Tuesday, 31 March 2009

Mike Pollard on BBC Radio Jersey

I heard Mike Pollard on BBC Radio Jersey today. The presenter, Roger Bara, gave him an extremely easy ride over the cessation of the reciprocal health agreement between the UK and Jersey.

(1) UK Visitors, if they need special services involving a hospital stay apart from Outpatients will be treated first (without consideration of whether they can afford the treatment) which he rightly said was the moral position to take.

He did not say how they would be asked to pay the final bill, and what would happen if they had no suitable travel insurance, or indeed, if they died over here. Would there be an option to pay the huge sums involved by installments? What if they were on low wages, or unemployment benefit? I am sure this is being worked out, but it would have good to have more details, especially as it seems that procedures only began to be worked out after Jim Perchard failed to negotiate a continuation of the reciprocal agreement, which was late in the day.

Did no one think it likely he might not have success, especially given Dawn Primarolo's tendency to be intransigent over EU tax harmonisation applying to Jersey when she was Paymaster General? "Red Dawn" is not known for her ability to compromise, and her robust way of speaking (she once compared the House of Commons to Holloway Prison)!

(2) He said that insurance for Jersey people travelling to the UK was being sorted out, and comprehensive travel insurance packages would be available even for exceptional cases. He was not pressed on the JEP article just the day before which reported Daphne Minihane as noting that there simply was no travel insurance available for those over 79.

That is a shame because a search of insurance policies revealed that most go only up to age 79 (and no more than 90 days at a time), but I finally tracked down several which go to 99 years old. Giving details would have been more reassuring that just saying "ring this number for help" which is what he did.


Travel insurance over 70 UK companies

Although in the past it may have proved difficult for seniors to get holiday insurance over 65 (i.e. 70, 75, 80 and beyond!) for their travel or holiday plans. Nowadays however, there are many companies, brokers and websites offering travel cover, some with no upper age limit, some with age limits of 90-99 years old.

Direct Line will cover over their 70 birthday and provides solid medical cover on single trips.

Check out Marks and Sparks as they have no upper age limit for holiday insurance whatsoever.

Churchill offers holiday insurance over 70 years old. Churchill not only covers the over 70s but will cover seniors until they are 99 on holidays abroad.

American Express has been a provider of travel and holiday insurance for a number of years and offers comprehensive cover up to the age of 79.

With travel insurance from the Post OfficeT, you're guaranteed high quality holiday cover at great prices for the Over 75s.

Insure For Travel Insurance - For single trip insurance insure for all will cover any UK resident of any age!


Monday, 30 March 2009

Talkback on Population

The concept of the 'population bomb' is so imbedded in our thinking that it does not occur to us that human population growth may end, not because of disaster, but because of other natural processes.(Glen Hiemstra )

Back from a mini-break in Guernsey, I listened to BBC Radio Jersey and was pleasantly surprised to hear Senator Sarah Ferguson say that the "demographic time bomb" was in fact more a a demographic hump, because once the "baby boomers" generation reaches its peak, the elderly population will then start to decline fairly rapidly (even given modern healthcare). She said that really long term planning should plan both for and past the peak population of elderly people. This ties in with the fact noted by Glen Hiemstra in "The Futurist", which is looking at the USA, but has implications wherever there was a "baby boom" in the West, including Jersey:

Generation Y, the 'dot com generation' or the 'millennial generation' is huge. The baby boom was 76 million strong in the U.S. Generation X, those born between 1964 and 1979 was much smaller, at only 17 million (an astonishing drop).

It is the first time I've heard a politician actually mention that "hump" rather than "time bomb" - because of course one of the features of the proposed inward migration is that it will probably increase the duration of that peak, and make the "demographic time bomb" longer - it is easy to see why, because if younger people come to the Island (probably mostly in the range 25-40), they will in turn age, and add the the growing number of elderly. In fact, any simple model shows that you lower the average age in the short term, only by producing a weighting factor that will increase the average age in the long term. The only way this means of combating an increase in average will work is to continue to grow the population by bringing in younger people, which in turn, increases the total population. It looks good in the short term, but in the long term is a mathematical disaster. The model just will not work.

What is really needed is an immigration policy that will ensure immigration takes place only if the birth rate is declining to the point that the total population will start falling (or certainly falling below a critical level). In order to do this, some decent mathematical models based on census information should be developed, and this should as far as possible be adjusted each year by parameters of population change - births, deaths and other measures of immigration from housing, tax, social security, electoral role etc.


Sunday, 29 March 2009

The World Jones Made

The World Jones Made by Philip K. Dick: A Review
Like John Buchan's "The Gap in the Curtain", this book is about foreknowledge of the future. However, Dick approaches this idea in quite a different manner, and for quite different purposes. Unlike Buchan, Dick has chosen to eschew a realist setting (in a fictional "present") in favour of a setting in a future society, which is slowly coming to terms with the aftermath of a nuclear war.
Dick develops his background with great care. Piece by piece, as the narrative unfolds, he portrays a society in which reconstruction is starting, trying to repair the devastation caused by war. Pivotal to the reconstruction programme is a new political philosophy, "Relativism", which is a direct reaction against the dogmatic thinking which led up to the war:
"The spectacle of demagogues sending millions of people to their deaths, wrecking the world with holy wars and bloodshed, tearing down nations to put over some religious or political  'truth' is obscene.. I suppose Relativism is cynical. It surely isn't idealistic. It's the result of being killed and injured and made poor and working hard for empty words. It's the outgrowth of generations of shouting slogans, marching with spades and guns, singing patriotic hymns, chanting, and saluting flags. "
The doctrine of relativism is that there is no absolute truth. People can believe in anything that they want, but they cannot peddle it to others as absolute truth. If they do, they are asked to prove what they are saying or shut up. And if evidence is not forthcoming, they are placed in the work camps, as reconstruction crews.
Dick carefully builds up a picture of a society in which such a doctrine holds sway. Against this background, he introduces us to Jones.
The war has brought about many mutations, both physical and mental, who are permitted to survive as such freaks of nature have often done, on the fringe of society, in carnival sideshows. It is here that Jones appears as a fortune teller. Jones is a mutant who can actually see his own future. As he explains, later in the story:
"To me, this is the past. Right now, here in this building, this is a year ago. It's not so much like I can see the future; it's more that I've got one foot stuck in the past. I can't shake it loose. I'm retarded; I'm reliving one year of my life forever. Over and over again. Everything I do, everything I say, hear, experience, I have to grind over twice... You think I've some kind of emancipation. Don't kid yourself - the less you know about the future, the better off you are. You've got a nice illusion; you think you have free will."
It is clear that Dick has chosen the futurist setting of his story to illustrate the clash of opposites arising between a relativist theory which holds that there can be no absolute truth, and. Jones, who predicts what is going to happen, and claims that he is telling the absolute truth.
Dick develops this conflict with great ingenuity as the story unfolds. But it should not be thought that it is simply a book about ideas, like the didactic novels of the later Wells. In my opinion, the book manages to succeed well on its own merits as an entertaining and unusual story.

Fiona Walker's Rauchy Books

A visit to a Guernsey bookshop brought about a bit of a revelation. Did you
know that:

Fiona Walker is the author of:

French Relations (1994)
Kiss Chase (1995)
Well Groomed (1996)
Snap Happy (1998)
Between Males (2000)
Lucy Talk (2000)

'Romps along with plenty of self-deprecating wit' -- Sunday Times 'A sizzling summer read of love, sex, passion and soaring temperatures' -- Sun. ' Raunchy:..An explosive debut' -- Daily Mail 'Romantic, intelligent, steamy and really rather wise' -- Bookcase.

I suppose in fairness - at this point - I should add that this is not the same person as the wife of the former Senator Frank Walker, but another lady of the same name!


Following Nick Palmer's lead, I'm experimenting with Adsense, but only below blog posts.

Tuesday, 24 March 2009

An Unreserved Apology With Reservations

"It is clearly of paramount importance that ministers give accurate and truthful information to the House. If they knowingly fail to do this, then they should relinquish their positions." (John Major)

"Ministers of the Crown are expected to behave according to the highest standards of constitutional and personal conduct." (Questions of Procedures for Ministers)

It's made Jersey's Hansard! Yes, the unexpurgated version of what was said is given on the States Assembly website - please note I have replaced the words below with asterisks - and it is clear that Senator James Perchard - as he admitted - was lying to to the Assembly both when he denied the language just spoken and the occasion in the Town Hall.

The matter has been treated by both Senator Le Sueur and the Deputy Bailiff as "a private matter", which begs the question, if it is private, and not relevant to the Assembly, why bring in the code of conduct? There is an inconsistency here - on the one hand, we are told it is "private", i.e. beyond the scope of the States - and on the other, we are told that members should not use such language because it is within the scope of how members conduct themselves.

Despite popular cynicism as to the ability of politicians ever to tell the truth, not lying to Parliament has long
been regarded as being of the utmost importance. The very survival of politicians in office has often been made dependent on whether it can be shown that they have misled Parliament: 'John Profumo lost office not because of his sexual misbehaviour but because he lied to Parliament. When Mrs Thatcher narrowly survived the Westland affair the debate was on whether Parliament had been deceived'

Senator S. Syvret:
On a point of order.  I am sorry to interrupt the Minister but the Minister to my right, Senator Perchard, is shouting ... well, not shouting but saying in my ear: "You are full of f**ing sh*t.  Why do you not go and top yourself, you b*tard."  I really do not think that this conduct is acceptable.

Senator J.L. Perchard:
I absolutely refute that.  I am just fed up with this man making up allegations against people.  I just wish he would not.

Senator S. Syvret:
The Senator did engage in a drunken foul obnoxious outburst at the Town Hall the other night ...

Senator J.L. Perchard:
Oh, rubbish.

Senator S. Syvret:
... in front of witnesses and he is now persisting in his foul aggression against me.  If the Assembly is to maintain some semblance of good order, I really think somebody ought to have a word with Senator Perchard and perhaps help him get some therapy.

Senator J.L. Perchard:
This is out of order.  I really object to the Senator hijacking question time to pursue his personal vendetta against me.

The Deputy Bailiff:
One moment.  This was a private matter in any event.  I cannot rule on what was said and what was not because it is denied so we will leave the matter there.  But quite clearly Members should as a general principle be courteous to each other, should not insult each other or use abusive language to each other.  That is in Standing Orders so far as public utterances are concerned.  It is in the code of conduct as I understand it so far as ordinary private interaction between Members is concerned.  I urge all Members to abide by that.  [Approbation]  Now, Minister, I am sorry you were interrupted but perhaps you could carry on.

On another related point, Ben Quérée in his weekly comment on the States, argues that the fact that we have a Health Minister advising someone to commit suicide should not be an issue, just that he used bad language.

And if the big deal is that Senator Perchard is the Health Minister, and that it is particularly unacceptable for him to tell people to top themselves, well - you know, that's got some problems with it too. Does that mean that Freddie Cohen can tell people to go top themselves, because he's the Environment Minister and mental illness isn't in his remit? Can Deputy Phil Rondel say it? Can the Constable of St Peter say it? Can I? No. This is utterly ridiculous. If Senator Perchard makes a habit out of swearing at his colleagues in the States Chamber, then he's got to go. Fair enough.

But I'm not so sure that is quite as simple as he makes out. I know one States Member in the old days who resigned from the Presidency of the Education Committee, and it was pretty likely because he was having an affair with another member of the States (they later divorced their spouses and married).  The feeling was that part of the remit of the Education Committee was teaching children "good behavior", and having an affair rather contradicted that - being a member of another Committee did not provide such a contradiction. Much the same problem bedevilled John Major's "Back to Basics" campaign which was intended to bring moral values back to schools, but ended being derailed because the government proposing it was a public hotbed of slease and adulterous affairs.

In fiction, in "Yes Minister" - "Party Games" - Duncan, the Foreign Secretary - is ruled out of the Treasury because of suspected dodgy (but legally above board) company dealings, while Eric (the Treasurer) is ruled out of Home Affairs because of his liasons with a foreign lady from behind the Iron Curtain.

Now I am not condoning bad language from any member, but I think this shows that there is a case where the suggestions of suicide - such as those made by Senator Perchard - are particularly reprehensive - and thereby made worse - because of the office which he currently holds.

Returning to Senator Perchard. In today's JEP it is reported that he has now apologised; he has issued what he terms a " 'full and unreserved apology" to Stuart Syvret. Unfortunately, it is not as "unreserved" as that adjective used in normal speech would suggest. Clearly Senator Perchard has his own copy of the dictionary of weasel words used by politicians to sound good, in which "unreserved" means "with the following reservations":

In his statement, Senator Perchard (pictured) maintained that he was misquoted. 'Firstly, I wish to make it very clear to Members that I did not lie to the House during that sitting and that I absolutely reject the allegations about the precise words I used at the time,' he said.

Having read Hansard, as detailed above, it is also clear that "I did not lie" also has a strange rarefied meaning when used by the Senator. He would have been better saying he was being "economic with the truth" - at least while we all know that means he had lied, it would not be an outright contradiction. I don't think apologies that claim to be "unreserved" and say "I do not lie"-  and are thereby themselves lies - are acceptable behaviour and are anything other than rather pathetic attempts to save face and keep his job.


The Lessons of The Case of Dr Harold Shipman

Nurse 'gave patient suicide tip'. The allegations relate to deaths at the hospital in 1999. A Jersey nurse allegedly showed a young female patient how to commit suicide, according to a leaked police report. In another case the nurse allegedly asked an ill woman's son why he bothered visiting when she would be dead by the morning. The claims were first looked into 10 years ago but are now being reinvestigated by Jersey Police. The same male nurse is alleged to have been on duty when 13 patients died over two months in 1999. According to the leaked report the average death rate between 1998 and 1999 on the ward at Jersey General Hospital was 4.5 deaths per month. But in February 1999 there were eight deaths in four nights when the nurse was on duty, and a further five deaths in March also when the nurse, who cannot be named for legal reasons, was on shift. Increased dose - The police report at the time says that could have been explained by a bout of illness among frail patients, but could equally be down to foul play. But no action was taken on the report which has been recently leaked. The police investigation into the deaths is now being reviewed by the force.

It is ironic that this investigation took place in 1999, because of course that is when the police investigation into Doctor Harold Shipman began. That concluded on 31 January 2000, when he was convicted of killing 15 patients, and sentenced to life. The enquiry which followed made its conclusions known in 2003, and severely criticised the police force for its weaknesses at the time, as well as the coroner's office.

The two Greater Manchester Police detectives who investigated the doctor were inexperienced and unfit to handle the case, the inquiry found. As a result they missed many opportunities to bring Shipman's crimes to light. "If the police and the coroner had moved with reasonable expedition, the lives of Shipman's last three victims would probably have been saved," said Dame Janet Smith, the judge heading the inquiry.

There were clearly defects in the way police handled suspicious deaths in the Shipman investigation in 1999, and given that this is the same time frame that the suspicious deaths were occurring in Jersey, the natural question that raises itself is this: how good were the local force at these kinds of investigations? Would they have known the right way to proceed? Were police in general, both here and in the UK, adequately trained to handle investigations of "suspicious deaths"?

The initial police inquiry was triggered when another GP raised concerns Shipman might have been killing his patients. Two officers "found no cause for concern" and ended their inquiry after three weeks. The senior officer, Chief Superintendent David Sykes, was "unable to give effective leadership" but did not do anything about it, Dame Janet said. And the junior officer, Detective Inspector David Smith, was "out of his depth" and made "many mistakes" but did not ask for help and later lied to cover them up, she said.

The way the deaths were also investigated afterwards was also a matter of scrutiny, and they were passed off as "natural deaths" without a proper post-mortem. Senator Stuart Syvret leaked the report, but there is no mention of any requests for post-mortems or exhumations. Whether such forensic evidence was possible was unknown, but given the sudden increase in deaths, one wonders who was responsible for issuing death certificates, at the hospital, and whether they flagged up the unusual increase:

In March, 1999, five deaths occurred, all during the duty time or the next morning when MAROLIA would have been on night shift. Such fluctuations could easily be explained by a serious bout of flu affecting frail or already critically ill patients, but equally it could be due to foul play.

This was the Shipman enquiry's comments on "suspicious deaths":

She also called for "radical reform" of the way coroners work in England and Wales, after Shipman managed to evade their scrutiny by saying his victims had died of natural causes. In particular, Mr Smith missed the chance to order post-mortems on two suspected victims which would have led to a full investigation, she said.


Monday, 23 March 2009

A New Look again at town rentals

Just a passing comment that my mole* tells me that New Look Retailers are purchasing the lease from Woolworths PLC (in administration) fro 6 King Street and 23-35 Halkett Place - which is all the old Woolworths store. This lease comes to £807,500 - so the administrators should certainly have some funds for payments in lieu of notice to reimburse the States.
It is a huge rental value for a town shop, but lots of shops in St Helier have large rentals, which makes all the empty shops not so surprising, as no landlords are prepared to lower rentals in the recession, and it is the retailer who is squeezed out of existence.
(*This information is public domain, as it passes through the Royal Court's property transactions)

The Vanishing Bookshop

I remember - warning - reminiscence of aged man coming up - when there was the Bohdi Tree is St Brelade, and in St Helier, Jura Bookshop, The Printed Word, Lexicon and de Gruchy - all selling books. There was also the SPCK and the Christian Bookshop in the market, although the latter was more specialised.

In the second hand market, there was St James Books (opposite St James Church), where Stella Perkins and Norman Le Brocq also dispensed advice (as members of the JDM), Hilgrove Books (in Hilgrove Street), and Thesaurus (originally in Sand Street, then in Burrard Street). There was also a second hand section above the SPCK which remained when it closed and reopened briefly as Waterloo Books. There is also a bookshop in the Market (where the owner sometimes plays the piano).

Lexicon was taken over and became WH Smith, and is still here. Jura sold up to Ottakers, which the became Waterstones, and also had the franchise in De Gruchy, which it has now closed, so it only runs one shop in King Street. The Printed Word moved to looking after the Museums book franchise, and disappeared from selling mainstream books and student and education textbooks. Now the Bhodi Tree (selling both mainstream and New Age books) is giving up book selling, so there will only be WH Smith and Waterstones and the Market. Two mainstream book sellers and one specialist one are all that are left.

In the second hand market, St James Street closed, reopened briefly under different management, and is now a Polish grocery store. Waterloo books closed, and with it the second hand section. Hilgrove closed and moved its remaining stock to Thesaurus, which had three floors. After the death of one of its owners, Mr Creaton, it reduced in size to a fraction of its former self, then moved across the road, and now is closing again as far as books go. This means the market will have the only second hand book shop available. Of course, there are many charity shops selling books, but a second hand bookshop is more specialist, and sells old Jersey books as well.

It is likely that the use of the internet has intruded on both markets, for often massive discounts can be obtained on Amazon for new books. One I saw last year was £30 locally (rrp) but £15 via Amazon (with no postage). And yet the book offers can sometimes match the internet with the three for two offers. More specialist and smaller booksellers like the Bohdi tree are probably the bigger losers here. That probably explains the reduction of Waterstones to one store. WH Smith also has a wider range - selling DVDs, stationary, cards, newspapers and magazines.

In the second hand sphere, those second hand bookshops with a wide stock who are linked to their marketplace, or who have shops connected to Alibris or eBay, have expanded their market - but at the expense of those who have not or who have very small second hand shops. Charity shops have also expanded with car boots selling cheaply popular second hand books, so it is small wonder that the profusion of second hand book sellers in the 1980s has vanished to the single one in the market, which also sells antiques, so is not totally bound to one type of goods.

Textbooks, certainly, are easy to obtain on the internet, and with free postage, often are cheaper than local sources, so it is hardly surprising that those local retailers who specialised in this niche market were squeezed out - Jura, Printed Word being the casualties here.

It is still a shame though, for often you cannot really tell what a book is like unless you can pick it up, read the blurb on the back, look at the contents and flick through it. Of course, selected viewing of this sort is now available with Amazon, but it still doesn't feel quite the same.

Will books themselves be replaced by electronic media? Back in the 1970s, the science fiction writer Isaac Asimov looked at this, and suggested the the ultimate data storage and display medium, would require no power to operate or maintain its image, could display text or pictures (in colour if necessary), permit random access to its data, cause no problems with future obsolescence of its recording system, and would easily fit into a jacket pocket. His punchline - he was, of course, as he delighted in concluding - describing the book. I think there is still a long way before electronic media catches up.

Sunday, 22 March 2009

A New Look for Woolworths

Passing Woolworths, I see the planning application forms are by "New Look Limited" for the redevelopment of the shop, so that is now pretty definite. If you want to see what will be on offer - just clothes ranges, I'm afraid, go to


Some good news, however. They have an ethical trading policy in place, which includes the following details on their website:

New Look strive to reduce the environmental impact of our products. We realise that the bigger picture is a gradual process of research and trialling ranges, but to start this process and with cotton and cotton-mixed fabrics being among our most popular we launched our Organic Cotton range in Summer 2007. Organic cotton is grown without the use of pesticides and is therefore better for the environment, and better for the cotton farmers themselves. Due to the success of the Organic Cotton range launched last summer, we are now researching fabrics made from sustainable sources which protect the environment and make use of the world's natural resources. This includes garments made from bamboo, organic cotton, and even fleece made from plastic bottles.

New Look has not used real fur for many years and as part of our commitment to reducing the environmental impact of our business we always use alternatives to fur. We are also researching fabrics made from sustainable sources which protect the environment and make use of the world's natural resources. This includes garments made from bamboo, organic cotton, and even fleece made from plastic bottles.

We recognise that we have a responsibility to our planet to reduce the impact of the packaging on our products. We have introduced a number of initiatives to firstly reduce the amount of packaging, and secondly to recycle the necessary waste effectively.

Saturday, 21 March 2009

Breaking the Lawyers Code


Hospital 'murders' allegation review: The case of a nurse suspected of killing patients at Jersey's General Hospital is being reviewed. Allegations made a decade ago led to a police investigation, but it was later dropped on legal advice. Now Senator Stuart Syvret has published a police report from the time on his blog. This morning Jersey police said case files are now being reviewed and that key people who had been involved will be spoken to. Detective Chief Inspector Chris Minty says the police want to establish if there is any new evidence which would justify further investigation. And police are also looking at whether publication of the report breaks the island's data protection law.

What is interesting from an outside point of view is that - on the evidence of Stuart Syvret's blog - a convincing array of evidence was being assembled, but he is missing one part - what was the "legal advice" which caused the case to be dropped? Perhaps if this is now made public by the authorities themselves, it will become clear whether it was justified or not. As we have seen more publically with Lenny Harper, and the 11th hour failure to allow charges by a centenier "on legal advice", the same "legal advice" is not made clear; it is a "black box" into which evidence goes, the Attorney -General and lawyers deliberate, and the end result is given, but none of the process of reasoning by which anyone could follow to see how they reached their conclusions. As a result, there is no way of knowing how sound that reasoning is, and other independent lawyers (perhaps acting for victims) have no way of knowing what it is.

It is rather like a conjuring trick, when the magician puts something into a sealed box, waves a wand, and hey presto, it has vanished. The excellent TV series "Breaking the Magicians Code" brought the means out into the open, and made the methods of the tricks transparent. It would be nice if "legal advice" could be more transparent as well, and less like a conjuring trick, in which everyone looking on is kept in the dark as to how it is done. Is this justice "seen to be done"?

As far as "breaking the Data Protection Law" is concerned, surely there is a public interest concern, in particular:

This is the entry on the Nursing and Midwifery Register:
Practitioner Details
Name: Mr XXX XXX
Expiry date: 31 Aug 2009
Register Entry Start Date
Registered Nurse - Adult 16 Jul 1997
Registered Nurse - Adult (Level 2) 05 Jan 1983
Recordable Qualifications Start Date
No Recordable Qualifications registered.
Geographical Location
Channel Islands

As has been noted, this man is still registered to work as a nurse. He could have access to drugs and be near the ill and the sick. Given the evidence that while he may or may not have been responsible for deaths, he has certainly claimed to suffer from "gulf war syndrome", should he really still be able to be potentially looking after vulnerable patients. Is it not in the public interest, and for his own sake, that he is no longer permitted to practice as a nurse? Might it not be like letting someone who has started suffering from epileptic fits carry on driving an HGV vehicle?

Friday, 20 March 2009

Luxembourg as a Tax Haven

An interesting stance in the news (see below) by Luxembourg, which clearly sees that any directive against British tax havens could well rebound on Luxembourg, Austria and Belgium. Of course in the past,  EU countries such as these could hammer on at offshore centres, while preserving their own bank secrecy laws, as long as it was the EU being critical of external tax havens, and against "harmful tax regimes". But the G20 will involve the USA, which is certainly not going to be worried about turning the spotlight on these countries, although of course it has its very own blind spot in respect of Delaware. It looks as if "level playing field" may be forced upon these regimes, despite the way in which - as with Luxembourg's prime minister - they bluster about evil tax havens to distract attention from themselves.


Luxembourg has been criticising what it calls the Isle of Man's banking secrecy regime. Although Luxembourg's banks are more secretive than the Island's, the country's prime minister Jean-Claude Juncker said he would be demanding action on British tax havens at a meeting of EU leaders today.  He has also accused France and Germany of "arrogance" as they try to force banking reforms in small jurisdictions.


BRUSSELS, March 19 (Reuters) - Luxembourg urged Germany on Thursday to tone down its rhetoric in a row over how best to fight tax evasion. German Finance Minister Peer Steinbrueck, already under fire in Luxembourg, Austria and Switzerland for repeated calls to crack down on tax havens, caused outrage last week when he compared the Swiss to "Indians" running scared from the cavalry. "We should come back to a tone that's not dictated by a country's size," Luxembourg's Treasury and Budget Minister Luc Frieden told reporters at a meeting of European Union leaders in Brussels.  German Chancellor Angela Merkel said last week she was optimistic tax havens would cooperate if the G20 threatened to blacklist them. But Luxembourg Prime Minister Jean-Claude Juncker told reporters in Brussels he was against any EU country being put on such a blacklist and said such a list was not needed. Juncker said Berlin should not try to take credit for the announcement by Luxembourg, Switzerland and Austria last week that they were ready to share information on foreign savers on a case-by-case basis.


BRUSSELS: Luxembourg Prime Minister Jean-Claude Juncker said Thursday at a European summit he had received assurances that no EU country will figure on an international blacklist of tax havens.  French President "Nicolas Sarkozy and (German Chancellor) Angela Merkel let it be known that France and Germany would not agree to Luxembourg, Austria or Belgium being put on a tax haven list," Juncker told journalists.  "Austria, Belgium and Luxembourg will not figure on the list," he added.  The three countries recently said that they would ease their banking secrecy rules to avoid being put on the international blacklist.

Thursday, 19 March 2009

The Waterfront Gravy Train

The 2008 accounts are now available for the Waterfront Enterprise Board (see link below) and they make interesting reading. The principal activity, in case it is forgotten, of WEB is "property holdings, development and estate management".

The income comes largely from rental income which includes the Waterfront Car Park, the Waterfront Estate, new rentals on the Weighbridge, rent of the transportation centre. These are all "outside" the States, and I think it includes the new bus station as well. This means that if you wonder why the new bus station has had a rent hike, ask WEB.  Because WEB is separate as an entity (a Quango), if they raise rents on something like the bus station, the States subsidy for Connex has to be increased, so the States are financing WEB in a round about way!

The Managing Director, Steve Izatt started in May 2007, and received £95,321 for 2007. For 2008, as detailed in the accounts, he received a basic salary of £170,000, benefits of £11,291, a bonus of £30,000, making a grand total of £211,291 per annum 95,321 (7 May 2007). In addition, the accounts note an additional £30,000 accomodation allowance not included in the benefits figure, and an additional £25,500 pension contributions, making an even grander total of £266,791

If you think this seems excessive (and I do!),  by way of comparison look at 2007, for States Employees - including the Crown officers:
During 2007, 464 Public Sector Employees (7.73% of the total) earned in excess of £70,000. These earnings include overtime, standby and other allowances in addition to basic salary. They also include the employer's pension contribution of 15.6% that is applied to basic salary. The list also gives the top 5 earners in the States in the range £230,000 to £249,000 (they are non-traders, and almost certainly include at least one Crown officer). The top traders (i.e. employees including chief officers in a trading committee, in a way the equivalent of WEB) have their highest with 2 employees in the range £110,000-£129,999. None of these figures include WEB!

The employees pay, also listed in the WEB accounts (and increased because of managing the car park themselves in 2008) rose from £388,315 in 2008 to £471,046. It is not detailed how many employees there are.

When all other remuneration is factored in, including directors, the total salaries and emoluments in the accounts is £785,100 (up from £561,872 in 2007)

The board meets 17 times a year, and includes in addition to States members (unpaid)

Jurat Tibbo - who saw a rise in pay from £12,000 (2007) up to £21,785 (2008)

Mr PJ Crespel - who remained at £10,000 for both years, and is in charge of the remuneration board (that which sets pay for web members, including Mr Izatt and Mr Tibbo.


Culinary Alchemy

Heston Blumenthal OBE (born 1966) is the chef and owner of The Fat Duck, a three-Michelin-starred restaurant in the village of Bray in Berkshire. He is known as the "culinary alchemist" because of his inventive and creative cookery. In his TV programme Heston's Feasts (Tuesday, Channel 4, 9pm), he turns his hand to history, creating three course themed meals from the past to serve up to a selection of celebrity guests. Along the way, he digs into the history books of the period, be it Victorian, Middle Ages or Tudor, and takes the viewer on a tour of the kind of food being eaten and popular in that period - by those people wealthy enough to indulge in feasting, of course.

On the Tudor Feast, for instance, we learn all kinds of interesting facts.

Native British fruit included apples, pears, plums, cherries and strawberries. The Tudor period saw the introduction of new fruits from southern Europe which the wealthy grew in their gardens. These included quinces, apricots, pomegranates, oranges and lemons. One of the most exciting and expensive ingredients to feature in Tudor England was sugar. The aristocracy scoffed so much of the sweet stuff they suffered terrible tooth decay and having rotted teeth became a sign of wealth.

The royal court of Henry VIII revelled in the most spectacular and sumptuous feasting British shores had ever known. For the starter, he used Butterbeer as an aperitif, a real Tudor beverage, and followed this by a creamy blancmange of frog stock, almonds and mushroom ketchup, served on a jellied pond in a bowl, with crispy frogmeat to dip in that. Blancmange was a savoury dish, and a far cry from the sickly sweet desert that I remember from childhood. Heston used live frogs, which he had to get from America, since France apparently imports their frogs frozen from the Far East!

The main course - the meat course - followed the extravagance of Henry VIII, who spend a massive sum - reckoned by Heston as around £5,000,0000 - on one feast.

In a lavish dinner to impress the king of France, Henry VIII spent the equivalent of £5 million on a meat feast including 2000 sheep, 1000 chickens and a dolphin. Not content with real life animals, Tudor chefs also enjoyed bolting together bits of different creatures to make a dramatic beastie they called a cockentrice.

Heston tried getting a surgeon to sew a pig and capon together, then cooked this on a spit. While unusual, it did not really look very spectacular, so back to the history books, where he found that some Tudor chefs would conceal the meat beneath a "shell" of creatures put together, and he arranged for a taxidermist to create a "monster" from the head of a pig, the body of a lamb and the wings and back end of a goose. Inside this was a meat course, cunningly blending together the same meats as in the visual spectacular.

For the pudding, he excelled himself in confusing the guest's senses. Peas he made with the use of sorbet drops, quick frozen in liquid nitrogen - a staple ingredient of his kind of oddball cookery:

Tudor puddings were often a mix of sweet and savoury ingredients. Heston cooks a mixture of bone marrow, eggs, sugar, milk and berries in condoms - another Tudor invention - to create a firm rice pudding, which he serves to look like bangers with banana puree mash, and apple and onion gravy made from fennel and maple syrup.

This was an entertaining program, which neatly on the way fed the viewer all kinds of snippets about Tudor meals, such as the importance of sugar for displays of wealth, and the way in which both here, and in the Middle Ages feasts, the meal for the wealthy was a large scale affair, the entertainment as well as the nourishment, and a way of being ostentatious and showing off, which seemed to have been an extremely popular pastime.

And how did the other half - that would probably be you and me - live:

England doubled between the reigns of Henry VII and Elizabeth I from 2 million to 4 million people. 10 per cent of the population lived in towns, and half of this number was always in London. Inflation went through the roof in Tudor times meaning some men and women did a day's work for board and lodging, with no payment. Food took up to four-fifths of an ordinary family's budget. The diet was generally rather basic: hunks of bread, coarse hard cheese, occasional meat and fish. A Tudor soldier's daily rations were 32oz (910g) of meat, 24oz (680g) of bread, 16oz (455g) cheese and 5 pints (2.8 litres) of beer. Poor relief in some parishes was 6 pence a week. The staple diet of the poor was a halfpenny loaf of bread, which fed two people. Save your pennies, bake your own bread

But much as today with the culture of fantastic city bonuses beyond the dreams of avarice, there was at the same time as an economic downturn, people who still spent as if there was no tomorrow. The difference today is that there is - finally - a growing consensus of moral outrage at this culture of wealth, which claims vast bonuses - and massive pensions - with impunity. In Tudor times, there was not a lot in the way of democracy, and the gap between rich and poor was large:

On 6 January 1508, to mark the end of the 12 days of Christmas, the duke of Buckingham gave a feast for 460 people. The menu included swans, herons and peacocks, 680 loaves, 260 flagons of ale, 400 eggs, 200 oysters, 12 pigs and 10 sheep. The total cost was £7. This was more than a year's pay for a labourer.

1597 was a year of widespread famine that hit the poor hard. At the same time one courtier claimed to have lavished £2,000 on his mistress and Mrs Ratcliffe, one of Elizabeth I's maids of honour, appeared at court wearing a dress of cloth of silver costing £180.


Wednesday, 18 March 2009

Harcourt in Bahamas

Another interesting Harcourt story from February this year. Notice that "they asked Financial Controller Danny Doherty why they were being laid off in such a manner and he told them that the company did not have sufficient funds to keep paying them to work. He also told them that funds coming from their headquarters in Ireland was being cut off.". One wonders what the total financial situation is with Harcourt, and what would happen if Jersey faced a similar problem with its proposed Waterfront development. As far as worker's rights are concerned, consider that "the company may also be getting away with such inappropriate treatment of the workers because they know the government may not want to do anything to jeopardize any arrangements between them as far as the sale is concerned.". Once Jersey has taken started the massive hole-in-the-ground Hopkins masterplan, who would have the courage to rock the boat? The incinerator rescindment motion certainly failed in part because a contract had been signed, and members did not want to rock that particular boat.


Workers claim they were wrongfully terminated by Harcourt Developments

Twenty-one workers of Harcourt Developments (Bahamas) Limited spoke out against that company yesterday, stating that they have wrongfully been terminated and have filed a dispute with the Department of Labour because the organization is in breach of a 90-day contract with them. According to Jeffrey Johnson, a terminated worker and spokesman for the group, on Friday, February 13, they were given termination letters from the company's project manager Dwayne Higgs without any prior notice saying their services were no longer needed, even though their contract is not up until March 28. They were working as skilled craftsmen for the company's construction of the Suffolk Court Condominiums and were classified as ' temporary workers' complying with a 90-day employment contract between them and Harcourt. However, they are very disappointed with the company for suddenly terminating them, knowing they still had approximately six more weeks to go before the contract ended.  Johnson said there were originally 32 workers on the project and the company has kept 11 persons on to possibly finish the work. Now that they have been terminated, and with the move being done in breach of contract, Johnson said Harcourt now owes them more money than the "measly" week and a half salary they were given along with their termination letters. Johnson said they asked Financial Controller Danny Doherty why they were being laid off in such a manner and he told them that the company did not have sufficient funds to keep paying them to work. He also told them that funds coming from their headquarters in Ireland was being cut off. He said 25 persons were also terminated in January of this year and to his knowledge there is a group of people who have taken the matter to court against the company. Johnson said they already filed a dispute with the Lab-our Department where they were informed that they have a good case. The group has also sought advice from an attorney. He said if the company had allowed the workers to continue working until the contract had expired there would not have been any problems. But, because they (Harcourt) have breached the contact, the group believes they should have been paid more if Harcourt saw the need to terminate them before time. Johnson said he believes that where the country's economy is really bad, Harcourt is using the whole situation to their advantage because where they are in agreement with the government to buy the Royal Oasis. He contends that the company may also be getting away with such inappropriate treatment of the workers because they know the government may not want to do anything to jeopardize any arrangements between them as far as the sale is concerned. ...Another terminated worker Anthony McPhee believes that Harcourt is manipulating the labour laws and using it to their advantage to short-change those em-ployed with them. "How is it that our Government is just sitting back and allowing this, maybe they did not know and if they didn't, we want them to know now that this practice has been going on and is continuing at Harcourt," McPhee said. "How is it that people are allowed to come here, be given a licence to do business and then be able to manipulate the labour laws. The government must stop this kind of thing from happening." McPhee said as far as he is aware, whenever foreign companies come into the country to do business, the government usually requires them to show how much the project will cost and where the money is to do it, and all of these things must be properly documented up front. "I don't understand them telling us that the economy is bad and that is why they can't keep us on or they run out of money because before the Government gave them the okay to start doing business, they would have had to give proof of having the money to carry the project through from the beginning," he said. "They just want to take advantage of the Bahamian worker. We were not out there begging anyone for nothing, we were out there putting our skills to work, these people have not been fair. No one is standing up for us or care about what happens to us."

Tuesday, 17 March 2009

Harcourt Briefing - March 2009

Just when Harcourt seem to be getting the "green light" as far as the Hopkins Masterplan goes, as the planning report says there are no planning issues with the development going ahead and it therefore is dependent on Harcourt's financial probity (and the assumption that the States can afford 1/2 million in maintenance on the sunken road), the case in Las Vegas rears its head again. Here is the story, dated March 16 2009.


Sullivan Square Lawsuit Ramping Up Again
By Brian K. Miller

LAS VEGAS-Locally based Glen, Smith & Glen Development and Dublin, Ireland-based Harcourt Development are back in court this week over Sullivan Square, a would-have-been 1,300-unit luxury residential-over-retail project at Durango Drive and Interstate 215 valued at approximately $1 billion. Eighth Judicial District Court Judge Mark Denton will hear two motions to dismiss GSG's complaint, which was substantially amended in December after Denton threw out most of the original complaints in August on a technicality.

Generally speaking, GSG and Harcourt created a development partnership whereby GSG would manage the development and Harcourt would be responsible for providing all the equity needed to finance construction. The lawsuit was filed in April 2008 after Harcourt decided not to provide the necessary equity.

The amended complaint revives key claims such as breach of contract and breach of fiduciary responsibility, and adds new ones including fraud and negligent misrepresentation, according to court documents reviewed by GlobeSt.com. In Monday's hearing, Judge Denton was scheduled to hear to the defendant's motion to dismiss for lack of jurisdiction on behalf of the Irish defendants and a more general motion to dismiss the first amended complaint.

"We're very confident that eventually this case will get to a jury," John Manly, the plaintiff's attorney, told GlobeSt.com in December, the week before the judge allowed the amended complaint.

Facing up to Nuclear Power

"Facing up to Nuclear Power" (edited by John Francis and Paul Abrecht): A Review
This book contains a number of papers from many distinguished contributors (ranging from Atomic Scientists and Economists to Theologians and Philosophers). Unlike so much that is published on the subject of nuclear power, this book does not attempt to present a unified stance either for or against the nuclear industry. Some of the writers are more biased towards nuclear power, and others against, but they have sought to listen to and learn from each other rather than adopt a more rigid and intransigent opposition. Moreover, the book does not seek to give all the answers - only to make clearer some of the facts, options and problems posed by nuclear power. As the modest subtitle puts it, it is simply "a contribution to the debate on the risks and potentialities of the large scale use of nuclear energy. "
As particularly important, I would single out the contribution by Dr A.M. Weinberg, of Oak Ridge National Laboratory. Dr Weinberg assures us that "a properly operating nuclear power plant and its sub-systems (including transport, waste disposal, chemical plants, and even mining) are far less damaging to the environment than a coal fired plant would be." In particular any form a major failure can be mitigated by having "two entirely independent safety systems that work on totally different principles." However, Dr Weinberg does see the increasing volume of waste as a problem. The problem is not where to dump the highly toxic waste products - he would place them in specially dug mines - but how to ensure their continual safety. His method of disposal, while feasible, would require "some kind of surveillance in perpetuity."
This point is taken up by Professor Shinn, who asks the following question about the security restrictions necessary for surveillance: "What happens to personal freedom in an age when technological operations are so intricate that concentrated authority must impose controls?" Even after the nuclear disaster in Russia, this question is at least as important as to the debate about safety factors in nuclear plants. It certainly seems to be the case that Government aided nuclear industries, such as British Nuclear Fuels, are becoming more concerned with preventing leaks of information than leaks of radiation - ostensibly because BNF does not want to spread undue alarm about events which have been blown up out of all proportion.
What is worrying about reported leaks of radioactive material is not whether the conflicting claims are true or false, but the measures taken to prevent any genuine investigation of what has actually occurred. Instead, the problem has been seen by the nuclear industry simply as one of poor public relations and bad security. When the industry has the backing of the state, this might well lead to what Professor Shinn calls "a heightened authoritarianism that bears down unduly on the weak."
This is an interesting and lively book, with many different points of view. On the whole, it is optimistic about seeking future energy requirements from nuclear power. However, I think that one of the contributors has a good point when he warns against overweening optimism, quoting Herbert Butterfield: "The hardest strokes of heaven fall in history upon those who imagine they can control things in a sovereign manner - reaching out into the future with the wrong kind of far-sightedness, and gambling on a lot of risky calculations in which there must never be a single mistake."

Monday, 16 March 2009

Masking the Truth?


The unpleasant exchanges began during question time as Environment Minister Freddie Cohen was answering a question. Senator Syvret stood up and said: 'On a point of order, I am sorry to interrupt the minister. But the minister to my right, Senator Perchard, is saying in my ear "you are full of f*****g s**t, why don't you go and top yourself, you bastard".'Senator Perchard immediately responded by saying: 'I absolutely refute that. I am just fed up with this man making up allegations against people. I just wish he would not.'


Roger: Chris, those that were listening to question time may have heard some words we cannot repeat...
Chris: Well, it was the Father of the House, Senator Stuart Syvret who interrupted an answer to say the Health Minister had verbally abused him and said he should 'top himself'. We can't use the words the Senator said aloud in the States, but Senator Jimmy Perchard strongly refuted them and claimed it was part of a personal vendetta Senator Syvret was waging against him. The Deputy Bailiff, who was presiding over the meeting yesterday, said he couldn't rule on a private conversation but asked politicians to treat each other courteously and not use abusive language about or to each other.

From reading the report in the JEP and on the States website, one would be forgiven for thinking that Senator Perchard had denied any kind of bad language - "strongly refuted" was the term used. In fact, on Sunday 15th March, on Talkback, he admitted that he had used bad language - that he had been swearing at Stuart Syvret - only that the swearing he used was not that which Senator Syvret reported, and that was what he really meant by "refuted", which seems a very pathetic excuse. And he apologised for the swearing, saying that it was not statesmanlike, but was part of a private conversation.

I marvel at the way that argument keeps cropping up. When Frank Walker famously used the phrase "you're trying to shaft Jersey internationally", he mentioned that it was a private exchange, and he was not aware that it was being recorded. Somehow it is deemed fine to engage in all kinds of vulgarity, and insults, and stoop to any level, as long as it is "a private conversation". Personally, the idea of a politician who wears two faces - or should it be - has two voices - one for public consumption, and a nastier more unpleasant one for private use - does not strike me as particularly endearing, and not the kind of politician I would like to vote for. After all, if they have two different sides with respect to language, what else might they behave like "in private"?

Usually, it is the other way round, of course, and people who have been pretty nasty in public are praised for private virtues - such as Himmler for being "a family man" - which is used as an excuse for public brutalities. But I'd like my politicians to be all of a piece. If they are political thugs in private, I'd wonder how they behave behind closed doors in the Council of Ministers, or how they might behave if I contacted them as a member of the electorate on a personal but political matter such as housing or planning.

Linda Corby has alleged that the late John Le Sueur, as President of the Planning Committee (IDC as it was called) on one occasion asked for "favours" in order to grant planning permission. Once the "private conversation" is taken out of the equation, all kinds of mischief can go on, all excusable, it would seem.

But who is the real politician? The polite one at the hustings, or is that just a mask used to gain votes because voters might not like it if the mask slipped, and "private conversations" became public?

Sunday, 15 March 2009

The Swinging Sixties

"The Swinging Sixties" by Brian Masters: A Review
This is a portrait of the decade, painted by one who lived through those years as a young man; as such, although basically a reflection the cultural changes of those times, it is also enlivened by the use of personal anecdote; this is often brought in to support his arguments and analysis.
The basic thesis of the book is that "the spirit of the Sixties threw out the servility, the apologies, the guilt, and celebrated with loud fanfares the qualities of affability, of tact and of tolerance."
Although he admits that this change was marred, to some extent, by the later legacies of the decade, Brian Masters argues that the benefits outweighed the consequences.
In support of this, he gives particular mention to the "decline of puritan values", with these being replaced by "a more open morality", marked by less attention being made to formal modes of conduct; he considers how this effected changes in the areas of censorship, public life, law reform, theatre, and popular music. He also looks at the changing public relations of the royal family, and the CND marches.
One of the most interesting and amusing chapters is entitled "Retreat of the Censor". This concerns the celebrated trial of Penguin books for promulgating editions of D.H. Lawrence's novel "Lady Chatterley's Lover"; the book was banned because it was considered to be "indecent and obscene". At the trial, the defence called upon "eminent academics who would underwrite its literary worth, and one schoolgirl who would declare that she had not been depraved or corrupted by reading it." The prosecution, unable to find a single expert to support his case, confined himself to a ludicrous opening speech (in which he asked the semi-literate working class jurors: "is this a book that you would wish your wife or your servants to read?") and a statistical summary of "the number of times certain offensive words had occurred in the text".
Ostensibly, this was a battle between those who saw themselves as champions of free speech, freeing literature from the shackles of an outdated morality, and those who saw themselves as the guardian of moral values. But what was the truth behind this picture?
Penguin books, despite their insistence that they were simply "making the great classics of the world available in cheap editions", had printed a massive number of copies of the book. It is clear that their motivations were not unconnected with profit; they had "tactfully sent a dozen copies to the DPP as a statement of intent", which triggered the trial, and gave them the attendant publicity to sell out all these copies after the trial.
The self-same "experts" who had declared "Lady Chatterley" to be a literary masterpiece consequently went on to defend - with much the same arguments - William Burrough's "The Naked Lunch"; this is a book which Masters describes as "one of the most crassly written and unpleasant novels in circulation". It is likely that the motives of the experts were honourable enough: they thought that they were fighting for a freedom in print, not dissimilar in principle to the freedom of speech.
However, the methods used brought disrepute upon literary judgement, even if they did gain the desired end.
But what of the defence? It appears that the principle concern was the fact that copies of "Lady Chatterley" might be available in a "cheap condition"; in other words, they would be accessible by the masses. Subsequent trials under the "Obscene Publications Act" regarding books confirm this hypothesis. Hardbacks, out of the pocket of the average man, although flouting the law, did not give rise to legal proceedings. It is apparent that they were safe for sale because they would only be available to the rich, and it was assumed that the rich were incorruptible! This sort of hypocrisy (allied to class-prejudice) motivated the defence of censorship, and all the claim of highest moral principles was, in general, a smokescreen for the paternalistic imposition of values on one class by another. The guardians of moral values do not seem to have held truth as a value worthy of defence!
This is an interesting book, but it may make the reader somewhat cynical; in such an eventuality, it would be suitable to recall the maxim: a cynic is what an idealist calls a realist!

Friday, 13 March 2009

Attac and Tax Haven Protestors Target Banks in Austria and Luxembourg

With the G20 summit nearly upon us, in Austria and Luxembourg, tax protestors took to the streets with banners and targeted the banks, and bank staff were advised to use public entrances.

While not on the OECD blacklist, EU members Austria and Luxembourg do not share information on savings account holders from other European countries with their tax authorities. But while Belgium is prepared to lift its banking secrecy rules, Luxembourg and Austria remain determined to keep theirs despite growing international pressure. "Banking secrecy is not the same thing as a tax haven," Luxembourg Prime Minister Jean-Claude Juncker told journalists in Prague. "Unilaterally lifting banking secrecy will not contribute to transparency, but will only divert financial flows and prejudice the Austrian economy," said Austrian finance ministry spokesman Harald Waiglein said in Vienna.

Well, the first paragraph is a fiction concocted by me, the rest is from genuine news stories. There has been a dearth of protests in Austria or Luxembourg, which might even lead some people like me to harbour suspicions that the recent protests have been against "soft targets", and there is an element of hypocrisy involved.

Is it any wonder Swiss banking expert Professor Teodoro Cocca believes that European leaders have moved the battleground to the G20 to neatly sidestep dissenters from within the European Union, such as Austria and Luxembourg?

Attac itself realises that the lack of pressure here is setting a bad example:

The "Savings Directive" of the EU has to be extended to all capital incomes (at present only interest payments), to legal persons (at present only natural persons) and the automatic exchange of information mechanism to Austria, Belgium and Luxembourg (at present 24 countries). The closure of these loopholes is a condition to exercise credible pressure on other tax heavens like Switzerland or Liechtenstein to give up their bank secrecy and cooperate in an international information exchange.

But have there been any protests? None that I can find, despite the fact that Attac Austria was founded over six years ago.

Over in Jersey, the protestors decided to go to work on Comic Relief's Red Nose day, bringing a halt to the local bank employees (especially counter staff) at the St Helier branch of Lloyds TSB  who work to raise money for Comic Relief.
And in a greater act of ineptitude, the UK main office of Christian Aid cheerfully didn't liaise with the local branch before attending and giving a presentation against Jersey as a tax haven; apparently Andy Thewlis, the local branch officer, has had his phone red hot with people ringing up. Losing local support is really going to benefit third world countries, isn't it?

I think that Attac's case may well have a good deal of merit, although as a mathematician, I am annoyed at the way that "invisible figures" are conjured up out of a statistical void on "missing millions". It is what statisticians call "dark figures", and that kind of methodologically suspect knowledge is one of my pet hates. A real figure is Sir Fred Goodwin's pension per annum. How much toxic debt the banks still have is a "dark figure", because until properly audited,   no one knows; it is largely guesswork, which is why the stock exchanges are in turmoil. The "missing millions" in banks in offshore - which for these purposes includes Delaware - take note President Obama, Austria and Luxembourg, as well as Jersey and other jurisdictions, is unknown. Some may be legitimate money, other may not be, and how much of it is taxable we can only guess.

Methods of estimating often have a way of reflecting the assumptions of the estimator, as the "dark figures" on crime show. As one commentator notes:

the dark figures of crime unknown to the police is variously estimated. To base criminological theory, or social policy for that matter, on the majority of official figures is an exercise in "guesstimates", and tealeaf gazing. Meanwhile, various groups with special pleadings regularly, and understandably, parade their 'statistics' to show that their section of the community needs resources or their agency has had such and such a success rate

Thursday, 12 March 2009

On Local Democracy

This piece is offered up out of historical interest. I wrote it back in the 1980s for a local magazine ("Thinks!"), when I was very heavily into the political writings of Edmund Burke (especially his "Reflections on the Revolution in France"), and it also resembles his writings stylistically - my "Whig politics" phase! However, the basic argument was to do with the poor way States decisions could be made when the result hung by one vote, members were absent, and rather than democratic process, it could be seen as a result of sheer chance. Re-run the vote a day later, and missing members might be present, and the results could be very different.

Re-reading it, apart from the style, which is a rather purple prose 18th century pastiche, I think if you replaced "Committee bringing a proposition" with "Council of Ministers bringing a proposition", it would still hold up fairly well.

On Local Democracy
It is my contention that local democracy is in danger of being abused, and that this abuse may well bring about a contempt for our government; this would be a pity, for the proper object of contempt would surely be those politicians who have such scant regard for statesmanship; and however much they would defend our government by their words, their actions speak against them.
It is only a convention that the majority should rule; as Burke puts it - "a legal fiction". But of what value is such a convention? The purpose of a vote being taken in the States, and being passed by a majority, indicates that a choice was offered to the members, and it was decided - one way or another - by a majority verdict. When each member of the States is acknowledged as having the same status as his fellow, and a decision must be reached, it seems in keeping with the idea of fairness that each should have a vote, and it is in keeping with the rules of the States, that a majority should decide. The idea of fairness is acceptable to me, and I shall not question it. But the idea of a majority verdict on a matter is not so obvious, and may be manipulated to bring our democracy into contempt.
Let us consider how this might be so. The idea of a majority verdict brings to our minds the image of a clear-cut majority, which would remain unchanged even if a few members wavered in their decision. But when, as has happened recently, a majority passes a decision by a mere one or two votes, and it is also known that some members were not present at the voting, it is not in keeping with the idea of fairness to force through a measure with such slender support. A day or two later - and perhaps some of the supporters might have been absent, perhaps some members would have changed their minds.
It is easy to see that the balance is a delicate one, and might easily have been tipped the other way. And if the measure is in any respect controversial, surely it only brings disrepute upon the States to implement it on such a fickle majority? Surely the public will feel cheated at such a callous disregard for the ambivalence of the vote? And is not such indignation justified? The States are clearly divided on the issue, yet by the use of the idea of a majority vote, the measure can slip through a constitutional loophole.
But more should be considered. The committee proposing the measure to be undertaken have a virtual monopoly of evidence; the measure is their concern and that of their experts. And the greater the weight given to the authority of the experts, the less chance those members independent of the committee will have for checking up on the measure proposed, and scrutinising it thoroughly in the time that is allowed on the matter; so there is a clear imbalance of time and resources on the side of the committee proposing a measure. All the more reason, then, that a majority that is so small as to be unworthy of the name, should not be taken as an excuse for implementing the measure.
Lastly, if the measure is brought by a committee, then it would be unusual (although not impossible) to expect any of the committee members to oppose the measure proposed by them; in this, they assume a "collective responsibility". But this means that dissent within the committee is not permitted to be shown within the States, and there may be a minority of those on the committee who - given a free vote - would oppose the measure, and tip any delicate balance. But it is a general rule that any measure will be given the support of the whole committee. So there is a firm number already in favour of the measure, and not in a position to alter their minds in the debate without attracting adverse publicity. In these respects, the nature of the committee will entail a small, but possibly crucial, numerical weight in favour of the measure. Unless there is a definite group opposed to the measure, it would seem that any slender majority is thus arrived at by playing the game with slightly weighted dice.
Let me make this quite clear. Excluding the committee members, if every other member of the States were divided equally between support and opposition, the members on the committee would tip the balance because, as a rule, they vote as a block. As they are not to be swayed by the debate, it follows that whenever a committee brings a measure to the States, then there exists a bias in favour of acceptance.
There are factors of sheer chance, of time allowed for discussion, and of small numerical superiority: all of these may be active whenever there is a small majority. On the other hand, while these would exist even if there was a large majority, it would seem that their influence became effectively negligible. I would therefore contend that it would be a matter of responsible statesmanship not to allow a measure to be undertaken simply because it gained a small majority in the States. Naturally, such decisions not to go ahead until a firmer majority was achieved would have to be stated before any proposal, and have the nature of a voluntary nature; but this would set a good precedent for responsible behaviour, and would be a good example of how it is possible to avoid abusing small majorities.

Wednesday, 11 March 2009

The Pseudo Lama

I just received a powerpoint presentation which reads:

The Dalai Lama said read it to see if it works for you. PERSONALITY TEST Very interesting. Just 4 questions and the answers will surprise you.... Do not cheat by looking up the answers. The mind is like a parachute it works best when it is opened.

You then have to pick various items - animals, descriptions, colours etc. and link some to people, and they are displayed later with the "interpretation". To save time, email clutter, and as a general spoiler, here are the "results":

Cow: signifies CAREER
Tiger Signifies PRIDE
Sheep Signifies LOVE
Horse Signifies FAMILY
Pig Signifies MONEY
Your description of dog implies YOUR OWN PERSONALITY.
Your description of cat implies the personality of your partner.
Your description of rat implies the personality of your enemies.
Your description of coffee is how you interpret SEX.
Your description of the Sea implies your own life.
Yellow: Someone you will never forget.
Orange: Someone you consider your true friend.
Red: Someone that you really love.
White: Your twin soul.
Green: Someone that you will remember for the rest of your life.


Snopes comments that this is but one among many that the poor Dalai Lama has been associated with:

Origins: His Holiness the 14th Dalai Lama Tenzin Gyatso, head of state and spiritual leader of the Tibetan people, has had a number of cyberspatial tin cans tied to his tail over the years, including the spurious "Instructions for Life" e-mail and the bogus letter circulated in the wake of the September 11 terrorist attacks urging recipients to become "spiritual activists."

The Dalai Lama Personality Test is but another item of similar ilk. Years before it came to be associated with
the Dalai Lama, this "personality test" was circulating online without any such claim of authorship. (We found it posted to a USENET newsgroup in 1998, where it was then presented merely as an "identity test.")

The best way to regard this "personality test" is to consider it similar to a horoscope or a fortune cookie: all of them make broad, general predictions which seemingly apply to a great many people. The skeptical dismiss such predictions as random shots which occasionally hit their marks (in the same way that a stopped clock is still right twice a day); the credulous marvel over their accuracy, find ways to make the results apply to themselves, and overlook the parts that don't fit.

An example of this can be seen on "Mary's Blog"


Here is what I put down as my answers and I was surprised how it really matches up to me!

The part about making a wish, and emailing it to others so that it comes true is why it appears on the "break the chain" website, because that is standard spam psychology. That site has a wonderfully withering comment:

It is unlikely that the venerable Dalai Lama would concern himself with cheesy "personality tests," like this one. It's also unlikely that he would wish you good fortune, but only if you forward the message.


What would be really interesting psychologically would be to know what people work through the test, and having done so, send it on (for "good luck") to the number of people given in answer to one question - what is your favourite number?

Actually it brings bad luck, because some poor devil has one extra lot of spam cluttering their inbox.

I didn't send it on (I never send spam on), and for those interested, and something which would make impossible that question, my favourite number is pi = 3.14159 26535 89793 23846 26433 83279 50288 41971 69399 37510 (approximately). I don't have a favourite whole number, they're too boring! But what else would you expect from a mathematician?

Tuesday, 10 March 2009

The Green Man

Near to Beauport Bay is a local carving of a "Green Man". Contrary to the impression given by the Peddles in "Pagan Channel Islands", it is of very recent origin. I was passing there the other day, and decided to put together a few notes about these carved heads, often found in churches along with gargoyles, as I think it is a mistaken assumption to make to classify them as "pagan survivals".

The term generally often in scholarly studies of carvings is "Medieval foliate heads", because it doesn't prejudge the issue of what the head represents, and because they are seldom green. Kathleen Basford - who studied it extensively - said: "No one, I think, ever called a foliate head a 'Green Man' before Lady Raglan; now we all do, even though we may not accept her hypothesis" (Basford 1991, 238). As Basford noted, a major problem with a pagan derivation (such as Raglans) is that they only appear from the Later Middle Ages, and have no clear seasonal connections. The kind of statement often made - "The Green Man is the pagan symbol of Spring with the leaves indicating the new birth." - has no historical foundation; it is a modern myth, although a powerful one. It might just as well be that it was intended as a Christian symbol, as one Church site puts in: "We use the image of the Green Man here as an image of the life of the natural world - and the fact that this life has a place within the church.".

But "man" may not be the right word anyway. In "Medieval Foliate Heads: A Photographic Study of Green Men and Green Beasts in Britain.", Tina Negus notes that "A survey of foliate heads in medieval churches shows that many so-called Green Men do not have human faces at all. Many, especially in the earlier Romanesque buildings, are decidedly animal-like in appearance. These I have dubbed 'Green Beasts.' Most of them resemble cats, lionesses or lions; others are not obviously derived from any specific animal. The human faces have rounded ears, situated at the sides of the head; the beast-heads usually have pointed ears placed at the top of the head. "

No one knows precisely what these images represent. They appear in churches and cathedrals in the later Middle Ages but not before, and any ideas about them have to fit in with that (but see below on the "green umbrella").

Were they purely decorative? Remember the Victorians enjoyed to decorate wood within the house (e.g. piano legs) and metalwork outside with ornamentation - trefoilled railings and arches for mainly aesthetic reasons? We should not underestimate the desire to simply decorate for its own sake. Or did they tell of the connection of man and creation? Or did they have some other function, now forgotten?

In "The Roots of Environmental Consciousness: Popular Tradition and Personal Experience." (2000) by Stephen Hussey and Paul Thompson, they note that: "the green man tradition seems to have been transmitted in the middle ages almost entirely through visual images. They were transmitted, moreover, right across Western Europe. The masons who carved them left no words to help us understand them. But in their professional culture communicating with images rather than with words was scarcely remarkable. By the late middle ages leading stonemasons and woodcarvers could be people of considerable local importance, mayors of their cities; and a few of them certainly worked internationally. By then they were also taking images direct from printed books such as the Biblia Pauperum."

We know that wall paintings were often used to depict both scenes from the bible (and post-biblical folklore, such as emerges in Dante), and they were also used to present leading families of the locality; it is possible that, as with gargoyles, these may have drawn upon people in the locality, perhaps the carvers themselves? This seems certainly the case in Durham. Or in the case of "green beasts" with stories told? Remember this was very much an illiterate society, dependent upon visual imagery, festivals, church ales, miracle plays, story telling, and one in which fun was poked at religious images as well (as we see in Chaucer).

Because the name "green man" was used, all other "green" figures were collected by some folklorists under the "green umbrella", so we have Robin of Sherwood (the Green Wood, in Lincoln Green!), the Oak King, the Holly King. The Wild Man, Herne the Hunter, and even the venerated Winter King, and Roman "Green Man" ornamentation, and the Cathedral Images all mixed in together, with no real justification.

But against this what I think needs to be also looked at is the total context in which the Church images were found. A pre-Reformation cathedral, for instance, would have gothic arches, trefoils in windows, decorative spandrels, blue, green, silver and gold colours used widely on woodwork,
gargoyles, stained glass windows, wall paintings, - and our friend the green man (or beast), and one in which sacred and profane was mixed and mingled together (as in Chaucer!). All of this reflected the culture of the time, one very firmly rooted in seasons and soil, sunset and sunrise, to an extent that we find it difficult to imagine and enter today. Here the Green Man is both green with foliage because this was a rural society, at times grotesque or scary, sometimes comic as a visual joke. Gargoyles and grotesques have always given carvers and sculptors a chance to delight in their creativity and to explore the possibilities in the dance between stone and imagination.

Cheap Flights for Philip Ozouf?


16 January 2008: Minister to lead fact-finding visit to India

A Jersey delegation is heading to India next month to strengthen relationships with existing Jersey-based business from the sub continent. The Minister for Economic Development, Senator Philip Ozouf, has accepted an official invitation from the President of the Indian Chamber of Commerce to visit Mumbai. The invitation was extended during a visit to Jersey last year by Sunil Bharti Mittal, Chairman of Bharti Telecommunications and current President of the Indian Chamber of Commerce who was in the Island to officially launch Jersey Airtel.


Travel, Entertainment, Total - expenses for 2008
Economic Development Minister - Senator Philip Ozouf - £206.00 - £0.00 - £206.00

My word! I never knew it cost so little to pop out to India! Or is it "creative accounting"? Or is there a restaurant locally called "Little India" and that's where they went?

Later in 2008, there was an Indian evening in Jersey at which he was also present.


This has quite an amusing comment by the writer, Cator Sparks, a visitor to Jersey from New York. This is how off-islanders see us!

During dessert PHJ finally introduced me to Philip Ozouf, a senator from the island he has wanted me to meet for ages. He is quite fun and openly gay in politics. Hoping to work with him on an article about Jersey for a certain travel magazine since he is also head of tourism. Fancy that!He took Jonathan, Luke and I on a club crawl that was fun in theory but everywhere we went was just rotten.It didn’t hurt that we were in Indian drag and everyone thought we were the entertainment.

Just Williams

"Just Williams" by Kenneth Williams: A Brief Review
Just as the Victorian era was that of "Life and Letters" (in three volumes!) written after death by admirers or family, so our era seems to be that of the autobiography, in which various people tell us about themselves, rather than leaving the task for posterity. Nevertheless, some autobiographies are better than others. This one by Kenneth Williams is more interesting than most because, from an early age, he consistently kept a diary. That means that he is able to tell us not just about events, but what he felt at the time. I would highly recommend it.

Monday, 9 March 2009

The sacking of Karen Hutchet


The suspended chief executive of a Jersey charity has had her contract of employment terminated. Karen Huchet was suspended from Family Nursing and Home Care last August after an unspecified complaint was made by a member of staff.  Richard Pirouet, the chairman of the charity, said the committee's decision to cancel the contract of employment had been unanimous.  Ms Huchet said she intends to take the matter to an employment tribunal.  The nature of the complaint against Ms Huchet has never been made public.  In an e-mail to staff, Mr Pirouet paid tribute to the work Ms Huchet had done for the charity over the past 24 years, but he said there had been an irretrievable breakdown in the relationship between employer and employee. The disciplinary process had not been completed, he added, and Ms Huchet had neither been cleared, nor had the allegations against her been proven.

This is the committee of which Jim Perchard has complete confidence - a committee which sacks an employee without completing the disciplinary process, or settling on whether allegations made against her are true or not. What kind of example of good management is that supposed to give? Are these people accountable themselves in any way - without threats (whatever you call it) against the membership by Jim Perchard for withdrawing funding from health if the members decide against them?

When I look at the culture of the banks, and big business in the UK, with managements almost completely unaccountable to shareholders, able to put all kinds of obstacles in the way of any attempts to derail them (the disgraceful cheap tricks used by Tesco against Hugh Fearnley-Whittingstall's motion), it is little wonder that the economy is in a state.

Evidently the management committee of Family and Home Nursing has taken this as a model for how to conduct themselves - ignore the public, ignore any criticisms, and sack someone without even managing to verify accusations against them. I just hope that now the case can go to a tribunal for unfair dismissal, that the tribunal make very public and open what appears (in my opinion) to be an act of gross mismanagement and injustice.

Roadworks and False Economy

Yesterday, there were huge delays caused by roadworks between Beaumont and Bel Royal, with the Jersey Water company doing work, almost certainly of an emergency nature. Looking along the road, I can see at least two other spots where the road has been dug up and filled in since the massive resurfacing that took place last year (with diversions and night working). The utility company is often frantic to get the site cleared away afterwards as quickly as possible for the motorist - Sundays was there at 10.00 am, still there at 1.00 (I was passing back!) but gone by 6.00 pm. But this speed of repair and reinstatement of the surface can be a false economy.

In New Zealand, they are starting to cost the road resurfacing work into the equation, and note that:

The cost of works nationally is not just felt by private motorists or businesses trying to use the road - Local Government New Zealand has estimated that the national cost of re-work and repairs associated with utility works is $40 million each year. It costs about $250,000 per lane kilometre to fully reinstate a road surface after works.

Closer to home, in England, the MB for Denton and Reddish, Andrew Gwynne commented on street works caused by utilities,
So bad is the situation that Tameside council has launched a campaign, "restore the roads", which the borough's three MPs are supporting to highlight the problem. Tameside council believes that our roads should be dug up only once in any year by the utility companies-very different from the 8,000 separate diggings that the borough had to suffer last year alone from a potential 106 different firms, all in a borough with only 442 miles of road! This continued work can lead to an unsightly patchwork effect of repair, which affects my constituents' everyday movements and quality of life. Basically, the law needs to be changed to allow for the full cost of restoration of the whole length of road by the body that carries out any digging, and for full ownership restoration of the roads with absolute permission being required from the council to carry out any digging.

David Heyes (MP for Ashton-under-Lyne) noted that:

Oldham road is a good example of that. In preparation for it becoming a quality bus corridor, the road surface was reconstructed. Within weeks, the utilities arrived and the pneumatic drills got to work. In next to no time, that splendid new road was pockmarked and potholed because of inadequate reinstatement. Does my hon. Friend agree that that causes long-term and expensive damage, and that it is time that local authorities such as ours were given powers to re-charge utilities with the true cost of putting right this long-term damage to the integrity of our roads?

That is a good question which should be asked locally!


A Grief Observed

"A Grief Observed" by C.S. Lewis: A Review
"No one ever told me that grief felt so like fear. I am not afraid, but the sensation is like being afraid. The same fluttering in the stomach, the same restlessness. "
So begins one of the most honest and personal books to see print. It is a book compiled from the notebooks which Lewis kept after the tragic death of his wife from cancer; it is an outpouring of his grief: in these notebooks, he wrote down the almost unbearable sorrow that he felt.
Although Lewis was Irish in descent, part of his education had been at a Public School. He was already something of an introvert since the death of his mother when he was still young. Consequently, when called to face the rigours of his education, he developed a thick shell which is a characteristic product of such institutions, and is half-jokingly referred to as "a stiff upper lip" or "British -reserve". This manifests itself in an inability to easily express emotions, and is some respects, a defensive strategy. For if you play safe, and keep your feelings to yourself, then there is less danger of hurt. But it has a drawback: if, despite these defensive measures, you are forced to face great emotional trials, such as the death of a loved one, it becomes extremely difficult to talk about it to others, even when this would clearly help.
Lewis solved this problem by, in a sense,  talking to himself: that is, by writing down his deeply felt grief. By this method, his grief found an outlet, so that at last he could come to terms with his wife's death. He himself was quite aware of the therapeutic value of this form of expression:
"By writing it all down (all? no: one thought in a hundred)," he wrote, "I believe I get a little outside it."
But coming to terms with grief by this means was not simply a way of escape for his emotions: Lewis also faced a crisis of belief. He was a convinced Christian, and yet had to confront the problem caused to such a faith by suffering, pain and death - realities all too present in the last year's of his wife's life. In particular, he found religion little help in comforting him: "Talk to me about the truth of religion and I'll listen gladly. Talk to me about the duty of religion, and I'll listen submissively. But don't come talking to me about the consolations of religion or I shall suspect that you don't understand."
He also saw the snare that might occur in using the memory of his wife as a guide to present living, and an argument for making decisions. "Yesterday, I stopped myself only in time from saying about some trifle 'H. wouldn't have liked that.' This is unfair to others. I should soon be using 'what H. would have liked' as an instrument of domestic tyranny; with her supposed likings becoming a thinner and thinner disguise for my own."
Finally, he comes to peace with himself, and with God: "When I lay these questions before God, I get no answer. But a rather special sort of 'No answer'. It is as though He shook His head not in refusal but waiving the question. Like, 'Peace, child; you don't understand."'
When Lewis published this book, it was under a pseudonym, N.W. Clerk; it saw print because he thought that it might help others in their attempts to "argue out" their grief. For it is, after the road of pain has been traversed, a triumph of hope over despair.