Saturday, 31 October 2009

Before Midnight

As Halloween approaches, I've dug out a suitable poem that I wrote a few years ago. It draws on all the Victorian gothic traditions - Conan Doyle's Sherlock Holmes, Charles Dickens Christmas Carol, M.R. James and Bram Stoker.
Before Midnight
Lamplighters in the twilight hour
Gas flames bright, nightly power
Down the streets of London town
And fogs descending like a gown
I walk softly on the cobbled lane
And hear the siren of steam train
No midnight clear upon this eve
But church bells calling to believe
This special night, for all the dead
I hear horses hooves, clip-clop tread
Hansom cabs now homeward bound
See beggars sleeping on the ground
And forms in misty white take shape
For some remains there no escape
To walk the earth, unseen by most
Wander chained like Marley's ghost
That justice came to those who hide
They once passed by the other side
Blinded self to poverty and pain
Looking inwards, so sure and vain
And now they walk, a sign to see
For compassion and for charity
Before midnight, hear their sighs
These phantoms in a misty guise
Now Big Ben chimes at midnight
They vanish, vapours lost to sight
And silence comes, and all is dark
I stand alone, nearby Hyde park


Wednesday, 28 October 2009

Grief Notes

I have been perusing some interesting academic articles on grief and bereavement. I don't for a moment think there is in any way an easy "solution" to grieving, but there seem to be different ways of approaching grief.

There is an interesting review of a book "The Loss of a Life Partner: Narratives of the Bereaved" by Carolyn Ambler. The classical thinking on bereavement explains recovery in working through a series of stages, and gradually detaching emotionally and physically from the deceased. But she suggests that a "post-modern" approach might be better. But this book looks at the process by which "bereaved individuals struggle to maintain their relationship with a dead partner, and to incorporate this into an ongoing search for meaning, and the development of their own sense of identity", which takes the contrary view that it is not about detachment but engagement, about acknowledging how the memories and feelings of the past are important, and will make us who we are. All the fine details yet are not spelt out, but it seems promising.

The classic model comes from John Bowlby, and appears quite recent in origin, deriving from the 1950s post-war situation, building on Freud's post Great war work on the subject, and is a model very set in the background of an individualistic Western culture. It is based on an idea of "attachment", and in his model, the individual ceases to search and try and restore the loss, and eventually loses that attachment.

Rose Cleary has an article on this in Feminism Psychology in which she notes that in fact Bowlby went away from Freud who saw "grief as the painful process of integrating the loss into the very structure of the self". This is also present, she notes, in Buddhist and Shinto where "the rituals of mourning encourage a continuing relationship with the person who has died", and which I think can also be seen in the people who visit a grave of someone loved as a space when they can still talk to them, and share their life with them.

So far, and I've only skimmed the surface, the literature on grief seems to be either following Bowlby and the classic "grief process", or looking more critically at that and coming up with ways of exploring grief that are less clinical, and more existential and aware of the cultural limitations of the classical model.

Tuesday, 27 October 2009

The Historical Origins of Halloween

By the mid-fourth century Christians in the Mediterranean world were keeping a feast in honour of all those who had been martyred under the pagan emperors.

This was the feast of All Saints, and was held on 13 May, and was kept on that date.

In Ireland, however, following the Orthodox traditions, or in alignment with them, the feast of All Saints fell upon 20 April instead.

The situation in England and Germany was different, and by 800 churches in both countries, which were in touch with each other, were celebrating a festival dedicated to All Saints upon 1 November instead. The Orthodox church still holds All Saints on the Saturday after Pentecost. All Souls came later, originally in February, but was moved to 2nd November simply to link it to the previous festival.

What can we conclude from this?

First, the idea that the Christians "stole" Halloween is historically incorrect. The different feast days (13th May, 20th April) demonstrate that.
Second, the idea that the move to November was to do with appropriating halloween from the Celtic calendar is also incorrect. The move to change came from Germany and England. In Ireland, where the Celtic influence would have been in place, and there would have been a feast day, it was 20th April.

In fact it was Sir James Frazer who first mooted the idea of Samhain as the pagan Celtic feast of the dead, and he did so purely by extrapolation from All Saints day, with no grounding in evidence. It may well have been linked to beliefs about the dead, but there are no sources which tell what they are even though much is believed by dint of repetition without checking source documents. Equally, statements about Samhain being the Celtic new year are just taken as genuine, and consequently the view has become entrenched, and indeed expanded on in New Age philosophy. There is equally good evidence to support a summer new year.

So what do the sources reveal?

Samhain, 1 November, was the major festival which marked the opening of winter in early medieval Ireland, described as "when the summer goes to its rest". The work of harvest was over, the livestock were gathered in, and it was a time of tribal assemblies and festivities. For three days before, and after, "there would be nothing but meetings and games and amusements and entertainments and eating and feasting" (Ganzt, 1981). This was a celebration of life, not death.

Unlike Beltane, this does not seem to have been a religious feast time, but instead a political one. The religious idea of druidic fire rituals comes from the seventeenth-century Irish antiquary Jeffrey Keating, but it seems likely that he was just transferring known rituals from Beltane to fill the void.

The Welsh literature also speaks of this as "the first day of winter" , but attributes no special or arcane significance to this dates (in sharp contrast to May Eve) and describes no gatherings then (in sharp contrast to New Year). So the idea that Samhain was a major Celtic festival is also doubtful, it seems to have been more of an Irish festival. The Welsh did however have a tradition of haunting by a a tail-less black sow, exemplified in the Anglesey rhyme:

A Tail-less Black Sow
And a White Lady
Without a head
May the Tail-less Black Sow
Snatch the hindmost.
A Tail-less Black Sow
On Winter's Eve,
Thieves coming along
Knitting stockings.

In the Ango-Saxon calendar, September had been called "Haleg-monath", while October was "Vuinter-fylleth" and November "Blod-monath". The reason for November being "blood month" derived from the annual slaughter of livestock in early winter to reduce the amount to be retained through the leaner months to come.

The Middle Ages show various beliefs from different localities, and a belief in special danger from supernatural forces. In Southern Ireland, for instance, they used a cross of sticks woven with straw placed inside the entrance to a home to ward off evil. Other localities had traditions about goblins abroad, or fire spirits; it was seen as a time of peril. When we think of a time of winter storms, dark nights, illness and death, all approaching, it is easy to see how such fears arose.

It was nineteenth-century Ireland that saw the fusing of these traditions into the creation of the modern Halloween. The imitating of malignant spirits became the playing of pranks, turnips or pumpkins were hollowed out to provide light, and goblin faces, but it was in America that the Irish immigrants developed it into its modern secular form, more or less as a holiday for children - much as Christmas has become.

Hey! Ho! for Hallowe'en
An' all the witches tae be seen
Some in black an' some in green
Hey! Ho! for Hallowe'en.

The modern antipathy to Halloween comes from Protestantism, where Conservative Evangicals see the festival as a glorification or glamorization of evil powers that is also essentially unchristian. They tend to bombard school authorities to downplay Halloween, although ironically, school authorities are now also wary of offending Wiccans by the secular trivialisation of Halloween.
There is an impetus from such vocal groups to attack Halloween parties and Trick and Treat, but it must not be forgotten that the silent majority of Christians would certainly not take such a rigid stance. The Anglicans, Methodists and Catholics all often hold "Halloween Parties" for young people.

In fact, the Catholic Church has the following tips on Halloween:

"Even though some Catholics still feel uncertain of celebrating Halloween, many still do participate in Halloween. Halloween is a celebration that derived from Catholicism. You can learn more about it in the article called Catholicism and Halloween. Instead of focusing on the evil in Halloween, there are many other things to focus on. Remember that Halloween has a religious background. People dressed up to remember their mortality. Dress up and have fun. Be careful letting children out alone. Make sure they have adequate supervision. Look over their candy when they return. You can never be too careful when it comes to children and candy. Make sure costumes do not block a child's vision or airflow."

In conclusion, the modern Halloween is a largely secular event of celebration, just like Christmas. But for those who want, either Pagans, Wiccans, or Christians, they all see the time as a chance to remember and reverence the dead. So I will end with this quotation:

"Some of them have left behind a name, so that others declare their praise. But of others there is no memory; they have perished as though they had never existed; they have become as though they had never been born, they and their children after them. But these also were godly people whose righteous deeds have not been forgotten; their glory will never be blotted out. Their bodies are buried in peace, but their name lives on generation after generation."

"Stations of the Sun: A History of the Ritual Year in Britain"(1996) by Ronald Hutton
"Early Irish Myths and Sagas" ( 1981) by Jeffey Gantz
UK Government Hansard at hallow2.htm 

Justice in Jersey

"I have completely lost faith in Jersey's judicial system," he said. "It's a joke. Jersey's legal system is utterly corrupt, incompetent and overly politicised. They will have to drag me back." (Stuart Syvret, reported in The Independent)

I have mixed feelings about Stuart Syvret's case against the Jersey judiciary.

I think he is probably right to say that it would be extremely difficult for him to get justice in Jersey. However the Court events play out, the appearance of bias would certainly be there, and a Court simply cannot afford to have even the suspicion that it cannot deliver justice.

It is also true that case like the handling of the non-prosecution of the Maguires, despite manifest evidence, and the neighbour alerting the police in the first instance, display a weakness in the judiciary. But I'm not convinced it is all part of a conspiracy to cover up.

The much cited "evidential rule" may well go back to the failure of a court case in the late 1980s, when the Attorney-General Philip Bailhache failed in a prosecution against three former police officers, where it was shown that copybook records had been altered after events in which they were involved. The failure to convict meant the case was something of a fiasco.

I know that he was extremely busy putting together the case at the time, working at weekends, and its failure may well have led to a general loss of confidence. This is, of course, surmise, but it would provide an alternative and equally reasonable explanation of  why the judiciary is unwilling to take on cases where they think they may fail, and have perhaps raised the bar too high in the requirements of evidence needed.
This can also be seen in the resignation of Wendy Kinnard. The point on which she resigned was the "corroboration rules" - to change the current situation in which a warning must be given to a jury over uncorroborated evidence from certain types of witnesses - children, sexual assault victims and other defendants. These were abolished in 1994 in the UK, but in Jersey they remain, which I think is again symptomatic of a failure of nerve.

There may also be a case for saying that the fine levied on the JDA was disproportionate, especially as two other cases of a similar sort were dismissed because it was deemed that they were not deliberate flouting of the law; moreover, the level of fines was extremely high. The law itself seems to have been deliberately crafted against the JDA, and does not exist in other jurisdictions such as the UK, but it is the court's duty to uphold the law, not to make it. Given the furore over corruption with UK MPs, and the fact that the law was deliberately flouted - why not just call someone independent to help with the forms - I think it is difficult to maintain the court was deliberately against the JDA, especially as they were neither suspended, not forced into a re-election, both of which would have been likely had there been any "conspiracy".

But outside of these areas, there are no grounds at all for the blanket claim that Jersey's judiciary cannot dispense justice. The general run of ordinary cases - assault, fraud, drug smuggling, drink driving, fines for non-payment of loans, tax etc - that turn up in the Police Court or Royal Court - have had no complaints against them on the grounds of some kind of bias in the justice system.

So the statement that "Jersey's legal system is utterly corrupt" simply doesn't stand up. It is an over-generalisation and it does Stuart Syvret no good, because it overstates his case. To say "I won't get justice" is something else entirely, for which there are much surer grounds, and perhaps he would be better to concentrate more on that.

Monday, 26 October 2009

All Things Must Pass

This poem was written by Annie Parmeter on 30 June 2003. It is a wonderful description of a thunderstorm, and despite the title, it is stormy weather which passes, and not the earth, which remains "as it ever was" after the storm has dissipated. It was written "for Dee", perhaps as a poem of hopefulness. There is a subtle reference to "Morning has Broken", for it is the blackbird who gives thanks after the storm has ended.

All Things Must Pass
At first a distant murmur
Then a rumble more insistent,
The first spits of rain
Issue warning to the window panes.
Then shattering the complacent air
A sickening violent crack of light,
The velvet-grey and indigo ripped apart
By a blinding bolt of phosphorus.
Wave after shock wave
Of deafening rolls of thunder.
Now comes the rain.
Clearwater torrents spilling over the gutters,
Without discrimination, without mercy,
Washing away all in its path.
The hands of the clouds descended
Once more to wipe the slate clean.
Little by little,
The thunder grows more distant,
The flashes have moved away,
Out over the sea now,
Content to dance above the waves
Weaving shimmering silver threads
On the purple curtain of rain.
The sky begins to lighten,
The persistent rainfall yields
To more intermittent drops,
And gradually fades away.
The breaking clouds roll back
Revealing islands of blue,
Windblown crimson poppies
Shake out their tousled skirts to dry.
The blackbird on the gable
Preens his ruffled feathers
Pausing for a moment to give thanks
With his heartfelt and joyful song.
The warm fingers of the sun's rays
Reach down to touch the moist loam,
The stones glinting and sparkling
In the everlasting light.
The nourished earth
Now gloriously revealed as it ever was,
Shining and new.

Saturday, 24 October 2009

A scent of self

I watched Rosemary and Thyme on ITV3 tonight. The villain is usually pretty obvious from the start, but there are some clever horticultural plots. This week, a blind professor was tricked into falling into a hole on the allotment by the expedient of moving all his flower beds and a small windmill around, thus totally confounding his sense of where he was, so that as he worked by the sound of the windmill, and the scent of the flowers, instead of going towards his shed, he fell down a hole - an ingenuous way of killing someone by proxy.

That in turn made me reflect on the dominance of sight in our understanding of the world. We ask "Can you see this?" in relation to explanations, demonstrations, and shared experience. The recent Horizon demonstrated that a child can show it is aware of itself by seeing a black sticky spot placed on its face. But blind people also have awareness of who they are. How do they come to that when they cannot recognise themselves in a mirror? Does it differ from our kind of awareness? One publication on child art and development stages notes that a sighted child has these stages between two and fourteeen:

   1. Scribble
   2. Schematic (from the Latin word schema meaning outline)
   3. Realistic or True-to-Appearance

But a blind person cannot draw in this way. The article goes on to describe how they perceive the world and themselves in their art:

When blind children have been taught to draw successfully with a Braille technique, the forms they produced lack detail and resemble those of much younger children. In general their expressions are based on feelings, in that they project entirely an inner world of tactile and bodily sensations. Clay has been used frequently by the blind of all ages; schema are arrived at by feeling and touching selves and objects. Work is made by combining many bits of clay in an additive construction. Tactile activities of carving, modelling, tooling foil and leather, collage and mosaics, painting and finger painting appeal to blind children. Since these children develop a keen sense of hearing, music and other sounds can enrich their art experiences greatly. Rhythm, movement and line may be perceived through sounds and translated into visual expressions.(1)

Darwin commented on self-consciousness that it was intimately linked with language: "If it be maintained that .. self-consciousness, abstraction etc. are peculiar to man, it may well be that these are incidental results of other highly-advanced intellectual faculties; and these again are mainly the result of the continued use of a highly-developed language." And interestingly, this ties in with Helen Keller who was born blind and deaf, and yet came to a sense of self through language - in the learning of Braille. This is the description of how this opened the world to her:

It was the third of March, 1887, three months before I was seven years old. The morning after my teacher came she gave me a doll. The little blind children at the Perkins Institution had sent it and Laura Bridgman had dressed it; but I did not know this until afterward. When I had played with it a little while, Miss Sullivan slowly spelled into my hand the word "d-o-l-l." I was at once interested in this finger play and tried to imitate it. Running downstairs to my mother I held up my hand and made the letter for doll. I did not know that I was spelling a word or even that words existed; I was simply making my fingers go in monkey-like imitation. One day [a month later],while I was playing with my new doll, Miss Sullivan put my big rag doll into my lap also, spelled "d-o-l-l" and tried to make me understand that "d-o-l-l" applied to both. I became impatient at her repeated attempts and, seizing the new doll, I dashed it upon the floor. She brought me my hat, and I knew I was going out into the warm sunshine. We walked down the path to the well-house, attracted by the fragrance of the honeysuckle with which it was covered. Some one was drawing water and my teacher placed my hand under the spout. As the cool stream gushed over one hand she spelled into the other the word water, first slowly, then rapidly. I stood still, my whole attention fixed upon the motions of her fingers. Suddenly I felt a misty consciousness as of something forgotten--a thrill of returning thought; and somehow the mystery of language was revealed to me. I knew then that "w-a-t-e-r" meant the wonderful cool something that was flowing over my hand.(3)

She also commented that: ""When I learned the meaning of 'I' and 'me' and found that I was something, I began to think. Then consciousness first existed for me". (3).

So while the test of self-recognition in a mirror may be a sign of self-awareness, I am not sure that it is the most important. It shows some kind of awareness, but whether that is the same as Helen Keller perceived is another matter altogether. Certainly when I see myself in a mirror, I never see myself quite as I perceive myself internally, my own self-image, much as the recognition of my voice played back does not seem quite the same as the voice I hear when I speak. The mirror image changes, it grows old, decrepit, needs glasses and a hearing aid. But the sense of self, how I perceive of myself as "me" remains, and does not seem to change in the same way. This again is something - continuity of identity in time - which would seem to be a necessary part of self awareness.

Friday, 23 October 2009

Political Compass

I come out in the same spot as Nelson Mandela, Ghandi and the Dalai Lama.

Rather pleased with that! Good company!

And rather well on the Anarchist trend as well, which fits in with my philosophy of science - treat no theory as absolute.

In fact applying that, one wonders if a three dimensional view would be even better than two dimensions?

Eden Lost

Annie Parmeter had many talents, and here is an example in a poem she wrote. This poem was published in the National poetry Anthology 2005. It shows her love of the sea - like me, she never liked to be too far away from the coast of Jersey, and I can image her at one of her favourite locations, the windswept cliff tops above Beauport Bay, when she wrote this poem.

Wither blows the wind
Carrying the thoughts
Of a thousand long-lost souls
Hopes and dreams
Borne skywards on a prayer?
To find voice upon the ocean
Amidst clamouring seagull hordes?
Whistling high above the cliff-tops
Through darkly creaking pines?
Or to dissipate unheard into nothingness?
Maybe sometimes to fall as the rain
Be nurtured and bear fruit
Too long the barren earth has waited
For the seeds of life and love
To nourish that divine forgotten heart.

Thursday, 22 October 2009

The Secret You: A Review

I watched "The Secret You", a Horizon programme which attempted to investigate the perpetual question "Who am I?" from the point of view of science rather than philosophy.

Of course, one thing the programme rather glossed over was that while the results of experiments into a "sense of self" can be puzzling, and suggest that it is more complex, they have to be interpreted, and this element of interpretation was not really considered strongly. But more of that later.

This was the "blurb" for the programme from the BBC website:

"With the help of a hammer-wielding scientist, Jennifer Aniston and a general anesthetic, Professor Marcus du Sautoy goes in search of answers to one of science's greatest mysteries: how do we know who we are? While the thoughts that make us feel as though we know ourselves are easy to experience, they are notoriously difficult to explain. So, in order to find out where they come from, Marcus subjects himself to a series of probing experiments. He learns at what age our self-awareness emerges and whether other species share this trait. Next, he has his mind scrambled by a cutting-edge experiment in anaesthesia. Having survived that ordeal, Marcus is given an out-of-body experience in a bid to locate his true self. And in Hollywood, he learns how celebrities are helping scientists understand the microscopic activities of our brain. Finally, he takes part in a mind-reading experiment that both helps explain and radically alters his understanding of who he is. "

The age of self-awareness was given by the experiment of a "mirror test" (1) which has been around for some time. It is described here:

"Mirror self-recognition (MSR) as a test for 'knowing oneself' was introduced in 1970 by Gordon Gallup when he revealed that chimpanzees can recognize a colored spot placed on a part of their body, only visible with the help of a mirror, is in fact NOT on another animal, but on the monkey looking into the mirror."(2)

A child was illustrated recognising itself, and then du Sautoy went on to say that only humans and four great apes recognised themselves. But in fact this finding has been replicated in elephants - once the mirrors were large enough in 2006, and dolphins even earlier. In 2008, there was even a study on "Mirror-Induced Behavior in the Magpie" (2) which showed that a few, but not all magpies would replicate noticing the spot and trying to remove it when they saw themselves in a mirror.

But interpretation is still important - "there is debate as to the value of the test as applied to animals who rely primarily on senses other than vision"; in particular, Marc Bekoff (3) worked on the basis that dogs recognition might be more acutely based on smell than vision, and has developed work on self-recognition using dog urine. As he notes in an article in Psychology Today:

"Many animals know such facts as "this is my tail," "this is my territory," "this is my bone or my piece of elk," "this is my mate," and "this is my urine." Their sense of "mine-ness" or "body-ness" is their sense of "self."(4)

"How do animals differentiate themselves from others? Many studies of self-awareness have used mirrors to assess how visual cues are used. They've been effective for captive primates, dolphins and elephants. Although mirror-like visual images are absent in most field situations, it's possible that individuals learn something about themselves from their reflections in water. But we also need to know more about the role of senses other than vision in studies of self-awareness because some animals for example, rodents who can distinguish among individuals don't seem to respond to visual images. Odors and sounds are very important in the worlds of many animals. Many mammals differentiate between their own and others' urine and glandular secretions, and many birds know their own and others' songs. Moving Jethro's "yellow snow" from place to place allowed me to learn that Jethro made fine discriminations between his own and others' urine . Perhaps a sense of self relies on a composite signal that results from integrating information from different senses."(4)

Of course our world is dominated by sight, and so it is natural for us to devise tests that work with a primacy of sight (perhaps why an overlooked omission in the Bible is a description of what people look like). But it was a pity that Horizon not only ignored the elephant and dolphin, but also did not consider how self-recognition be tested in other ways. Incidentally, no one has come up with a test for self-recognition in a blind person, yet blind people clearly have a sense of self. People with autism also have problems with facial recognition, and mirror tests with autistic people have produced mixed results.

Another experiment looked at the research of Libet. This can be easily described as follows, and du Sautoy duly became an experimental subject following very much the pattern described below.

"Put simply, Libet's research, which has been repeated and refined by other neuroscientists, seemed to show that the part of the subject's brain associated with a physical action, for example, pressing a button, showed activity significantly earlier (a few tenths of a second) than the subject became aware of making the decision to act. This research seemed to show that the idea of conscious choice is often an illusion. Whilst we do make conscious decisions which involve forward planning, our day to day actions are automatic. The sense we have of making conscious choices reflect the deep seated need of human beings to make meaning, but it is an illusion."(5)

I knew something I'd read in New Scientist in January this year had re-assessed Libet's research, and eventually I managed to track this down. Neuroscientists Judy Trevena and Jeff Miller questioned Libet's work.

"Their research involved replicating Libet's experiment but with an important modification. While Libet asked his subjects to press buttons, the New Zealand team allowed subjects to choose whether or not to press. Trevena and Miller then found that the brain activity identified by Libet (so called Readiness Potential) occurred after the subjects had been prompted and before they were aware of making a choice - whether or not they then decided to press the button. In other words, it is not that the automatic brain 'decides' to act before the conscious brain but that it creates a readiness to act which only gets turned into action by conscious intervention. Furthermore ,Trevena and Miller claim to show that the brain activity specifically associated with 'deciding' to act takes place after the conscious awareness of that decision." (5)

As another article commented:

"Scientists have quoted the [Libet] experiment as evidence that free will is an illusion - a conclusion that was always controversial, particularly as there is no proof the RP represents a decision to move. To contradict the interpretation, Jeff Miller and Judy Trevena of the University of Otago in Dunedin, New Zealand, attempted to tease apart what prompts the RP using a similar experiment, with a key twist, reports New Scientist. Just like Libet, they used scalp electrodes, but instead of letting their volunteers decide when to move, the duo asked them to wait for an audio tone before deciding whether to tap a key. Had Libet's interpretation been correct, the RP should have been greater after the tone when a person chose to tap the key, said Miller. But they noticed that while there was an RP before volunteers made their decision to move, the signal was the same whether or not they elected to tap. Miller concluded that the RP might merely be a sign that the brain is paying attention and does not indicate that a decision has been made. The researchers also failed to find evidence of subconscious decision-making in a second experiment. This time they asked volunteers to press a key after the tone, but to decide on the spot whether to use their left or right hand. As movement in the right limbs is related to the brain signals in the left hemisphere and vice versa, they reasoned that if an unconscious process is driving this decision, where it occurs in the brain should depend on which hand is chosen. But they found no such correlation. (ANI)(6,7)

The importance of Miller and Trevena is not just that it shows that Libet's experiment did not give the whole picture - it also demonstrates a key facet of science which was hammered home again and again by the philosopher of science, Karl Popper, that while repetitions are needed, they are not sufficient to confirm a theory. All the sightings of white swans in the world cannot prove that all swans are white; one black swan is all it takes to upset the theory.

Although this was news earlier this year, Horizon did not mention Miller and Trevena's experiment, which is another example of poor research, which was a pity because it was an engaging and entertaining programme. But the 2006 programme by evolutionary development psychologist Armand Leroi - "What makes us Human", was much better, perhaps because Leroi was talking about his own field of study, and was cautious about how TV can oversimplify and deceive - notably he once said ""left to their own devices, TV producers simply cannot be trusted to tell the truth"!

Leroi, incidentally, showed an elephant recognising itself in a mirror, and noted that early results had been inconclusive simple because the mirrors had been too small - another example of how unexamined human bias can distort experimental results.

In the case of both mirror repetition tests, and the Libet experiment, it is clear that by conflating interpretation of an experiment with the results of that experiment to create a presentation of "scientific fact", Horizon is guilty of doing precisely that, and I think a little more philosophy of science, and a broadening of how experiments can be interpreted, would have produced a better programme. The out of date research also didn't help matters.

(3) The cognitive animal: empirical and theoretical perspectives on animal cognition By Marc Bekoff, Colin Allen, Gordon M. Burghardt

Tuesday, 20 October 2009

Farewell, Sweet Love

Farewell, Sweet Love
Tears fall from my eyes, none from yours
Your struggle is over, so many wars
Fought so bravely, with so much strain
And now you are beyond all pain
What happens after death? We do not know
Perhaps in our hopes, you too can boldly go
Where no one has gone before, a voyage
With your beloved Trek, so now engage
Four happy years, mapped onto an eternity
Cantor would have wept if he could see
A poor mathematician like myself, my love
Making sense of the irrational, of all above
You wove so many names, a Namer truly born
A "ninky-nonk", the "shelley house", fun to adorn
And for your friends names, myself as a "vole"
So much fun, childlike amusements, so droll
We had such fun together, so many delights
Educating me in so many ways, such insights
A sharp intellect to rejoice with, a fellow mind
Empathy was your great gift, you were so kind
And I came to you, resting on the bed, asleep
But it was not sleep, and I could only weep
I took your hand, kissed you farewell for now
Until I join you, at Peace within the Tao

Monday, 19 October 2009

The States of Yesteryear - 1981

Continuing my perusal of the States minutes from 1981, it is interesting to note that in March 1981, two new additions were approved - for Highlands College - the construction of Block A, lift and staircase. And for Les Quennevais School - new science laboratories. It is remarkable how little science education there was in schools before 1970, with school rooms doubling for both science and other subjects on the curriculum at secondary schools. The physics curriculum on the early 1960s, for example, often included a limited amount of experimentation to supplement a very theoretical course.

Primary school science was almost non-existent in the 1960s, and even in the late 1970s, there was very little being done; I spent a term at Mont Nicolle School where I was given an assortment of odds and ends of spectacle lenses to demonstrating optics!

At Victoria College Prep, there were minimal science facilities and teachers in the late 1960s, where Anton Dupoy began to bring very rudimentary science into the final years; science was better at Victoria College where Brian Tricker had devised an innovative and experimental two year course, integrating physics, chemistry and biology. The course could even be said to provide a degree of early sex education, as it involved overseeing the breeding, pregnancy and the birth process of white mice!

As far as computers went, Highlands in the mid 1970s had a teletype terminal link to a Honeywell Mainframe in Manchester, and programs were typed on punched tape (in Basic, Algol or Fortran), and run when online - usually after 6 when the phone lines were cheaper! By 1981, the ZX81 was starting to be seen in schools, but it would not be until the end of 1981 that the BBC micro would appear.

Moving on to the "Matters noted - financial transactions", we read that the Island Development Committee had accepted the lowest of three tenders, namely that submitted by Ronez Ltd. in the sum of £81,078.73 for the construction of a new access road to La Collette Reclamation Area. It is amazing to see what is there now - fuel farms, bus depot, warehouses etc - and consider that less than thirty years ago there was virtually nothing. Unlike West of Albert, the La Collette area has remained resolutely commercial, and is pretty sensibly and functionally laid out.

A matter that would warm the heart of Deputy Phil Rondel of St John was the extension of sewer to Elizabeth Avenue area, St. Brelade:

THE STATES, adopting a Proposition of the Resources Recovery Board -
(a) approved Drawing No. W.S.597 showing the work to be carried out in connexion with the scheme for the extension of the foul sewer to serve the Elizabeth Avenue and La Petite Ruette area, St. Brelade;
(b) authorised the Greffier of the States to sign the said Drawing on behalf of the States.

Most of the Les Quennevais area, and well beyond to the estates on the way to Corbiere is now on main drains, but back in 1981, the sewer network evidently was not as comprehensive in St Brelade as it is now. Of course, some areas, like parts of St John, still lag behind even today!

Here is one of the ironies of history - in March, there was a question on United Kingdom Health Service charges.

Deputy Norman Stuart Le Brocq of St. Helier asked Deputy Francis Hedley Morel of St. Saviour, President of the Social Security Committee, the following question - "Will the President inform the House whether the United Kingdom Health Service charges announced in the Budget will affect the provision of free health care for Channel Islanders on holiday in the United Kingdom or whether our reciprocal agreement safeguards our position?"

The President of the Social Security Committee replied as follows -
"I answer this question in association with the President of the Public Health Committee. I confirm that residents in Jersey on holiday in the United Kingdom, who require immediate treatment will continue to be entitled to receive it under the provisions of the National Health Service on the same conditions as a resident of the United Kingdom. These arrangements are provided for in the reciprocal Health Service Convention and safeguard the position of Jersey residents on holiday in the United Kingdom."

This is all gone now, mostly because of the greed and short sightedness of successive health committees who continued to take money from the UK for the treatment of tourists long after tourism had declined. If they had sought to renegotiate on a "quid pro quo" basis, we might still have a reciprocal health agreement, but for the sake of boosting their budgets, they just let matters drift.

And lastly, I note this statement on Foot and Mouth Disease in Jersey:

The President of the Agriculture and Fisheries Committee made a statement in the following terms -
"The House will already know that a case of Foot and Mouth disease occurred on a farm at St. Peter last Wednesday evening. Clinical evidence satisfied the States Veterinary Officer of the presence of the disease and the sick animals, together with six dangerous contact animals, were destroyed first thing the following morning. At the same time my Committee declared the whole Island to be an infected area and extensive controls were immediately imposed. The disease was subsequently confirmed by laboratory tests. A close watch is being kept on all cattle and other cloven-hoofed animals in the Island and veterinary officers from the Ministry of Agriculture are here to assist my Department. Happily no further outbreak of the disease has occurred on Island farms but it is still active in France and has now reached the United Kingdom. The next few days will be a critical period for all stock owners and it is important at this particular time that the stringent precautions already introduced should continue to be taken by everyone concerned to stop the spread of the disease within our Island herds.

The BBC website, describing the epidemic of 1981 notes that: "It is a highly infectious viral disease that may even be transmitted through dust particles in the air and can prove fatal in pigs, cattle sheep and goats. Infected animals' hooves and mouths become blistered causing lameness, increased salivation and loss of appetite. They rapidly lose weight and produce less milk."(1)

I still remember Noirmont being off limits to motorists and walkers during past outbreaks of foot and moth disease. The last major outbreak was in 2001, although there was a minor outbreak in Southern England in 2007 when a leaky pipe caused samples of the virus to escape from a scientific research establishment. In fact, in 2001, Queen Elizabeth visited Jersey and the report notes that:

The Queen is presented with a pen and ink drawing of a Jersey cow by 5 year old Charlie Hutchison - a Jersey cow is traditionally presented to the Monarch when they visit Jersey, but because of the foot-and-mouth restrictions currently in place, an animal will not be chosen and delivered to Windsor for several more months.(2)

In 1981, Iris Le Feuvre was a Deputy in the States, and the outbreak would have been especially harrowing for her as she had observed the effects first hand when growing up on her parents' farm, and seen cattle taken to be slaughtered.

Lastly, on the three occasions in which the State sat in March, they finished once at 4.45 pm, once at 5.20 pm, and once at 11.05 am. Clearly States business was not quite so time consuming as today!


Saturday, 17 October 2009

Scary Figures

Suicide rate 'one of the highest'

Jersey has one of the highest suicide rates in the world after a rise in the number of people taking their own life, the medical officer of health has said. Last year the number of people who killed themselves in Jersey increased by 40% compared to the previous year. The medical officer of health said the island's suicide rate, 14.9 per 100,000 people, puts Jersey in the globally high category for suicide. Dr Rosemary Geller said work was being done to reduce the number of suicides. She said she was "very concerned" after a "particularly high" number of people killed themselves in 2008. The health authorities commissioned a study by the University of Southampton into why this might have been. Dr Geller said the study had highlighted a number of issues, which the department was addressing. (Source: JEP (1))

Usual scary figures by the JEP. Actually the figure from 2000 to 2008 was 113, with "16 last year compared to a previous average of about 10".

It is not stated where that "previous average comes from". Certainly not the 113, because that gives (113-16)/8= 12.125% over 7 years from 2000 to 2007 by my reckoning.

They also present a figure of 12.8 deaths per 100,000 population.

Now 16 suicides, while a figure of concern is not so large in a population of, say, 90,000 approx.

1600/90000 = 0.02% (approximately)

Moreover, with such small numbers, any increase is going to be significant if expressed as a percentage rise. This is the same game often played by any headlines which cite percentages for "fastest growing". As a few examples:

Neopaganism, for example, is apparently the "fastest growing religion". This is mainly because it is the smallest. Growth is expressed as a percentage and seems larger than, for example, Catholicism. But if you count increase in total Catholics and total Neopagans, then increases in numbers of Catholics each year is considerably greater.

The Guardian has an article which says "Wind power becomes Europe's fastest growing energy sourceEurope installs 20 wind turbines a day and 10 EU states reach wind power capacity of more than 1GW"(2)

Again this sounds impressive until you reach the figures further down, which say: "The new wind power capacity, costing €11bn (£9.9bn), should, in a normal year, produce 142 TWH (terawatt hours) of electricity or about 4.2% of EU demand and abate 100m tonnes of CO2 a year – equal to taking more than 50m cars off Europe's roads."

That's still good for the greenhouse effect, but 4.2% of demand still means the increase is not a huge proportion of energy needs!

So returning to the suicides. With such small numbers, any change is going to be hugely significant if expressed as a percentage. Other factors may come into play - an increase in population size, for example, may lead to increase in the numbers of suicides.

There may be timing differences involved, the kind of statistical variation that occurs because some suicides just happen to fall in one year because the cut off point is a calendar year - this needs the statistical method of "moving averages" to smooth out differences over years. This is extremely important. Scotland's official statistics, for example, note that:

The numbers of suicides can fluctuate markedly from year to year, particularly for the smaller Health Board and Council areas. Therefore, some of the tables include 5-year moving annual averages, as these should provide a better indication of the overall long-term trend than the figures for the individual years.  As well as the figures for Scotland as a whole and the 5-year moving average, the Chart also shows the likely range of values around the moving average. This likely range of statistical variability in the figures is estimated by assuming that the numbers represent the outcome of a Poisson process, with the underlying rate of occurrence in each year being the same as the value of the 5-year moving average which is centred on that year.(4)

I'm not saying that the matter of suicides should not be a cause for concern. Of course it should. But scaremongering headlines like those in the JEP take the worst possible comparisons. The UK has a much vaster population. Scotland, for example, has 843 suicides listed in 2008. (or to be more precise, as they are "Deaths for which the underlying cause was classified as 'intentional self-harm' or 'event of undetermined intent'  registered in Scotland".

The rest of the UK is probably higher, although The Samaritans website reveals (4) that the rest of the UK figures will not be released until December 2009, which begs the question of where the JEP was getting its comparison figures from.

A headline such as 60% is an instant grabber. A headline such as "Jersey suicide rates rise massively to nearly 0.02% of the population" would not be nearly as attention seeking. I do think that journalists should consider their responsibility when highlighting figures in this way. While there is a need to draw attention to suicide as a social concern, there should be a more responsible way of doing so.


Thursday, 15 October 2009

In Place of Fear

This is a poem written by Annie.

In Place of Fear

Here now at last it's time to let go
Releasing your hold of all that you knew
Surrender to time
Your terror and distress
You're finally free to live and to love.

A lifetime of striving, a struggle in vain
Abandon all thoughts of rule and control
The memories have fallen

Like leaves from the trees
Died and forgotten, they hold you no more.

So here now I see you as never before
Serene and transformed your heart filled with love
No heed for the future
No mind to the past
Safe and secure now, in the moment at last.

Jy 11/03/07 (c) A Parmeter, 2007

Wednesday, 14 October 2009

The Wall of Stones

Cross the divide, where there is a wall
By night, dream, yet in daytime recall
So little of the other side, distant land
Of night, where we can come to stand
Upon a hill, where the dry river flows
Where it is always night, no sun glows
But only starlight glittering in the dark
So bare, so cold, and such beauty stark
There is a land of dust, of dim shadows
Where no grass, no tree, no flower grows.
The wall is cast in spell bound stone
It blocks death in, from ancient bone
Until the day when we stretch forth
Our hands to break through to the north
That other wind will blow once more
The dust of ages will rise and soar
And we will fly upon the air, blown
Beyond the world, to lands unknown.
(c) Tony, 2009

Tuesday, 13 October 2009

Sad News

My dearest partner Annie died today. She was only 48.

I've just been reading "Out of my bone", the collected letters of Joy Davidman, which includes this lovely poem, which reminds me very much Annie with her love of gardens and flowers, her cleverness, her generous nature and above all her passion for life.

What will come of me
After the fern has feathered from my brain
And the rosetree out of my blood; what will come of me
In the end, under the rainy locustblossom
Shaking its honey out on springtime air
Under the wind, under the stooping sky?
What will come of me and shall 1 lie
Voiceless forever in earth and unremembered,
And be forever the cold green blood of flowers
And speak forever with the tongue of grass
Unsylabled, and sound no louder
Than the slow falling downward of white water,
And only speak the quickened sandgrain stirring,
Only the whisper of the leaf unfolding,
Only the tongue of leaves forever and ever?
Out of my heart the bloodroot,
Out of my tongue the rose,
Out of my bone the jointed corn,
Out of my fiber trees,
Out of my mouth a sunflower,
And from my fingers vines,
And the rank dandelion shall laugh from my loins
Over million seeded earth; but out of my heart,

Core of my heart, blood of my heart, the bloodroot
Coming to lift a petal in peril of snow,
Coming to dribble from a broken stem
Bitterly the bright color of blood forever.

But I would be more than a cold voice of flowers
And more than water, more than sprouting earth
Under the quiet passion of the spring;
I would leave you the trouble of my heart
To trouble you at evening; I would perplex you
With lightning coming and going about my head,
Outrageous signs, and wonders; I would leave you
The shape of my body filled with images,
The shape of my mind filled with imaginations,
The shape of myself. I would create myself
In a little fume of words and leave my words
After my death to kiss you forever and ever.



FIREWORKS will go on sale for longer than usual this year. Shops will be able to sell fireworks from Thursday 29 October to Saturday 7 November, giving the public two weekends to stock up for displays. Normally, shops are only allowed to sell fireworks for one week, but Starburst Fireworks managing director James Bevis has been pushing for a change in the rules. This has been agreed by the Constables Committee, which is responsible for governing fireworks sales. Mr Bevis said that sales last year were disastrous because of bad weather leading up to 5 November and the start of the recession. By the time the weather cleared up, it was too late for the public to go out and buy any. (Source: JEP)

I have to comment that this really is appalling for several reasons, one of which is that there seems to have been no public consultation, but just a unilateral decision by the Constables' Committee. As the States produces more consultations to engage with the public, it would perhaps have been good for the Constables' Committee to do likewise.

Other reasons that I would raise:

1) Fireworks after an exceptionally dry summer, with only some wet weather coming on line now, is certainly a recipe for some big fires. All we need is another dryish spell towards the end of October, and the risks will be extreme. Have the fire service been consulted on this change? If the weather is especially dry again, can private sales be banned at short notice?

2) There is always upset to animals and property caused by mischievous people buying fireworks and setting them off all over the place, as soon as they are on sale, and now we are giving two weekends of misery rather than the usual one (and in fact the indiscriminate use of fireworks often continues for at least a week or two after 5th November). There seems to be no way of easily policing these mavericks, as a firework can easily be set off anywhere, the point of origin difficult to trace, and the instigator long gone before any authorities arrive. If the indiscriminate use of fireworks after sale cannot be policed properly, then the sensible option would be to restrict the period of sales.

3) What is more, by bringing the sale back before Halloween, the chances of some of the more maverick "Trick and Treaters" using these will increase. As it is, there are often eggs and flour thrown in some areas. Have the police been consulted about this change?

I think that it is about time fireworks were regulated to proper Parish displays and commercial users, rather than anyone. I find it incredible that you need a licence to have a firearm, yet anyone over 18 can just walk into a shop, and buy high explosive materials, from which - with the use of the internet - it is very easy to create bombs. I cannot see any logic in that at all. Some kind of licencing with a training scheme in the use of fireworks would not only provide extra income for commercial users (who could run the scheme), but also teach the public about proper safety, just as gun use is regulated to proper clubs. Perhaps there should be properly run "firework" clubs?

Sunday, 11 October 2009

Up to a massive 48k of RAM!

Sinclair on the BBC Micro: "The BBC Micro looks like it was designed by a Belgian brick layer."

There was a very wry affectionate look at home computing in the 1980s, "Micromen" on BBC 4 last night. It was to do with the rivalry between Clive Sinclair (with his ZX computers) and Chris Curry of Acorn, who won the contract for the BBC Microcomputers. My son thoroughly enjoyed seeing what the future used to look like.

Before that computers were all large mainfraimes, and coincidentally, an episode of the Sweeney on ITV3 called "The Tomorrow Man" was all about a computer expert. Jack Reagan commented that it "was all science fiction to him". The business computer was a rare item, only some businesses had them, and locally Channel Data Processing provided a bureau services for payroll and like functions using a state of the art tape reader that worked by shining lights through the holes.

On Micromen, the producer Andrea Cornwell noted that it took 18 months of research. On the two products, the ZX Spectrum and the Acorn, she commented: "I think they each had complementary products - the Acorn computer was more advanced but cost a lot more, for example. I had a BBC Micro as my father was a teacher and he would borrow his school's computer. The director [Saul Metzstein] was a Commodore owner, and a lot of the crew were computer enthusiasts at the time - many still have their Spectrums in the attic."

It was fascinating to see how - from the archive clips - the politicians really were completely unaccustomed to using the new technology, they wanted to be seen pressing a button (once everything was set up for them). Margaret Thatcher in one clip, was clearly extolling the virtues in a speech that had been written for her, and which she didn't understand. There were also some wonderful clips of the BBC TV programmes about using the BBC Micro. It was also the heyday of Mensa, and the programme showed Clive making a speech when he was elected President of British Mensa.

The race for the BBC contract led to Acorn having to produce prototype of a computer within five days to show to the BBC! Bill Gates did something very similar with his pitch of MS-DOS (adapted from Q-DOS) to IBM.

One thing that struck me was how incredibly clunky it was. Keyboards with membranes that didn't work well, or the large BBC keyboard which clearly had little ergonomic consideration for the user, and the complete absence of mice. The Sinclair "Microdrive", a kind of early floppy drive saw an appearance only right at the end, and before that both programs and data storage relied on tape recorders.

A teacher in those days tells me that he recalls going from "making a 4 input NAND gate from discrete transistors to to the Spectrum, Atari, BBC Micro, Video Genie, the argument between Apple and Acorn + Research Machines 380Z. The use of tape recorders to store programmes was particularly frustrating."

Also at the end of the film, Sir Clive was seen whizzing along in the Sinclair C5 (overtaken by a large lorry with Microsoft on the side). The C5 was an extremely odd looking contraption, which now is a collectors item selling for around £800. The Steam Museum in Trinity actually has one on display. The much more useful Wheelchair Drive Unit, an attachment for manual wheelchairs to provide a boost for the person pushing them when going uphill, is still being made today, selling for around £300.

In the end, the market was oversaturated, and collapsed. I remember pc magazines of the time had ever expanding lists of rivals to the Sinclair Spectrum, and the Acorn - the Atari, Commodore 64, Dragon, Orac (named after the computer in the popular TV series Blake's Seven), and many more.

After than Alan Sugar brought out the Amstrad PCW range came out (just at the end of the story), it had built in floppy drives as standard, and quite good word processing software for the time, and its own printer and monitor as standard. I used one - ironically as Alan Sugar took over from Clive Sinclair - for writing articles and reviews for the Channel Island Mensa magazine. It was a cheap but serious office product, and unlike Sinclair's QL (Quantum Leap), it actually worked.

After the story ended, the first American personal computers began - the ACT Sirius, the DEC Rainbow, and the IBM pc. I remember we used a DEC PDP-11 at work, and there was a lot of discussion with the Jersey DEC users group which product would take off. The consensus was to wait and see. However, the States of Jersey also used DEC mainframes, so decided to go down the DEC route, and place the DEC Rainbow on a large number of departmental desks! In less than 5 years, they would be obsolete.

One curiosity of the programme. Although the Sinclair ZX81, the BBC Micro and the Acorn Electron are like extinct animals, almost completely forgotten by youngsters today, the ARM chip is still very much in use today, a legacy from that past.

The Acorn used the specially designed ARM chip (ARM meant originally Acorn RISC machine), and because of the relative simplicity of ARM processors, they were very suitable for low power applications, and its modern descendant still is found in more than a billion mobile phones (98% of the market) and 90% of embedded processors in consumer electronics - PDAs, mobile phones, iPods and other digital media and music players, hand-held game consoles, calculators and computer peripherals such as hard drives and routers.

In one of his TV adverts, Clive Sinclair extolled the virtues of the Sinclair Spectrum, as having "up to a massive 48k of RAM"! Then MS-DOS and IBM came along with a really great 640k of RAM. We had to have lean mean little programs in those days. But now we have 4 GB or more of RAM and bloatware that consumes it like a sperm whale. I think something has been lost along the way.

Saturday, 10 October 2009

Greenpeace News

From Ed Le Quesne, some Greenpeace news.

He writes "Some good news, which shows that campaigning does work. well done to Greenpeace."

In the last few months our campaign to protect the Amazon rainforest has gone from strength to strength. Today I'm writing to share with you the most significant victory yet. Four of the largest players in the global cattle industry just announced their collective agreement to zero deforestation in the Amazon. This means they will stop purchasing cattle from newly deforested areas of the Brazilian Amazon. They will also register and map all cattle ranches which supply their business to ensure their commitment is upheld. Cattle ranching is the single largest cause of deforestation in the world which is why this win is so important. Massive areas of the Brazilian rainforest will now be safe from deforestation for cattle. It's phenomenal that these multibillion dollar companies have bowed to pressure generated by our campaign. Over the last three years we investigated the supply chain, exposed those involved and pressured key companies that we knew had the ability to influence the industry and win this campaign. I cannot express how important this victory is for the future of our forests and the climate. We are making huge strides and I guarantee this win would not have been achieved without individuals like you behind us funding our work and taking action.

The rainforests, as David Attenborough showed so well in his Planet Earth TV series, are one of the "green lungs" of the planet. More than 20 percent of the world oxygen is produced in the Amazon Rainforest.

The wanton destruction of the rainforests not only effects carbon dioxide levels in the atmosphere, but also a location for so many of the ingredients for major pharmaceutical discoveries of the past (and the potential for the future)

Currently, 121 prescription drugs currently sold worldwide come from plant-derived sources. And while 25% of Western pharmaceuticals are derived from rainforest ingredients, less than 1% of these tropical trees and plants have been tested by scientists.

The U.S. National Cancer Institute has identified 3000 plants that are active against cancer cells. 70% of these plants are found in the rainforest. Twenty-five percent of the active ingredients in today's cancer-fighting drugs come from organisms found only in the rainforest.(1)

Dr David Bellamy has this to say about rainforests:

Forests perform a number of crucially important environmental tasks using only solar power, water and recycled minerals. Trees help hold carbon rich living soils safe from erosion, thus saving rivers and inshore waters from siltation and pollution. Trees provide shade, windbreaks and a range of habitats both above and below ground, habitats for everything from nitrogen fixing bacteria, soil micro flora and fauna through all the birds and animals of the native bush. Trees control peaks and troughs in river flow helping to ameliorate the effects of floods and droughts. (2)

You don't have to be a proponent of climate change to see that the destruction of rainforests is based on short term gains (something that the free market tends to be very good at) to the long term detriment of the planet. David Bellamy is skeptical about climate change, yet sees the destruction of the rainforests as an ecological disaster with the potential to make the atmosphere unbreathable.

What is more, the local market can effect the change of land use across the globe. A three year research project by Greenpeace showed that:

Britons' enthusiasm for ready meals as well as tinned beef and leather products was contributing to a boom in demand for cattle ranching in Brazil. The expansion of the cattle industry in the Amazon region was the single biggest cause of deforestation in the world, the report added. Greenpeace said 40% of our prepared, cooked or tinned beef came from Brazil and of this nearly 90% came from a trio of companies who "knowingly" buy significant volumes of cattle from farms engaged in "recent and illegal" deforestation. The Slaughtering The Amazon report called on UK companies to stop buying from Brazilian suppliers who do not commit to cleaning up their supply chains and support a moratorium on all deforestation for cattle ranching.(3)

Think before you buy!


I hope that Clameur de Haro, the blogger who cheerfully quotes Bellamy on climate change, is as supportive of the campaigns by David Bellamy, Greenpeace and others, to stop the destruction of the rainforests.

Amos Group - Minutes for October

Here are the Minutes of the Amos Group. My own comments on the Transport Policy were submitted to Amos and have been posted on this blog at

They were mostly in agreement with my suggestions, except for the priority bus lanes, which may be impossible to engineer in the small space, but I still think could help (having seen them in Exeter), and an MOT, which they propose as long as it is relatively simple (and every two years), which is a good suggestion.

Amos is an ecumenical group, "the Social Responsibility Group of Christians Together in Jersey", and details of the group's activities can be found at

Minutes for AMOS GROUP of CHRISTIANS TOGETHER IN JERSEY on Wed. Oct. 7th at 5.15 at Pastoral Centre

1. The opening prayer was led by Adrian Pearce 2. We went through the response that Tony had circulated about transport policy. We made these comments:

We agree with a more "graded target", such as cut traffic by 3% each year over 5 years, so that each year the target could be measured.

Surveying mixed forms of transport:

We think there is need for a range of vehicle sizes, including double-deckers for busy routes (provided there are very few 'no go' parts of the Island) and some smaller vehicles for less busy routes. We regret the loss of the Hoppabus service in town, linking estates on the outskirts of town with the centre with easy access to town centre shops

Smart Card System for Buses:
This is a good idea to speed up access, and to encourage more use by offering discounts for multiple journeys. Use of buses would be encouraged if bus shelters were provided at more places.

Incentives for Park and Ride
This is a good idea. A cheaper season ticket for a more remote parking locations combined with an economic shuttle service in an out of town park and ride scheme would be useful in keeping commuter traffic out of St Helier. The shuttle service only needs to run at the start and end of working day.

Short term Shopping.
We do not agree with the demolition of Minden Place car park. It provides more central parking for shoppers in the markets. A car park at Ann Court is too far from the shopping areas. .

Incentives for School Bus Use
The main incentive for school bus use by children is a convenient timetable. No need for the promotions - books for schools, sport equipment for schools -by commercial companies. There are always going to be less on the buses going home as schools have a range of after-school activities.

Congestion Charge
We do not agree with the introduction of a congestion charge. The cost of a day's parking in St. Helier is a type of congestion charge. Off peak (9.00-5.00) for Jersey there is no need for short term shoppers, or people needing to visit the hospital etc. to pay anything other than their scratchcard fee.

States Members Parking
We agree that States members should not have free parking. However they should keep their pre-allocated parking and pay a parking fee. . Priority Bus Routes
Bus priority lanes are not practical in Jersey Better Engineering of Traffic Flow

Congestion has been improved by better traffic flow with gyratory systems (the one by Wellington road works well for example).

No need for formal MOTs?
We do feel there should be some regular check made on older motor vehicles to ensure they are safe. The honorary police road checks are not all-embracing to do a really effective job of getting unsafe cars off the road.. A formal check can be included as part of the annual service that cars have. It should be done once the car is 5 years old and every 2 years after, recognising Jersey's relatively low mileage. The point of sale could also act as a simple trigger for this, and any car to be sold would need a certificate of road worthiness, as long as it was relatively simple. This would also benefit the buyer.

Cost of Road Maintenance
Large commercial vehicles should stick to limited routes. The location of potato packing stations in the countryside does encourage the heavy vehicles into country roads. There should be suitable routes for HGVs in Jersey.

There is an online consultation on Transport at:

3. The Social Security Dept have given a clear response to the Income support scrutiny panel a .pdf of their response if available from ELeQ. There are some further issues to follow up. ELeQ to continue on the panel. 4. We welcome the decision to set up an Ombudsman for financial matters, long-awaited.

We hope there will soon be a depositor protection law in place for accounts in Jersey bank accounts up to £50k.

We welcome the Home Affairs Minister's commitment to a review of the licensing law with the aim of reducing harmful levels of alcohol consumption.

5 The J.O.W.G. have appointed Lucy Layton as Centre Manager for 3 hours per week, to help Primary teachers. The New Internationalist catalogue offers a number of books, Amnesty cards etc on international issues at a big discount on RRP. Catalogues will be circulated soon.

6.. ELeQ had written to Guy Brandon from the Jubilee Centre, author of a book called 'Just sex? Is it ever just sex', which tries to set sex in the context of relationships in general. It led to a general discussion on the balance between rights and responsibilities . There is perhaps an increasing swing back to stressing responsibilities rather more than rights, which is welcome

7. The meeting closed with the Grace at 6.40

Dates of next Amos meetings Wed. Nov. 4th, Dec. 2nd at 5.15 at Pastoral Centre

Ed Le Quesne 7 / 10 / 09

Note: With regard to Data Protection, this posting of mine is to give the Amos Group a wider circulation. However, the Amos Group minutes are public domain, and can be found at

Wednesday, 7 October 2009

Land of the Loony

On his blog, as a comment some time ago, Stuart Syvret has expressed his dislike of conspiracy theories, or as he puts it in his inimitable style:

Yawn. - look, I know I've said this many times previously - but spare us the loony conspiracy theories. And the thinly disguised out-right racism. I am not going to publish material that contains - or has links to other sites that contain or promote - any of the following: Nazis. Stalinists. Shape-shifting space-alien meta-conspiracies. The "Illuminati" Alleged Jewish plots to take over the world. Secret government plans to change the national religion to Islam. Global warming being a hoax. The "face and pyramids" on mars. Etc.

Never one to let a challenge go by, I have tried to work a very short fragment of a tale about all of these - at once! Here, for the conspiracy enthusiast, and 110% true, is the "Land of the Loony":

Josef Sprengler opened the casket. The cold air was blue around him, and he was freezing cold. But the statis device had worked; he had been frozen since 1945, and now had arrived in 2009, where he would emerge from his secret bunker on the Noirmont headland. Would the cold war have succeeded, he thought? No one knew he was a secret agent, a spy at the heart of the Nazi Party working for the cause of Stalin, and the Stalinist Empire.

They would not recognise him anyway, he thought, as with a ripple, he changed his appearance into a small swarthy man with a hooked nose. This was one secret he had kept to himself; that he was not really human, but part of a scheme to infiltrate the planet with shape shifting aliens like himself. Back in the past, only the Illuminati had discovered his schemes to take over the world, and as he was in the guise of a Jewish merchant, they thought it was a Jewish plot. Now he sprouted a long and straggly beard, growing as if by magic, to further disguise his appearance as an Imam.

Would the mosque be built in St Helier, he wondered? The predictions of the psychohistorians always indicated that there was a 90% probability that the national religion had been changed to Islam, but the time might not be ripe. The sociological equations of Hari Seldon showed the movement would gain strength in government circles underground, until there there enough supporters of the secret plan.

In the meantime, there was plenty to do. His spaceship, in a geostationary orbit, had been safely screened by a Klingon cloaking device, and before his self-incarceration, he had preset the thermal couplings to focus solar radiation more strongly on the earth. His species thrived in warmer temperatures, and he was sure the action would remain hidden, probably rationalised as some kind of natural global warming. Instead, terawatts of power were being focused on the earths atmosphere, and beamed across the vast reaches of space from a focusing device drawing power from the pyramids on mars.

Tuesday, 6 October 2009

Draft Business Plan - Fourth Amendment

The States draft business plan has had a vast number of amendments to it. The information on the States website shows the voting, but you have to drill down and read through the proposition to see who proposed it and what it was all about. In this occasional series, I hope to bring a summary of the changes sought, who brought the proposition, and how the vote went in
terms of numbers.

Vote P117/2009/Amd. (4)
Draft Annual Business Plan 2010 (P.117/2009): fourth amendment (paragraph 2)as amended  22 September 2009

Proposition: Draft Annual Business Plan 2010 (P.117/2009): fourth amendment
Lodged au Greffe on 7th September 2009 by Senator S.C. Ferguson

There were two key parts to Sarah Ferguson's proposition.

To reward staff for their initiative - monetary rewards for suggestions that save money, which she argued could be paid out of part of the money saved - and the scheme would therefore save money and be self-financing.

Departmental suggestion schemes introduced in all Departments during 2010 at the initiative of the Chief Minister's Department with monetary awards for staff putting forward valid suggestions which genuinely improve efficiency, productivity or value for money.

The second was to do with grants to charities and other corporate bodies; it aimed to show how the States is funding these organisations, and by how much. It is bringing better accountability to the States and the public eye.

Transparency and Accountability in relation to grants

Success criteria:
(i) All organisations receiving grants from the States submit their accounts to be published as a report to the States; subject to a de minimis limit, namely that accounts are only be published for organisations receiving a grant of £5,000 or more or where the grant represents more than 50% of the total income of the organisation.
(ii) A full list of all grants, including amounts, made by each Department is included as an Appendix to the Annual Accounts of the States and listed by Department with no de minimis level for this listing."


POUR: 44    CONTRE: 1    ILL: 1    EN DEFAUT: 3    NOT PRESENT: 2

Mike Higgins declared an interest because of the second part of the proposition - he is involved with charities receiving States aid. Alan Breckon, for some reason, voted against.

The amendment itself was amended by the Chief Minister, so that the grant information was more restricted:

P117/2009/Amd(4)Amd Draft Annual Business Plan 2010 (P.117/2009): fourth amendment (P.117/2009 Amd.(4)) -paragraph (2) amendment.

In paragraph 2, in the amending paragraph (i) after the words "total income of the organisation" add the words "except where to do so would breach confidentiality agreements, Codes of Practice or legislation such as Data Protection legislation".
(2) In paragraph 2, in the amending paragraph (ii) after the words "with no de minimis level for this listing" add the words "except where to do so would breach confidentiality agreements, Codes of Practice or legislation such as Data Protection legislation."


POUR: 33    CONTRE: 3    ILL: 1    EN DEFAUT: 4    NOT PRESENT: 10

Alan Breckon, Debbie de Sousa and Trevor Pitman opposed this.

Monday, 5 October 2009

Social Security Limits

Currently, there is a "cap" or upper limit on social security, which means that the amount of social security an individual pays can not be greater than that limit. The limit is reviewed and increased each year.

At times, politicians (such as members of the JDA) have considered removing the cap on social security as a means of increasing tax revenue. I think that this would only be fair if general taxation were levied on wages net of social security payments.

In the current system, social security contributions are in effect a form of wage taxation with ostensibly specific earmarked usage (pensions, sickness benefits etc), and employees are paying to the government both this sum, and being taxed on it as well; effectively, they are being taxed twice. Removing the cap would mean that a greater amount would be paid which would still form part of the gross pay, and not only would those above the limit pay more to social security, they would - as at present - be also taxed on it.

The fact that one form of taxation is termed an "earnings related contribution" and the other "income tax" does not hide the basic reality that the States is collecting money from the individual based on the level of their earnings in two different ways; in terms of economics, both are "components of taxation".

In America, while a proportion of what they term "social security taxation" is taxed under income tax, a proportion is removed from the equation (the employer's share of the Social Security tax is not considered income to the employee), giving instead a "modified adjusted gross income"

It does not seem fair that the State should tax the individuals twice over, and while the cap mitigates the effect of this, removing the cap (which does seem equitable) would increase this burden (which is not equitable).

Harcourt 9 September 2009 Hansard

Just a short snippet on Harcourt Developments. For a company that has now missed several extended deadlines, the fact that Harcourt still owes money to the States of Jersey does not give a good impression of its financial management. Would you sign a contract for someone to carry out a task if they still owed you money from some time ago?


In response to my written question on 28th April 2009, the Minister advised that Harcourt owed a considerable sum of money to Transport and Technical Services and the Waterfront Enterprise Board Limited. Would the Minister inform the Assembly whether these outstanding bills have now been settled and, if not, has the 'robust credit control procedure' been applied and, if so, what action has been taken?

There are no monies owed to WEB
The monies owed to Transport and Technical Services have not been paid by Harcourt.
Transport and Technical Services and Treasury officers have been pursuing this debt through the standard States debt recovery procedure. If this procedure is not successful, the Law Officers will be instructed to pursue recovery of this debt via the Courts.

Turn Any Stone

Turn Any Stone
The high places, where the tribe came
Remember shadows of those no more
And as dusk falls, lighting sacred flame
With tears, the memories laid to store
The stones remain, a legacy of time
Although we no longer know the name
Of a green sapling, cut still in its prime
Remember shadows, here we came
No spell can restore the dead, those now
Beyond the veil of time, out of our reach
Saplings died young, old broken bough
Beneath the waves, far out of our reach
Yet in memory, they return, their laugh
And smile, and all their joys and sorrow
Traced in the sand, a druid with his staff
Marks out the names, now for the morrow
The waves wash upon the rocks and sand
Names taken into the vast ocean of night
Letting them go, remaining on the land
This is the hardest part, the healing rite
And above, in the purple cloak of night
Like the shattered vessels, broken clay
The stars remain, fragments of the light
Sign of the path to heal a wounded day
The tide is falling now, the stones remain
And with the stones, we remember them
With all our sorrows, our tears, our pain
Each stone, rough, worn, and yet a gem
Take a stone, with missed words, regret
That still unsaid, yet with no time to say
And this stone shall be a sign, not to forget
A memory held, that grief can find a way
Turn any stone, it says "Love", on one side
and the other, "I forgive you". So my dear
Let tears wash away the grief you cried
And now turn any stone, and I am there

Sunday, 4 October 2009

A Line in the Sand

When I started off around 12.40 at the L'Etaq end, from the slipway by Jersey Pearl, I could see a line in the far distance by Braye Slip, and I wondered if there would be enough people to manage the vast distance. The line was marked out with poles, evenly spaced along the sand, with a white ribbon (courtesy of Geomarine) between them.

But people kept coming from behind, and from the middle of the bay, and by the time I was nearly at the white house (the white coloured cottage), and pausing for breath, the line was coming towards me from Braye and along behind the route I had taken, and by 2.00 pm, it stretched all the way along the whole length of the bay, a magnificent achievement. I saw Daniel Wimberley about 20 people down the line, and someone said "The Jolly Green Giant" is here - the JEP's Fly on the Wall nickname obviously is a popular one!

It is relatively easy to sign most petitions. A few seconds, a mark on paper, and it is done. Even a referendum is easier; a cross against an option on paper at a Parish Hall.

This was a different kind of petition. People gave time to be there in person; it required an effort. This petition was signed by people being there, in the sand, stretched out to draw a line, to say - so far and no further - on the future development of Jersey's precious coastline and countryside. A signature in the sand, of a kind never before attempted, and a clear message.

Will the message be heard? That is what I heard people asking as they walked along, or walked back. "Will they take any notice?"  If Jersey is to have any future, if Island democracy is to have any credibility, this should make a difference.  Let there be no prevarication, no slippery words to acknowledge this, and then weasel out of it.  A line has been drawn.

We hear politicians speak for us of new laws strong and sweet,
Yet is there no one speaks as we speak in the street.
It may be we are meant to mark with our riot and our rest
God's scorn for all men governing. It may be beer is best.
But we are the people of Jersey; and on sand we have spoken yet.
Smile at us, pay us, pass us. But do not quite forget.

(after GK Chesterton)

Thursday, 1 October 2009

Transport Consultation

There is an online consultation on Transport at:

The proposal is to cut traffic by 15%. While it is good to have a target, I would have preferred to see a more "graded target", such as cut traffic by 3% each year over 5 years, so that each year the target could be measured.

While the graphs of traffic volume in their report look very objective, there is no breakdown on how they have been measured, and no measures of the kind of statistical margin of error that is really needed. Traffic flow must vary, not just in term time and holidays, but also with respect to commuters changing patterns of behaviour in response to lengthy road works on major trunk roads, or on the town ring roads. In Sweden, for example, a report gives both the data collection method, and the frequency of the sampling:

The equipment used to collect data comprises pneumatic tubes stretched across the road and connected to a traffic analyzer. When a wheel of a passing vehicle crosses a tube, this action gives rise to a pulse in the equipment. From these pulses, vehicles are identified and information such as their speeds can be measured. For some surveys, additional equipment is needed for the data collection

The SNRA estimates yearly traffic volume at each of about 22,000 count sites on the national road network. Each count site represents a road link with supposedly homogeneous traffic volume. For each count site, the AADT is estimated, based on short period traffic counts of lengths varying from 24 hours to three days. The high-volume part of the road network is covered over a measurement cycle of four years and the low-volume part over a cycle of eight years. (1)

I've filled in the online form, and added a few comments on each section. Here are some of these, expanded with notes, and with a small amount of repetition because of the different parts of the form.

Surveying mixed forms of transport:

At present in the Winter, there is no bus service to Corbiere after around 7.00 in the evening, and almost none on Sundays. The 15 is well provided, and my son combines bus to Red Houses with pick ups by car when the bus is not running out to Corbiere. There is a balance or trade-off between possible (and economic) bus use and car use, and any survey should consider that.

Smart Card System for Buses:

Guernsey have an excellent "smart card" where credit can be topped up and used for journeys, as required, not like the Jersey commuter tickets, but much more flexible. This would encourage more people to travel by bus, especially if top up discounts were available (as with pay as you go phones).

'Wave & Save' smart cards - fares as low as 30p! If you catch the bus regularly, why not purchase one of our new 'Wave & Save' smart cards for £1.00 and save up to 50% on the individual flat fare... 'Wave & Save' smart cards can be purchased from Island Coachways' Bus information Kiosk at the St. Peter Port bus terminus and can be topped up at the Kiosk or on board the buses by your driver.(2)

Exeter is also looking at the smart cards with its own transport strategy:

To encourage bus operators to adopt ticketing systems and bus design, which will reduce time taken for people to board and alight from buses, including the introduction of smart cards.(3)

Incentives for Park and Ride

A cheaper season ticket for a more remote parking locations combined with an economic shuttle service in an out of town park and ride scheme would also be useful in keeping commuter traffic out of St Helier.

In this respect, explore use of minibuses in Town area and Park and Ride (as in Exeter). They are linked by radio to a central hub, can easily be increased in numbers if there is a sudden surge in users, and being small (but frequent) are more efficient in fuel use than large heavy buses.

There are two main types of buses operating in Exeter, the city bus network and the county or regional network. The former is largely operated by frequent minibuses (operating at 10 to 12 minute headways), which run through the High Street, whilst the latter are operated by more conventional less frequent larger buses that terminate in the bus and coach station.(3)

Short term Shopping.

The North of Town Masterplan demolition of Minden Place car park deprives St Helier of much needed short stay parking for that part of town. Any reduction in parking needs to be assessed against a random survey of shops and places (like the Art Centre) visited by commuters, otherwise the unintended consequence of its removal will be to damage the local economy.

Incentives for School Bus Use

Look at ways to incentivise school bus use by children by rewards to schools for most use (like the promotions - books for schools, sport equipement for schools -by commercial companies).

Congestion Charge

Introduce a congestion charge (as London) for peak times, but do not penalise out of peak traffic.

A payment of £8 is required for each day a vehicle enters or travels within the zone between 7am and 6pm (Monday-Friday only); a fine of between £60 and £180 is imposed for non-payment.(4)

The congestion charge can be paid online, or by sms from a mobile phone, thus making it easy for commuters to pay. I would have thought off peak (9.00-5.00) for Jersey it would be useful to have exempt, for short term shoppers, or people needing to visit the hospital etc.

States Members Parking

Remove States members free parking, so they appreciate the costs of motoring and parking. Replace it with a small travel allowance for out of town members that would cover bus fares, but can be used to help pay for parking if they want to use the car. Keep their pre-allocated parking however, but charge at commercial rates.

Priority Bus Routes

Exeter has a semi-pedestrial / bus priority lane which gives buses the edge in congested traffic, leading to more bus use. Rather than just pedestrianising areas (like Burrard Street, David Place), look at where a priority bus lane (also handy for emergency services) can be used. They are looking to do more in their own transport strategy:

To implement a series of bus priorities (bus lanes, no car lanes, bus gates, bus only turns, bus boarders etc.) where these will lead to an overall benefit to travellers along a corridor or at a specific location by improving journey time and reliability as identified in the bus study (3)

Better Engineering of Traffic Flow

Congestion can also be improved by better traffic flow with gyratory systems (the one by Wellington road works well for example), and reducing cars should not be a substitute for looking at a legacy bad traffic flow design .

No need for formal MOTs

The honorary police road checks do a really effective job of getting unsafe cars off the road at low cost. I've been stopped myself, and they check bodywork, lights, tyres. The extra paperwork and bureaucracy involved in an MOT style system is not suited to Jersey.

But if more checks are needed, then why not make point of sale as a trigger for this, and any car to be sold would need a certificate of roadworthiness, as long as it was relatively simple. This would also benefit the buyer.

Cost of Road Maintenance

Large commercial vehicles cause most impacting damage to road surfaces, and should bear more of the cost of road resurfacing repairs. Small cars really do not effect the underlying road foundations. In this respect, Exeter is again looking at this issue:

To encourage the use of suitable routes for HGVs within the city boundary and restrict the use of unsuitable roads.