Tuesday, 31 August 2010

On a Small Death

Anti-discrimination legislation is to be found in jurisdictions worldwide. Protection from race, sex and disability discrimination are the most common, but legislation relating to discrimination of other types such as age, gender and religion is being introduced. Jersey has a recognised presence on the international stage. It follows that the Island should have the necessary legislation in place in order to command respect as a jurisdiction that promotes modern standards of respect for individuals' rights and encourages equality and harmony between its citizens. (Jersey, Draft Discrimination Jersey Law)

Funding for Jersey's discrimination laws could be removed under plans for States departments to save money. The Home Affairs Minister, Senator Ian Le Marquand, has proposed the cut in a bid to reduce spending by 2%. (BBC Radio Jersey News, 26 July 2010)

In India, as in many parts of the world, women are often seen as second class citizens, and when a child dies, there can be a feeling of relief, of the loss of the burden. For the ancient civilisations of the world, while it was not unknown for some women to rise to positions of power, they were invariably treated for the most part as inferior to men. And in the so-called civilised West, it has taken great moves with respect to antidiscrimination laws to ensure that women are treated in the same way. Jersey still does not have these in place.

Even now, in the West, religions propagate their own discrimination, as for instance against women priests or women bishops on women imams. And yet quite often the same societies and religions promote the ideal of the family, and they almost deify the mother.

In researching discrimination against women, I came across a beautiful poem by an Indian writer about death of a small girl. It is poignant and makes its point so well. But more on that later.

The poet was Uma Shankar Joshi (1911 - 1988) who was an eminent poet, scholar and writer, who received the Jnanpith Award in 1967 for his contribution to Indian, especially Gujarati literature. Gujarati is a state in India, whose capital is Gandhinagar, and largest city is Ahmedabad. It is home to the Gujarati speaking people of India - India being a nation forged under colonial rule from many smaller states , cultures and languages. The most notable Indian born in Gujarati was, of course, Mohandas Karamchand Gandhi, better known as Mahatma Gandhi (rather like "Christ" as a surname, Mahatma is a title meaning "Great Soul" that has been subsumed into language as a Christian name). Joshi was also well known for writing about the life of Ghandi - here is a short tale from Ghandi's early life:

Mohan was very shy. As soon as the school bell rang, he collected his books and hurried home. Other boys chatted and stopped on the way; some to play, others to eat, but Mohan always went straight home. He was afraid that the boys might stop him and make fun of him. One day, the Inspector of Schools, Mr Giles, came to Mohan's school. He read out five English words to the class and asked the boys to write them down. Mohan wrote four words correctly, but he could not spell the fifth word `Kettle'. Seeing Mohan's hesitation, the teacher made a sign behind the Inspector's back that he should copy the word from his neighbour's slate. But Mohan ignored his signs. The other boys wrote all the five words correctly; Mohan wrote only four. After the Inspector left, the teacher scolded him. "I told you to copy from your neighbour," he said angrily. "Couldn't you even do that correctly?" Every one laughed. As he went home that evening, Mohan was not unhappy. He knew he had done the right thing. What made him sad was that his teacher should have asked him to cheat.

Not surprisingly, the Gujarati Tourism site features a good deal about Ghandi. And of course, India celebrated 63 years of freedom on August 15, this year. But the state is under pressure. The fear is so real that just a week before the customary address, the Prime Minister delivered a sombre message via radio to the country, and specifically to one part of the country - Kashmir. Violent clashes between police and demonstrators have highlighted the the alienation felt by Kashmiris, but across the nation, there are separatist movements attacking India's unity and integrity.

Internecine strife and violence based on religious beliefs was never uncommon in Indian history, and the British rulers strengthened such divisions incalculably. But, Independent India has witnessed a growing trend of communal tensions, largely derived from majority communalism but receiving heightened response from minority fundamentalism.(1)

The Times of India highlights both the political movements, and also an underlying and independent ideology, which is a backlash against the social values promoted in Indian society as a unity, and which it calls "communalism". With this harking back to the past, it is clear that women are, once more, the losers:

All represent a backward and retrograde thinking opposed to modern values of individual freedom, equality and social equity. Such values exist as a reservoir beneath the surface, and find expression in social evils such as dowry and bride burning (there were 7,456 dowry deaths last year), female feticide (an estimated 5-7 lakh female fetuses are aborted every year despite stringent laws), untouchability and caste discrimination. As can be seen, they are often expressed in relation to women who are sought to be treated as second-rate citizens, and prevented from joining the country's mainstream. (2)

And this brings us back to the poem by Joshi which I mentioned at the start , and here it is:

On a Small Death

Who is there to weep for your little girl who died too soon?
Yet we all wept with reasons each our own:
Grandma wept conventional tears
Through glad at heart burdened house was rid of a girl;
Mother - poor Mother - secretly shed her sorrow, thought you never knew;
And the good neighbors who always joint to help the dead to final rest,
Why should they weep for what is second-hand sorrow to them?
I could have wept, but thought: why weep for so small a death?
And thus, we all mourned, as men must at death,
According to custom, resting foreheads in our hands.
Finally we lifted you, a small burden, from that sad house;
We walked a little, turned the corner toward the burning grounds
And there she was, your little friend, at the window.
She looked intently, watching your new game:
To Climb up like that and sleep on grown-ups shoulders:
We, the mournful, paying no attention moved on, Suddenly it dawned upon your friend;
This cruel game - your grim departure: She cried her lament aloud.
She moaned, the only one in the world to feel your loss.
And I who never meant to weep
could hardly hold my tears.

- Uma Shankar Joshi

(1) http://www.mkgandhi-sarvodaya.org/story.htm
(2) http://timesofindia.indiatimes.com/india/A-million-mutinies-now/articleshow/6308883.cms
(4) http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/world-europe-jersey-10760402
(5) http://www.statesassembly.co.uk/documents/reports/27881-37143-522008.htm

Monday, 30 August 2010

Incentivised Sterilisation? The New Eugenics.

"A view from within" (although one might be tempted to ask within what dark hole) has recently published a post which seeks to deal seriously with the matter of child abuse. To read it, one gets the picture that society is absolutely rife with dysfunctional families.

There are 15 year old girls that deliberately get pregnant so that they can get themselves housed by either the housing trusts or the Housing department. They drink and smoke to excess during the pregnancy. Many of these girls cannot cope then with being mothers because they do not have the skills needed. Some babies suffer from fetal alcohol syndrome, the baby suffers health issues because the mother smokes, does not know how to cook and all food comes out of an Iceland box, how to keep a place clean, how to use a washing machine and these girls remain dependent on Income Support for years and years because they keep having babies. This is child abuse big time. However, it is accepted in our society and therefore nothing is done about it. What of the fathers, these sperm donors, these pillars of Jersey society that produce four different children by four different mothers? They are easy to spot in town. Many of them wear the hoodie uniform, most of them smoke and drink heavily, many are unemployable and a great many share one
common boast.

Having painted a picture reminiscent in a fashion worthy of Hieronymus Bosch, the same blogger goes on to attack Social Services in a big way. I wonder if Deputy Ann Pryke would concur, and if she did, what she would have done about it? Perhaps the anoymous "view" should send her a copy of their critique by email? Of course, they'd then have to reveal themselves, and that wouldn't do!

Some Social Services people think there is some good in these parents and that they can be changed. We spend an absolute fortune on these Social Services people and the results are mixed. Social Services people do not have to live on the same estate or block of flats as these people. These are the people that kick off on housing estates and in blocks of flats that are a nightmare to live close to.

I also wonder why if fetal alcohol syndrome is such a major issue that it has never been the subject of comment in Hansard, and gets just one mention by Dr Rosemary Geller, the Medical Officer of Health in the 2007 Annual Report, when she wrote that (in general terms, with no specific statistics cited) that excessive alcohol could cause:

reproductive problems - in men, temporary erectile impotence and longer-term loss of potency, shrinking testes and penis and reduced sperm count. In women the menstrual cycle can be disrupted, it may increase the risk of miscarriage and can result in low birth-weight babies, birth defects and fetal alcohol syndrome.

The solution recommended from "the view from within" is contraception, which is offered at a price.

In the great State of Texas, they have come up with an incentive to slow down the rate of teenage pregnancies, especially among the Hispanic community. They offer the girls $1000 in cash to consent to a 5 year contraceptive injection. This States member wonders if it would be acceptable here, because one can hear now the howls about civil rights from one part of the Assembly. You are taking away their rights or you are interfering in the civil liberties. The test is this. Do not have a baby unless you are working, have some income and a partner that loves you.

A comment, apparently by the same writer, goes even further:

An incentivised sterilisation programme would save the tax paying public millions of pounds a year. These families are not going to generate offspring with greater aspirations than their recidivistic and unmotivated parents, so the State should take steps to reduce the burden at source. It might sound harsh, and I am not expounding sterilation[sic] to the exclusion of all procreation. Before all the tree-huggers and human rights exponents start gnashing teeth I am not promoting a eugenics programme, merely a means of offering choices to those who make a connection of more offspring equalling more money.

This has not just happened in Texas, it happened in India, in 1966 when the Indian government bowed to pressure from the Ford Foundation, the UN and the World Bank and unveiled a program of cash incentives people who agreed to be sterilized or inserted with an IUD. The Kahnna study demonstrated that after five years, the birth rate of those provided with contraceptives was higher than that of the control group. It was also noted that more boys were being born than girls. Clearly, poor women were using the incentives as a means, not of family planning in a Western sense, but for planning to discriminate against females being born, and taking up on the offer to limit families after they had enough male children. As one report noted this further increased the marginalization of poor women, and led to a result which the planners had not indented - continuance of high fertility combined with sex-specific mortality in order to have more sons, a factor which also plays out with abortion statistics.

There is also Project Prevention, a North Carolina charity that gives cash payments to drug addicts who undergo sterilization or start on long-term birth control, which is opening a "U.K. Chapter".

In fact, despite what "a view from within" suggests, it is essentially a form of eugenics. Although it appears to be non-coercive, if you are offering money, it's coercion for those who need money, trading off their human rights against their economic status. In a situation of poverty and deprivation, this may seem like a good trade-off, but it is a form of coercion, none the less. As one of the critics of Project Prevention has noted:

In the C.R.A.C.K. sterilization program, women are improperly coerced by cash incentives during a time in their lives when they are addicted to drugs and therefore clearly vulnerable. Consent obtained through cash coercion does not constitute voluntary or informed consent. Consequently, C.R.A.C.K.'s program is not only unethical but may be illegal in so far as it has decimated the foundation for informed consent.

Another criticism is that this is little different from cash incentives for the sake of organs:

At its core, this program invites people to sell their reproductive capacity, and that like the sale of organs, sex, and children, selling the ability to reproduce should be outlawed as a matter of public policy.

In an article in the Journal of Law in Society, Lynn Paltrow notes that:

Instead of research, legitimate data, and honest inquiries, C.R.A.C.K. too often presents anecdotes, false information and horrific images of bad women who not only do not deserve to have children, but also do not deserve any form of compassion or support. As Assata Zerai and Rae Banks argue, this kind of "dehumanizing discourse" has a significant influence on public policy responses

I'll let the reader decide how far the "view from within" presents a dehumanizing discouse.

Even if we ignore this, there are considerable practical difficulties. How are applicants for the scheme considered? Is it just cash, no questions asked, and available to all women? Can the taxpayer afford the cost of many women opting for this as a cheap alternative to having to pay for their own contraception? If it was only for five years, there could be a considerable take-up. But if there is discrimination, apart from cash, isn't this a kind of eugenic programme, limiting the breeding of an underclass in society? Would the medical profession agree to conduct this, and see it as a "free choice"?

And finally, would politicians be prepared to face a backlash from their own Churches? The blog asks for people to report any cases to Jackie Hilton, Kevin Lewis, Jim Perchard, Ben Shenton, Graeme Butcher, Terry Le Main, Sean Power, Eddie Noel and Anne Pryke. Of those, Ben Shenton and Sean Power (along with Senator Terry Le Sueur) would almost certainly endorse the Catholic Church's teaching against contraception. Whether one agrees with the Catholic church on that or not, I am not sure that the politicians in question would like to be associated with or supported in their efforts against "ruinously bad parents" by a blog that advocates "incentivised sterilisation" and presents it in such simplistic terms, providing a stereotyped scapegoat for societies ills, in the "bad parent".

It is easy to look for scapegoats, as the history of the last thousand years shows only too well, and to pin the blame for all kinds of social factors on them. This particular kind of scapegoating has a kind of class determinism to it, the underclass of bad parents and "feral children" must be restricted from breeding, or they will produce more of the same. It may justify itself as non-coercive because it offers cash inventives, but the intention is virtually the same as that given by Oliver Wendell Holmes.

It is better for all the world, if instead of waiting to execute degenerate offspring for crime, or to let them starve for their imbecility, society can prevent those who are manifestly unfit from continuing their kind.


Sunday, 29 August 2010

Le Main Law

Terry Le Main said...

I continue to see quite ridiculous payments of taxpayers monies to cases that quite honestly would make you quite ill..especially if you are a hard working ordinary Jersey resident...paying your taxes etc...its something that this awful " Data Protection legislation " precludes me from disclosing cases...one recent case I queried...the response from the Minister...I cannot speak to you because of Data Protection, nothing but an excuse ...years ago the likes of the then Senator Dick Shenton and I could discuss issues with family etc...not now..those commonsense days are gone...please let me give you a case when I was Housing Minister... a lady came home to see me ..she said I have come to thank you for the way and manner that you are helping and assisting my daughter and grandchild....I knew this lady and her daughter...I listened to this lady but after she had left I then realised the position with her daughter was that during that week I had signed a Ministerial decision to evict the daughter because she refused to comply with her tenancy agreement, did not pay her rent, yet received rental assistance...well what do you think this good lady thought of me when she found out about the eviction...she knew nothing about her daughters behaviour...the true position was that in the past prior to this " Data Protection Legislation " the Dick Shentons and Terry le Mains of this world would have been able to assist by going to the mother, telling her the issues with her daughter and all of us together assisting to resolve the daughters problems thus allowing her to remain housed...but although this legislation protects peoples personal and intimate information, it just goes too far when in this case we really could have assisted this poor girl...in fact because she had not given permission she was evicted...everybody was a loser..it is a joke that in an Island of 90k people we are spending £86M on benefits...yes far too many claimants are in fact playing the system and many local GP's have a lot to answer for in the way and manner that they give out " medical certificates" i have several very bad cases that I am unable to investigate etc...due to this legislation etc..(1)

There is a posting on another blog which I reproduce above which allegedly comes from Senator Terry Le Main. I say allegedly, because although it comes in his style, it is of course easy to impersonate another individual on a blog. However, stylistically, the " steam of consciousness" in which the thoughts flow freely without reference to punctuation apart from a characteristic repetition of three fullstops, are the same as those of the Senator, and the content certainly referred to a case in which Terry Le Main was in breach of the Data Protection Laws.

What becomes clear upon reading this entry and indeed his defiance of a previous breach of the law is that he simply cannot understand how the law works, how as Housing president and then as Housing Minister he was in a position of privilege, and why there are a very good reasons for Data Protection Law. The case referred to occurred in 2004, and was more serious because it was the second time in which the law had been broken. It was reported in the Jersey Evening Post as follows:

A STATES tenant whose rent arrears were disclosed by the Housing president will be eligible for compensation from the committee. If she does claim it, it will be the second time they have had to pay out for breaching the Data Protection Law. Data Protection Registrar Michael Smith is on the verge of issuing another enforcement order on the Housing Committee because the president had acted 'knowingly and recklessly' when Deputy Terry Le Main released the details. His decision comes despite the Attorney General's decision not to prosecute the committee for the infraction. Mr Smith has also decided to publish his report into the tenant's complaint on his website. The complaint was made almost 12 months ago after Deputy Le Main contacted the mother of a States tenant, claiming that she had abandoned her accommodation in a 'terrible' state and that he had concerns for the welfare of her grandchildren. Mr Smith told the JEP: "As an enforcement notice was issued in the previous case, this second breach could be deemed as being knowing and reckless under the law and therefore justified a further review by the Attorney General for a possible offence." He says that the committee's previous infraction means that "mitigation may be difficult to uphold in this case" (2)

The case in point was curious as far as evidence was concerned because while Deputy Le Main (as he was then) was handing out photographs displaying the appalling state that the property had been left in, Deputy Southern was producing photographs of the same property after the tenant had tidied up and redecorated. Moreover, Deputy Southern had a contrary report from the Children's Service which said that there was no evidence that the woman or her children had lived in it in the state depicted by Senator Le Main and which found his worst claims "unsubstantiated".

Before I go on to examine this in more detail, I would mention that the first case in which the Data Protection Law was breached by Terry Le Main, in his capacity as Housing president was when he released of the tenant in a letter to the JEP. In that instance, the committee were forced to pay her compensation. In this particular case, Mr Le Main was using the details of the rent as part of an argument against criticism that he had faced on rents in State Housing, and to prove his point, he had cited a singular example giving the rent details and the name of the tenant. As president of housing, he was in a privileged position of having confidential information. If a civil servant had disclosed that information to the public domain, they would certainly have been breaking their oath of office. As a politician, he was not bound by this, and that is where the Data Protection Law comes into play because it is designed to protect individual data from such cases as this. Without the law, any criticism of a Housing president could be met in this way, which can be seen as a form of political bullying -- if you dare to attack me, I will give out all sorts of details that I know about you to undermine your case regardless of the fact that this is privileged information.

With the second breach of the Data Protection Law, we have the cosy uncle Terry meeting the family and sorting out all their problems. This scenario, iddylic though it sounds, could still take place. All that Terry would have needed to do to comply with the law would have been to ask the daughter if he could put her mother in the picture and try to work out a resolution. The critical factor is asking the daughter. Without that, the cosy scenario might in fact have worked very differently.

We can see this in play very well in fiction, because that often draws upon the way things were done. In a number of episodes of "Upstairs Downstairs", for example, the erring daughter or the straying son would have matters sorted out by the father, Richard Bellamy, and the family lawyer, and also possibly the mother. They would take it upon themselves to decide what was best for the daughter or the son, and put pressure upon the said child to agree to this. On watching this, I am often struck by how often the values of the parents and professionals feed into their idea of "what was best", and how as a viewer coming from outside, and not sharing all the Edwardian values, the resolution often seems unjust, calculated to preserve appearances, and an exercise of power by those in positions of power to bully others into agreeing with their opinions. This is easy to see because the programme is a period drama, and the society and values which it depicts clearly differ in some marked respects (about preserving appearances and public decorum) from those of the late 20th century and 21st century.

In the case of the second breach of data protection, Mr Le Main presents himself as the champion of the girls best interests in disclosing privileged information to her mother. But as we have seen, the evidence upon which he set so much store was certainly at least disputable if not incorrect. By giving this information to the girl's mother, we can see the same kind of scenario about " what is best" being played out, which was why the girl's consent or so important. Of course, we have no idea of how good the relationship between the girl and her mother was, and neither did Mr Le Main. He was therefore revealing confidential information which might have led to a breakdown of that relationship, or if there was a damaged relationship, something that the mother could complain about to her daughter. In deciding to play the part of the benign and kindly politician, Terry Le Main could in effect be tossing a psychological hand grenade into the room.

In fact he also did more than this, he also named her in an e-mail to States members as "not a fit person to be looking after children". And yet it is clear from Deputy Southern's report from the children's service that this was that this was not the case or at the very least was questionable. Was she guilty of cruelty to children? Had she neglected then? Senator Le Main seems to have cited very little in the way of substantial evidence to support his case apart from the debatable condition of the house and yet he felt free, without getting any checks from the children's service - which would be the first place to support his assessment of the girl - to shred her reputation as a parent toward the States members. If the Data Protection Law does anything, it must be to prevent lone individuals, with no substantial evidence, making defamatory claims. It is ironic that Senator Le Main criticises Stuart Syvret for doing precisely this, and yet seems to feel that he is completely immune from the due process of the law himself.

The Attorney-General, giving a generous interpretation of his evidential rule decided that even if this was the second offence, there was not a substantial case to answer. One can only hope that Stuart Syvret will benefit from this lax approach when he is tried on similar breaches.

The fact is were these. Deputy Le Main had broken the Data Protection Law. The Deputy Registrar had written a report and recommended prosecution. The report showed that personal data of a data subject which was the privileged knowledge of the Deputy in his capacity as P
President of Housing had been disclosed to another party without consent. Had it been a matter regarding the electoral law and assisting people with the completion of applications to allow them to receive postal votes, such evidence would have produced a heavy fine, as indeed it did in the case of Deputies Southern and Pitman. In this case further, a further investigation was requested and the Attorney General decided, on the basis of this information, which was not placed in the public domain, that there was insufficient evidence for a prosecution. The Attorney General also declined to make clear his grounds for making this decision as it would involve "disclosing material parts of the evidence" and would lead to public controversy.

"Having considered the report, I referred it to the Chief Officer of the States police in order that a full investigation might be carried out and evidence gathered in a form which could be used, if a prosecution were to be brought. I received a full file of that investigation later last year and resolved that no prosecution would be brought, as there was insufficient evidence to justify doing so. Deputy Le Main claimed that the data protection registrar had not properly considered the evidence before reaching his conclusions. 'He wrongly listened to one side of the story'"

I can only assume that this report by the Jersey Evening Post is incomplete in some respects as it seems, in my opinion, to make no sense at all. Whether a decision to prosecute an individual would lead to public controversy seems a bizarre ground for not doing so. And one wonders what the other side of the story could have been. Either the girl in question had given her consent or otherwise placed information about her rent in the public domain, or Deputy Le Main was not himself responsible for breaching the law, or perhaps had done so accidentally. There is no evidence whatsoever that the first is correct, and the attitude of Deputy Le Main suggests that this was a deliberate act. The only one side of the story that is not clear is whether Deputy Le Main understood the Data Protection Law. The grounds would therefore seem to be that while ignorance of the law excuses no one, incomprehension of the law excuses politicians.

As one might expect, Terry came forward with his traditional defiance:

HOUSING president Deputy Terry Le Main has defiantly said he would 'do the same again' after he was told that he would not be prosecuted for breaking the Data Protection Law.(3)

Of course, Senator Le Main has recently come under fire for misguidedly sending a letter of support in defence of an individual being prosecuted for breach of housing regulations as something he happened to believe was wrong and should receive more lenient sentence. He said that he would have behaved the same way for any of his constituents that the individual in question was merely a business acquaintance and not a friend with whom he would have socialised. The fact that this business acquaintance had helped his political campaign costs for many years did not seem to suggest to him that perhaps it was not the wisest thing to pitch in to the defence of someone with whom he had a close political connection, and in respect of the law that the Minister was responsible for upholding. Senator Le Sueur took the view that it was a case of his heart getting the better of his head and that, while Senator Le Main resigned, provided he accepted that he had breached the State's code of conduct, he could become a Minister once more; all he needed was a little better "education" in the code. This was beautifully summed up by Ben Queree, in one of the best appreciations of how Teflon like Terry Le Main was with respect to the kind of behaviour that might have led to a political graveyard for any other politician.

SO that's sorted then. In case anyone was in any doubt, it's essentially fine for a minister to pester the Law Officers to drop a prosecution against someone who has donated to his campaign costs for decades, and then to plead with the Royal Court to go easy when it comes to sentencing. And if this campaign contributor - not 'friend', dear me no - happens to have been caught breaking the law that the politician is meant to enforce as a minister, that's not a big deal either. These things are good to know. And it's probably good to know too that 'essentially fine' means that the rules were broken, but that it doesn't really matter - that the whole thing can be dealt with by a little 'training and education'. Try that one out next time you get a parking fine. Exactly what kind of 'training and education' Chief Minister Terry Le Sueur has in mind for his erstwhile Housing Minister Terry Le Main was left tantalisingly hanging in the report, released last week, into the whole sordid mess. Pointing out that the code of conduct exists might be a start. Or perhaps a slide show of some kind, or maybe using glove puppets to represent the distinction between the executive and judicial branches of government. Or possibly just sitting down in a little room while someone reads the ministerial code of conduct out loud. Very . slowly.'(4)

Just as with the Data Protection Law, Senator Le Main's stance was to say that he had done nothing wrong and was entirely justified in his actions. One has to conclude therefore, that he has shown no contrition, no appreciation that he has behaved in any manner that is inappropriate for a States member under the State's code of conduct, and no recognition that Senator Le Sueur's dropping of the matter and not bringing any disciplinary measures was conditional upon him not doing it again. Instead, what we have is self-justification, complete confidence in his own rightness, and nostalgia for a fairytale past in which he could resolve matters by bypassing all the protections against defamation and political bullying, but which were never quite as rosy tinted as the portrait he paints.

I look with interest to his election campaign, should he decide to stand for election next year. It would be extremely interesting to see a pamphlet consisting of the un-punctuated "Thoughts of Chairman Terry", and what the public would make if that was unleashed upon them in an expurgated form. I wonder if it will still be printed by the same publisher that he went to great lengths to disassociate himself from, and who probably not just printed but also edited the final version of the manifesto into something resembling English far better. I personally believe that while laws must be unjust, politicians must have extremely good grounds of conscience for breaking them with such impunity and he should certainly be asked if he would still be prepared as he stated in 2004 to break the law again.

And finally, I would just like to comment, that despite my strictures against Senator Le Main regarding his infractions and contempt for laws, he has undoubtably helped a number of Islanders, particularly in his earlier days in the States, and without breaking any laws (or even breaking future laws that would have been broken had they been on the statute books). I know personally some of the people whom he helped as a States member, and it was disinterestly, in the best kind of public service. He was one of the members voting for a women's refuge, and certainly his past votes from the 1980s show a record for social concern (I simply have not examined the 1990s or later). It just seems a shame that he should now spoil his own record by a belligerent defiance of laws and codes of conduct, and behave in a manner which he sees fit to ignore these when it suits him, or not ask for advice from his colleagues when it would be prudent to do so.

(1) http://thehautdelagarennefarce.blogspot.com/2010/08/child-abuse-some-real-issues-in-jersey.html
(2) http://www.thisisjersey.com/2004/01/29/data-protection-housing-may-have-to-pay-out/
(3) http://www.thisisjersey.com/2004/02/04/gloves-are-off-in-feud-over-damage-to-house/
(4) http://www.thisisjersey.com/2010/07/27/will-senator-le-mains-training-and-education-involve-a-slide-show-or-mayby-glove-puppets/#ixzz0xwcG6nbb

Saturday, 28 August 2010

Drawing Down Mars

Drawing Down Mars

In ancient times, the long banner blew
In the wind, drumbeats heavy, grew
And on Badon Hill, in wintry grass,
Armies took a stand, and not let pass
The enemy. Here is the clarion call,
Here comes Mars, in firestorm fall;
The snap of bows, cheers, and hail
Of arrows, penetrating chain mail;
The marching song, take up the cry;
Here is combat, breathless sigh;
Here is iron, cold orb descending,
The long struggle now enduring;
O Malacandra, your red star in sight,
Keep back the demons of the night,
Come down, like eagles in a sky
Falling fast, with watchful eye;
Where there is injustice, fight
Keep the faith, maintain the light.

Friday, 27 August 2010

Nine Needles

In the absence of my writing anything News from Nowhere, while the States are on holiday, another minor masterpiece by James Thurber to enjoy. James Grover Thurber (1894 - 1961) was an American author, cartoonist and celebrated humorist, best known for "The Secret Life of Walter Mitty". In this short story, he describes the dangers of bathroom medicine cabinets. Have you ever opened yours and had the contents spill out? I suspect you wouldn't have been quite as unlucky as Mr Thurber...

Nine Needles
One of the more spectacular minor happenings of the past few years which I am sorry that I missed took place in the Columbus, Ohio, home of some friends of a friend of mine. It seems that a Mr Albatross,  while looking for something in his medicine cabinet one morning, discovered a bottle of a kind of patent medicine which his wife had been taking for a stomach ailment. Now, Mr Albatross is one of those apprehensive men who are afraid of patent medicines and of almost everything else. Some weeks before, he had encountered a paragraph in a Consumers' Research bulletin which announced that this particular medicine was bad for you. He had thereupon ordered his wife to throw out what was left of her supply of the stuff and never buy any more. She had promised, and here now was another bottle of the perilous liquid. Mr Albatross, a man given to quick rages, shouted the conclusion of the story at my friend: `I threw the bottle out of the bathroom window and the medicine chest after it!' It seems to me that must have been a spectacle worth going a long way to see.
I am sure that many a husband has wanted to wrench the family medicine cabinet off the wall and throw it out of the window, if only because the average medicine cabinet is so filled with mysterious bottles and unidentifiable objects of all kinds that it is a source of constant bewilderment and exasperation to the American male. Surely the British medicine cabinet and the French medicine cabinet and all the other medicine cabinets must be simpler and better ordered than ours. It may be that the American habit of saving everything and never throwing anything away, even empty bottles, causes the domestic medicine cabinet to become as cluttered in its small way as the American attic becomes cluttered in its major way. I have encountered few medicine cabinets in this country which were not pack-jammed with something between a hundred and fifty and two hundred different items, from dental floss to boracic acid, from razor blades to sodium perborate, from adhesive tape to coconut oil. Even the neatest wife will put off clearing out the medicine cabinet on the ground that she has something else to do that is more important at the moment, or more diverting. It was in the apartment of such a wife and her husband that I became enormously involved with a medicine cabinet one morning not long ago.
I had spent the week-end with this couple - they live on East Tenth Street near Fifth Avenue - such a week-end as left me reluctant to rise up on Monday morning with bright and shining face and go to work. They got up and went to work, but I didn't. I didn't get up until about two-thirty in the afternoon.
I had my face all lathered for shaving and the washbowl was full of hot water when suddenly I cut myself with the razor. I cut my ear. Very few men cut their ears with razors, but I do, possibly because I was taught the old Spencerian free-wrist movement by my writing teacher in the grammar grades. The ear bleeds rather profusely when cut with a razor and is difficult to get at.
More angry than hurt, I jerked open the door of the medicine cabinet to see if I could find a styptic pencil and out fell, from the top shelf, a little black paper packet containing nine needles. It seems that this wife kept a little paper packet containing nine needles on the top shelf of the medicine cabinet. The packet fell into the soapy water of the wash-bowl, where the paper rapidly disintegrated, leaving nine needles at large in the bowl. I was, naturally enough, not in the best condition, either physical or mental, to recover nine needles from a wash-bowl. No gentleman who has lather on his face and whose ear is bleeding is in the best condition for anything, even something involving the handling of nine large blunt objects.
It did not seem wise to me to pull the plug out of the wash-bowl and let the needles go down the drain. I had visions of clogging up the plumbing system of the house, and also a vague fear of causing short circuits somehow or other (I know very little about electricity and I don't want to have it explained to me). Finally, I groped very gently around the bowl and eventually had four of the needles in the palm of one hand and three in the palm of the other - two I couldn't find. If I had thought quickly and clearly, I wouldn't have done that. A lathered man whose ear is bleeding and who has four wet needles in one hand and three in the other may be said to have reached the lowest known point of human efficiency. There is nothing he can do but stand there. I tried transferring the needles in my left hand to the palm of my right hand, but I couldn't get them off my left hand. Wet needles cling to you. In the end, I wiped the needles off on to a bath-towel which was hanging on a rod above the bath-tub. It was the only towel that I could find. I had to dry my hands afterwards on the bath-mat. Then I tried to find the needles in the towel. Hunting for seven needles in a bath-towel is the most tedious occupation I have ever engaged in.
I could find only five of them. With the two that had been left in the bowl, that meant there were four needles in all missing - two in the wash-bowl and two others lurking in the towel or lying in the bath-tub under the towel. Frightful thoughts came to me of what might happen to anyone who used that towel or washed his face in the bowl or got into the tub, if I didn't find the missing needles. Well, I didn't find them. I sat down on the edge of the tub to think, and I decided finally that the only thing to do was wrap up the towel in a newspaper and take it away with me. I also decided to leave a note for my friends explaining as clearly as I could that I was afraid there were two needles in the bath-tub and two needles in the wash-bowl, and that they better be careful.
I looked everywhere in the apartment, but I could not find a pencil, or a pen, or a typewriter. I could find pieces of paper, but nothing with which to write on them. I don't know what gave me the idea - a movie I had seen, perhaps, or a story I had read - but I suddenly thought of writing a message with a lipstick. The wife might have an extra lipstick lying around and, if so, I concluded it would be in the medicine cabinet. I went hack to the medicine cabinet and began poking around in it for a lipstick. I saw what I thought looked like the metal tip of one, and I got two fingers around it and began to pull gently - it was under a lot of things. Every object in the medicine cabinet began to slide.
Bottles broke in the wash-bowl and on the floor; red, brown, and white liquids spurted; nail files, scissors, razor blades, and miscellaneous objects sang and clattered and tinkled. I was covered with perfume, peroxide, and cold cream. It took me half an hour to get the debris all together in the middle of the bathroom floor. I made no attempt to put anything back in the medicine cabinet. I knew it would take a steadier hand than mine and a less shattered spirit. Before I went away (only partly shaved) and abandoned the shambles, I left a note saying that I was afraid there were needles in the bath-tub and the  wash-bowl and that I had taken their towel and that I would call up and tell them everything - I wrote it in iodine with the end of a toothbrush. I have not yet called up, I am sorry to say. I have neither found the courage nor thought up the words to explain what happened. I suppose my friends believe that I deliberately smashed up their bathroom and stole their towel. I don't know for sure, because they have not yet called me up, either.

Thursday, 26 August 2010

They went to sea in a Sieve

They went to sea in a Sieve, they did,
In a Sieve they went to sea:
In spite of all their friends could say,
On a winter's morn, on a stormy day,
In a Sieve they went to sea!

(Edward Lear)

A lot of ink has been spilled writing and commenting on the investigations into Haut de La Garenne. I had resolved not to write on the subject again, unless I had something new to comment. It is not that I have lost interest; it is simply that there is no point doing a "groundhog" day, as Senator Le Marquand out it, and going over old ground. [Incidentally, there could be a different moral to be taken from that film, for it is only after he has learned something important about himself from the endless repeated time that Bill Murray eventually finds his way out.]

So the different matters that I want to examine here are (1) when did leaks to the public domain begin? (2) why was Wiltshire released so precipitously, when it was patently obvious that it had been given such a rough redaction, and a less redacted copy was promised later?

With regard to the release of documents such as the Wiltshire report, Senator Ian Le Marquand has given as a justification that the supporters of suspended chief of police Graham Power had already leaked a lot of material to the public domain supporting Mr Powers case. However if you go back to 4 October 2009, which is long before either the ACPO reports, the minutes of the suspension review meetings or even Lenny Harper's guest posting one month later [on Stuart Syvret's blog], there was an article in the Daily Mail entitled "Bungled Jersey child abuse probe branded a '£20 million shambles", in which it was noted that:

"A leaked report by financial auditors into the investigation shows Grime received £750 a day for the first seven days' work his dog did and £650 a day for 136 days thereafter."

So one of the first leaks clearly came not from the supporters of Graham Power but from those who criticised him. Where did this leak originate? It either came from the financial auditors themselves, or from someone in government who had seen the report, and I would suggest the balance of probabilities would favour the latter. It is very much like the position as portrayed in "Yes, Minister" that the ship of state is the only ship which leaks from the top. No one seems to be that bothered by the fact that confidentiality was being broken by someone who must have been in a fairly senior position. The Minister? The Chief Advisor, Bill Ogley? Someone else?

I suspect that we never will find out who leaked this report but the fact that it predated leaks from Mr Power's supporters demonstrates that the process of putting information into the public domain did not, as Senator Le Marquand suggests (and very probably believes), start with Mr Power's supporters. What they did and where that differs from the Daily Mail was to disseminate wholly complete primary source documents, of which there are, unfortunately, a scarcity.

Hacker: They'd have to have another leak enquiry.
Bernard: Will they really set up an enquiry?
Hacker: Bound to.
Bernard: Won't that be embarrassing?
Hacker: No, no, no. That's what leak enquiries are for. Setting up... They never report. If the culprit is a civil servant, it'd be unfair to publish. Politicians take the rap. If it's a politician, you can't publish or he'll disclose other leaks by his colleagues.
(Yes Minister, The Bed of Nails)

However, there is some good news on the way for historians - in that more of the Wiltshire report will see the light of day. A second redacted version with considerably more material has been promised by the end of September 2010, as well as a version of PDF files that is searchable. As even what is there in the "cut price" version jumps about in a sometimes quite at hazard manner, it will be useful for tying up the various chronologies.

It is questionable, however, why the first severe redaction was released in the first place, when something much more detailed was possible. Senator Le Marquand has stated (this is one version, but they all use much the same words):

It was imperative that I inform States members and the general public of the conclusions of these four reports as soon as possible. What was produced was the best which could be achieved within the short period of time available for the redaction process.

With the greatest of respect to the Senator, this begs the question of why it should be deemed "imperative" to release the information as soon as possible in such an incomplete form. The passive voice conceals the active motive, and is well known as a literary device for ambiguity and hedging. But I can think of two good reasons - even though they are not stated explicitly by the Senator.

The first is that the disciplinary process had collapsed because of a lack of time and given Mr Power's statement on the matter, the release of these parts of the Wiltshire report would effectively put the lid on the matter at least as far as the general public were concerned. This certainly seems to have been the case because apart from some members of the blogging community the matter has sunk without trace.

The public are notoriously fickle with regard to news stories, and journalists based in Jersey and in the UK always chase the latest story. At the present, the focus is very much on the floods in Pakistan in the national media, and Haiti, although still struggling severely with the problems of the earthquake is now no longer newsworthy. The only newsworthy item locally regarding Graham Power is the report from Brian Napier, hugely delayed, and when that is released, we can expect to see the matter appear, albeit briefly, in the public media. Being a professional cynic in these matters, I cannot help feeling that the Napier report will play like a provincial version of the Hutton report and leave the critics dissatisfied.

The second is that the appointment of David Warcup had been shifting further and further into the future, partly because it was clear that a letter from Mr Warcup was instrumental in initiating the process which led to Mr Power being suspended. It was therefore necessary to show States members the outcome of the Wiltshire report as a means of showing that Mr Warcup's actions had been justified. Indeed Senator Le Marquand had stated that he wanted to place as much information as possible before the States prior to that debate.

With the lack of information, a question mark hung over Mr Warcup, and the appointment debate had now shifted to September and the new session of the States. It was therefore critical to release the information before the summer recess, however rushed and redacted that version might have been, because it meant that States members would be ready for the debate in September. This second reason for the release of Wiltshire being " imperative" collapsed of course when Mr Warcup decided to hand in his own resignation for the end of the year. But at the time of release, Senator Le Marquand, not being clairvoyant, had no idea this was going to happen, and it would have been eminently rational to release as much of the report as he could even if it had been severely butchered; otherwise, he would have faced a difficult debate in September.

What is certainly the case is that Senator Le Marquand wishes to move on to the appointment of a new Chief of Police and leave behind what he regards as a matter which has now become a waste of time, regarding its consumption of States time and resources well beyond its significance.

Whether he will be successful in that respect is another matter. In England, yet another enquiry into Iraq war is taking place as well as further controversy over the death of Dr David Kelly. Some matters do not go away, but in the small backwater of Jersey where limited points of view received Islandwide coverage there is a strong likelihood that the whole question of the suspension will fade away.

The only way in which it would probably receive greater publicity would be any actions taken by Graham Power or Lenny Harper, either by legal challenge or by writing their own version of the events in which they played a part. It is also very likely that if the matter was featured in any memoir by Dr Brain, it would certainly be most critical of the handling of the suspension process, as indeed Dr Brain was at the time, I think justifiably.

But none of that is on the agenda at the moment, so I suspect that the JEP / Wiltshire version of history will remain, for the time being, the one most commonly perceived by the general public as "the truth". That's not to say that it may not contain elements that are true, but a proper history would also try to assess how much weight to give different sources, and why, and state where ambiguity still remains.

The deepest, the only theme of human history, compared to which all others are of subordinate importance, is the conflict of skepticism with faith. (Goethe)

Wednesday, 25 August 2010

There is a place for a Community Party

Ed Le Quesne's Letter in the JEP did not appear in the online edition, so here is a copy. He makes some excellent points. The move by Alan Breckon to adjust the Ministerial / Scrutiny oppositional setup in favour of a broader base for Departments (with the added advantage of providing apprentiships for more members in how the departments work) is also a good one, and may go some way towards the kind of wider consensus thinking that we badly need in the States.

I often think that if States members discussed matters before debates, the debates could be shorter, because if they had points to make, they would have to sharpen and improve them, and perhaps even reach compromises before that was reached. Instead, we have people making speeches, leaving the States Chamber while other members make their often over lengthy speeches, and returning for the vote. What is the point of all that, if no one is listening to any arguments made?

Children with autism in mainstream schools are unable to understand social cues, and have sessions of "circle time", when they learn the skills they lack, of talking in turn, and listening well to what the other person is saying, not just waiting to speak again and "talk at" the other person, but respond to what they have said. I think that going by the times the States is inquorate, that States members badly need to learn these interpersonal skills too.

There is a place for a Community Party by Ed Le Quesne

The news about members of the Jersey Democratic Alliance resigning (JEP, 19 August) made me think about the need for a centre grouping in Jersey that builds on Jersey's community spirit, as shown by events like the Battle of Flowers. The advert last week by Small Society, with their heavy emphasis on cuts, makes this more urgent. They are well named. Their numbers are small, though their voices are loud.

I believe there is a place for a political grouping in Jersey, perhaps called the Jersey Community Party. Its strapline could be Put People First. The Constables, as community leaders in their parishes, would be natural members, as would the large numbers who do voluntary work in Jersey.

This party would welcome facilities such as the Town Park as essential community facilities and not need ten years and a random ring binder's intervention to achieve it. It would put plans for 16 more buildings and a tunnel on the Waterfront in the bin and ask how far the demands of finance should distort our development.

It would back the recent plans of the new Housing Minister to make affordable housing a top priority for our community.

It would speedily enact measures on population control that have already been proposed. Similarly, it would not hold back on enacting antidiscrimination already agreed.

It would collect a fair rate of tax from each business with a base in Jersey and not allow arcane rules to allow many businesses active in Jersey to make no contribution to States revenue.

It would speak out against those who query total States spending as a bad thing in itself. In fact, investment by the States has built many of the facilities we enjoy today and there are still other investments to be made, though it would support Philip Ozouf's spending review. Some activities do need review.

It would see support for those in need, young families and young people looking for work, those with chronic illnesses, etc, as a sign of a caring community, not a wasteful expenditure.

It would make its case politely and listen to opposing views, recognising that all are thinking about what is best for the people of Jersey and all are aware that we have responsibilities as well as rights.

I hope there are enough States members who will follow the above agenda and oppose the Small Society view.

Tuesday, 24 August 2010

Annie on Maslow

By way of contrast, as these musings tend to be, some psychotherapy. This time, a few notes, with some autobiographical comments, from my late partner, Annie Parmeter. She discussed Maslow in her class, and also with me.

The idea that the evolution of life was counter to entropy, which she begins with, was partly due to her reading of M. Scott Peck's "The Road Less Travelled", when he came out with very much that idea. It was one of the few areas that we disagreed, because while the emergence of life, and the increasing complexity of life on earth seems to run counter to the Second Law of Thermodynamics, it only does so if one assumes the earth is a closed system. But it isn't, of course, getting energy into the biosphere from the sun, all the time, and it is the sun's energy which is the engine supplying energy for life on earth - and the sun is running down gradually, so that the whole system is increasing in entropy, regardless of localised areas where it appears to be reversed.

She was very good (and where I did agree with her) in seeing, as she explains here, how part of the apparently value-free "self-actualisation" of Maslow actually embodies cultural values from 20th century America, and it must be reinterpreted or adapted to other cultures.

I'd come across a similar problem arising in conjunction with even the seemingly "objective" IQ testing - it is clear that they often involved not just logic, as their proponents suggest, but also significant cultural biases. Even items such as "Fill an empty field on the left side with the correct picture from the right side" make assumptions about symmetries and regularities which are implicit. The test assumes that the result must come from symmetries in Euclidean geometry, and this has has some absolute Platonic "correctness" in the real world, which of course, it does not. Other considerations may enter into notions of "correctness", for example - in Turkey, prayer rugs, identifiable by a deliberate lack of symmetry (the "arrow" will always be lain in the direction of Mecca), continue to be one of the more beautiful categories of traditional Turkish rugs. The same occurs in Jewish culture, where one of the stylistic traits of Ancient Jewish art is an imperfect symmetry of design where in other cultural contexts a symmetrical pattern would be expected. A "correct" picture might be very unexpected after all!

Anyhow, here is Annie's interesting take on Maslow, and some reflective comments on life:

Refelections on Maslow by Annie Parmeter

This evening in class we revisited the work of Maslow and his idea of a hierarchy of needs, the idea of self-actualisation reflecting the popular needs and beliefs of the West coast of America in the 1950s and 60s, some focusing on the human potential of the idea, others applying the principle of self-actualisation to all life as countermanding the natural law of entropy.

The progressive system of needs outlined in Maslow's pyramid can be applied on many levels, right from an individual's addressing the fulfilment of these needs in the decision making process relating to a particular circumstance through consideration of personal development to a chronological 'lifecycle' interpretation of:

· Physiological needs being the primary concern of babies, the elderly, the sick and persons in crisis.
· Safety needs as pertaining to young children.
· Belonging needs applying to all but particularly teenagers seeking peer acceptance and finding their own social niche.
· Recognition needs relating to young adults.
· Self-actualisation needs being part of the human drive to 'create' and 'become'.

Some classmates perceived these needs as being the domain of the privileged few. I think that we all have these needs and the intelligence to find ways of fulfilling them in our daily lives, but the opportunity to address and implement them in particular ways may be the domain of the privileged few.

There are also cultural determinants involved for example our own 'western' value system may encourage a highly individualistic approach but other cultures may see that self-actualisation comes through contribution to the fulfilment of a family, tribal or other larger group need.

Personally I am in a very privileged position with regards being able to concentrate on what is important to me as I have no dependants or work commitments, the only thing that comes between me and my drive to self-actualise is chronic illness which can be an extremely demanding and unpredictable companion.

I see part of the purpose of my existence as being 'to seek out new life and new civilisations, to boldly go where no one has gone before'. I see no purpose in resistance to the inevitability of change; I welcome the opportunities and possibilities that it brings.

From amongst quite a complex layering of different patterns of attachment I have emerged with a sense of confidence in myself and in addition and perhaps as a consequence I have so far lived a most unusual and interesting life. What I do fear is injustice and men with guns.

As an only child forced to fall back on my own mental and emotional resources from the age of twelve I soon developed the need to form my own judgements of situations, and very soon realised that the view of the world that my parents had portrayed to me no longer existed in real life and quite possibly never had done.

Neither my own view nor that of my parents seemed to tie in with those of the people around me whose ideas seemed to me to be the stuff of fairytales, so I managed the situation as best I could by steering a middle path, on the one hand sticking to my own evaluations gleaned from day to day experiences but on the other presenting a sort of self-preserving collaboration so as to blend in 'undetected'. This charade diminished over the years, until now cantankerous and forty-something I scarcely have the patience to bother with it at all even for the sake of 'social niceties'.

I have made a commitment to be honest with myself, there are still plenty of things I catch myself trying to sweep under the carpet but I'm giving it my best shot. Other people frequently seem to find my honesty fairly scary!

On the subject of presenting my own views.hmm tricky. The last few years have seen me become less and less willing to form any concrete opinions let alone present them to others. Opinions seem to be limiting and bare little relevance to the shifting nature of reality, my boyfriend, a robust critical thinker sees this as a decline into the worst and woolliest sort of relativism. So. damned if you have an opinion and damned if you don't! Am I bovvered?

Taking responsibility for one's life? Quite keen on that as I'm not sure who else is going to do it (so speaks the abandoned owning-class child). I am also interested in taking my share of responsibility for my illness, which I have discussed with my consultant. He is taking care of the medical treatment plan, jointly we are setting goals and I am doing lifestyle choices, research, emotional and mental health and the fun bit.exploration of existential dilemmas.

Monday, 23 August 2010

An International Back Door?

I watched David Starkey's programme on TV on Saturday about the end of Elizabeth I's reign, when the Court, and special monopolies granted by the Court became corrupt, in what he said we knew very well from our own time by the word "sleaze". It was not that the monopolies were necessarily illegal, as they were granted by the Queen's Court, but the manner in which it was done that seemed to the Parliament of the day to be unethical.

It came to mind when I was reading "Private Eye" - the "In the City" section, which manages to feature Jersey once more in an article that makes some Jersey finance companies look "sleazy".

"We do pay all our taxes in Britain. I am a UK taxpayer, My wife is not a tax exile. My family do not live in the UK. It is somewhat different". So declared an increasingly irritated Sir Philip Green last week as he was quizzed on BBC Radio 4's Today programme about his suitability to advise the government on how to cut waste. The Topshop billionaire was keen to stress just how much tax he and his companies pay, if less keen to talk about how much was paid by his Monaco-based wife Lady Tina. Green pays UK tax on the £1 m-plus salary he gets for running the Arcadia Bhs empire while commuting every week from Monaco - an empire legally controlled by "Lady Christina Green and her immediate family"

Private Eye notes that by keeping Lady Green out of the U.K., and non-resident there, she is liable to the U.K. tax in the same way as her husband is, and this is perfectly legal:

Although there have been no dividends since the £1.2bn payment received in 2005, those offshore structures are a gift that keeps on giving. Last year, when Bhs was merged with the Arcadia group, the £201 million acquisition price tag was paid in loan notes to offshore companies that now receive an enviable 8 percent annually for the next 10 years. These contortions are all perfectly legal because they took place after Tina Green left the UK with her husband and then stayed away for five years to establish non-resident status.

While they are husband and wife, because they are taxed separately, and she is non-resident, this means a considerable sum of money is received by her (and presumably available and spendable by both of them) without having to pay any UK tax.

Totalling more than £422m, almost all those dividends.. went tax-free to his family accounts via companies in Jersey (Green's Global Textiles Investments is based there) and the British Virgin Islands. Had those dividends been paid to a UK-resident individual, the potential tax liability could have been up to £120m.

The takeover of BHS, which involved loan notes routed via offshore companies, also managed to save the Green's tax bill. Because of her status, and being the only director of the Jersey company, there is no tax liability, even though the control of the company is described as being both her "and her immediate family" - which presumably includes her husband.

The Arcadia takeover was executed through another Jersey-based vehicle, Taveta Investments, controlled by... yes, "CS Green and her immediate family". Tina Green is the only director of the Jersey-registered Taveta Ltd, which controlled the bid vehicle. In 2005 Taveta Investments paid a £1.3bn dividend, of which 92 percent - or just under £ 1.2bn - went to the Green family company in Jersey. Had this been paid to a UK-resident individual, the tax liability would have been up to £360m

When matters like these reach the attention of the public, however much good will is done by regulatory inspections of Jersey company affairs, and signing up to Tax Information Exchange Agreements, being on the OECD white list, the perception is that Jersey is a place which facilitates legal tax avoidance.

The perception that comes to light is that this may involve, as in the case of the Greens, a use of offshore company vehicles that while strictly legal and above board, may be of questionable morality, and taints the reputation of Jersey - at least as far as the British public are concerned. They see clever people exploiting a legitimate loophole which is simply unavailable for ordinary people and which to them, as with the writer in Private Eye, is clearly not fair.

There is a gap between what is seen as fair and what is counted legal, and if Jersey is to maintain its deservedly international reputation, it must show that it is taking steps to lessen that gap.

Sunday, 22 August 2010

In Praise of Farm Shops

This week we were told that officers were concerned that one particular farm shop in Grouville was selling too many non-local goods and that there was a danger that if all the others followed suit it would all get out of hand and the town shops would be left out of pocket. Well bless my soul. Poor old town shops. I suppose all those out-of-own Marks & Spencer outlets will be out of pocket, too. And maybe the Waitrose that is moving into the former Safeway site. Perhaps Checkers might be feeling the pinch, or Spar, or even the CI Co-op. Or - and this is pure speculation - perhaps Planning have been talking to Economic Development, who are so keen to bring in a 'third' supermarket company from somewhere or other, and they are trying to make sure that the farm shops are not providing too much direct competition.(Christine Herbert, JEP) (1)

I don't always find myself in agreement with Christine Herbert but reading her piece on farm shops in the JEP, I was inclined to agree that there appears to be a vendetta against farm shops on the basis that they don't only sell local produce. In particular, as we all know, Stanley Payn of Holme Grown seems to have been singled out as a case in point by the planning Department. While it is true that there are items on sale at Stanley Payn's farm shop which are not local and which make it more of a small shop selling general goods, there are two significant differences between that and both the smaller shops selling general goods as well as local produce and the supermarkets which also aim to sell local produce.

Smaller shops do not in general sell a great deal of local seasonal produce. I had been to Spar, for example, and there is an extremely small area for vegetables. A farm shop, whatever other goods it may sell, has a large area devoted to local produce with a considerable variety and choice. It may be merely my imagination, but the produce also looks considerably fresher -- I have myself been in a farm shop when a local farmer was stocking shelves with freshly dug new potatoes -- and you can't get fresher than that! Holme Grown also does its own bread and several farm shops also have small trailer shops which appear periodically to sell fresh fish. There is no way that you will find this all available in the local small village shops or town shop. Even the Co-op Locale, which has more fresh vegetables than some, still has a much more limited range. It's not their fault, they are not supplying that range, and people go to larger supermarkets or town markets - or farm shops - if they want it.

So let us look at the other place where one might find or expect to find a good variety of local produce. The large supermarkets in the island certainly stock quite a large amount of local produce and we are told by the BBC's economics reporter on BBC Radio Jersey in last week's morning programme that Safeway also make a point of stocking local produce. However there is a catch -- and this is called quality control. What does this mean?

Marketing to regional wholesalers or large chain store distribution centers requires consistent quality, often requires significant volumes, and in some cases, year-round supplies. These buyers often have specific and demanding requirements for product uniformity, types of containers, cooling, transportation, and delivery of fresh produce.(2)

The key factor in so-called quality control which cause supermarkets to reject some local produce is summed up in that little phrase " product uniformity". This means that potatoes have to be of a similar size, that the look and shape of carrots, green beans, and other vegetables is given an importance which is really beyond significance -- a good proportion of the food which does not meet the standards is nonetheless fresh, tasty, a nutritious -- it does just not meet what is an arbitrary aesthetic judgement. Supermarkets say that they're responding to what the customer wants, but to some degree they are also educating the customer into making an aesthetic judgement on the quality of food which makes no real sense at all. Not all supermarkets do this to the same degree, and some also provide containers of loose vegetables and potatoes from which the customer can make their own selection rather than being given the prepackaged washed "blemish free" containerised food.

Against this, most of the food in farm shops that is local is provided loose for the customer to select with no peculiar artificial selection on what is blemish free or not. One might call this the "That's Life" test, after the television programme presented by Esther Rantzen in which all manner of peculiar and sometimes quite rude looking vegetables made their way before the public's view. There is absolutely nothing wrong with vegetables that have an odd shape because nature does not produce straight bananas, potatoes of uniform size and roundness, and sober shaped carrots (however much the late Mary Whitehouse might have desired it).

If there was no outlet for this kind of produce, it would simply go to waste. And we simply cannot afford these throwaway mentality of the 1960s and 1970s -- for one thing, there is a significant fuel cost for machinery in farming produce, or for heating greenhouses, and there is water use and possibly the use of fertilisers. Our society cannot afford simply to be wasteful and produce food that has to be thrown away for no other reason than it offends the aesthetic sensibility of a marketing salesman at a supermarket. But unless laws are to be introduced to compel supermarkets to take the kind of produce they would otherwise reject, it is with farm shops, and largely farm shops alone, that we will find the failsafe mechanism by which such food can still reach the general public.

Another positive feature of farm shops are their cafes where one can eat locally sourced produce. By contrast the large Checkers supermarket, has a Marks & Spencer cafe which is pretty well wholly dependent upon imported food, apart from milk. When the weather is bad, and there are delays, it cannot supply food - unlike farm shops, where local vegetables, eggs, potatoes, fish and even local meat products are generally available and form a greater part of the meals offered.

Lastly, it should be noted that farm shops are links to farms, and profits from the farm shop support the farmer to a much greater extent than selling to the supermarket where they are often at the mercy of the supermarket setting its own price for the produce and deciding what volume to take.

And as a postscript, did you know that there is one local store selling food which sometimes sells Jersey Royal potatoes and which I have been told apparently transports the potatoes to the United Kingdom for centralised packing and then returning to the Channel Islands? Isn't that madness?

(1) http://www.thisisjersey.com/2010/08/21/whos-putting-pressure-on-farm-shops-%e2%80%93-and-why/#ixzz0xHJiGdY1
(2) http://www.ca.uky.edu/agc/pubs/id/id134/id134.htm

Saturday, 21 August 2010

The Stars, our Destiny

Praise for the planets, counted seven
Spirits of the planets sing
Rejoice in the deepest heavens given
Comets into darkness fling
Sun and fire, night inspire
Listen to the spheres now ring

Praise for the night for us to savour
Quasar pulses now address
Rejoice in darkness ending never
Star dust living, here to bless
Sun and fire, night inspire
Glorious moonbeams now caress

Twinkling star lights come to us
Like crystals from eternal snows
Many thousand years from us
Passing round the sun it slows
Sun and fire, night inspire
Red shifted, the light stream flows

Frail yet born of stars we flourish,
Blows the wind and we are gone;
But while to the dust we perish
Time, ever rolling, flows along
Sun and fire, night inspire
Until the universe is done

Rejoice, and sing, adore in hymn
Starlight's glory face to face
Not randomness, nor seeming whim
To those who dwell in time and space.
Sun and fire, night inspire
Rejoice in cosmos full of grace.

Thursday, 19 August 2010

Richard Dawkins on "Faith Schools"

"It is absurd to suppose that ends are not present [in nature] because we do not see an agent deliberating."
-Aristotle, Physics

"Nothing in the body is made in order that we may use it. What happens to exist is the cause of its use."
-Lucretius, De Rerum Natura (On the Nature of Things)

Unlike Richard Dawkins previous forays into television broadcasting, his film about faith schools was not so strident or polemic and actually made quite a good case. This was a Dawkins who acknowledged the cultural legacy of religion and considered it to be important for that to form part of a school curricula, and who declaimed whole passages from the King James version of the Bible. He also praised Christianity for its accommodation of the theory of evolution, especially in the Church of England, although if he knew a little more history, he would have been aware that Christians like Charles Kingsley supported evolution from the first; it was Thomas Huxley who invented the myth of conflict, along with his trouncing of Bishop Wilberforce in debate.

At the beginning, Dawkins spoke to Charles Clarke, the Education Secretary responsible under New Labour for the expansion of faith schools. Clarke acknowledged that there was a problem, but basically took the attitude that any government which attempted to force faith schools to survive with out government sponsorship would thereby be forcing them to close, and the general public as voters would never countenance any government which did that. Mildly, Dawkins commented that the whole argument seemed to be based not on whether faith schools were discriminatory but simply whether their removal would be an unpopular vote loser.

I was surprised that Clarke did not also bring to bear the argument that where faith schools are subsidised by the government but not only wholly funded, then their replacements would impact upon increased public expenditure and probably higher taxes. He was trying to get to this, when he asked Richard Dawkins what an Education Secretary would do if the schools simply closed down rapidly after funding had been withdrawn (as happened with some adoption agencies), and whether that would be responsible, but he was sidetracked by the argument about what the public wanted. Yet this would certainly be the case in Jersey, where an increased burden, plus the cost of building extra schools, would fall to the public purse.

Dawkins was able to show that faith schools gave a discriminatory entrance based upon whether parents were churchgoers or practicing Jews or Muslims. He even found a woman who had converted to Catholicism in order to gain a place for her daughter at a Catholic primary school. This of course is nothing new -- it was highlighted to comic effect but making the same point in the first episode of "The Rev", where the Reverend Adam Smallbone suddenly finds his congregation boosted in numbers just prior to entrance selection at the local Anglican secondary school. But Dawkins also made a very good argument: if we would not tolerate discrimination based upon race, why should we tolerate discrimination based upon religion?

Moreover, the argument about the schools conducting their own inspections, or having independent inspections of their religious teaching by people from their own religious tradition did not really stand up to scrutiny. As Dawkins so rightly observed, if the inspection was "as good as OFSTED", and the teaching was up to scratch, then why on earth did they not let the OFSTED inspectors examine it with the rest of the curriculum? The implication, unstated, but present, was that it was not up to standards, but Dawkins cleverly left the viewer to draw this conclusion themselves.

The one school which opened its doors to the cameras was a Muslim school. Here, despite being told that 60 pupils receiving science education from a science teacher were "left to make up their own minds" upon whether evolution was true, all 60 believed that it was false! Cleverly, Dawkins let this blatant improbability stand without making too much comment - as the numbers themselves demonstrate that whatever else was happening in the teaching, there was a strong bias against evolution; this was clearly influencing precisely how the pupils made up their own minds "independently".

It was also clear that the science teacher and pupils had absolutely no idea of what evolution really was. A pupil said that it was about human beings being descended from apes and asked if that was so, why were there still apes around? Dawkins painstakingly explained that human beings were members of the ape family, but not descended from apes; instead both human beings and apes were descended from a common ancestor millions of years ago.

I was surprised that he didn't take a leaf out of the late Stephen Jay Gould's book, because the model that the pupil and science teacher working from was clearly that which Gould identified as a ladder, often shown in cheap popularisation of evolution where a fish gives way to an amphibian, a reptile, a mammal, an ape, an apelike man, and modern day human beings, implicitly suggesting that one replaces the other. Gould came across this misrepresentation time and again:

Evolution usually proceeds by 'speciation'-the splitting of one lineage from a parental stock-not by the slow and steady transformation of these large parental stocks. Repeated episodes of speciation produce a bush. Evolutionary 'sequences' are not rungs on a ladder, but our retrospective reconstruction of a circuitous path running like a labyrinth, branch to branch, from the base of the bush to a lineage now surviving at its top.(1)

Dawkins concluded by reading the letter to his daughter about the value of evidence in assessing what is true, and the false modes of truth such as tradition, holy books, and revelations. This works fine with the domain of science and I wished at this point that he had put in place the kind of demarcation between science and that which is simply not science that one finds in the works of Karl Popper. The "evidence" base upon which Dawkins bases his understanding of the world is really quite weak for any robust philosophy of science, as Popper explains:

I found that those of my friends who were admirers of Marx, Freud, and Adler, were impressed by a number of points common to these theories, and especially by their apparent explanatory power. These theories appear to be able to explain practically everything that happened within the fields to which they referred...The most characteristic element in this situation seemed to me the incessant stream of confirmations, of observations which "verified" the theories in question; and this point was constantly emphasize by their adherents. A Marxist could not open a newspaper without finding on every page confirming evidence for his interpretation of history; not only in the news, but also in its presentation - which revealed the class bias of the paper - and especially of course what the paper did not say. The Freudian analysts emphasized that their theories were constantly verified by their "clinical observations." (2)

Moreover the danger and the weakness of the evidential position is that it deals only with matters of fact and not with matters of value. As the philosopher Mary Midgeley has shown, making moral judgements, while sometimes being critical of moral traditions from which they came, requires those traditions which Dawkins would discard -- one cannot create morality from scratch. The notion that a mythological story or parable may also tell us something important about moral behaviour is also excluded by Dawkins' methodology and yet such stories shape our culture and understanding of the world as much as science. We are creatures whose understanding of life is bound in narrative as much as fact.

But science itself can become "scientism", a modern myth. As seen in the final section when Dawkins was responding to primary school children on matters of science, while some of his answers stressed the need for evidence, and gave the evidence, with others he was simply conveying information - which was good - but there wasn't time for "evidence" to the quick-fire questions, and I didn't see him give that much. [As an aside, it was wonderful to see how well he engaged with the children here, and in the playground later; he is a born and gifted educator.]

Yet science without the evidence base is in danger of itself becoming a kind of secular religious narrative, dispensing its own mythology of human beings as "selfish gene machines", or the brain as essentially some kind of computer, drawing upon metaphors from popular culture rather than "evidence".

Isaac Asimov's masterly Encyclopedia of Science avoids this by presenting science through the history of discoveries and problem solving, and much the same was done by Stephen Toulmin and June Goodfield. Science programmes on BBC3, such as the ones on Chemistry, or Light, do this extremely well. But Horizon has degenerated into a vapid presentation of science which often lacks any evidence but covers up with glossy visuals. But far too much science in schools is compressed into mere facts devoid of the contexts of discovery.

One interesting point which emerged was that young children are prone to seek explanations in terms of purpose in nature and natural events. As Dawkins argued, this makes them ripe for believing that kind of explanation -- technically called "teological" - when it is presented to young minds by religions.

That is a good argument but it would be equally interesting to know why some people despite, like Dawkins himself, being conditioned at an early age, nevertheless discard this kind of explanation. Clearly whatever indoctrination is given in faith schools, it is far from perfect in ensuring that all the adults who have been through the process will believe, and it would be interesting to know the numbers involved.

I know that, for example, Christian converts at University to the kind of Christianity espoused by Evangelical Unions often "fall away" in large numbers much to the distress and discomfort of the organising body which has developed its own narrative for explaining and coming to terms with this phenomena. I am therefore not convinced that however receptive a child's mind may be that the Jesuit adage - "Give me a child until he is 7, and I will give you the man." - is true. Yet Dawkins, without any evidence, appears to believe it's so.

Dawkins starts with the child and gives good evidence for how children's beliefs are shaped by projections of purpose in the natural world; he doesn't look at the adult sifting through those beliefs and discarding them. Perhaps that should form the subject of another programme - why do people not believe? I don't believe that "evidence" is the whole story, and that most people who have lost their childhood faith have rationally decided that it is false; people are more complex than that..

(1) "Bushes and Ladders," Ever Since Darwin: Reflections in Natural History, Stephen Jay Gould
(2) "Conjectures and Refutations", Karl Popper

Referenced in the text:
"Can't We Make Moral Judgements" by Mary Midgeley
"The Architecture of Matter" - Toulmin and Goodfield
"The Fabric of the Heavens" - Toulmin and Goodfield
"The Discovery of Time" - Toulmin and Goodfield

On the way in which the Huxley / Wilberforce legend was created by Huxley.

Wednesday, 18 August 2010

Almanacs: The Oldest Guides to Everything

In this Radio 4 programme, Ben Schott charted the history of the most influential form of mass publication in the 16th and 17th centuries:

At their height, apart from the bible, almanacs were the bestselling books on the market, with over 400,000 sold annually. Almanacs played a central part in spreading knowledge, literacy, popular journalism and advertising. Ben digs up early adverts for pills, potions and all manner of quackery. But they were also mocked in all kinds of ways. The blank pages inserted into almanacs were used for jottings of accounts and personal memos, so they also gave us the personal written diary.

The origin of the almanac can be traced back to ancient Babylonian astronomy, when clay tablets were used to record seasonal changes, as well as marking the night sky with tables of planetary periods. The first almanac in the modern sense, as a compendium of miscellaneous and assorted calendrical information was probably that produced by Solomon Jarchus in 1150, although that seems to have been largely a celestial almanac, giving details about the stars. Another precursor of the modern almanac was Petrus do Dacia, around 1300, and his almanac survives in a manuscript copy in the Savilian Library at Oxford. In this almanac the influence of the planets is thus stated;

'Jupiter atque Venus boni, Saturnusque maligns;
Sol et Mercurius cum Luna sunt mediocres.'

However, copying by hand was slow and laborious, and it was not until the advent of the printing press that the almanac really took off. Eight years before the famous Gutenberg Bible, in 1457, Gutenberg (always with an eye for the commercial value of printing) published the first printed almanac at Mainz.

By the 17th century, English almanacs were bestsellers, second only to the Bible; by the middle of the century, 400,000 almanacs were being produced annually. But these were not all bound books. Timothy Feist, in an article on early almanacs, explains that there were sheet, pocket, and book almanacs.

Sheet almanacs functioned very much like wall calendars of day - significant public and commercial days and other features being prominent, along with such information as phases of the moon. They would be placed on walls much as today's calendar.

Pocket almanacs were "cut to miniature size and stitched together for portability".

The book almanacs were sometimes bound, and sometimes sold as loose leaf. Retailers often interleaved book almanacs with blank sheets for note taking and diary keeping and sold them in bindings of varying quality. In this way, the almanac became the precursor of the modern diary and filofax.

What was the content of these. Timothy Feist lists these items:

Almost all contained weather predictions; dates for the terms (Michaelmas, Lady's Day, etc.); a regal table listing English monarchs and the dates of their reigns; instructions for astrological farming, tide tables, and a historical chronology; detailed information on comets and eclipses; and rising and setting times for the sun, moon, and major constellations. Depending on the title, a customer might also get lists of fairs and major highways (sometimes with a woodcut map), formats for drawing up legal documents, tables for calculating interest, tables of weights and measures, or instructions for basic surveying. Many almanacs included essays on astronomy, astrology, and mathematics-along with some bad poetry. Because most almanac makers had been astrologers since the sixteenth century, sorts were often divided into two sections: a calendar and an attached "ephemeris" or "prognostication."

As Ben Schott noted in the Radio programme, predictions and astrology played a significant part. Astronomy and astrology was much more interwoven than today - Newton notably both worked in his theories of planetary motion and applied himself to planetary predictions. Indeed, the term often used at the time was "Applied Astronomy" rather than astrology.

And in each almanac, there would almost certainly be a woodcut called the "Zodiacal Man". This lists a set of correspondences between the human body and the universe. Each part of the body was associated with astrological signs:

Aries - Head, eyes, adrenals, blood pressure.
Taurus - Neck, throat, shoulders, ears.
Gemini - Lungs, nerves, arms, heads [sic], fingers.
Cancer - Chest wall, breasts, some body fluids.
Leo - Heart, spine, upper back, spleen.
Virgo - Abdomen, intestines, gallbladder, pancreas, liver.
Libra - Lower back, hips, kidneys, endocrines.
Scorpio - Reproductive organs, pelvis, urinary bladder, rectum.
Sagittarius - Thighs, legs.
Capricorn - Knees, bones, skin.
Aquarius - Ankles, blood vessels.
Pisces - Feet, some body fluids.

The publishers, keen on turning a good profit, would use the same engraved woodcut from year to year, and it would be faded and damaged - Ben Schott noted one in which part of the head was missing. This was a mass market, and quality didn't really count for much at all.

Timothy Feist notes that "Like calendars today, almanacs made natural Christmas and New Year's gifts. Folklorists list books among traditional English New Year's gifts; being cheap, individualized, and intimately connected with the calendar, book almanacs would have filled that bill nicely." Also some almanacs would be branded in the same way that companies today use calendars with corporate logos. He cites the example of "a hatter who gave round sheet almanacs imprinted with his business address-suitable for storage in a hat crown-as gifts to his holiday customers."

Sociologically, the popularity of the almanac can be linked in part to the increased urbanisation of the population. With enclosure, and the rise of the industrial towns. As with the cult of Pan, which (as Ronald Hutton noted) also became widespread as a harking back to a lost rural paradise, the almanac provided a means of marking the passage of time that had been lost to the city dweller. Feist notes that "production sheet almanacs-essentially wall calendars-quadrupled even as book almanac production decreased by a third"

The almanacs began to decline as modern wall calendars, diaries and newspapers began to take their place, along with the cheap "penny dreadful" to provide entertainment. But some are still around. The most famous - Old Moore's Almanack - is a largely astrological almanac which has been published in Britain since 1697, when Francis Moore, a self-taught physician and astrologer who served at the court of Charles II began publication.

In Jersey, the Jersey Evening Post Almanac used to be an essential feature for finding someone, or simply being nosey about whom your neighbours were. For the family historian, it was invaluable as an additional primary document. But since the advent of new Data Protection Laws, it now only records roads and house names or numbers, although it still contains all kind of other useful information. It is, however, a purely factual guide, and for all the astrological predictions for the coming year, and the Zodiacal man, the reader must look elsewhere. Perhaps we could have an astrological crapaud?

"Almanacs" by Timothy Feist, in "Transactions of the American Philosophical Society" (2005), Vol 95, Issue 4, pp 15ff.