Saturday, 31 July 2010

All Things are Possible

"All Things are Possible"

I used to discuss this with Annie Parmeter and she often threw it at me for my opinions! In the therapeutic co-counseling context, in which she placed it, it is a therapeutic means of "obtaining emotional discharge" by the disparity between the actual and potential, by setting up a contradiction.

I knew the phrase rang a large bell in a religious context, and sure enough, its origin is in the King James translation of the Bible, from which it no doubt has percolated through English culture like so many phrases. I don't particularly like that translation, but that is clearly where it enters the mainstream as an aphorism.

It occurs in three places in the New Testament; and I approach them asking the following kind of question: why was this story "kept alive" in the early community, what function or purpose did it serve? So I'll cite the texts, and give my brief comment.

"And again I say unto you, It is easier for a camel to go through the eye of a needle, than for a rich man to enter into the kingdom of God. When his disciples heard it, they were exceedingly amazed, saying, Who then can be saved? But Jesus beheld them, and said unto them, With men this is impossible; but with God all things are possible. "(Matt 19:24-26)

This story is an "inversion of values" one; the "natural order" was the presumption that the rich would rank more highly that the poor in the "kingdom of God", as in earthly Kingdoms; and this teaches that this is contradictory; within the early community, as the early Christians were mostly poor folk, rather than rich ones, this story is a lesson in the contradiction of the way in which society measured things, and an affirmation that poverty is no barrier here (as it was in general in society at the time).

"And one of the multitude answered and said, Master, I have brought unto thee my son, which hath a dumb spirit; And wheresoever he taketh him, he teareth him: and he foameth, and gnasheth with his teeth, and pineth away: and I spake to thy disciples that they should cast him out; and they could not. He answereth him, and saith, O faithless generation, how long shall I be with you? how long shall I suffer you? bring him unto me. And they brought him unto him: and when he saw him, straightway the spirit tare him; and he fell on the ground, and wallowed foaming. And he asked his father, How long is it ago since this came unto him? And he said, Of a child. And oft times it hath cast him into the fire, and into the waters, to destroy him: but if thou canst do any thing, have compassion on us, and help us. Jesus said unto him, If thou canst believe, all things are possible to him that believeth. And straightway the father of the child cried out, and said with tears, Lord, I believe; help thou mine unbelief. (Mark 9:17-24)

This story is one about healing, but also about the difficulty in belief, and in believing "all things are possible". The last sentence is about the kind of contradiction; the man who brings his son (who appears to be epileptic) is the person who is the model of the contradiction between belief and unbelief, and the difficulty in believing "all things are possible".

Unfortunately, it is often misused by some who use it as a lesson in triumphalism ("if I believe, all things are possible, so if they are not, I can't be believing enough", or as an American radio jingle puts it: "Only believe, Only believe, All things are possible, only believe; Only believe, Only believe, All things are possible --only believe"). That seems to me to be the religious counterpart to the secular use of it in psychotherapy, and just as potentially damaging.

And he said, Abba, Father, all things are possible unto thee; take away this cup from me: nevertheless not what I will, but what thou wilt. (Mark 14:36 )

This last story is the most important, because it is completely non-triumphalistic. The message the story tells is to give courage to Christians who were being persecuted by Nero: while all things are possible, there is no magical intervention that will prevent suffering; that is not the way God works. Again, there is contradiction, but this time upon the nature of God. The use of the same phrase that we have heard twice before, but this time in a context where there is no miraculous intervention, is again a contradiction of accepted ideas of God, that he would intervene because it is possible, and we should expect that intervention because that is the way we wish it.

The phrase itself returns in existentialism, and appears in Lev Shestov's compendium of philosophical aphorisms, "All Things Are Possible" (1905). He was a Russian Christian proto-existentialist philosopher based in France who waged a war for the lived human life against necessity, against thought, against evidence and against the objective while advocating a faith in God that makes 'all things are possible.' He placed emphasis on the salutary effects of tragedy and how the temptation to knowledge led to the restrictions of the spirit of man by reason, science and morality.

D.H. Lawrence was influenced by Shestov, and wrote of him (in his forward to "All Things are Possible") :

"'Everything is possible' - this is his really central cry. It is not nihilism. It is only a shaking free of the human psyche from old bonds. The positive central idea is that the human psyche, or soul, really believes in itself, and in nothing else. Dress this up in a little comely language, and we have a real new ideal, that will last us for a new, long epoch. The human soul itself is the source and well-head of creative activity. In the unconscious human soul the creative prompting issues first into the universe. Open the consciousness to this prompting away with all your old sluice gates, locks, dams, channels. No ideal on earth is anything more than an obstruction, in the end, to the creative issue of the spontaneous soul. Away with all ideals. Let each individual act spontaneously from the forever-incalculable prompting of the creative well-head within him. There is no universal law. Each being is, at his purest, a law unto himself, single, unique, a Godhead, a fountain from the unknown"

Lawrence is probably where it enters into the mainstream of secular thinking, as he gives the idea a psychological twist. And what I find most interesting about his approach is that

(a) it is part of a rejection of all ideas of limitation - the anti-science part of existentialism
(b) it is so parochial, so much what might be termed "bourgeois" (to grab a phrase from socialism)

In Lawrence, it becomes a philosophy of the comfortably well off, not the peasant, or the factory worker, or people starving in famines, or peoples in nations riven by war; I cannot imagine their reaction to someone telling them about "the creative issue of the spontaneous soul", but I suspect that feeling patronised and probably very angry would feature quite strongly! "

All things are possible" is more a matter of hope to those people, which brings us back to the "contradiction" that we began with, but as a political stimulus, rather than a therapeutic one.

Friday, 30 July 2010

Seven Occult Tales

I was shopping in the large Chequers supermarket, and as I passed the book display, I glanced idly at the books for sale, as one does. Sometimes a book glanced with peripheral vision can stand out because the title has been misread, and I could scarcely believe my eyes when I read:

Seven Occult Tales - Enid Blyton

Did the famous and popular children's writer really have a darker side? Was this a old publication, a dusty manuscript that had lain buried in a bank vault for many years? Or - as has happened with Blyton - was it an "accredited writer" providing new stories, as has happened with "The Famous Five" and "Malory Towers". Maybe at the publishers request, they've decided to move the Blyton franchise into the "Point Horror" market?

But it was not to be. A closer examination than a mere glance revealed the real title - "Seven O'Clock Tales". A nice book of cosy nursery stories by the author herself. But it got me thinking - what if Enid Blyton had actually written the book title that I'd imagined I'd seen. What might we expect then? Here, then, is "Seven Occult Tales", and they may bear a certain resemblance to a famous author's works! So pull up the blanket, settle down in bed, with a candle flickering in the dark to....

Five on Zombie Island

In which Julian, Dick, Ann, George and Timmy the dog discover one of Uncle Quentin's mad experiments has gone terribly wrong, and anyone who visits Kirrin Island for more than a day will turn into a flesh-eating zombie. The only thing that will defeat the zombie is lashings of ginger beer!

Julian: Gosh, that's Uncle Quentin, with those dark eyes, and sharp teeth. Sorry George.
George: I always knew there was something odd about him. He'd always turn up at odd points in our adventures, shuffle on, grunt, and shuffle off. Now we know he was really turning into a zombie.
Dick: Good thing zombies only have a shambling gait, and we can run away.
Ann: Throw a pork pie at him, George. Maybe that will slow him down. I can't. I'm a girl.
George: Timmy ate the last one. I'll just have to shake this bottle of ginger beer and let the exploding fizz get in his eyes. That will slow him down.
All: Gosh, look, he's dissolving into a grey puddle! Hurrah!


Professor Joad: "Well done, Famous Five. Now we know how to deal with zombies everywhere.
Julian: It was nothing really, sir. Just a days work for the Famous Five.

In the Dark at Malory Towers

In which Darrell Rivers discovers that school after dark can be a scary place, and Miss Grayling is actually the Gray Ling, a alien who prowls the corridors in the night looking for her arch-enemy, Mam Zelle from the Planet Zong.

Alicia: I thought I heard footsteps
Darrell: Yes, that's right. Someone's coming, they may discover our midnight feast.
Alicia: Let's hide in the lacrosse sticks cupboard

(they hide, but suddenly the door is opened)

Darrell: It's Miss Grayling, but her eyes are glowing red, and her face is a green colour.
Gray Ling:[ in electronic voice] Earth girls. Erase memory and ignore. The dust of oblivion.

(pulls out two blackboard duster and bangs together, a cloud of dust envelopes the girls, she then shuffles off - the girls just stand still, looking dazed)

Alicia (coming round, blinks): I thought I heard footsteps
Darrell: No, nobody is round here.
Alicia: Funny, I could have sworn. Well, never mind, let's have a jolly good feast! Some smashing cakes, and lashings of ginger beer.

Noddy and the Vampire

Noddy: "Why, Big Ears, what big teeth you have."
Big Ears: "Don't worry about that Noddy. I don't want all the children to have nightmares that I might creep into their bedrooms at night and suck their blood."
Noddy: "How can you be a vampire and be safe?
Big Ears: "There's only one way to be a bloodsucker and safe. I'm going to stand for Mayor of Toytown"
Mr Plod: "Now then, Big Ears, I heard some of those there goblins cast a nasty spell on you."
Big Ears turns into a bat and flies off.
Mr Plod: "Was it something I said? He certainly went off in quite a flap".

Other tales include

"The Labyrinth of Adventure" in which Dinah, Lucy-Ann, Jack and Philip desert their school and discover an ancient mummy which comes to life when they break open the seal on a three thousand year old pot of marmite. Kiki the parrot saves the day by distracting the mummy by calling out "Pieces of Shroud, Pieces of Shroud", so that Bill Smugs can destroy the amulet of Thoth, causing the mummy to turn into dust.

"The Naughtiest Weregirl in the School": In which the naughtiest girl finds even better ways to be naughty especially when there is full moon. This book will have you chortling away; it's a howling success.

"The Secret Seven's Sabbath": In which the Secret Seven hold a Wiccan Sabbath, and build a Wicker Man. It's Wicced!

And finally, Nursery Tales of Horror. Features the story Nightmare on Teddy Street, The Chocolate Omen, the Toy Exorcist, and The Stepford Dolls.

Thursday, 29 July 2010

What is a Blue Moon?

You've probably heard the phrase "once in a blue moon", meaning rather infrequently. But what is a Blue Moon?

According to the popular definition, it is the second full moon to occur in a single calendar month. On average, there will be 41 months that have two full moons in every century, so you could say that once in a Blue Moon actually means once every two-and-a-half years.

But that's not the only definition!

In Sky and Telescope, 1946, the author of an article on full moons, gave the current definition. He was working from the 1937 Maine Farmers' Almanac which listed full moons, but it seems that he made a mistake!

In fact, checking back entries to 1819, it seems clear the Almanac used the term Blue Moon to mean the third full moon in a season which has four. Not the same as our popular definition!

The folklore historian Philip Hiscock has traced six different meanings of the term blue moon over the centuries. He find the earliest use of the term to mean something absurd, that cannot be, like "The Moon is made of Green Cheese". The earliest citation is a 1528 poem "Rede Me and Be Not Wroth":
"Yf they say the mone is blewe
We must believe that it is true."

This lead to the second meaning of "never" - a blue moon was an impossible event, which never happened.

The third meaning was a literal blue moon, which happened, for instance, after Krakatoa exploded. Because this visual event was rare, it lead to the fourth meaning of "not very often at all".

Meaning five uses it as a symbol of loneliness and sadness, as with singing the blues. Moon river....

Meaning six was that given in the Almanac, or its misinterpretation, of two full moons in a calendar month; this does not appear in any records before 1937!!!

So what is a blue moon?

Most of these definitions sum up how we perceive the moon, and its effect on us, and our lives. In this respect, the current definition is marking time as special by the phases of the moon, and marking the moons attraction on us. The pattern of our lives as with all life on earth, follows solar cycles and lunar cycles.

But there is also a cultural cycle imposed upon this, a pattern of reason, which has fashioned the calendar months away from the lunar cycle. These are a human creation, and we live our lives according to those patterns which we have created as well. So the blue moon, as the current definition has it, marks a special overlap between the lunar cycle and the social/cultural pattern, and this gives it a distinctive merit.

Useful links:

Wednesday, 28 July 2010

Postcard from Guernsey

It is good sometimes to look at another small Island, not too dissimilar from our own, and see what problems they have, and how they are tackling those, and even what part Jersey plays in that saga. We are not the only Island to have resignations, but the recent one in Guernsey came from outside the civil service. It was the culmination of growing frustration over the relaxation of postal services to third parties which the regulator had been pressing for, and which the Chief Executive of Guernsey Post had been strongly resisting.

Guernsey Post chief executive Gordon Steele yesterday dramatically resigned with immediate effect - and without explanation. The company said the resignation was a mutual decision which was taken 'due to a difference of opinion regarding the future direction of the company'.(1)

Guernsey Post clearly has been facing difficult times, and not all of their own making. Both in Jersey and Guernsey, there has been a move by the regulatory authorities to open up the market, and even if Guernsey stays as it is, opening up the market in Jersey could nevertheless have a knock on side-effect, something that has not been mentioned at all in the Jersey debates about postal services.

Allowing competition into Jersey's bulk mailing market could force Guernsey Post to look at cutting household deliveries, according to the company's chief executive. The Jersey Competition Regulatory Authority will decide in October whether to open up the bulk mailing market to competition and Gordon Steele said some local companies might choose to send their mail through Jersey because it would be cheaper. New entrants to the market would be able to undercut them, he said, because they did not have to provide any other postal services. 'As a competitor comes in they do not have to pay anything for the universal service. It costs us £3m. a year to empty boxes, deliver mail and run post offices.'(2)

There has been a heated dispute with the regulator over whether there should be a change in the way the service is conducted, and as with Jersey, there is an indication that while Guernsey Post has a universal service provider obligation, this may well have to be reduced in scale and cut back:

QUESTIONS need to be asked about whether Guernsey Post's delivery and collection services are still suitable when islanders are increasingly using technology to communicate, according to the Office of Utility Regulation. Guernsey Post is obliged to empty mail boxes, run post offices and make deliveries six days a week under the universal service obligation. But OUR director of regulation Michael Byrne said it was time to look at how well those services fit with modern needs. 'Given changes in technology, there is a case to look at whether the existing service is as appropriate as it needs to be.' (3)

The leader column in the Guernsey Press thinks that more needs to be done to ensure any change is made across both Islands, so that the postal services have time to adapt. There is clearly a plea here for Jersey to show that it can be a "good neighbour". And that is something we should be thinking about in Jersey - with a joint regulator now in place, there surely needs to be convergent strategies, otherwise Guernsey will not want to seek any future in "working together" unless it leads to practical results. This is a message coming across quite strongly in their paper, and I've not seen it reported at all in the JEP.

While there might be a dispute locally about how much competition there should be and how quickly it ought be introduced, Guernsey and the regulator at least had some control over the consequences. Jersey jumping first, however, would sweep that away and Guernsey Post could be faced with a catastrophic fall in revenues since the fulfilment sector here contributes massively to its volumes and revenue - in Jersey it is more than half of JP's business. Guernsey Post Ltd is trying to transform its business model and strip out cost but that cannot be done overnight and it would be unfortunate if it was trying to meet an unrealistic deadline effectively set by its neighbour.(4)

The background of frustration that led to Gordon Steele's sudden resignation is due to the dispute with the Office of Utility Regulation. Letters have exchanged in the columns of the Guernsey Evening Press, and have been quite acrimonious, with the OUR making their case with facts and figures, and Gordon Steele, on behalf of Guernsey Post, giving facts and figures to dispute that, and accusing the OUR of distorting the true position.

Here are four of the main points that John Curran set out in a letter about Guernsey Post, and how it was viewed from the regulator's point of view:

1. Guernsey Post will still have a monopoly on almost 70% of its postal volumes with a reserved area at 65p.
2. Fewer than 10 Guernsey Post staff out of a total of 271 work on bulk mail. Talk of mass redundancy threats if it loses some bulk-mail business is simply scaremongering.
3. Claims of threats to the Universal Service Obligation are entirely baseless and is Guernsey Post 'spin' designed to detract from the efficiency savings it needs to make. Jersey Post, operating in a very similar
environment, has never had a reserved area but still provides the USO.
4. The OUR has allowed Guernsey Post to recover all its costs from Royal Mail's increased charges, despite claims from Guernsey Post to the contrary.

Gordon Steele, the Chief Executive of Guernsey Post wrote back, disputing these claims in his letter to the Guernsey Press:

I feel I must respond to the Director General's letter of 16 November to refute a number of the statements he makes.
1. His statement that 70% of Guernsey Post volume would remain with a reduction in the reserved area to 65p is extremely misleading. What he does not mention is that, based on his own calculations, Guernsey Post's revenue would fall by 65%, meaning only 35% of GPL revenue would remain in the reserved area. Our own calculations indicate that the fall in revenue could be worse than that. Contrary to the regulator's argument, his proposal means that even a first-stage reduction in the reserved area would have a very significant financial impact on Guernsey Post.
2. We are concerned about possible redundancies as a result of the abolition of the reserved area. We would hope that these can be avoided. However, the potential loss of 65% of our revenue might make this difficult to achieve if we are to remain profitable. I should also point out that the regulator's office has said to us that we must reduce our administrative headcount by 16 people - this would not be possible without redundancies.
3. The Jersey Post environment is quite different to that proposed for Guernsey, so no parallels should be drawn. Under Jersey law, new operators must apply for a licence and demonstrate that their activities will not damage the Universal Service Obligation in Jersey. This would not be the case under the regulator's proposals for Guernsey, which would mean that foreign competitors could enter the market without a licence and with no concern about the Universal Service Obligation.
4. We dispute the implication that the regulator has allowed Guernsey Post to recover all the £8m. cost increase from Royal Mail and therefore everything we wanted has been granted. The reality is that what he has given with one hand has been taken away with the other. Some £2m. (£1.2m. in the first year) of that £8m. has been disallowed without any detailed review. This, combined with a reduction in the reserved area and the regulator's proposed tariff, means that we face a huge shortfall in revenue of up to £4m.

This has led to legal costs between the Guernsey Post and the Regulator, as the battle had become more than merely a war of words.

Chief executive Gordon Steele said: "In the last year, we have had to address some very significant issues including a year-on-year 16% decline in traditional mail volumes, large Royal Mail price increases, the frustration of our efforts to diversify into financial services and the ongoing and costly dispute with the Office of Utility Regulation." ..In December the OUR put forward proposals to open the market to more competition by reducing Guernsey Post's monopoly on letters, from those costing under £1.35, to those costing £1 or less and completely removing restrictions on parcels. The company will continue to face significant legal costs in the current year in appealing against the proposal and it predicts another difficult year ahead.(5)

The Regulator, as well, has come in for some criticism in the Guernsey Press, including criticism of the salaries paid to its staff compared to those of Guernsey Post. As Laurie Queripel noted:

I find it a bit rich that the OUR has highlighted the fact that some Guernsey Post staff earn between £25,000 and £35,000 per annum and yet according to the October Billet d'Etat, the OUR's staff expenditure and salaries for 2008 amounted to more than £417,000. This averages out to approximately £59,000 per staff member.(6)

One of the calls by the leader articles in the Guernsey Press called for closer coordination and co-operation between the Islands. Jersey has now appointed John Curran to the Jersey Competition Regularity Authority, and he will work for both Islands as a regular, allowing savings to be made both in Guernsey and Jersey:

Guernsey's Commerce and Employment Department and Jersey's Economic Development Department are welcoming the intention by the Board of the Jersey Competition Regulatory Authority to appoint John Curran as the Executive Director of the JCRA. Mr Curran is currently the Director General of the Office of Utility Regulation in Guernsey and he will perform both roles. (7)

Senator Alan Maclean has seen this as sharing of resources, and saving money, although it would be nice to have a little more detail on actually how much this will save both Jersey and Guernsey. There are no less than three mentions of the phrase "save costs and increase efficiency" (or its variants) but Senator Maclean is remarkably coy about the figures involved.

In the current environment where innovative solutions must be delivered and tough decisions made, I am confident that Mr. Curran's appointment will deliver significant efficiencies and cost savings that, amongst other advantages, allow the JCRA to operate within a reduced cost base in 2011 and beyond. (8)

But it does give a chance for the situation of Guernsey Post and Jersey Post to be address in tandem, and the editor of the Guernsey Press sees this opportunity. Let's hope it is not thrown away, and can be the start of more ventures between the Islands.

The crisis closure of sub-post offices and cutting of household deliveries isn't in anyone's best interests and this appears to be a clear case of when the islands need to be working in concert, especially since they now have a joint regulator.(9)

What next? Perhaps other quangos could follow suit. Do we really need two Financial Services Commissions, for example, when the regulations involved must, of necessity be similar because of international standards?

It is clear is that Guernsey will certainly be watching Jersey very closely over this first venture together to see that there are advantages, and it is not taken for granted as a poorer relation by its neighbour, and whatever the outcome of any opening up of postal markets both in Guernsey and in Jersey, due consideration is given to the how changes in one Island can impact on another.

(6) Laurie Queripel, Letter to Guernsey Press

Tuesday, 27 July 2010

Will you walk with me, Grasshopper?

Young Caine: You cannot see.
Master Po: You think I cannot see?
Young Caine: Of all things, to live in darkness must be worst.
Master Po: Fear is the only darkness.

Where are the really great TV shows of yesteryear? One of my favourites was Kung Fu, in which David Carradine as Shaolin monk, Kwai Chang Caine, wandering through the Old West, with only his martial arts and skills to defend himself. When he was in a fight, he would use a mystical ability to slow down fight scenes so that his opponents moved in slow motion, and he moved slightly faster and won .

But the key to the series was the wisdom he imparted, mainly from lessons learned in flashback, from his blind teacher Master Po, in which the story would shift in gear to another culture, another time. It was this juxtaposition of the stock Wild West of the 1870s with the Chinese wisdom (subverting the Western theme) which made the series very special. There is really nothing comparable. It was quite unique.

Caine: I seek not to know the answers, but to understand the questions.

And despite being blind, Master Po could fight with a staff against Cain, and still win, which was the occasion for more of those wonderful times where Master Po, addressing Cain as "grasshopper" (or as it came out, "glasshopper"), would impart wisdom. Here is where he gets his nickname from his mentor:

Master Po: [after easily defeating the boy in combat] Ha, ha, never assume
because a man has no eyes he cannot see. Close your eyes. What do you hear?
Young Caine: I hear the water, I hear the birds.
Master Po: Do you hear your own heartbeat?
Young Caine: No.
Master Po: Do you hear the grasshopper that is at your feet?
Young Caine: [looking down and seeing the insect] Old man, how is it that
you hear these things?
Master Po: Young man, how is it that you do not?

Master Po: What do you hear?
Caine: I hear the grasshopper.

Later, Master Kan would be Caine's mentor, and also teach him lessons. In one wonderful monologue, Kan tells how Caine (and the viewer) how we can learn wisdom from all life:

Kan: The rabbit feels rage. The tiger, pity. The dragon, pain. All creatures, the low and the high, are one with nature. No life is insignificant. If we have the wisdom to learn, all may teach us their virtues. This is Shun, master of the White Crane system. From the crane we learn grace and self control. The snake teaches us suppleness and rhythmic endurance. The praying mantis teaches us speed and patience. And from the tiger we learn tenacity and power. And from the dragon we learn to ride the wind. Life sustains life, and all living creatures need nourishment. Yet with wisdom, the body learns to sustain in ways that all may live

But for me, it was the early episodes, with Master Po, that were the greatest ones.

Po: What? Sad Grasshopper?
Young Caine: My sadness is for you.
Po: Is it?
Young Caine: Never to see the clouds, never to see the sun on the water, or the plumage of a bird.
Po: Yet it is sometimes eyes that blind a man.
Young Caine:: How can this be?
Po: Because he can see, he does not look. Is the bird only the color of his plumage?
Young Caine: None should think so.
Po: To be at one with the universe, is to know bird, sun, cloud. How much shall a man lose if he then loses his eyes?

There is "Kung Fu: The Legend Continues", but it's not the same. It's lost the charm of the original, and the evocative flashbacks, and the often barren West across which Caine endlessly trudges with his bag. Long may he continue...

Caine: Is it good to seek the past, Master Po? Does it not rob the present?
Master Po: If a man dwells on the past, then he robs the present. But if a man ignores the past, he may rob the future. The seeds of our destiny are nurtured by the roots of our past.


Jersey Overseas Aid Celebrations - Notes for the Diary

Some good events on the calendar - anyone is free to attend most of the events - I've highlighted those for ease of use.

This has been passed on to me by Ed Le Quesne and comes from Deputy Ian Gorst, Chairman of the Overseas Aid Commission and Jean A Le Maistre, Chairman, President, Jersey One World Group:

We have attracted wonderful sponsorship for the celebrations, which will give us the opportunity to raise significant funds to support Jersey charities working in a number of developing countries.  
You will see that two events are "by ticket only" and the others are open to all and can involve family and friends. The aim is to have fun, raise awareness about the needs of developing countries, let people know about the huge amount that Jersey has done and continues to do overseas and to inform Islanders about overseas aid opportunities for the future. 
The charities which are supporting us and will benefit from the weekend are:- Ecce Homo, Mustard Seed, Help an African Schoolchild, WASOT-UK, Hands Around the World, Ngora Trust, Island Aid for World Children, Mifumi Project Uganda, St Matthew's Kenya Project, St Clement's Church Kenya Project, Christian Unity Group, Jersey Side by Side, Gambia Schools Trust, Kisumu Orphans Education Fund  and Tear Fund.
3.00pm Grand Reception at Government House for Jersey Aid Ambassadors -by ticket only.  We are very grateful to His Excellency the Lieutenant Governor and his staff together with assistance from the Rotary Club, together with generous sponsorship from the Channel Islands Co-op for this event.  300 tickets already taken the separate form for tickets.
6.30pm Big Picnic in the Park (Howard Davis Park) with musical entertainment. Bring your own picnic, drinks, rugs, etc. A great opportunity for the entire Island to show support for the Aid Programme. This is a FREE event but with a bucket collection to support the work of the charities.
10.00am  Service at St Mark's Church with  a team from UK Tear Fund Team who introduced Jersey to
the very successful Work Projects programme.  This OPEN TO ALL.
2.00pm   "Walk for Water" organised by the Lion's Club in aid of a clean water project in Malawi.
Probably more of a stroll from St Helier to St Aubin and back!  The more the merrier!  Open to all.
7.30pm   Grand Dinner. "Eating Around the World" at the RJA & HS Showground - Caterers Jersey Potteries. Opportunity for charities to "showcase" the work they are doing.  Ticket only event. (£25.00
We already know that a good number of volunteers will be travelling back to the Island especially for the celebrations (even from as far as Australia!) so it will be a great time to renew friendships and enjoy all the events.  Please return the booking form on the next page as soon as possible to enable us to send you tickets.  Also please send payment ASAP for the meal with cheques made payable to "The Jersey One World Group".
These all promise to be great events and we hope you will wish to celebrate the part you have played in bringing compassion to communities overseas and the huge success spanning forty years of the Jersey work projects.
We are looking forward to hearing from you.

INFORMATION ABOUT THE "Walk for Water"  Sponsored walk - Sunday 29th August 2.00pm.
Malawi has a population of 13 million.  Over half live below the poverty line and most live in rural areas. Lack of access to water and sanitation has greatly increased risks to illnesses. In 2008 over 5,000 confirmed cases of cholera were reported across the country and 140 people died. Diarrhoea, dysentery, and typhoid fever affect many people in the rural areas.
The rural communities of the Chikwawa and Nsanje districts of South Malawi often struggle due to the problems of inadequate sources of safe water, non-functional water points, lack of health awareness and training and poor hygiene and sanitation. The goal is to reduce the prevalence of water and sanitation related diseases through provision of clean drinking water, improved hygiene and sanitation services for 4,500 people in these areas.
The cost of drilling one new deep borehole is £5,800. Rehabilitating 10 boreholes and training 10 water management committees also costs around £5,800. One borehole will serve, on average, 250 people from a number of neighbouring villages with fresh, clean water.
Our target is to raise at least £12,000 through this sponsored walk.



I wish to attend the Grand Dinner on Sunday 29th August   and require _________tickets and enclose payment of £25.00 per person (Payable to the "Jersey One World Group").


I wish to attend the Picnic in the Park   YES       NO       and also hope to bring friends    YES         NO


Please send me a sponsorship form for the "Walk for Water".  (Should you require more, please copy.)




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Monday, 26 July 2010

The States Member, or X the Unknown

The anonymous "States Member" has been airing his vitriolic abuse on the Haut de La Garenne Farce blog, and I see that I received a mention:

Then there are a collection of other bloggers; Cut and Paste sordid Sorda, and a few other wild boys such as Ian Evans, Zoompad and the great intellectual Tony. The common thread that runs through these blogs is that the Jersey is finished, everything is corrupt, the Island is run by about three people and that politics is dominated by a small group. The rant on about corruption, economic doom and gloom and that everything is going down the pan to a final sorry meltdown.

Well I hate to say it, but I've made it very clear to any reader that I do not hold to conspiracy theories, and I have never entertained the notion that "Jersey is finished, everything is corrupt". I have provided in the past some pretty clear analysis of voting patterns to show that there is a fairly definite split (albeit with a marginal threshold) in the States of Jersey, between those who tend to always vote the same way as Terry Le Sueur, and those who do not. As this analysis also shows that the division gives the balance of numbers in favour of the Council of Ministers when votes are cast, it would be rather odd to suggest that politics is dominated by a small group. Whether this group is representative of the electorate is something we will only find out next year, although voting apathy is suggestive that it is not. And I agree with the writer (if he'd taken the trouble to read me) that employing high cost management to make cuts is rather perverse - look at what I said about the idea for the hospital, that it was pure "Yes Minister".

Regarding economic doom and gloom, I think most people would realise - as indeed the Treasury Minister does - that we are in a recession, and have problems with a "black hole" - that I believe was the Council of Ministers line, not just a lone "rant". As far as a "final sorry meltdown" is concerned, that is again the warnings that are coming from the Treasury regarding the need to raise taxes and cut expenses, or we will head that way. I'm sorry to see that the "States Member" thinks that Philip Ozouf is ranting about a meltdown; I've never noticed that myself, but it must be true. I thought he was just giving a warning., which pretty well all States members apart from our writer thinks is correct, regardless of the different political solutions they suggest to resolve it.

Jersey could face a new £60 million tax 'black hole' by 2012. The panel of expert economists who advise the Treasury Minister and the States have warned that a 'structural deficit' in States finances is emerging.

I have repeatedly said that until the full disclosure of as much of the Wiltshire report as is possible - and Ian Le Marquand himself said he hoped it would be published in complete form, with merely names redacted - and the defence by Graham Power is published, it would not be possible for me to make my mind up fairly about the Haut de La Garenne Inquiry. In that, I am doing no more than Ian Le Marquand himself when he said that: "Even once I get the Wiltshire Report I will not be in a position to make decisions, other than perhaps to form any preliminary view, because to do justice to Mr. Power I must hear, in full, his account of matters."

Now Senator Le Marquand may have made his mind up on the basis of more information than me. He obviously has seen the unredacted Wiltshire, and he may have seen Graham Power's defense, or some of it - obviously as a response to Wiltshire, he cannot have seen the complete version. So he might be in a better position to make his mind up. But he might be wrong, just as I might be wrong, and I don't see that it in any way is "ignoring the evidence that has piled up against these two" until one has all the evidence and arguments. Evidently the anonymous "States member" likes simplistic solutions, cut and dried, or perhaps the kind of "Upstairs, Downstairs" culture where one deferred to the greater judgement of one's social superiors.

"Why do they spend hours and hours and indeed whole days hanging around the States Building, the Royal Square and our Scrutiny Panel meetings?"

Well, I don't, so the observational skills of the "States member" obviously leave a lot to be desired. Perhaps he needs glasses? The only occasions I go to the Royal Square tend to be sunny occasions, when it is pleasant to sit on a bench and have lunch, and when there is a market there. I'm rather deaf, so going to attend a States debate, a Scrutiny committee hearing (which I couldn't hear) or even a Hustings would be a waste of time. All I'd hear would be like a TV with the sound turned down.

But if bloggers want to, why not? Isn't it nice to see someone at least who is interested? The election turnouts (much lower that Guernsey) show that both the "States member" and his fellows in the States Chamber have a good deal of work to be done to promote interest in politics, which to most people is mind-numbing boredom. Just look at how many people wanted to listen to Philip Ozouf talking on taxation recently -less than 30. Or does the "States member" only want people who agree with him, and wants to sneer at anyone else?

In the meantime, bloggers like Voice are gradually supplying some of the defence that Mr Power would have made if there had been time for a proper disciplinary hearing, which is certainly useful to me, even if "States member" does not need to read it, because he already knows the truth, and has long made his mind up. But wasn't that what he is accusing the Voice of doing? Isn't his position almost the mirror of the ones he is attacking?

I have commented on Senator Shenton's restriction on filming, and suggested a blogging etiquette (which "States member" seems not to have read). The Senator's proposals bothers me far less than if transcriptions were not available, but he might just bear in mind that unless the States move into the 20th century (as the UK parliament has done) with better audio recordings, then he is effectively disenfranchising any blind voters from knowing what is going on in scrutiny meetings. BBC Radio Jersey does an excellent job with States sittings, but Scrutiny is (if you forgive the pun) a blind spot. There is no audio version comparable to the BBC service. If Senator Shenton really want to improve matters, he would not just look at restrictions for bloggers, but for opening up opportunities for blind people. As an Australian Blind Society comments:

Electors who are blind or who have low vision, must have access to information produced by parties and candidates, such as policy documents, information on TV advertisements, how-to-vote cards and information about preferences, in order for them to make an informed decision and to indicate their vote in the manor in which they intended. This information needs to be available both in advance, but ought to also be provided at the same time as other electors, that is at the time of the advertisement airing or at the time of attending a polling centre.

So I would ask this: if I was blind, could a friend record the Scrutiny proceedings as an audio recording so that I could know what was going on (if it was a matter of interest to me, and I couldn't get there)?

And lastly, why does "States member" hide his identity? Is he not aware than statistical techniques exist, used for analysis ancient texts for authorship, which can test his words on the blog against speeches of members of the States, and determine the most likely candidate? There are several papers out there detailing the mathematics available; all it needs is a competent statistician with some free time. It might make an interesting thesis for a university student.


Suspension: A Briefing Note

"Natural justice: refers to the basic fundamental principles of fair treatment. These principles include the duty to give someone a fair hearing; the duty to ensure that the matter is decided by someone who is impartial; and the duty to allow an appeal against a decision" (Bateswells Employment Update,5)

'Delay is always the enemy of a fair dispute resolution in the workplace, leading as it does to fading memories, prolonged anxiety, the entrenchment of parties' positions, prejudice to a fair hearing of the issues, and thereby to injustice. (Bateswells Employment Update,5)

"Suspension is a neutral act: it does not constitute disciplinary action and must not be taken as implying any assumption or acceptance that the allegations are well-founded."

This last quotation is the mantra which is repeated time and again when an employee is suspended. It was heard when Karen Huchet was suspended, when John Day was suspended, and when Graham Power was suspended. But it is not true - a case in the UK, which has been widely cited on legal sites and by lawyers who deal with employment law, shows that this is, in fact, a fiction which has not stood up in court.

However this stance was intended, and I am sure that those framing the suspension provisions were honest when they meant it to be "a neutral act", it is not necessarily so. The case law in question established, beyond a shadow of a doubt, that the suspension of employee is "not a neutral act" and may be restrained by injunction

In the case of Mezey versus South West London and St George's Mental Health NHS Trust, the Court of Appeal refused the Trust leave to appeal against a High Court injunction to restrain its suspension of Ms Mezey, a consultant psychiatrist. She had given a voluntary undertaking to abstain from her clinical work pending an internal disciplinary hearing, but was suspended by the Trust. She challenged the contractual lawfulness of her suspension., and pending trial of that issue, she obtained an interim injunction from the High Court. The arguments for the Trust were the standard ones, that suspension is "neutral":

Mr Supperstone accepts that it is perfectly permissible to restrain a dismissal, but he contends that a suspension is a qualitatively different affair. It is, he submits in the skeleton argument:

"a neutral act preserving the employment relationship".

The Trust argued that, although a court may restrain a dismissal, it was wrong in principle, at least pending trial, to restrain a suspension, since this was "a neutral act preserving the employment relationship" and was appropriate in view of the breakdown of trust and confidence in Ms Mezey's clinical judgment. Suspension was, in the Trust's view, qualitatively different from dismissal. The Court of Appeal rejected that argument, "at least in relation to the employment of a qualified professional in a function which is as much a vocation as a job. Suspension changes the status quo from work to no work, and it inevitably casts a shadow over the employee's competence. Of course this does not mean it cannot be done, but it is not a neutral act."

The ruling by the Court of Appeal was as follows:

"I venture to disagree, at least in relation to the employment of a qualified professional in a function which is as much a vocation as a job. Suspension changes the status quo from work to no work, and it inevitably casts a shadow over the employee's competence. Of course this does not mean that it cannot be done, but it is not a neutral act. Indeed, Mr Supperstone goes on in his skeleton argument to justify the suspension on the grounds that the criticisms of the claimant in the most recent report were serious and that she had -- I use his word -- "failed" to accept the criticism of her in the two previous reports."(1)

That is is now established as a matter of principal, and not just in the medical profession, can be seen clearly in "Suspension and garden leave" in the "Employment law update" from late summer 2008. Here Paul Seath, a solicitor specialising in employment law notes that:

"A constructive dismissal is not necessarily an unfair one, but it is a dismissal that can be avoided by not suspending or placing somebody on garden leave unnecessarily or without good reason. It makes no difference to the issue of whether or not there has been a fundamental breach that the employer did not intend to end the contract. Saying that the suspension is a neutral act is not enough therefore."

"Regardless as to whether the employer says a suspension is a neutral act, it is not seen as such by Tribunals. Caution should therefore be exercised when suspending. Suspension should only take place where it is absolutely necessary - for example, to prevent the destruction of evidence or the intimidation of witnesses. It is not enough simply to say that suspension is 'necessary pending an investigation'. It must be necessary in the context of that investigation."

"Even where it is necessary, care should be taken to ensure that the suspension is as short as possible. Once the relevant witnesses have been spoken to or the relevant evidence secured, the suspension should be lifted."

And the ACAS Guide (2009) to Discipline and grievances at work, which counts suspension along with other disciplinary decisions, also says that there should be a right to appeal against that decision:

"The opportunity to appeal against a disciplinary decision is essential to natural justice, and appeals may be raised by employees on any number of grounds, for instance new evidence, undue severity or inconsistency of the penalty. The appeal may either be a review of the disciplinary sanction or a re-hearing depending on the grounds of the appeal. Where an employee feels that disciplinary action taken against them is wrong or unjust they should appeal against the decision. Appeals should be heard without unreasonable delay and ideally at an agreed time and place. Employees should let employers know the grounds for their appeal in writing. The appeal should be dealt with impartially and wherever possible, by a manager who has not previously been involved in the case."

What is especially notable is that when it looks at the methods of appeal, it asks "What should an appeals procedure contain?" and sets out the following:

- specify a time-limit within which the appeal should be lodged (five working days is commonly felt appropriate although this may be extended in particular circumstances)

- provide for appeals to be dealt with speedily, particularly those involving suspension or dismissal

- wherever possible provide for the appeal to be heard by someone senior in authority to the person who took the disciplinary decision and, if possible, someone who was not involved in the original meeting or decision

Considering the latter first, it seems that while Senator Le Marquand was not initially involved in the disciplinary decision, as corporation sole, and as one of the parties in the process, he should not have been in the chair for the suspension review meetings, although he should have been present to present arguments for the continued suspension. Both chairing a meeting, and providing a judgement on the review at the completion of the meeting would seem to indicate a potential conflict of interest.

But of even more concern is the lack of a any deadline, leading to suspensions which just drift on, with no clear notion of when the disciplinary hearing will take place. The lack of a time limit seems to be the fundamental problem with Jersey suspensions. Clearly investigations must be thorough, but the lack of a deadline means that more time is spent going into the finest details, and it is arguable that anything found from such an examination will not be significant in terms of the whole.

Let me give two examples:

1) If an auditor is checking a balance sheet, and looking for evidence that the company is not sound, or that widespread fraud has been taking place, going through every invoice and stock item, and counting and looking for evidence that some paperclips and biros have gone missing, is not going to alter the big picture. It is overkill, and auditors have to work to a deadline, to both do their job thoroughly, and be aware of what is disproportionate, and what is not.

2) If a cartographer is mapping a coastline, the map can go into finer and finer detail, and as a coastline becomes more complex as it is magnified (rather like a fractal shape), the larger the scale of the map, the finer the detail there will be. But at some point the cartographer will need to step back, and ask what the purpose of the map is, and how much detail is required, otherwise the task could take infinitely long.

The thing about suspensions in the public sector is that any investigation is seen as open ended, and we are into the realms of fractal shapes, or microscopic examination of what lies under each grain of sand. There is no deadline, and matters drift onwards in this way.

Any suspension should be treated as any other project, and managed in the same way. Good project management involves:

- an objective that must be achieved.
- a beginning and an end, with a deadline for completion.
- the co-ordination of different people and multiple activities.
- must be capable of being planned and controlled

Having seen the endless slippage noted with the Wiltshire report, there was clearly no set deadline for completion. It may be argued that a proper investigation requires as much time as it takes, and yet somehow auditors have to work within a limited time frame, and still provide a robust audit, as do many other investigatory tasks required by law, but in the private sector.

Moreover, the lack of a deadline, and the endless slippage shows that the Wiltshire investigation was not well planned or controlled. This is precisely what happens when there is no fixed date for completion. Part of this may be the Ministers responsibility - by including Operation Blast, he widened the terms of the original investigation, and this would inevitably lead to extra time.

A good project has critical milestones set, so that even where there is slippage, this can be noted. It is not clear that Jersey suspensions have any clear management or planning in place, certainly the suspension review meetings just mentioned when the review would be complete. And yet as with any project, there should be milestones, and notifications of when they are complete.

Instead, the practice seems to be to turn the whole matter over to an investigating agency, and just wait for a final report, with no indication - certainly to the general public, nor in the suspension review meetings, of any real planning of milestones in the investigatory process, when they are reached, or when they have failed to have been reached. As 20 Steps to Better Management notes:

People tend to dedicate insufficient time to planning, wanting to get stuck into what they see as the 'real work'. This will inevitably cause problems in the long term.(4)

It has to be asked whether suspensions, as a task in project management, are being properly planned and run when they seem to be open-ended, with no fixed deadlines for resolution, and no clear critical milestones being reported in the investigatory process. While the investigators may have a clear idea of how they are going to investigate matters, it seems to amount to little more than amassing and sifting a mass of data, and I do wonder what project management skills and training those in charge have compared with professionals in that field.

If one compares the BDO Alto report with the Wiltshire Report, one is detailed but clear (and completed within 7 months), while the latter is often an incoherent muddle which looks like a scrappy work in progress, bundled together in a hurry (despite a much larger timescale). Quite frankly, the Wiltshire team seem to have little or no idea how to present a coherent report.

Lastly, the lack of good project management also impacts on the people suspended, who are in limbo until the matter is resolved. The human cost (in this example with doctors, but arguably with other professionals), is well described in an article in the "Journal of the Royal Society of Medicine":

Whilst rhetoric suggests that suspension is a 'neutral act' (and not a dismissal for the purposes of employment law), in reality an exclusion often has serious human implications. A study of 105 suspended doctors showed that one-third required treatment for medical problems directly attributable to the suspension, one-third had sought psychiatric help and about half declared that a family member, usually the spouse, had suffered ill health as a consequence. Exclusion from the workplace is perceived as being unfair because doctors are suspended pending an inquiry, before proof of culpability or even before being allowed an opportunity to respond to any allegations. The new guidelines stipulate that the practitioner should be informed of the nature of the allegation and be given an opportunity to put his or her case before a decision on formal exclusion.

Doctors deserve a transparent investigation within a reasonable timeframe as well as a fair appeals procedure. Suspension, as well as informal 'gardening leave', has a negative impact on a doctor's career and harms a professional reputation even when the practitioner is subsequently cleared of wrongdoing. For a clinician, exclusion can result in reduced self-esteem and disturbing emotions: 'The loss of my job was like a bereavement. Powerful, confusing and shifting emotions swept over me-disbelief (can this really be happening?), sadness, guilt, self-doubt and anger'. Long after the end of a period of suspension and subsequent exoneration, a doctor may be left with a career in shreds and no way of picking up the threads or getting financial compensation.

(1) The case of Mezey is widely cited by employment lawyers:

Mezey v South West London and St George's Mental Health NHS Trust [2007] EWCA Civ 106.

4) 20 Steps to Better Management
(6) J R Soc Med. 2004 May; 97(5): 211-218.
Regulation of the medical profession: fantasy, reality and legality
Ash Samanta, LLB FRCP1 and Jo Samanta, BA RGN2

Sunday, 25 July 2010

The Time Museum

A nostalgic look at summer's past...

The Time Museum

My world is quickly passing by,
And memories fading with a sigh:
A dog is running upon the lawn;
My sister gives a sleepy yawn;
Summer days so long and sweet;
If only I could return and meet,
All those ghosts of times of joy,
When I was once a little boy,
Digging dams upon the beach;
In dreams I go there, and reach,
Back into the past, as time alive:
Roots from which I still derive,
So much happiness and strength,
Far back in times great length;
The limpet gathering days that
Gave delicious meals for our cat;
Climbing dunes to slide down,
With not a care, without a frown;
Paddling along that distant shore,
The time museum, days before.

Friday, 23 July 2010

Was the Email The Wrong Shape?

In the middle of this table lay a single sheet of paper, evidently left there on purpose. ..The words were: "I die by my own hand; yet I die murdered!" They were in the  quite inimitable, not to say illegible, handwriting of Leonard Quinton.

Darkness full of thunder followed, and after the thunder Father Brown's  voice said out of the dark: "Doctor, this paper is the wrong shape." "What do you mean?" asked Doctor Harris, with a frowning stare. "It isn't square," answered Brown. "It has a sort of edge snipped off at the  corner. What does it mean?" As they went back through the study he stopped by the table and picked up a  small pair of nail scissors. "Ah," he said, with a sort of relief, "this is  what he did it with. But yet--" And he knitted his brows.

"Oh, stop fooling with that scrap of paper," said the doctor emphatically.  "It was a fad of his. He had hundreds of them. He cut all his paper like that," as he pointed to a stack of sermon paper still unused on another and smaller table. Father Brown went up to it and held up a sheet. It was the same irregular shape. "Quite so," he said. "And here I see the corners that were snipped off." And to the indignation of his colleague he began to count them. "That's all right," he said, with an apologetic smile. "Twenty-three sheets cut and twenty-two corners cut off them. And as I see you are impatient we will rejoin the others."

(G.K. Chesterton, The Innocence of Father Brown)

In the above story, the Father Brown, investigating a murder, comes across this strange suicide note. Despite other people telling him not to take any notice of the odd shape, he continues to worry away at it, sometimes to their exasperation, because he feels that something is missing. And he is, of course quite right.

"Of all these crooked things, the crookedest was the shape of that piece of paper. It was crookeder than the dagger that killed him." said Father Brown. "You mean the paper on which Quinton confessed his suicide," said Flambeau. "I mean the paper on which Quinton wrote, `I die by my own hand,'" answered  Father Brown. "The shape of that paper, my friend, was the wrong shape; the  wrong shape, if ever I have seen it in this wicked world." "It only had a corner snipped off," said Flambeau, "and I understand that all Quinton's paper was cut that way." ....Father Brown was still leaning back and staring at the roof, but he took his cigar out of his mouth and said: "Quinton never did commit suicide." Flambeau stared at him. "Why, confound it all," he cried, "then why did he confess to suicide?"

The priest leant forward again, settled his elbows on his knees, looked at the ground, and said, in a low, distinct voice: "He never did confess to suicide." Flambeau laid his cigar down. "You mean," he said, "that the writing was  forged?" "No," said Father Brown. "Quinton wrote it all right." "Well, there you are," said the aggravated Flambeau; "Quinton wrote, `I die  by my own hand,' with his own hand on a plain piece of paper." "Of the wrong shape," said the priest calmly. "Oh, the shape be damned!" cried Flambeau. "What has the shape to do with it?"

"There were twenty-three snipped papers," resumed Brown unmoved, "and only twenty-two pieces snipped off. Therefore one of the pieces had been destroyed, probably that from the written paper. Does that suggest anything to you?" A light dawned on Flambeau's face, and he said: "There was something else written by Quinton, some other words. `They will tell you I die by my own hand,' or `Do not believe that--'""Hotter, as the children say," said his friend. "But the piece was hardly  half an inch across; there was no room for one word, let alone five. Can you think of anything hardly bigger than a comma which the man with hell in his heart had to tear away as a testimony against him?" "I can think of nothing," said Flambeau at last. "What about quotation marks?" said the priest, and flung his cigar far into the darkness like a shooting star.

And so it proves to be the case - the murderer, who happens to be the murdered man's doctor - gives a written confession in which he reveals this to be the just as Father Brown deduces:

Quinton would talk about nothing but the weird tale, called "The Cure of a Saint," which he was writing, which was all about how some Indian hermit made an English colonel kill himself by thinking about him. He showed me the last sheets, and even read me the last paragraph, which was something like this: "The conqueror of the Punjab, a mere yellow skeleton, but still gigantic, managed to lift himself on his elbow and gasp in his nephew's ear: `I die by my own hand, yet I die murdered!'" It so happened by one chance out of a hundred, that those last words were written at the top of a new sheet of paper. I left the room, and went out into the garden intoxicated with a frightful opportunity. Then I saw that the quotation marks wouldn't do, so I snipped them off, and to make it seem likelier, snipped the whole quire to match.

I feel that something is amiss, something has been wrenched out of context, like the snipped off paper that is the wrong shape, when I read about the joke highlighted in the Wiltshire report. It is an extremely bad taste joke, and Wiltshire use to criticise Graham Power as follows:

A very sick Joke. This, in my view, shows an anti Jersey Slant which is totally inappropriate for a person who was there to serve the people of Jersey. ( I believe the joke was this, and was a dig at the jersey authorities> What is the difference between a Jersey orphan and a Jersey royal? least a jersey royal gets dug up after 6 months.)

Now that joke was circulating from at least as early as 29 February 2008, and occurs across a number of online bulletin boards, yet it is highlighted (from thousands of emails examined) as the one case which is picked up - presumably pretty well the only one of its kind. So the first thing to consider is numbers - is it representative of the whole? As they found this one joke to cite, obviously not.

But another matter to consider comes back to Father Brown and the story about piece of paper which was "the wrong shape". This email has no context. It has been snipped out of a whole. We cannot see what the rest of the email was, although perhaps Senator Le Marquand will now release this one from the "redacted" area, if it occurs there. I can see at least two possibilities.

The first is passing on a joke to a colleague, with perhaps some text of the kind as "have a laugh at this". That could certainly be the subject of criticism, although that fact that there is just this one of thousands that they managed to scrape up suggests that it is being treated disproportionally to the whole. I have a picture in my mind of someone waving a printed copy, and saying "at last, we've got some dirt". And of course, as the case of Gerald Ratner shows, an ill-advised jest can do untold damage to the sender.

But the second might be a comment on the impact on Jersey of the Haut de La Garenne investigation, with perhaps some text of the kind as " - this will show you how the populace at large are beginning to treat the subject." In that respect, it is more of a sociological comment on Jersey society than simply passing on a joke. I don't see how that is not legitimate. If I was writing a history of these times, I'd probably include it. Topical jokes tell a good deal about the kind of thinking that is going on.

But I don't know, because the full email is not given, or if that joke was in fact the full email, there is no indication that it is. We have once more, the truth, the redacted truth, and nothing but the redacted truth! And we cannot tell what the full email was, all we can see is an email that seems to be the wrong shape.

(the earliest occurrence I have found of this joke)

Thursday, 22 July 2010

Blogging Etiquette

A States working group wants only organisations with so-called 'accreditation' to be allowed to film, photograph or record States meetings. It will mean bloggers and people gathering information for social media won't be able to record or film. The final decision will be down to the States members... Senator Ben Shenton is the Chairmen of the working group looking at a media policy for States Meetings and he said they were following other jurisdictions. Senator Shenton said: "We looked at what happens in other jurisdictions and decided that accredited media, members of journalism - which are members of bodies of certain standards with a complaints procedure - should only be allowed to record at meetings." (1)

Provided they demonstrate themselves to be responsible, and are told that they must be, I can see no reason whatsoever for excluding bloggers from such occasions. Examples of irresponsible behaviour would be wrenching material out of context, editing it in such a way as to misrepresent what was said, and making fun with the material filmed. Of course, secret recordings, of the kind favoured by Senator Shenton himself, should also be avoided. If anything untoward happens, it is simple. A simple, common-sense code of conduct would be presented to the individuals - nothing too long. If an individual concerned lost trust be contravening it, they could expect to be excluded.

On the other hand, if Jersey is following best practice of other jurisdictions, as Senator Shenton says, and this argument is the basis for excluding bloggers, can we expect streamed and complete material available, as in the UK, and the televising of the States? Surely arguments about what goes on elsewhere must cut both ways?

Or is Jersey only using the "best practice" argument as a means of adopting the more restrictive practices of other jurisdictions, and not those which open up the government - as elsewhere - to a wider audience? I can see streamed, on demand, Select Committee hearings, House of Lords, House of Commons on my pc - I can't do that with Jersey. We haven't even managed to get the register of members interests online! So there's a long way to go before "best practice" becomes a wholly credible argument.

One individual has suggested that a reason for exclusion was as follows:

Those who have political opinions (I do) could use what they film or record and cut it so as to make it seem very different to what was actually meant to try to make a point. Accredited journalists have a duty to report correctly even if their media has its own views.

With the greatest respect, all I can say is that they have a very naive idea about television news reporting if they assume it is just plain reporting correctly. I'd advise them to read a few books on the subject. There is a fierce selection process to get around thirty seconds to a minute of airtime on Channel Television, for example, and studies have shown that the presenter is not free from bias when trying to choose what to show, and not what to show.

A politician may feel hardly done by, especially, as happened with one politician when, not entirely sober, he was door-stopped by a Channel TV film crew after an election, without being asked if he wanted to be filmed. Some politicians may receive more airtime than others, and the judgement of who may be significant and newsworthy may be dependent on the bias of the news organisation.

But the writer has a point - at the last bi-election, a full five minute slot was given to every one of the candidates standing who wanted to take it. Several of those who didn't had a film clip shown instead from the hustings, which was their speech, so more or less the same length. But then alongside one of these film clips - but not alongside those who had taken up the five minute offer - there was a whole series of criticisms of the candidates speech. I made the point on the blog in question that this was not really fair to that candidate. So I think there are lessons to be learnt.

Meanwhile some of the less worthy aspects of local blogs have been the target of the usual vitriolic attack by the Jersey Evening Post editor, who under the cloak of an unsigned article, gives an extremely irate and unbalanced opinion demonizing politicians who disagree with the Jersey Evening Posts line about Graham Power - "failure to control" and "arrogant" Lenny Harper. This is a "the toxic combination of malice and incompetence which now infects Jersey politics from within and without" says what is an extremely malicious and polemic comment. Perhaps the writer should look in a mirror?

When bloggers are attacked, it is notable that the text of the attack - whether by the editor or Rob Shipley - always seems to avoid the online version of the JEP, but this is the paragraph relevant to bloggers:

Meanwhile, the police chief-designate has also been subjected to the kind of infantile name-calling and malicious gossip that has undermined public life in Jersey on a daily basis since the advent of internet blogging. Such blogs should, of course, be treated with the contempt they deserve but that is easier said than done by those on the sustained receiving end of this modern version of the poison pen letter.

But those who attack blogs for being part of the reason why David Warcup resigned seem to want it both ways. On the one hand, they castigate the bloggers as a tiny vociferous minority whom the public doesn't notice, and then they say that it was a contributory factor in David Warcup's resignation. I wish they would make their minds up; but they seem to want to have their cake and eat it. And actually, for the editor's information, poison pen letters are anonymous, and most of the Jersey bloggers are not.

Nevertheless, I think there are aspects of blogging which could be improved - even though they do a sterling service in putting primary documents in the public domain, and conducting interviews which allow airtime to people who would otherwise be excluded from putting serious comments across, and longer interviews than are normally the case with the short time allowed to the accredited media for news reporting. And remember too - one case of housing hardship was taken up when a politician saw it online.

Here then, are what I would like to see - a blogging etiquette for local blogs.

1) No name-calling outside of the "satire" box.

There is a lot of rather juvenile name calling which has its place, but that's as a satire or spoof. I don't think it does any credit to bloggers to call David Warcup - "Weirdcop", or for that matter Ian La Marquand "Skippy" all the time. If you are going to engage in serious debate, then do so. Otherwise the serious points you are making get lost in the name-calling, and you are giving hostages to the JEP and anyone who criticised bloggers. I've heard people say that politeness gets you no where as an excuse for being rude. I would ask them: has being rude really got you that much further? I don't think so.

2) A Proper Place for Spoofs and Satire

Private Eye, defending a spoof article, noted that "The law of libel recognises that statements made in jest are not actionable. Furthermore, in deciding what meaning is to be given to the words in question, it is well established that the hypothetical reader is taken to be representative of those who would read the publication in question." They make it very clear that the second half of their magazine is full of spoof articles, and no reader would take them literally:

Would any reader studying the 'Disillusion Honours List' on page 22 believe that John Prescott had been ennobled for 'services to his secretary', or Michael Howard for 'services to the Transylvanian Community and the Involuntary Blood Transfusion Authority'?

So there is a place to lampoon Senator Le Marquand as "Skippy" and go to town on kangaroo courts, silly pictures, all kind of jokes about kangaroos (does he keep Assistant Minister Jacqui Hilton in his pouch?) etc, just as Private Eye does spoofs, I do "News from Nowhere" and Al Thomas does his cartoons in the JEP. But please try to keep it as a separate item, a joke, and not the news.

There is a place for jokes at politicians, but I know it is on "Have I Got News for You" or "Spitting Image", and not Panorama or News at Ten. Consider your blog like a rolling magazine - it has both, but needs to keep them separate.

3) Fairness in Video

If you are going to interview someone, or record something, for a fuller version, let it stand as it is, and also tell the person concerned that will be the case. Don't add comments as part of the same entry, or if you do, make sure it is headed comment, but preferably let it stand and let the public make up their own mind. "I disagree with what he says, but I will defend to the death his right to say it" should be the guiding motto. The example of the election - where at least one of the candidates had all kinds of critical comments added on in the text after the video clip, but other candidates were just left with what they had said - just isn't fair.

If you want searching questions, and it is an interview, let them be in the interview, not as comments afterwards. Or provide a transcript of the interview, or even a note of the questions you asked to "hook" the viewer into watching. And let it be said, there are some very good interviews on the "voice" sites, and Neil's technique, in particular, is becoming very polished with practice.

4) Permission in Email

If you are going to use an email reply that is not in the public domain, ask for permission before posting it on the blog. A busy politician may have taken time and trouble to write back to you, and the least you can do is show a little courtesy. Just for the sake of good form, tell your audience that you have permission as well - so they know you are respectful of other people's rights. And don't fire off another email back - the politician in question may well have had to do some checking and spend a fair bit of time before replying - you don't have a monopoly on his time.

5) Don't always have the last word

When posting an interview or an email, they may not give the answers you want to hear. But as part of the news reporting process, and in fairness to the person who has given his or her time and permission, don't always have the last word. You are giving the public information they didn't have before - you've asked questions, and had them answered. The answers may be evasive, but give your readers the intelligence to see that. Or reserve that to later opinion piece, when you may then quote from the email.

In conclusion:

I think some Jersey blogs are perhaps a little rough around the edges, but they are doing a very good job. I'd just like to see them do even better - I think they have the opportunity to be the some of the best in the world for news reporting, informed opinions, gauging public opinion, video interviews, satires and spoofs.

And I'd like to see Neil do some interviews with politicians and members of the public on more general subjects - The Town Masterplan, The £950 a day Civil Servant, Slum Rental Accommodation, Immigration, The Market Post Office, The Odeon etc. But that's just my personal preference!

Then the editor of the JEP will have to think up some other excuses to attack bloggers. I'm sure he'll manage somehow!


Wednesday, 21 July 2010

Independent Advisory Group - A Comment

In the Jersey Evening Post this week, Mr Regal and Mr Keen both criticised the way the police (under Lenny Harper) liaised with Independent Advisory Group of which they were members.

This group was one of the recommendations of the ACPO report to Graham Power, which they noted was duly carried out (despite the judgement of the Attorney-General that this was not needed in Jersey):

Recommendation 17: That the Chief Officer and SIO consider a Community Impact Assessment and convene an Independent Advisory Group. The IAG should not include former residents at this home, could include advisors from NSPCC or Community groups. The IAG could advise on the CIA.

On 19th March, a Community Impact Assessment was completed. The first meeting of the Independent Advisory Group was held on the 13th March 2008.

But there are serious problems with the chronology with the recent report blaming Lenny Harper. The JEP reports on the resignation of the group at the end of January 2009:

THE States police are disappointed that all four members of an independent group set up to monitor the historical abuse inquiry resigned suddenly last week. Acting Chief Officer David Warcup praised the members of the Independent Advice Group, who stood down because they felt there was a mistaken perception that they were the inquiry's official watchdog or complaints body. The members said that they were disappointed that neither the police nor Home Affairs publicly clarified their role, so they all resigned. The members were lawyer Carol Canavan, the Rev Geoff Houghton, data protection commissioner Emma Martins and businessman Steven Regal.

Now this was long after Mr Harper had left the police at the end of August, and Mick Gradwell had taken over. Moreover, by this time David Warcup had been in charge for several months since the suspension of Mr Power. So the claim that the problems lay with Mr Harper, which are made in the JEP by Mr Regal and Mr Keen seems somewhat specious.

If the group "revealed its frustrations at being continually kept in the dark", and were ignored, it seems that at least from September 2008 (when Mick Gradwell was heading the enquiry and not Mr Harper) , and certainly from early November 2008 (when Mr Warcup took over as Acting Chief of Police), they must bear some responsibility. After all, there were - from September - at least four months in which Mr Gradwell could supply some of the "the lack of input and clarity" which was experienced by the group which "exacerbated their frustrations and eventually led to a breakdown of trust with the [police] force". What was he doing in that time?

The group were also "taking soundings" from the public by email, and it would be most interesting to see if these agreed with the perceptions of Mr Regal and Mr Keen - perhaps, redacted for names and personal content - these could be published so that we can see how the group saw the public perception. I myself sent an email to them in support of the investigation, and noting the clarity with which the police had responded to a Daily Mail article (which made misleading allegations).

Certainly, when I asked the group how matters were in January 2009, there was no indication in the reply of any frustration, and yet when they resigned at the end of that month - after over four months of Mr Gradwell as the senior investigation officer liaising with them - this evidently was the case.

I was told the following:

The IAG continues to meet regularly and our objective is to act as a 'sounding board' to the senior investigating officer as well as relay any community concerns/comments to him. It is not a review body nor does it in any way involve itself with the investigation in an evidential way. Therefore, other than minutes being taken of the meetings, and copies of correspondence being maintained, the Group does not propose to publish any reports or a review.

As you are aware, there are a number of enquiries underway at the present time relating to the investigation itself to which the Group are not a party to. I am informed that the results of such enquiries are likely to be made public in due course upon their completion

This also mentioned the Wiltshire enquiry, then under way:

The Group met approximately once a month and did comment and challenge unfolding events from a community perspective. Clearly the detail of the investigation is now subject to external scrutiny from UK police and I am sure we will all welcome the conclusion of that.

Minutes are mentioned, and it would be interesting to know if any of the frustrations were aired in these minutes, and also how the group actually went about challenging "unfolding events from a community perspective." It would also help to see why the group disbanded, after over four months with Mick Gradwell presumably chairing meetings, or did he not bother to call them? The minutes would at least tell us how many meetings he deigned to call while he was in charge. Surely dates of meetings would not be confidential?

Mr Gradwell's name is absent from any of the criticism made by the group as reported by the JEP. Perhaps they should do a follow up, and ask a few more questions - was there even more frustration and were they kept even more in the dark by Mr Harper's successor?

And let's not forget Senator Le Marquand was also critical of the group. Shortly before they disbanded, at the end of January 2009 , this was reported:

THE independent group set up by the police to advise them in the historical child abuse inquiry is unsatisfactory and may need new members, says the Home Affairs Minister. Last week Senator Ian Le Marquand (pictured) refused to answer questions in the States on whether he was satisfied with the workings of the independent advisory group (IAG). But at a Scrutiny hearing this week the minister criticised the structure of the group, which is made up of members of the public appointed to advise the police on the major child abuse inquiry...He announced that there had been a public misunderstanding about the working of the group and that he was not satisfied with the way it was currently operating.

Now this was with Mr Gradwell in charge of the investigation and chairing the meetings since September 2008, and Active CPO David Warcup in charge since early November 2008. Just after this criticism by Senator Le Marquand, the group disbanded.

If there is any cause and effect in play, the balance of probability is that Senator Le Marquand's comments tipped the balance, - how would you like being told a group of which you were a member was "unsatisfactory" - and was the final straw in the "frustration" but the chronology shows that Lenny Harper could not be blamed in any way for this; he had retired long before. The JEP's attempt to rewrite history just does not make sense.


Tuesday, 20 July 2010

Questions and Evasions

An interesting variety of questions in the States - these were the written ones. If there are complaints (usually from the Council of Ministers) about the number of questions asked, it must surely be because of the inability of the Council of Ministers to provide complete answers.

Phil Rondel asked several questions about Operation Blast, and received several answers, although the question mark about any involvement by former Senator Frank Walker and Chief Advisor Bill Ogley was assumed to be closed - "Operation Blast was instigated on the instructions of the Chief Officer of Police." Wiltshire took the view that on balance it was unlikely that they had been involved, which is not the same as proving they hadn't. But when he asked "What action, if any, will the Minister take against the instigator and can he confirm that the files are now closed?", all he got was a reply to the first part of the question - "The disciplinary proceedings against Mr Power have been discontinued due to the lack of time for completion." The files, while they are not being added to at the moment, one assumes remain open, and in existence, and it certainly doesn't look as if they will be destroyed.

A most unusual question came out of the blue from Deputy Montfort Tadier. Deputy Tadier asked a question about vodka production, and asked Senator Maclean if he would support: "the idea of Vodka production in the Island and, if so, what steps he will take to bring this about?" In fact, this is already taking place - "Vodka distillation production would assist diversification and a pilot study to further investigate production and marketing is being funded under the Rural Initiative Scheme. If the pilot study is successful the applicant would begin commercial production." Perhaps we should start twinning with towns in Russia?

The suspension of Graham Power was on the agenda for Deputy Trevor Pitman, who was asking whether justice was served by the partial dissemination of information from Wiltshire: "Would the Minister further inform members whether he considers it correct in terms of natural justice that, having announced the abandonment of disciplinary action against the Chief Officer of the States of Jersey Police, he subsequently sought to use evidence from these inquiries to justify the suspension when the Chief Officer of the States of Jersey Police will himself have no right of reply?" Senator Le Marquand replied that "The Chief Officer of Police has already exercised his right of reply and will no doubt continue to do so either directly or through his political supporters." but not that Senator Le Marquand will be putting it into the public domain. In other words, the Senator will release Wiltshire in redacted form, but if Graham Power wants his defence to be made public, he will have to do it himself. Interestingly, he did not answer the question about "whether he considers it correct in terms of natural justice" for Mr Power to have a right of reply, only that "the investigation was fairly carried out", which is the closest to an answer. It's frustrating when a politician doesn't either give a direct answer, or replies in terms other than those in which the question was framed. One longs for a Jeremy Paxman to press the point.

Philip Rondel was asking about a quite different subject - ""Given that the military and government in the United Kingdom have established a special service run by General Practitioners to deal with cases of combat stress illness, will a similar service be available in Jersey, to make sure all our ex-service and serving personnel can benefit from any help that is required, given many Island residents have been or are in the Armed Services and the Island has a defence budget for our Territorial Army?" Deputy Ann Pryke, the Minister in charge of Health and Social Services said that "Individuals who work or who have worked in a military setting can present with a variety of psychological difficulties ranging from clinical depression and adjustment disorders through to anxiety states, obsessive compulsive disorder, as well as post traumatic stress disorder (PTSD).  Staff within the Psychological Assessment and Therapy Service have experience of dealing with this wide range of difficulty. " but that in an Island this size, a specialised service would be difficult. It would be interesting to know the number of ex-military personnel who  have since ended up in prison, and from what I've heard on the matter quite a few do - there are often major problems reintegrating into civilian life - I'm not sure the Health service is dealing with the matter proactively enough.

Senator Alan Breckon was asking questions about salaries above £70,000  that have been paid to existing and former employees of Jersey Post and Jersey Telecom in the two years prior to (and each of the years following) incorporation up to 2009, and also about bonuses. Senator Ozouf began by not answering the question, and telling Senator Breckon that "The States of Jersey is the sole shareholder in Jersey Post and Jersey Telecom and the Board's shareholder relationship is set up under a Memorandum of Understanding.  The Treasury Minister does not directly control employee remuneration" - which  begs the question not asked - who does control it if not the shareholders? Do the directors have cart blanche to set salaries and bonuses themselves? He then told Senator Breckon that "The accounts include disclosure of Directors' remuneration, which includes disclosure of Directors salary/fees and their bonuses", so clearly Senator Breckon will have to look them up for himself, because the Treasury can't be bothered. That's just sheer laziness on the part of Senator Ozouf, especially as his department has copies of the accounts anyway, but it does ensure they don't get into the public record as an answer in Hansard.

Deputy Wimberley asked about organisation charts "to aid States members as they consider efficiency savings in the public sector, and to help the public to understand 'where the money goes', will the Minister also undertake to publish, by department, organisation charts which show, in outline, who does what within each department?" and the Chief Minister told him that "As members should be aware, Departmental Business Plans contain organisation charts which are updated annually and are available on the States of Jersey website." As Senator Ferguson knows, these are schematic summaries which contain really none of the information that Deputy Wimberley was asking for, and she asked for, before undertaking to draw up and work out her own charts for the Hospital. It is an evasion by the Chief Minister which suggests there is all the information there, if only Deputy Wimberley would care to look. But it isn't there, and it's the kind of sloppy fobbing off a question that is so annoying, when an honest answer would have been that there were only summaries available.