in a child being killed. So the name is bound up in the history of the law, and aimed not at some kind of vigilante brigade, but rather to avoid a terrible crime from being repeated - note the last sentence in the following description especially:

For more than 50 years, California has required sex offenders to register with their local law enforcement agencies. However, information on the whereabouts of these sex offenders was not available to the public until the implementation of the Child Molester Identification Line in July 1995. The information available was further expanded by California's Megan's Law in 1996 (Chapter 908, Stats. of 1996).  California's Megan's Law provides the public with certain information on the whereabouts of sex offenders so that members of our local communities may protect themselves and their children. Megan's Law is named after seven-year-old Megan Kanka, a New Jersey girl who was raped and killed by a known child molester who had moved across the street from the family without their knowledge. In the wake of the tragedy, the Kankas sought to have local communities warned about sex offenders in the area. All states now have a form of Megan's Law. The law is not intended to punish the offender and specifically prohibits using the information to harass or commit any crime against an offender. (3)

What happened in Britain has followed a more restrained path than the United States, but pressure to change the law has come from the same cause, namely defects in the existing law. The changes to British law are more circumspect, but aim to ensure than any individual - such as a step-parent - who has unsupervised access of someone's children can be checked, which seems an eminently prudent step to take, and again was prompted by a weakness in the current disclosures available:

In the mid-1990s, Megan's Law was introduced in the US after the murder of seven-year-old Megan Kanko by a sex offender who had moved in across the street.  That law gives parents access to information on paedophiles living in their community.  In Britain, there has been a campaign for equivalent legislation, dubbed 'Sarah's Law' by proponents after another young victim, Sarah Payne.  But now the government has rejected those demands, ruling out any kind of public access to the sex offenders' register. Instead, only parents and guardians will be able to request information on specific individuals who may have unsupervised access to their children, such as new partners joining a single parent household. The decision will come as a disappointment to Sarah's parents, Sara and Michael, and to the News of the World newspaper which has championed their call for a change in the law. When eight-year-old Sarah was killed in 2000 there was widespread public grief. But that sentiment turned to outrage when it emerged that the culprit was a known paedophile - Roy Whiting. He had been jailed in 1995 for kidnapping and indecently assaulting a nine-year-old girl and placed on the sex offenders' register. arrangements - which were designed to involve police, probation, charities and other bodies to closely monitor dangerous offenders. (4)

The existing law - the Mappa system - was supposed to prevent problems but after a three year old girl was kidnapped and sexually abused, it prompted a review of the system, as it was seen to be insufficient to provide preventative warnings to the right people, in this case, the girls mother:

The law also created Mappa - multi-agency public protection arrangements - which were designed to involve police, probation, charities and other bodies to closely monitor dangerous offenders. In January 2006, Sweeney kidnapped and sexually abused a three year-old-girl, despite theoretically being subject to Mappa. His victim's mother said if Sarah's Law had allowed her to know of his past, he would never have been allowed to go near her daughter. Soon after, pressure on the government increased again when the News of the World revealed that 60 paedophiles had been housed, with official approval, at sites near schools. Home Secretary John Reid then made the surprise announcement that the Home Office would consider Megan's Law after all and would send a minister to the US to see it in operation. Gerry Sutcliffe travelled to New Jersey and met with Megan's parents, but later said it might not be possible to transpose the legislation to the UK because of different "structures". Then, in November last year, the newly created Child Exploitation and Online Protection centre took the unprecedented step of naming missing paedophiles on its website. (4)

The position this year - as of March 2009 - and reported in the Guardian - is that much more information will be forthcoming in terms of disclosure to parents. The pilot scheme has not led to vigilante action, and has been extended for a further period, with a strong possibility that it may be rolled out nationwide.

Trials giving parents access to information about convicted paedophiles will be extended from today, the Home Office said. The pilot schemes, set up in response to demands for a "Sarah's Law", have been running since September in four police forces. They allow parents, guardians and carers to ask police whether people who have access to their child have committed child sexual offences. Officers then have the option to reveal the information or take further action if they believe children may be at risk. Some public protection experts and children's charities, including the NSPCC, have questioned the value of the projects, which some fear may prompt vigilante actions. The NSPCC warned that such a law could create a false sense of security as not all paedophiles are on the sex offenders register. Police involved in the trials today insisted they had not prompted any vigilante action. The forces in the trials have so far made 10 disclosures after requests for information, the Home Office said today. The forces in Warwickshire, Cleveland, Hampshire and Cambridgeshire have dealt with 153 inquiries about the scheme, and 79 applications for information. So far, Warwickshire has been the only force in which the scheme has been running across its entire area but the three smaller pilots will be expanded from today to cover the whole of Cleveland, Hampshire and Cambridgeshire. The home secretary, Jacqui Smith, called the early results "extremely encouraging" and said a decision on whether the pilots will be rolled out nationwide will be made at the end of the year. "Protecting children and families from sex offenders is one of my top priorities and the UK has one of the most robust systems of managing sex offenders in the world," she said. "Today's results are extremely encouraging - this pilot has provided crucial protection for children who might otherwise be at risk. "The development of this scheme in consultation with Sara Payne, the police and children's charities has been a major step forward in our ability to protect children from sex offenders but also to empower parents and guardians to understand how to best protect their children." Keith Bristow, the chief constable of Warwickshire police, said extending the pilots had successfully raised public awareness of child protection issues. "For those parents and carers who have made inquiries, we trust that it has helped give them confidence that their children are safe," he said. (5)

Against the critics, the police superintendent overseeing the trial in Peterborough, has noted that the fear of vigilante action had proven baseless and without foundation.

Critics feared the disclosure of sensitive information could lead to mob rule and drive paedophiles underground, making them more difficult to track. But Detective Superintendent John Raine, who has overseen the trial in Peterborough, Cambridgeshire, said there had been no evidence of this during the pilot. Nine applications for disclosure were made in Cambridgeshire but police had not disclosed any information in any of those cases and no arrests had been made. "I think more than anything it has given people a window into our world and provided reassurance. It's helped people understand that we do all we can to protect children and that we are aware of people who may pose a risk," he added.(5)

I would hope that Jersey takes note of these developments in its own construction of a sex offenders register, and builds in or leaves room for the appropriate changes in the law to follow suit if the UK pilot becomes best practice over there. The law is complex, but if the United Kingdom can see fit to change it, we must be able to do so likewise in the pursuit of better standards for child protection for our children.


Sunday, 12 July 2009

Atheism: What is it? A Review

"Atheism: What is it?" is a short book by Dr Reginald Le Sueur. His definition of atheism is "nothing more than a simple denial of the existence of God". In his book, atheism cannot be religious because "religion retains its proper meaning of: worship of a spiritual, supernatural, invisible God, plus prayer and sacrifice, hymn-singing and worship, and consultation of a holy book of instruction on how to lead one's life."

He asks - "Do atheists do any of these activities? They do not". A very cursory reading of newspapers last Christmas would reveal that Richard Dawkins enjoys singing Christmas carols, which while not a counter-example to all the items on his list, nevertheless demonstrates the danger of pontificating without checking the facts. Richard Dawkins himself is notorious for mocking Christians for worshiping one God, and asks where all the Thor worshippers have gone, which again shows that he has not any knowledge of modern Neopaganism, where Thor worship has undergone a revival, probably much to the discomfort of Norse atheists!

Le Sueur asks "isn't every true Christian necessarily a fundamentalist", no doubt so that in that particular chapter, he had have a bash at the Creationists. For a detailed answer, I would suggest he reads the atheist philosopher Michael Ruse "Can a Darwinian be a Christian?", but I would note that Creationism is a very recent phenomena, and Augustine, among others, did not take the creation story as a scientific narrative of events. Along the way, he takes an opportunity to laugh at Bishop Ussher for calculating the date of creation at 4004 BC. In fact, as Stephen Jay Gould shows in "Fall in the House of Ussher" (1), this was not a religious enterprise as much as a rationalist one; as Gould says:

I shall be defending Ussher's chronology as an honorable effort for its time and arguing that our usual ridicule only records a lamentable small-mindedness based on mistaken use of present criteria to judge a distant and different past--just as our current amusement in picturing a primate of the church as a garbed ape inverts the history of usage, for the zoological definition is derivative, and the ecclesiastical primary

As Gould features in the bibliography - "all his books on evolution" - it is a pity Le Sueur does not seem to have read them. I have, except for "The Structure of Evolutionary Theory" (which I have read part of, it is massive at 500 pages part 1, 750 pages part 2!). This is what Gould said on belief:

To say it for all my colleagues and for the umpteenth millionth time (from college bull sessions to learned treatises): science simply cannot (by its legitimate methods) adjudicate the issue of God's possible superintendence of nature. We neither affirm nor deny it; we simply can't comment on it as scientists.

Le Sueur's target is monotheism, and he does not do a bad job in rehearsing some of the stock objections to monotheism, certainly as he defines it, although it has some really oddball moments, such as his list of "other famous atheists, agnostics and freethinkers", where he includes in his list Nietzsche and Stalin, and comments at the end of the list "all of the above are distinguished by their intelligent and intellect". Really? The philosopher who underpinned Nazism, and the monster responsible for the Gulags? I think shows a hasty list, thrown together, so that when he reached the next paragraph, he had forgotten who was included in his list, or at least - as he is a retired doctor - I hope so! He should really get his facts a bit better - Tom Paine was a deist, and to include him in the list - no doubt as a "freethinker" is to muddy the waters.

Curiously he says that Mao or Pol Pot don't count as anti-Christian, because they came from a Buddhist tradition! The fact that they rejected the tradition, and believed in simple materialism doesn't count. Le Sueur seems terribly confused as to what he wants atheism to mean; most people would consider Mao, with his suppression of any kind of religion, as being an atheist. And if he came from a Buddhist tradition, why did the Dalai Lama have to flee? His atheism is more anti-Christianity, and there is little or no attempt to understand the diversity of other cultures, some of whom (animists, for example) might well fall into his definition of atheism.

His history is also very poorly researched. I don't think it likely that any scholar would give much credence to the idea that the Pauline corpus in the Bible dates only from the third century, which no original material before that. There are too many datable manuscripts, fragments and quotations to think that. Perhaps some modern historians of the period in his bibliography would also be a good idea.

Lastly, there is almost no discussion of what Paul Heelas calls "New Age Spirituality", part of which involves the modern neopagan revival, and forms of belief like animism (as for instance with Druid Emma Restall-Orr). If you go into any modern bookshop, the amount of shelf space devoted to science is small compared to that devoted to druidry, Wicca, tarot, etc etc - which has been steadily growing over the last ten years. I imagine Le Sueur - like Dawkins - would be equally dismissive of this, yet in terms of statistics, this I think shows that far from a decay in belief (a decay in organised belief is another matter) there has been a strong dismissal of the empirical scientific materialism that he espouses. He should also visit one of the many "Mind Spirit and Health" fairs held in Jersey to see that it is not just book readers that this attracts.

This is a book written by a man who knows he is right - he recounts with evident relish refusing people in his philosophy class the right to argue about the existence of a soul - Plato must have been spinning in his grave! The Greeks philosophers, of course, had all kinds of ideas about souls long before that was drawn into Christianity.

I think that to simply say that "religious faith is a barbarous left-over from the early days of human history" is redolent of a particular kind of chronological snobbery, and does not sit well with the new age spirituality. It sounds like the kind of Whig history where there is a march of progress towards a glorious present day, or perhaps a technological future with no place for any kind of religious sensibility. It also assumes that modern science is the pinnacle of understanding of the universe, and everything which doesn't fit must be rejected, an attitude which has caused a number of scientists in the past to be profoundly mistaken. It is a profoundly simplistic book, and I have come to the conclusion that the universe is too vast, too complex and too strange to be adequately captured with this kind of reductionism.

It is worth reading, because he is a local but retired Doctor, who consistently spars with some of the people who always seem to want to command attention in the JEP with their own opinions on what Christianity is about. I found it rather to scatter-gun, too opinionated, and generally lacking in more subtle nuances that one finds in Michael Ruse or Stephen Jay Gould, as well as being rather lazy in terms of researching facts. He has a fixed idea of what he does not like, and like Dawkins, somehow feels the need to spread the good word to other people. An evangelistic impulse, one might say!

Is his atheism a belief? A command to early Christians in the Roman empire was to declare "away with the atheists". The Romans, not understanding monotheism, took rejection of a pantheon of many gods as a rejection of all, especially as Christians refused to sacrifice to the Imperial cult. They died for it, and I think that is the true measure of belief, and not one which many of us in the West may have to face. Would he be prepared to die for his atheism? That is an interesting question, but unfortunately one for which the book does not give an answer.


Thursday, 9 July 2009

The Genie and the Bottle

Here is Stuart Syvret's article, for which he is being charged for a breach of Data Protection.
The JEP reports the outcome could involve the  "possibility of a court order to erase or destroy the information in question"
How impossible this is can be seen from the fact that the critical body of the posting is repeated and reported many times on other sites - an example of four are given below.
Once something is "out there" in the net, it is impossible to "put the genie back in the bottle".

Stuart Syvret charged with Data Protection Offenses

ITN mentions Stuart Syvret's being charged:

A Jersey politician who claimed officials covered up child abuse has been charged with data protection offences. The charges relate to two articles the controversial senator Stuart Syvret wrote on his internet blog, police on the island announced. Syvret was arrested in April and his home raided by officers who interviewed and released him pending further inquiries. The 44-year-old was called back to police headquarters on Wednesday and charged with two offences relating to an article written on on March 19. He is due to appear at Jersey Magistrates' Court on Thursday, July 16. Syvret was an outspoken critic of the establishment's handling of the historic police investigation into child abuse on the island and in 2007 he was dismissed from his post as Minister for Health and Social Services after claiming abuse was being covered up. The investigation focused on the Haut de la Garenne children's home where hundreds of former residents claimed they were sexually and violently assaulted. Syvret, who called for both an independent inquiry and for court cases to be held on the UK mainland, was accused by the Chief Minister, Frank Walker, of damaging Jersey's reputation. At the time another Jersey child welfare whistle-blower, social worker Simon Bellwood, said Syvret's blog had upset the Jersey establishment as it "could not be controlled".

The Press Association also has a general release on the subject:

A controversial Jersey politician who claimed officials on the island covered up child abuse has been charged with two data protection offences following articles he wrote on his internet blog. Whistleblower Stuart Syvret was arrested in April and his home raided by officers who interviewed and released him pending further inquiries. The 44-year-old was called back to police headquarters on Wednesday night and was charged with two offences which relate to an article written on on March 19. He is due to appear at Jersey Magistrates' Court on July 16. One of the charges is understood to relate to publishing a confidential police report which contained personal data. Syvret was an outspoken critic of the establishment's handling of the historic police investigation into child abuse on the island and in 2007 he was dismissed from his post as Minister for Health and Social Services after claiming abuse cases were being covered up. The investigation focused on the Haut de la Garenne children's home where hundreds of former residents claimed they were sexually and violently assaulted. Syvret, who called for both an independent inquiry and for court cases to be held on the UK mainland, was accused by the Chief Minister, Frank Walker, of damaging Jersey's reputation. In April he said his arrest was "politically motivated" he was considering legal action against the police. At the time another Jersey child welfare whistleblower, social worker Simon Bellwood, said Syvret's blog had upset the Jersey establishment as it "could not be controlled". The 34-year-old, who was sacked from his post as centre manager at a Jersey secure unit for children after he tried and failed to change the "Dickensian" regime at the facility, said he feared the establishment would "use data protection laws to shut him up".(2)

The Evening Post says that he "faces an unlimited fine and the possibility of a court order to erase or destroy the information in question". How a Court could attempt the impossible, I do not know. Internet sites, such as blogs, are regularly cached by a variety of search engines and archiving engines, and it is quite simply impossible to be sure you can destroy everything you have posted.

Here - by way of example - is a post from 2007 from "A Holiday in the Sun", a blog that was very critical of Jersey over the years before it ceased in the middle of 2008:

So, last week one of those job supplement thingies appeared in the local newspaper, The Jersey Evening Post. These flop out of the centre pages periodically, and take the form of a separate magazine promoting various careers available to islanders - yet they are always completely biased toward the Finance and Office sectors. "What's the problem with that?" I hear you ask.

So why, when the island is crying out for qualified tradesmen, do the JEP - an island wide newspaper which should focus on issues which effect the majority - go out of their way to promote the one sector of employment for which there is no shortage of informed applicants?

And it has to be said, the type of individuals who actively seek employment in the Finance industry are usually intelligent enough to not require extra help or direction. The people who could really do with free advice and guidance concerning personal advancement and employment, are those who toppled out of the State-funded educational dumpster with nothing in front of them but a lifetime as a supermarket checkout assistant or as a builder's labourer. Those are the people who need a job supplement to inspire and inform them. Let's get the damn priorities right for once.

(3) JEP, 9 July 2009

Wednesday, 8 July 2009

One Day too Many?

STATES Members could still vote for a general election if the planned 'superconstituency' reforms are rejected. Deputy John Le Fondré has tabled a proposition that would set up a general election starting from 2011, regardless of whether the current reform plans are passed. He says that if the Privileges and Procedures Committee's plans are rejected, Members should still have the opportunity to back a general election and request further reforms to be brought back to the States. Privileges' proposals would divide 37 Deputies into six 'super-constituencies' and remove Senators, while giving all Members a four-year term. An amendment by Deputy Bob Hill would also remove the 12 Constables. The reforms are listed for debate at the first sitting after the summer recess on 8 September.

But how would one day work in practice without other reforms? I think there are two significant factors which would effect this:

a) There would be an increased risk of losing a seat, with no fall back position of Deputy. This would stop the abuse of people losing out on a Senatorial platform, and an Island mandate, then sneaking back in as Deputy (and sometimes even taking back the position which was the cause of their defeat as a Senator). But it would also mean that more Deputies might prefer to play safe, and stay with their local constituency. From looking at past elections, it seems that while Senators are elected more on Island issues, for Deputies, how they respond to the local Parish matters (and listen to constituencies) weighs much more heavily on the voter. Deputies can become Ministers, so one scenario would be to see more Deputies staying in safer seats rather than chancing a sometimes fickle electorate.

b) Because the Le Fondré proposal does not include changes to boundaries, and retains the Senators (and the status quo), this means there would be 12 Senatorial positions up for grabs, which is a lot to choose from! If Deputies prefer to play safe, this means that there may well be a shift to new candidates, who have nothing to lose, and existing candidates who feel established and secure enough to try again.

A possible scenario: the last election saw 21 candidates, of whom 5 were deputies. Take those away, and you would have 16 candidates, of which 3 were sitting Senators. That means there would be a new intake of 9 candidates into the States. After all, would Geoff Southern or Shona Pitman have risked losing their seats if they could not try again as Deputies?

The propensity of Deputies to play safe may well lead to another shift. Instead of candidates going for Senator after being Deputy for a number of years, they may well decide to move from Senator to a smaller and easier Deputy's constituency to improve their chances, especially if they are manifestly unpopular with the general public. So there could be more Senators coming in new, then moving on to Deputies, which would be a safer seat, even if for fewer years.

This may lead to increased pressure to reduce the number of Senators, but retain the same number of Deputies, and in so doing, cement the voter inequalities in small Parishes like St Mary.

The poor voter, in the meantime, will suffer from vote overload, having to choose 3 times in a row on the same day - Constables, Deputies and Senators. It will be like having a General Election in the UK, as well as Local Council Elections, and European Parliament Elections, all together. I'm not wholly convinced it will be as easy as last time, when there were perhaps two or three candidates for Constable as well as the 21 for Senator. Add to that the possibility of an extra five to seven for Deputy! The voter will be bombarded with around 30 or more manifestoes, and the hustings will be impossible in their present form. I can see rather than voters coming out to vote, some may giving up in despair.

Whatever happens, there will be unexpected consequences of this proposal. Simple it may be, but its results could be more significant than at first sight appears to be the case. One day, without other significant reforms, may be one day too many!

Tuesday, 7 July 2009

Reciprocal Health Agreements - the 1950s

With the recent cancellation of the reciprocal health agreement , I thought it might be interesting and instructive to look at the past history of the agreement. It begins in the 1950s, when Nye Bevan was the UK Minister for Health, and was asked some questions by a very young Mr Edward Heath (later to be Prime Minister in the 1970s).

Aneurin Bevan was very much the architect of the British National Health service and resigned later of the issue of introducing charges for dental care and spectacles. In his ground breaking book, "In Place of Fear", which is still in print, he summarises the principles for State health care: "The collective principle asserts that... no society can legitimately call itself civilised if a sick person is denied medical aid because of lack of means."(1)

It is interesting to contrast the no compromise attitude of Dawn Primarolo today with Bevan's more generous attitude back then - "If we are to have reasonable arrangements with other countries it is better to start off in an atmosphere of conciliation rather than of threats." Here is the exchange from Hansard (2):

Mr. Heath
asked the Minister of Health what reciprocal arrangements have been made during 1950 with other countries whereby British citizens may receive Health Service benefits without payment when abroad.

Mr. Bevan
Arrangements providing for varying degrees of reciprocity have been or are being made with the following places outside the United Kingdom-Isle of Man, States of Jersey and Guernsey, Belgium, France, Luxemburg, the Netherlands.

Mr. Heath
As there are comparatively few countries on that list, can the right hon. Gentleman say what the reason is for the small number? Is it generally the time taken to work out the arrangements, or is it that the other countries are unable to offer facilities? Will he press this as hard as he can, especially in view of the fact that it affects many merchant seamen who are away from this country for nine months each year and who pay their contributions but cannot get the benefits?

Mr. Bevan
We are trying to do this, but other nations have not got our advanced facilities.

Mr. Gerald Williams
Will the right hon. Gentleman use his bargaining power by threatening not to treat foreigners in this country or, alternatively, asking foreign countries to subscribe a lump sum for the services which their people receive here?

Mr. Bevan
If we are to have reasonable arrangements with other countries it is better to start off in an atmosphere of conciliation rather than of threats.

Mr. Heath
asked the Minister of Health if he will now make regulations under the National Health Service (Amendment) Act, 1949, whereby foreign residents visiting this country will have to pay a charge for using the Service.

Mr. Bevan
I am keeping this under review, but am not at present satisfied that there is enough evidence of abuses to justify action.

Mr. Heath
In view of the fact that the Minister said, in answer to an earlier Question, that most other countries do not have the facilities which we have here and that, therefore, reciprocal agreements cannot be made, how long is this one-way traffic in benefits to continue; and why does the right hon. Gentleman not use the powers which he took in the 1949 amending Act?

Mr. Bevan
It was made perfectly clear that the powers were being taken only to deal with abuse if it arose. I can assure the House that if I tried to take or use power to deal with the very small number of cases that might exist, the expense of administration would be far more than the gain to the Health Service.

Mr. Shepherd
Can the right hon. Gentleman tell the House what was the expense last year so far as foreign nationals were concerned?

Mr. Bevan
No, because if I was able to say what the cost would be I would have the administrative machinery that I suggested. We can only make a guess, and our guess is that it is a very small proportion indeed. My right hon. Friend the Home Secretary prevents the entry into this country of people who come only to use the Health Service.
The matter resurfaced in 1951, by which time Hilary Adair Marquand was Minister for Health. Despite the Jersey sounding name, he was in fact from a Welsh family (although there may have been a distant Channel Island connection). It is at this time that the arrangements with Jersey are mentioned as having been completed. Notice the reply that "I am satisfied that the cost of ascertaining whether a person is a foreigner or not would far exceed the present cost of providing him with treatment." The final riposte about proof of origin being on a "doctor's list" is rather amusing.
Mr. Nabarro
asked the Minister of Health which British Dominions and foreign countries are now providing visiting British nationals with facilities reciprocal to the National Health Service; the progress of negotiations for a wider measure of reciprocity; and the general nature of the response from Dominion and Foreign Governments.

Mr. Marquand
Arrangements for medical assistance to indigent persons in the Western Union countries have been ratified so far by Belgium and the Netherlands. Otherwise, there are no reciprocal arrangements with other countries, nor any being negotiated, although there are certain arrangements with the Isle of Man and with Jersey and Guernsey.

Mr. Nabarro
In view of the fact that those reciprocal arrangements apply to only one foreign country, would the right hon. Gentleman consider charging all foreign nationals visiting Britain for the benefits they receive under this service unless they come from this one foreign country?

Mr. Marquand
I am satisfied that the cost of ascertaining whether a person is a foreigner or not would far exceed the present cost of providing him with treatment.

Mr. Langford-Holt
When the right hon. Gentleman says that no negotiations are taking place, does he mean that negotiations which were started have broken down or that no negotiations have been initiated?

Mr. Marquand
I am not aware that I referred to negotiations. I said there were no reciprocal arrangements with other countries. I beg the hon. Gentleman's pardon; I said that no arrangements were being negotiated. I must have notice of the hon. Gentleman's question.

Mr. Nabarro
What proof would be necessary in such circumstances? Presumably if a patient is not on a doctor's list he cannot be an English national, but must be a foreigner. Is that not so?

Mr. Marquand
If I go to Blackpool for my holidays I do not become a foreigner.

Lastly, in 1957, it is interesting to note that a question is asked about the other side of the reciprocal deal - what does the UK resident have available in Jersey. This was purely a reciprocal arrangement of free care, unlike the later agreements with the UK, Jersey received no financial assistance from the UK until it pressed to do so as a result of the increased tourism boom (and consequent medical needs) which took off in the 1960s. It is probably that if this simple "swap" had remained the agreement, it may well have been retained to this day. The problem with the tourism "charge" on health was that it remained much the same, while it was clear to the most obvious observer that the tourism figures had haemorrhaged after the advent of cheap package holidays, and by the late 1980s, was showing a significant decline.
Mr. Russell
asked the Minister of Health to what extent reciprocal arrangements are in operation in the Channel Islands for free medical treatment for United Kingdom residents or visitors.

Mr. Vaughan-Morgan
A free general practitioner service is available to visitors from Great Britain to Guernsey (including Alderney), which includes medical services, drugs and appliances but not dental or (except in emergency) ophthalmic treatment, and also in-patient hospital treatment. In Jersey, in-patient and outpatient hospital treatment is available.

Mr. Russell
Does not my hon. Friend agree, therefore, that we are under an obligation, almost, to give free Health Service treatment, certainly medical treatment, to visitors from the Channel Islands?

Mr. Vaughan-Morgan
Yes, that is quite correct, and we do have a reciprocal treaty. I should have added that, unfortunately, no reciprocal arrangements exist with Sark.

Reciprocal agreements are still possible, for example, only in 1997, the Australian government negotiated such an agreement with Malta (5). By 2004, the Australian Government noted the following such agreements with different countries:

United Kingdom 1 July 1986
New Zealand 1 September 1999 (amended)
Malta 6 July 1988
Italy 1 March 1986
Sweden 1 May 1989
Netherlands 3 January 1992
Finland 1 September 1993
Republic of Ireland 25 May 1998
Norway 1 March 2004

A reciprocal agreement with Denmark is being finalised and is anticipated to come into force in 2005. A draft agreement has been reached with Belgium and negotiations are ongoing with Slovenia.

The Agreements with the United Kingdom, the Netherlands, Sweden, Finland, Italy, Malta and Norway provide free care as public patients, subsidised out-of-hospital medical treatment (visiting a doctor) under Medicare and subsidised medicines under the Pharmaceutical Benefits Scheme.

Other places too still have reciprocal health agreements - Madeira, Canary Islands, Spain - all have some reciprocal arrangements. At present the climate is not right, the health authorities in the UK too intransigent, but perhaps the best approach might be to seek to negotiate reciprocal agreements with other countries on a fair basis of mutual care, and then return to see if the UK can be persuaded that such an agreement need not be a "rip-off" for the UK taxpayer.