Thursday, 30 September 2010

Britain's Abandoned Homes

An empty dwelling that is left unoccupied is a wasted asset for the owner and for someone in need of housing. If it is not maintained, it will, over time, begin to impact on its surroundings and is at risk from being broken into by vandals and squatters. The only effective way to reduce the negative impact of an empty dwelling is to occupy it. (Basingstoke Council Website)

Jolyon Jenkins investigates the scandal of the million houses standing empty. With five million people on housing waiting lists the government is keen to get them back into use. This is not about second homes, or holiday homes. This is about the empty houses to be found in almost every neighbourhood - the run-down or derelict house that sticks out like a sore thumb. These buildings blight communities, attract crime and devalue neighbouring property. Potential family homes are standing empty despite the chronic housing shortage, which has got dramatically worse since the recession. House building rates have virtually collapsed and unoccupied houses are becoming a political hot potato. We investigate the reasons for the empty homes crisis in this country, focusing on properties in Bristol. Jolyon Jenkins talks to the owners, both developers and private individuals, to ask why it is that so many have been standing empty for years, and what it would take to get them lived in again. (1)

This was a fascinating Radio 4 program which interviewed various people to show the very widely different reasons for why homes are left abandoned to rack and ruin. It began with the case of the widower who had moved in and out of his home and had been very happy there with his wife. Since she died and he had become ill, and was no longer living there, the place had had squatters and fallen into decay with electrics pulled out and the roof leaking. It was a heartbreaking story because it was clear both to the interviewer and to the widower himself that the reason he had clung on to the property for so long was because of all the happy years he had spent there with his wife and which only now could he think of letting go. He had put the property up for auction as he had insufficient funds to make it habitable and had taken the advice of the agents as to the reserved price. However of 10 properties including his that were up in this particular auction, only two were sold. He was loath to reduce the price as he felt that he had to take the professional opinion of the agent.

Another empty property had been bought by a small to middling developer, where the customary practice had been to invest 30% of the funding for buying the site and renovating the property and in this case putting extra flats in the large garden area. The remainder of the funding would come from loans from the bank. The developers explained that there was a two-year cycle between buying the site and starting work and having a finished property for sale. During that period, both themselves and the banks would be putting money in and it would not be repaid in full with profits to the developer until after the two or three years had elapsed. The credit crunch had hit the developer badly and finance from the bank was no longer forthcoming. So the property lay empty, half gutted, with just the foundation of the new building in the garden and the developer had over £1 million debt to the bank and simply could not afford to pay for any more work to be done. The developer didn't ask for sympathy but just a chance to explain what had happened to them and to thousands of other developers all across Britain.

Another property in Bristol had an overgrown garden and when the interviewer looked through the letterbox the hallway was choked with junk mail. It turned out that the owner had bought the property as an investment but had trouble with tenants and had decided to leave the property empty until they could decide what to do with it. Several years had passed, and they still had not come to a decision.

These properties are empty in a land which is facing a huge housing shortage but the matter is being addressed by the charity Empty Homes which highlights those properties which have been left empty for a long period of time and which are either privately owned or government-owned. For the government as well has been known to leave property empty:

Empty Homes was established in 1992 as "The Empty Homes Agency" a campaigning voice for those who needed homes, and for those who were dismayed at the thousands of homes left empty and abandoned. Those principles have remained with us ever since. In the past few years we have successfully challenged government over the thousands of publicly-owned empty properties. We successfully campaigned for tax-breaks for owners of empty homes who wish to bring them back into use. We have given a voice to individuals, enabling them to secure action on empty homes that affect them, and have helped many successful local campaigns to bring empty homes back into use. As a result of our campaigns, today every council has a named person who seeks to get empty homes back into use, with the powers and resources to do so. (2)

When I was helping distribute leaflets in St Helier, around six years ago, I came across a number of flats which were obviously left derelict, glass doors boarded up, grimy door handles, and where one could see through a letterbox, the tell-tale sign of masses of junk mail. Back in the 1980s, my friend Ken Webb was helping with the census, and he was quite angered at the number of properties, flats and houses, which had been left empty in Jersey. He reckoned that had they been in use could have reduced the housing demand for social housing by at least 20%. That might be optimistic, but how many houses or flats are just left empty because the owners want a particular rent and are not prepared to reduce their prices? The census doesn't give us that sort of information because it counts people, not the absence of people.

In England, the law was enacted to enable councils to bring empty homes back into use for a fixed period without the use of compulsory purchase. I was not aware of this and it came as quite a surprise when the programme mentioned that councils had statutory powers to do this. Whether this would help the housing situation in Jersey is another matter, because in the first instance we need a methodology for accurate counting of empty properties. It would probably be resisted as an infringement of the owner's right to do what they want with their own property. However, it should be noted that the legislation in England is only used for long-term abandoned properties where they had been left empty for some years and it is not applied lightly before persuasion has been used:

All councils in England and Wales have powers to bring empty homes back into use. Many are very good at it, some are not. Most councils seek to persuade and help the owner to bring their property back into use; they only use legal powers such as Empty Dwelling Management Orders when help and persuasion have failed. Most empty homes are brought back into use eventually by their owner. But in many cases this takes years. Empty homes often decline fast - they become overrun with weeds and attacked by the weather. They are often used by squatters, fly tippers, vandals and are sometimes subject to arson. The whole neighbourhood suffers waiting for the owner to deal with their property.(3)

Of course one aspect of leaving properties derelict, simply to fall apart, has to do with planning laws in Jersey. If the owner cannot get permission to demolish a property so that they may build something in its place, they may simply leave it to fall apart or until it is so unsafe that it has to be knocked down. Even in St Brelade's Bay, which one might consider a prosperous neighbourhood, I remember one property owner who was not able to develop his property to his liking and simply built another property further back from the road and left the original standing empty for a good 20 years until finally he obtained planning permission for a massive development of flats on the whole site and promptly sold it and moved out. The empty property, windows boarded up, which could have been used to house a family and had been a family home in the past was quite rightly highlighted in the mid-1980s by the Warden of Communicare, Captain John Le Page, himself no stranger to the need for social housing in the London district where he had been based before coming to Jersey.

How do the Empty Dwelling Management Orders work? Effectively as a programme explained, it is rather like the council stepping in like an individual who has leased the property and under the terms of the lease is able to make repairs and let it out for income. The difference of course, is that the individual pays the owner, whereas the Council does not. But the council uses the rental income to reimburse itself for the costs of any refurbishment of the property and at the end of the period which can be no longer than seven years, a habitable property in good condition reverts to the owner. So it is not quite as Draconian as may appear at first sight and is a good deal better than the only option which was available before and which is available in Jersey of compulsory purchase:

On 6 April 2006, The Housing Act 2004 introduced Empty Dwelling Management Orders (EDMOs). The intention of EDMOs is to bridge the gap between voluntary measures proposed by the property owners and the existing enforcement procedures, such as compulsory purchase.
There are two types of EDMO; an interim EDMO and a final EDMO. An interim EDMO lasts for a maximum period of 12 months. During this period the housing authority cannot arrange occupation of the property without seeking the consent of the owner. In effect, this means the owner has a final opportunity to reach an agreed solution. Where such agreements cannot be reached, an interim EDMO can be revoked and replaced with a final EDMO. A final EDMO lasts for a fixed period of no more than 7 years. The Council does not require the consent of the owner to grant occupation rights under a final EDMO.(4)

Councils must fund any works needed to make a property habitable and must normally recoup their costs from rental income.(5)

Once a final EDMO is made, the council has the right to possession of the property for a fixed period of time up to seven years. It must take whatever steps it considers appropriate to get the property occupied or to keep it occupied and ensure that it is properly managed. Importantly, it can put a tenant in the property without seeking your consent.(5)

When I walk through St Helier, the visible signs of commercial property that has been left empty often for a longish period is all too evident -- empty shop fronts or in attempts to conceal the fact that the shop has been empty for some time, a recent innovation, has been to place artwork in the windows or on any hoardings. But one can go round St Helier, or any other part of the island, and fairly easily count the number of empty commercial premises. Offices are more difficult although signs to let (like the one that has been there for the better part of a decade on the office development near Green Street car park) can provide some indication and they are usually on the market provided that the landlord can agree suitable terms so they will appear on the books of property agents. But it is considerably more difficult to quantify the number of empty dwellings in Jersey and even when that is done, to decide if the numbers are sufficiently large to warrant Empty Dwelling Management Orders.

When I was reflecting on the programme, and also researching the background of items like EDMOs, I try to find if there was anything online about Jersey and empty properties. There is, but the properties are not in Jersey, and yet there is a clear Jersey link. I don't think it does Jersey's image particularly good as an offshore centre and one has to remember that whatever glowing reports come in from outside scrutiny (and I think it is fair for Jersey to sing the praises of those reports) the average member of the public in the UK will read the report on empty housing and not unnaturally blame the vagaries of offshore companies which also, as the article points out, means they can avoid any capital gains tax when the properties were sold:

Take the Park Lane townhouses, which Palmer estimates are worth £10m apiece. The key leaseholds on each are held by Konzeo Ltd and Weleta Ltd, two companies incorporated in the British Virgin Islands (BVI), a tax haven in the Caribbean. Both firms ignored multiple letters from Palmer asking them to explain why the buildings were unoccupied and threatening to issue a compulsory purchase order - until a gang of squatters, plus their dogs, moved in and were pictured on the front page of the Sun in January. Within a five-minute walk of Park Lane are 21 of the grandest properties on Palmer's list, worth between £6m and £50m each by his estimation. Of these, seven are registered to BVI companies, with others owned by firms incorporated in Jersey, Guernsey and Switzerland.

John Samson, a property law expert at Taylor Wessing, says offshore-registered firms buy expensive London property as an investment, just like art or any other commodity. "One of the reasons that people buy property in London, and in particular Mayfair, is that there is almost always a demand for it," says Samson. "Investors believe the value will not only be maintained but will go up, regardless of whether it is lived in or not."

Upper Grosvenor Street in Mayfair ought to be one of the most desirable addresses in London. Yet four grand properties on the street have remained empty for up to eight years, abandoned and left to ruin by their offshore owners. No 21, registered to Boss Holdings in Jersey and worth around £15m, has been vacant for at least eight years. Down the street, the handsome twin townhouses at Nos 41 and 42 have both been empty for around five years. The leaseholds on both belong to BVI firms.


Wednesday, 29 September 2010

William Hague on Climate Security

Foreign Secretary William Hague has recently delivered a speech titled 'The Diplomacy of Climate Change' to the Council on Foreign Relations in New York. There has been a lot of problems with addressing climate change, because a good many people simply refuse to look at any evidence, or find various alternative explanations.

The debate is often, as in Jersey, conducted between environmentalists such as Mark Forskitt and Nick Palmer, and deniers such as Senator Sarah Ferguson, in such a way that it seems removed from the public arena. Indeed, a few politicians whom I spoke to recently thought that part of the debate on the Island Plan had been subjected to an attempted hijack by environmentalists, who were taking up valuable time, and distracting from the main issues. Of course, they are sure, we don't really need to do anything with redundant greenhouses, but knock them down for housing. And no one can really believe Jersey should look at become that bit more more sustainable in producing its own food, because that's not commercially viable.

But when a politician of William Hague's stature throws down the gauntlet, perhaps it is time to listen. Hague began by setting out the importance of climate change; it is not a trivial issue, because as resources become scarcer, if the issue is not addressed, competition and conflict over who gets those resources will become increasingly important:

Climate change is perhaps the twenty-first century's biggest foreign policy challenge along with such challenges as preventing the spread of nuclear weapons. A world which is failing to respond to climate change is one in which the values embodied in the UN will not be met. It is a world in which competition and conflict will win over collaboration.(1)

The keynote phrase in his speech is "climate security". As the climate changes, and as non-renewable energy resources become scarcer (so that biofuels, rather than food) becomes more viable, the connectedness of the modern world means that any problems ripple through the system, impacting on a global scale. No one can bury their heads in the sand. It is irresponsible to do so:

You cannot have food, water, or energy security without climate security. They are interconnected and inseparable. They form four resource pillars on which global security, prosperity and equity stand. Each depends on the others. Plentiful, affordable food requires reliable and affordable access to water and energy. Increasing dependence on coal, oil, and gas threatens climate security, increasing the severity of floods and droughts, damaging food production, exacerbating the loss of biodiversity and, in countries that rely on hydropower, undermining energy security through the impact on water availability. As the world becomes more networked, the impacts of climate change in one country or region will affect the prosperity and security of others around the world.

He notes that the time to start thinking about low carbon business is necessary now, not "business as usual", because otherwise it is future generations that will pay the price for our delay, our willful refusal to take any form of action. Locally, this means looking at food production, about the standards of houses being built to be energy efficient, about transport, power etc. Part of that can be done by private citizens taking action - as is the case locally with the move to buying organic products (not dependent on oil-based fertilizers), increased recycling by dropping off newspapers, plastic bottles at recycling banks, less use of plastic bags. Small things can bring about surprisingly significant changes. But part has also to be the responsibility of governments in empowering the citizen towards a lower carbon, less wasteful, lifestyle.

We need to shift investment urgently from high carbon business as usual to the low carbon economy - this means building an essentially decarbonised global economy by mid century. At the same time we must ensure development is climate resilient: otherwise the changes in climate that are already unavoidable will block the path for hundreds of millions of people from poverty to prosperity

Rather than decrying wind power and other renewable sources of energy, the UK, under what Hague describes as probably the greenest coalition government in its history, is committed to improving production from those sources. A new wind farm has just opened offshore in Kent. Instead of blocking such strategies, and talking them down, Jersey should show how innovative it can be. Guernsey recently financed a seabed survey, to give public data as a springboard and incentive to commercial wave power companies. We too can do more, and we need to start thinking about targets. Denmark generates more than 15% of its electricity from the wind, which is not insignificant.

The UK is already the world leader in offshore wind with more projects installed, in planning and in construction than any other country in the world. We are undertaking the most radical transformation of our electricity sector ever. We aim to provide over 30% of our domestic electricity from renewables by 2020. We have committed to build no new coal-fired power stations without carbon capture and storage technology - CCS - and we have announced our intention to continue with four CCS demonstration projects.

The other matter of importance highlighted by William Hague is to not just let matters rest with environmentalists but also to look at business engagement. Is anyone in the States of Jersey talking with any commercial groups who provide renewable energy? And are builders sufficient aware of environmental specifications? What of older "Masterplans"? Did they factor in environmental and climate issues?

And we must also reach out beyond, to NGOs, faith groups and business. Of all these, perhaps business engagement is key to making a difference. It is business that will lead the low-carbon transition. It is business which best understands the incentives needed to help us all prosper.

The Parish of St Helier has been very pro-active in looking at recycling. In August they published a report which noted that:

In April this year the Parish sought expressions of interest for a Recycling Partner capable of finding environmentally sound and cost effective end uses on or off Island for the recycled materials the Parish is producing; the recycling partner would also be responsible for the transport of the recyclables from the depot to the end-users. This generated considerable interest with 11 initial applications from French and Jersey companies, some of which put forward very detailed proposals.

And they are looking in particular at ROMI Recyclage, which has been established since 1866 and has a number of sites across France.

The business operates over a broad range of recyclables to ensure stability for the company during fluctuations in the waste commodities market, which will in turn provide stability for the Parish's income streams from the sale of recyclables

With regard to building, it is worth noting that one office has been built recently to BREEAM specifications. What is BEEAM?

BREEAM (BRE Environmental Assessment Method) is the leading and most widely used environmental assessment method for buildings. It sets the standard for best practice in sustainable design and has become the de facto measure used to describe a building's environmental performance.(2)

And Ogiers new premises, recently mentioned in the Green Building Press, has recently been completed; it is the first office building on Jersey to be built to BREEAM specifications

Ogier, providers of offshore legal and fiduciary services, have moved into their new premises, Jersey's largest and greenest single occupancy office. The the partnership between the company, developer JCN and local building firm Camerons as the main contractor has resulted in a new landmark for St Helier. Ogier House has achieved a "very good" BREEAM....Additional to the atria, solar shading has been used to reduce the need for air-conditioning and movement sensors avoid electricity being wasted by lighting rooms with no-one in them. Seasonal Commissioning ensures the building is operating at optimum efficiency all year round, with thermal zoning of different rooms. Space has been allocated for storage of recyclable waste, promoting green management strategies within the building.(3)

Hague makes the point that it is not "an idealists pipe dream" to look at strategies for moving to a low carbon economy, and the sooner we do so, the better we will be prepared for the future:

A global low-carbon economy is not an idealist's pipe-dream but a 21st century realist's imperative. Countries that adapt quickly to a carbon constrained world will be better able to deliver lasting prosperity for their citizens.

Describing the weather catastrophes of the past year - in Russia, Pakistan, China - Hague comments that:

While no one weather event can ever be linked with certainty to climate change, the broad patterns of abnormality seen this year are consistent with climate change models. They provide a vivid illustration of the events we will be encountering increasingly in the future. The clock is ticking. The time to act is now.

And he concludes with a message to take action now:

This is not a hard choice. We have to get this right. If we do, we can still shape our world. If we do not, our world will determine our destiny.


Tuesday, 28 September 2010

1769 and all that!

St Helier Constable has asked for the 1769 storming of the Royal Court on matter regarding "fair taxes on wheat, an end to cattle and provision exports, and for Constables to consult Parishioners before passing laws and regulations"(1)

But what was unfair about taxes on wheat? The JEP, reporting on the matter, doesn't say.

It was not to do with the price of bread, which is due to go up very soon because of rising wheat prices, but to do with "wheat rents". This is well explained by the Reverend Alban E Ragg, in his "Popular History of Jersey":

From very early times up to this period these had always been paid "in kind," i.e., in actual wheat, a mode allowable and useful in a small community and when very little money was in circulation, but which had become oppressive and obsolete in its working ; the fact of the matter being that the quantity of wheat then grown upon the Island was not sufficient to pay one twentieth part of the rents that had been created. Under these circumstances, as can very easily be conceived, a man might have to pay, for instance, 50 per cent. more for the purchase of the actual grain than would have sufficed for the payment of his rents in cash. This matter in the first instance was modified by paying in coin on an average value of wheat; though here again stepped in the difficulty that the holders of wheat rents, having an interest in the matter, naturally did their best to keep the average value at a high price ; those that had to pay as naturally trying to lower its average value.

The whole difficulty was, however, at last solved by an Act of the States, confirmed on April 26th, 1797, and to come into force the following Michaelmas, to the effect that such rents were to be estimated at a fixed rate, which law-the only effective measure that resulted from all the agitation of 1790 and that period -is still followed. (2)

In fact, there was also a wheat shortage driving prices up, and while today this effects bread, in 1769 it was also effecting the wheat rent. Hence it was that on 28 September 1769 up to 500 islanders marched on St. Helier from country parishes and halted the proceedings at the Royal Court house in the Royal Square as a mark of protest for change.

What was notable after that was the intervention of the UK government, which stepped in and made sure further regulations for reform were

the Imperial Government, without, as it would appear, either the co-operation or sanction of the States, and for the prevention in future of much useless work of the like kind stepped in and enacted sundry regulations on its own account. For instance) it was at this period the Order was enacted that the meeting of the States was not to be adjourned without the consent of the President, and that when so adjourned it was to complete the matter under discussion before proceeding to other things; that the Bailiff was and should thereafter be bound to convene a meeting of the States when called on to do so by the Lieutenant-Governor and the Jurats. On June 2nd, 1786, came a Order allowing the States to fine absent members, and on the same date came one declaring that the States could not pass Acts for raising money without the previous assent of the Crown, at the same time authorising them to raise money by Rate to defray the expenses of any Agent or Deputy who represented their common concerns ; whilst on February 1st 1797, the fees of the Greffier were raised; and an Order was given on April 26th, 1797, extending the free exportation of cider to that made of "tithe fruit." It was ordered also, towards the end of last century, that neither the late Constable of any parish nor the senior Centenier should sit in the States pending an appeal relative to a contested election in the parish in question.

That these came down from "on high", rather than being generated by the States is clear when one looks at the documents themselves which were produced in English, with a French translation - for example:

1786 An order of the King and Council, concerning the political disputes between the States and the Royal Court, of the island of Jersey. Issued on the 2nd June 1786, Southampton

1786 Traduction d'un ordre du Roi et des Seigneurs du Conseil, au sujet des disputes politiques des etats & de la Cour Royale de l'ile de Jersey. Avec des notes sur les differens points s'y trouvent decides Imprime a Southampton, French translation of above (3)

Clearly Jersey was not as independent in these matters as later and more recent writing of its history suggests (such as that of the former Bailiff, Sir Philip Bailhache) . Most probably, the Order in Council would have been registered and published in the customary manner by the Royal Court, but that would have been basically "rubber stamping" a direct intervention by the UK authorities; the Jersey authorities were in no position to reject it. The States, of course, were to shortly receive another blow to their independence, when in 1799, attempts to imprison Methodists who would not drill led to an Act, passed by the States, being declared "to be void and of none effect" when it reached the Privy Council.

An interesting codicil to the movement of Reform comes with its leader, John Dumaresq, Esq., who had been but who very rapidly changed sides once he had been made part of the Judicial establishment:

Towards the close of the century the excitement for reform gradually died out, or rather it seems to, have received its death blow at the hands of its greatest advocate, for an astonishing change came over the mind of its leader, J. Dumaresq, Esq., who was afterwards elevated to the office of Lieut.-Bailiff and was knighted. As a member of the States he seems to have tried his best to extend the powers of the people, as Lieut.-Bailiff to deprive the people of a portion of their powers; and as a member of the States, too, he seems to have been the popular leader of all friends of liberal views, whilst as Lieut.-Bailiff he turned into the strongest opponent. (2)

But whatever became of the order of 1786, allowing the States to fine absent members? I wish I knew, but I haven't been able to find out.

(1) JEP, 28.09.2010, p7
(2) Reverend Alban E Ragg, "Popular History of Jersey":

Monday, 27 September 2010

Shenton, Newman and the Idea of a University

And now the question is asked me, What is the use of it? (John Henry Newman, The Idea of a University)

Philosophy, like sociology and psychology, is one of those degrees that people do when they're not quite sure what vocation they want to follow. It's a fun-time 4 years, open to stoners, egocentrics and those that love the sound of their own voice, who will finish the course even more confused at what they want to do in life and probably end up working at a convenience store. (Senator Ben Shenton) (1)

While Senator Shenton may have an argument in respect of media studies, and even in respect of sociology and philosophy (although I would dispute that, and return to it later), his knowledge of psychology is abysmal. He seems to assume (and I fear this is a widespread assumption), that it is on the same level as all those self-help guides one finds in such proliferation in the book shops.

Let me correct him with regard to psychology. A psychology course involves detailed knowledge of biology, cognitive neuropsychology, statistics, linguistics, language pathology, cognitive development etc. It's not exactly a medical course, but a psychologist needs a working knowledge of neurology.

A clinical psychologist, for example, would be expected to be able to carry out neuropsychological assessments using a standardised test battery (including research and understanding of the assessment, organising the subtests, scoring, analysing and initial preparation of a formal report) as part of a comprehensive multidisciplinary assessment of clients in the memory clinic. A working knowledge of pharmacology is also needed for any medicinal interventions.

It's worth noting that psychology degrees throughout the United Kingdom are fairly similar in their course content, because the British Psychological Society requires that certain areas must be covered if a degree is to be accredited. So what is typical of one is typical of all - there are no Universities offering an easier option.

Indicative degree structure:
Year 1: Basic psychology, research methods and statistics and key skills.
Year 2: Core areas including research methods and statistics.
Year 3: Empirical project in psychology (not a literature review) and options particular
to a department.

Core areas include:

Cognitive Psychology Perception, attention, learning, memory and language
Psychobiology Basic neurochemistry, neurophysiology of nerve transmission, hormones and behaviour, biological bases of behaviour
Social Psychology Attitudes, attributions, prejudice, social identification, conformity, obedience
Developmental Psychology Perceptual, motor and cognitive development during infancy
Individual Differences Genetic, environmental and cultural influences, psychological testing
Conceptual and Historical Issues Scientific method, social and cultural construction of knowledge, history and
philosophy of science
Research Methods and Statistics Research design, quantitative methods including statistical tests

Some of the statistics involves:

Descriptive Statistics
Samples, populations and the normal distribution.
Making Inferences: Confidence Limits and Statistical Significance
Analysing Data from Repeated Measures Experiments
Analysing data from independent groups: Continuous and Ordinal Measures
Analysing Data from Independent Groups: Categorical Measures
Relationships between Variables: Correlation and Regression
Introducing Analysis of Variance (ANOVA)
Analysing questionnaires and measurement instruments
Correcting Spearman correlation for ties.
Exact significance of a correlation in Excel.
Calculating Kendall's Tau-a Correlation
Report writing

There is a worked example here of the chi-square test (which is one of the easier statistical methods), which anyone who still has not been disabused of Senator Shenton's idea may care to look through - "fun time" it is probably not, except to a mathematician (I enjoyed it).

I know at least two people who went for a psychology course thinking it would be some kind of soft soap Freudian, talking shop option - and after quite a shock to the system - the amount of mathematics and neurological information involved is not trivial - they gave up after a few weeks. And nearly all undergraduate degree courses in Psychology are now BSc as opposed to BA, reflecting the scientific weight of the subject. Incidentally, neither of them now work in convenience stores.

I hope this corrects the misleading impression given by Senator Shenton - I am intrigued to know the exact source of his information as it is clearly not trustworthy - as this is clearly not a course for "stoners, egocentrics and those that love the sound of their own voice"! However, to date, he has not seen fit to return my email; perhaps because his opinion on the matter is so easily refuted, or perhaps because he prefers the sound of his own voice to listening to arguments.

But let's now also look at philosophy, which is not itself perhaps capable of practical ends. I would still argue that it is not a "simple" course, and I would challenge Senator Shenton to dispute that with any of the notable philosophers such as Simon Blackburn, Mary Midgeley, Michael Ruse etc. They would certainly eat him alive! One facet of philosophy which is extremely useful is in helping to uncover assumptions and critically examine them, and often people believe something is true (such as the idea that psychology is a pop-science) simply because they have not examined their own assumptions, and don't want to.

Another argument comes with Newman who argued in his seminal work, "The Idea of a University", that "Knowledge is capable of being its own end. Such is the constitution of the human mind, that any kind of knowledge, if it be really such, is its own reward." Against this, Newman saw what we might term the Shenton approach to knowledge, which is nothing new, because he heard it sounded in Cato: "The fit representative of a practical people, Cato estimated every thing by what it produced; whereas the Pursuit of Knowledge promised nothing beyond Knowledge itself. He despised that refinement or enlargement of mind of which he had no experience.".

Newman expands on this in some length, explaining the criticism he is finding on the subject of education, and University Education in particular; and when one considers that he was writing in 1852, it is notable that the same kind of criticism which Senator Shenton is bringing is nothing new.

Now this is what some great men are very slow to allow; they insist that Education should be confined to some particular and narrow end, and should issue in some definite work, which can be weighed and measured. They argue as if every thing, as well as every person, had its price; and that where there has been a great outlay, they have a right to expect a return in kind. This they call making Education and Instruction "useful," and "Utility" becomes their watchword. With a fundamental principle of this nature, they very naturally go on to ask, what there is to show for the expense of a University; what is the real worth in the market of the article called "a Liberal Education," on the supposition that it does not teach us definitely how to advance our manufactures, or to improve our lands, or to better our civil economy; or again, if it does not at once make this man a lawyer, that an engineer, and that a surgeon; or at least if it does not lead to discoveries in chemistry, astronomy, geology, magnetism, and science of every kind.

He find this first stated in Locke, in which we find an enlightenment idea of education. It is interesting that what began as a philosophical argument has now become part of the mainstream thinking, at least as far as University Education is concerned, and even with some people, as far as more general education is concerned.

The author to whom I allude is no other than Locke. That celebrated philosopher has preceded the Edinburgh Reviewers in condemning the ordinary subjects in which boys are instructed at school, on the ground that they are not needed by them in after life; and before quoting what his disciples have said in the present century, I will refer to a few passages of the master. "'Tis matter {159} of astonishment," he says in his work on Education, "that men of quality and parts should suffer themselves to be so far misled by custom and implicit faith. Reason, if consulted with, would advise, that their children's time should be spent in acquiring what might be useful to them, when they come to be men, rather than that their heads should be stuffed with a deal of trash, a great part whereof they usually never do ('tis certain they never need to) think on again as long as they live; and so much of it as does stick by them they are only the worse for."

And we can see this is in the idea of vocational education, which is certainly good, but which is not the whole of education. There have been moves in the past, of varying success, to take those pupils who were deemed not to be capable of academic education, and move them to more vocational education - the 1944 distinction between Secondary Modern Schools and Grammar Schools was one example, although the selection process was wedded to a flawed testing procedure (using so-called IQ tests).

But if we take the principle that utility is the final end of education, why try to make this distinction. Isn't is, as Locke, argues, a waste of time? The question to which anyone wedded to utility in education needs to ask is - why stop at University? What not make the whole of education and the curriculum purely designed for practical ends? For the average school leaver, is it going to damage their career if they cannot solve a differential equation, or determine the cosine of an angle, or be able to determine the ratio of chemical compounds by titration? Most of modern mathematics and science within the school curriculum is evidently not of practical use - should it therefore be discarded?

Now one ground which is argued is that it teaches the ability to work in practical and abstract ways, and that effort can be transferred to other subjects. Someone who applies his or her self to school work may equally be able to apply these disciplines to other professions which are quite remote from that. Newman returns to this with the health of the body - a healthy body, he argues, is capable of many things, so that health is good in itself, in that it prepares the body for many activities. In this respect, he argues, subjects like philosophy and theology sharpen the mind.

Again, as health ought to precede labour of the body, and as a man in health can do what an unhealthy man cannot do, and as of this health the properties are strength, energy, agility, graceful carriage and action, manual dexterity, and endurance of fatigue, so in like manner general culture of mind is the best aid to professional and scientific study, and educated men can do what illiterate cannot; and the man who has learned to think and to reason and to compare and to discriminate and to analyze, who has refined his taste, and formed his judgment, and sharpened his mental vision, will not indeed at once be a lawyer, or a pleader, or an orator, or a statesman, or a physician, or a good landlord, or a man of business, or a soldier, or an engineer, or a chemist, or a geologist, or an antiquarian, but he will be placed in that state of intellect in which he can take up any one of the sciences or callings I have referred to, or any other for which he has a taste or special talent, with an ease, a grace, a versatility, and a success, to which another is a stranger. In this sense then, and as yet I have said but a very few words on a large subject, mental culture is emphatically useful.

And in fact, as a letter in the JEP from Benjamin Smart, notes:

The vast majority of philosophy graduates find graduate jobs within six months of graduation (See the Guardian 20 November 2007); many in the finance sector so crucial to the Island. Why? Because reading philosophy develops an individual's ability to critically analyse arguments, to question assumptions, to formulate clear and developed arguments, and to be careful to analyse even the smallest details in literature. These are qualities essential to success in many careers.

Of course, in the appendix to his proposition, along with the opening remarks on philosophy, Senator Shenton cites all kind of whacky University subjects:

David Beckham studies - Staffordshire University, UK
Doctorate of Philosophy in Ufology - Melbourne University
Surfing Studies - Plymouth/Melbourne
Star Trek - Georgetown University in Washington

- what he fails to take into account, however, is that before any financial support is given to University courses, the applicant must say what course they are going on. He has no evidence of any Jersey students doing any courses like these, because of course there have been none. The Education Department would not provide funding. It is the classic example of the "straw man" fallacy - to present the worse possible scenario, and take it as the norm. Trained in assessing various logical fallacies of all kinds, I suspect most students of philosophy would have spotted it a light year away.

The Philosophy of Utility, you will say, Gentlemen, has at least done its work; and I grant it,-it aimed low, but it has fulfilled its aim. (John Henry Newman, The Idea of a University)


Saturday, 25 September 2010


Written at the high tides a few weeks ago...
Azure waves in dark blue night
Splashing over the promenade
White flecked, caught in light
Reflecting the heaven starred
Tides flowing on a Perquage way
Lantern bobbing, on nearing float
For now is time to flee away
Granite steps to the rescue boat
Gently, softly, departing shore
Farewell tears meet ocean flow
Boat sails quiet in the tidal roar
And above in peace, a starry glow
Into night's domain, across the bay
Remember me, as I leave today

Thursday, 23 September 2010

Musings on the Steam Fayre, and Jersey Past and Present

Last Saturday saw the autumn steam fair, an event which I always enjoy. The large steam train leaves the Victorian style station every half hour for two circuits of its track, billowing clouds of steam from its funnel, while the smaller perimeter track is the smaller train clanking along on its rails. In the middle of this outside grassy area are dozens of vintage cars, vintage tractors, standalone steam engines in operation, and a traction engine setup by moving belts to drive a threshing machine. Sadly this year there were no raw materials for the threshing machine but it still was a splendid display.

Inside the museum, which is like a fast bright and airy hangar, there are people peddling toy cars, the odd stalls selling books and bric-a-brac, enthusiasts ready to display and explain their miniature engines, cups of tea or coffee and home-made cakes, freshly baked Jersey wonders, and of course all the marvellous tools, vehicles, trains, farm implements etc which form the museum display proper.

This was the vision of steam enthusiast Don Pallot, whose full name was Lyndon Charles Pallot. Annie Parmeter worked at the museum and made some notes on his life, and on the displays there, and I have transcribed these, along with various comments as the displays nudged awake my own memories of the past.

Lyndon Charles Pallot was born a farmer's son in 1910 in the parish of Trinity. He attended Trinity Parish School and left at the age of 14 to take up a five-year apprenticeship with the JRT & T sponsored by his uncle. During this time he also undertook bicycle repairs out of a workshop at Les Petits Cainons, Trinity. This is how his lifelong passion for engineering began. In the 1930s, he moved to Sion Central Motorworks - tractor and motor repairs, truck alterations and agricultural engineering including design and manufacture of very important agricultural items some of which were patented. In the 1950s, he became the first in Jersey to do plant hire - hydrodigger, first JCB, mobile cranes, dozers, micks, compressors and demolition. He supplied plant hire for Quennevais School, Grainville School, and the airport runway.

In the 1960s, he moved to this site operating as suppliers of tarmac and tractor dealers. The museum opened in 1990, the station in 1995, and the new museum in 2002. I had the pleasure of working for him for a number of years. He was a lot of fun to be around with all manner of amusing tales to tell. He was an innovator and a man of great vision. Thanks to him, here stands this wonderful museum - a great record Jersey's agricultural and industrial heritage.

Why does anyone collect things? What does it tell us about them? On the most fundamental level this collection tells us about the life of one particular person, L.C. Pallot. Through this man's life we have a privileged view into a window of history and also of the contribution that he made the Jersey's agricultural and in just real heritage. 1910 to 1996 when he died was a period of extraordinary change that signalled the end of an era.

If we look at the domestic balcony, we can appreciate the great thing was that he collected everyday items not just the rare or valuable things. Instead he collected things that most people threw away. The first half of the 20th century life was hard but this was how he grew up. Here we have a range and bean crocs, water jugs, butter churns, grater, baby bottles, paraffin lamps, and an early design of washing machine from the 1930s, the grey one from Les Lumieres.

Even in the 1960s, when I grew up, I can find things to relate to. The hand-cranked mangles for squeezing the water out of newly washed and damp clothes are large in comparison with the one that my mother had, which I remember as being small, made of heavy solid metal, painted green, with a metal crank handle, but if I remember right, wooden rollers. I remember going to the houses of various great Aunts, and visiting their living rooms which were warmed by the cylindrical paraffin heaters on a tripod of legs, and the distinctive smell of paraffin burning. My mother still has an old and large pot for making Jersey bean crock.

Further along the balcony, are the displays which Annie termed the "Forge".

Jersey was primarily an agricultural community and every parish had at least two blacksmiths. Things were made by people, you could name the person who made your garden gate or your plough or your trepid and hooks for your fire. They would turn their hand to anything. Often they were agents for agricultural equipment and did repairs. Don Pallot was more into engineering work because of his JRT training. In this section are found Forge and bellows, cow pegs, line shafting, more light engineering works, lathes, wooden Grandin patterns.

There is an area devoted to ploughs and what might Annie termed "barn machinery".

Most ploughs were locally made by blacksmiths at the parish Forge. This is especially true of the wooden ones which were made in conjunction with local carpenters. Fore-carriages and wheels, which can be seen here, were more likely to be imported. I remember these ploughs being used during my childhood in the 1960s.

Unlike Annie, I don't personally remember seeing old-fashioned ploughs but I do remember the local artist Gerald Palmer doing a very fine watercolour of an old horse-drawn plough in a field, with the church spire in the background. What I do remember is the end product, when my grandfather, who was secretary of the RJAHS would take us around the old Springfield where the growers presented all manner of fruit and vegetables to win prizes for the best in different categories. But the farm that we visited with my parents, which belonged to Eric and Iris Le Feuvre, had modern mechanical ploughs drawn by tractors. A few years ago, I went with Annie and we saw tractor trials in a field in Trinity and it was great fun to see old and new tractors ploughing furrows up and down the field, gulls ever flocking in the wake for juicy worms and other insects thrown up in the process.

There is also a fine organ co collection from pianolas and parlour harmoniums to church and cinema organs. Don loved organ music.

I don't myself remember organs playing in the local cinema but my mother has fond memories of the organ at the Forum Cinema which used to play before the film, during the interval, and the national anthem at the end, and which would apparently a rise up from a sunken recess when the organist was playing and descend again when the film was shown.

When I went round last Saturday I saw, close to the organs and musical instruments, an old television set. That itself brought back memories of the smallness of the box which we used to watch in grainy 425 lines and how the valves would gradually warm up and the picture eventually appear, often plagued by problems of horizontal or vertical roll. Around midnight, television stations would close, often locally with the news broadcast for five minutes in French (and I've often used to wonder which members of Jersey's French community, mostly itinerant farm workers, actually stayed up to watch Jacques Darreau) after which was broadcast the national anthem with the Queen -- a very youthful looking Queen -- sitting on a horse. That continued quite late until the advent of all night broadcasts. After that would be a high-pitched whistling sound to tell viewers to turn their sets off especially if they had nodded off before. When the set was turned off, the display would slowly shrink to a single point of light which, in turn, would gradually fade.

Also in this area is an old-fashioned telex machine. Telex machines were still around in the early 1980s, and I remember using them. Often the bulk of the transmission would be prepared on punched tape to save time and then when connected, this would be sent to the receiving station. In fact I had come across telex machines outside a work environment in the early 1970s when a group of students including myself used to telex machine to access a Honeywell computer in Manchester from Highlands College. This was after six o'clock to take advantage of cheaper phone rates and to make it even more cost-effective, we would prepare the programs on punched tape beforehand. Telex machines would be superseded by fax machines and even with the advent of fast scanning, scan to e-mail, for sheer reliability, faxes are still in use today.

But the steam museum does not just represent nostalgia for times gone by. It also has lessons for us. It marks the extremely swift transition between a culture of make and mend, when local craftsmen made local tools, to the modern "throw away" society, where goods are manufactured far away, imported from across the world (and never mind the carbon footprint), and are often disposed of casually when they break down or are damaged. It is a transition between a society in which artifacts where made for a lifetime's use, and those mass produced but made cheaply, the modern world of "built in" obsolescence, and the "throw away" culture of today. Our forebears would have marveled at the sparkling modern technology of our world, but they would also have been shocked by the casual way in which we wasted the earth's resources.

Wednesday, 22 September 2010

Janvrin's Farm - A Retrospective

I went to look at the Jersey Artists Group paintings on display at the Portelet Inn the other day and parked in the car park near to what had been Janvrin's Farm Restaurant. In 2000, this was on the point of becoming a listed building when owner David Sheppard assembled an army of labourers in March 2000 to demolish it on early on a Saturday morning, a time when (it being the weekend) most official channels were away from the office, and difficult to get hold of. Within a very short space of time, the bulldozers had moved in unannounced and razed the 17th-century traditional Jersey granite farmhouse to the ground.

In the States, Deputy Troy asked the following questions about this to the President of Planning, Senator Nigel Quérée:

"1. Would the President give members details of the steps taken to date concerning the possible legal action against the developer responsible for the demolition of Janvrin's Farm, St. Brelade and would he inform members whether the Attorney General advises such action?
2. As the site is in the green zone, would the President advise whether the Committee is under any obligation to allow replacement of the demolished building?"

The President of the Planning and Environment Committee replied as follows -
"1. The matter has been placed in the hands of H.M. Attorney General, and evidence is currently being collected to enable a decision to be made on possible legal action.
The decision as to whether or not to prosecute is for the Attorney General and I am not prepared to comment further.
2. No application to redevelop the Janvrin's Farm site has yet been made. If such an application were made, the decision on that application will be taken having regard to all relevant considerations and policies including the fact that the site falls within the Green Zone."

Later that year in July, the results of the request to the Attorney General were given:

The Department of Planning and Building Services passed a comprehensive account of the events and circumstances known to it to the Attorney General on 24th March 2000 with a request to advise whether, in the particular circumstances, demolition constituted 'development' and whether the action of demolition without consent was contrary to law . The Attorney General in a reply dated 12th April 2000 advised the Committee that 'It appears to be reasonably clear under the current Law that, if the demolition is unconnected with any application or intended application for development, then consent would not be required for that demolition.'

The "legal loophole" which Mr Sheppard argued was that demolition for rebuilding required planning consent, but if he was just demolishing the building, and not submitting plans, that was not "development" under the terms of the planning law. This was tested in the Courts, and in July 2001 he was found guilty and fined £150,000. However, the conviction was subsequently overturned on a split decision by the Court of Appeal

Planning promptly decided to block that particular argument for the future:

The Committee have already included in its published new draft Planning Law a specific change to the definition of 'development' to encompass demolition. Subject to the outcome of this case it will also consider whether to bring any proposition to the States for an amendment to the existing Planning Law as a matter of urgency.

However, the long term intention was to build on the site, and the first application was completed by the summer of 2000, but turned down several times because of the number of houses on the site. Eventually, after advice from Planning, Mr Sheppard managed plans for three three-bedroom houses and one two-bedroom house.

By 2001, the Planning Law had also been changed so that it included:

Meaning of "develop"
(2) Without prejudice to the generality of paragraph (1), "develop", in respect of land, includes -
(a) to demolish or remove the whole or any part of a building on the land;

But what had been lost? Trawling through my back catalogue, I came across the news that, in October 1985, the Channel Island Mensa society held their monthly dinner there, which was duly reported in "Thinks", the local magazine, by one "Yvonne Ronez". This is the account of the meal they had there:

The name Janvrin's Farm conjures up a picture of rustic robustness, and indeed, there were whitewashed walls and old beams, but the rest was old rose velvet and pink cushions, All very dainty, as was our humorous Portuguese head waiter who clucked and fussed around the thirteen of us like broody hen gathering in her clutch for the night.

The bar consisted of two tiny rooms where we sat cheek to cheek trying to decide from an extensive and imaginative menu, We occupied one long table in the pretty little dining room. On one side of our table was a long upholstered banquette with pink back cushions for which the ladies headed en masse, leaving the men to occupy the chairs opposite. At one end of the room there was an old beautifully carved fireplace, at the opposite end a granite one, and down the middle the waiters practised their flambés in a manner that promised to set fire to the low ceiling and which added to the temperature of the already warm room.

On the whole the food was excellent, For starters we had brimming crab cocktails with home made sauce;
large plates covered with thinly sliced Parma ham and slices of melon; Pate, (well, pate is pate, isn't it); Japonaise pancakes filled with prawns and sweet peppers, a white sauce, and served on saffron rice; avocado with prawns; coquille St Jacques; and a disappointingly wet prawn cocktail.

The main course Turbot looked rather skinny and grey, and the squid was well and truly buried in a thick overcoat of batter. But then there was excellent fresh Jersey plaice; trout cooked not only with almonds but also banana; chicken with cheese; King Charles purse, a sort of carpet bagger steak cooked with mussels instead of oysters; strips of chicken breast breaded and deep fried; the ubiquitous scampi provencale with guess what? - rice; and veal covered in crab meat and white wine sauce, No shortage of crab meat in this place unless you wanted crab claws to start when it was discovered there was not a nipper in the joint!

For dessert the fresh strawberries was favourite, some preferred the fresh fruit salad or the black cherries, apart from the usual display of cream covered decorative caky waist expanders.

The coffee we good and we even got another cup but only after we asked for it, it was also a pity that nobody offered us a liqueur.

There was a good range of wines at varying prices, though all a little on the pricey side. As usual the conversation ranged from the ridiculous to quantum physics, and despite the bills being a few pounds more than expected (beware the veg is dear and did not appear to come as an optional extra) we had a most enjoyable evening.

Tuesday, 21 September 2010

Ozymandias Syndrome

Back in the 1970s, I remember a certain Erich Von Daniken, who made the best seller range with his "Chariots of the Gods". There were a cluster of like minded books, many of which were also devoted to the idea that the ancient gods were, in fact, ancient astronauts. Others did not go quite so far, but also propagated ideas of advanced super-civilisations, which had been lost in a catastrophe - and, of course, the name Atlantis invariable figured somewhere in these narratives.

Like the creationists with the biblical texts of Genesis, they tried to take mythical stories literally, but theirs was an age of science, Harold Wilson's "white heat of technology", and the literalism was not to prop up faith, but almost as a backlash against the dangers of science.

If we look at the Romantic movement before, we see the god Pan coming to the foreground in the literature of the time. As Ronald Hutton has explained, Pan was a rural god, a village yokel, and contrasted with Zeus and the Olympian pantheon of urban and civilised deities. Pan had long languished in obscurity, while English scholars extolled the virtues of Ancient Greece, and retold the Greek legends, but as the Industrial revolution moved into high gear, enclosure of fields shifted people who were drawn to the industrialised cities rather than remaining working on the land, and now the Romantic movement found in Pan the god of the woods. Pan was thereby a reaction to the alienation of modern society from its rural roots, and is, of course, still popular in Neopaganism today as a result.

That alienation is with us today. Many people live in flats with no gardens, and some find increasing solace in cyberspace, in Second Life, where they can live out vicariously the world they cannot find in the everyday. We live in a society of clocks, not rhythms of day and night, of calendars, not seasons, and the acceleration of this pattern of change can be seen most clearly in the harvest festival, where once a farming community brought grown food, but now, if fruit and vegetables remain a part of the festival, most of the congregation source it from supermarkets and farm shops. Even the seasonality of food, still present when I was young, has diminished, as a result of forced growing to create longer seasons of crops, and importations from far abroad. Counter-cultural movements, such as allotments and farm shops are increasingly popular because people are aware of what has been lost.

The other alienation from technology is later, and comes in the fifties and sixties, and is the threat from the atom bomb, from radioactive disasters like Three Mile Island and Chernobyl, and from nuclear war tearing the planet apart. It is from these roots that the ancient high-technology stems, both as a warning of catastrophes like our own (which are read into the ancient texts) and also of the possibility of escape from our situation (the astronauts or UFOs may return and rescue us from our predicament).

An example of the kind of story and how it is "literalised" is one that is popular in circulation:

Mahabharata clearly describes a catastrophic blast that rocked the continent. "A single projectile charged with all the power in the Universe...An incandescent column of smoke and flame as bright as 10,000 suns, rose in all its was an unknown weapon, an iron thunderbolt, a gigantic messenger of death which reduced to ashes an entire race. "The corpses were so burned as to be unrecognizable. Their hair and nails fell out, pottery broke without any apparent cause, and the birds turned white." "After a few hours, all foodstuffs were infected. To escape from this fire, the soldiers threw themselves into the river." Historian Kisari Mohan Ganguli says that Indian sacred writings are full of such descriptions, which sound like an atomic blast as experienced in Hiroshima and Nagasaki. He says references mention fighting sky chariots and final weapons. An ancient battle is described in the Drona Parva, a section of the Mahabharata. "The passage tells of combat where explosions of final weapons decimate entire armies, causing crowds of warriors with steeds and elephants and weapons to be carried away as if they were dry leaves of trees," says Ganguli. "Instead of mushroom clouds, the writer describes a perpendicular explosion with its billowing smoke clouds as consecutive openings of giant parasols. There are comments about the contamination of food and people's hair falling out."

Archeologist Francis Taylor says that etchings in some nearby temples he has managed to translate suggest that they prayed to be spared from the great light that was coming to lay ruin to the city. "It's so mid-boggling to imagine that some civilization had nuclear technology before we did."

...a single projectile Charged with all the power of the Universe. An incandescent column of smoke and flame As bright as the thousand suns Rose in all its splendor... a perpendicular explosion with its billowing smoke clouds... ....the cloud of smoke rising after its first explosion formed into expanding round circles like the opening of giant parasols... was an unknown weapon, An iron thunderbolt, A gigantic messenger of death, Which reduced to ashes The entire race of the Vrishnis and the Andhakas. ...The corpses were so burned As to be unrecognizable. The hair and nails fell out; Pottery broke without apparent cause, And the birds turned white.

When asked in an interview at Rochester University seven years after the Alamogordo nuclear test whether that was the first atomic bomb ever to be detonated, Robert Oppenheimer replied, "Well, yes, in modern history."

Most of the excerpts are found in the Mahabharata, in parts, but not with reference to a single context. Descriptions of various happenings, unrelated to each other, from various segments of the epic have been selected and weaved together to create a text which does not exist in this form.

The excerpt "An incandescent column of smoke and flame, as bright as ten thousand suns, rose with all its splendor" actually appears in the section 34 of the Karna Parva of the Mahabharata( ), as follows.

"The universe is similarly said to consist of Vishnu. Vishnu is, again, the Soul of the holy Bhava of immeasurable energy. For this the touch of that bow-string became unbearable to the Asuras. And the lord Sankara cast on that arrow his own irresistible and fierce wrath, the unbearable fire of anger, viz., that which was born of wrath of Bhrigu and Angirasa. Then He called Nila Rohita (Blue and Red or smoke)--that terrible deity robed in skins, looking like 10,000 Suns, and shrouded by the fire of superabundant Energy, blazed up with splendour. That discomfiter of even him that is difficult of being discomfited, that victor, that slayer of all haters of Brahma, called also Hara, that rescuer of the righteous and destroyer of the unrighteous, viz., the illustrious Sthanu, accompanied by many beings of terrible might and terrible forms that were endued with the speed of the mind and capable of agitating and crushing all foes, as if with all the fourteen faculties of the soul awake
about him, looked exceedingly resplendent".

"It was an unknown weapon, an iron thunderbolt, a gigantic messenger of death, which reduced to ashes the entire race of the Vrishnis and the Andhakas." is actually found in Section 1 of Mausala Parva.(

and the whole text is not exactly reminiscent of nuclear war but looks like something more to do with intoxication

"Endeavoured to be deceived by those wicked ones, those ascetics, with eyes red in wrath, looked at each other and uttered those words. Having said so they then proceeded to see Keshava. The slayer of Madhu, informed of what had taken place, summoned all the Vrishnis and told them of it. Possessed of great intelligence and fully acquainted with what the end of his race would be, he simply said that that which was destined would surely happen. Hrishikesa having said so, entered his mansion. The Lord of the universe did not wish to ordain otherwise. When the next day came, Samva actually brought forth an iron bolt through which all the individuals in the race of the Vrishnis and the Andhakas became consumed into ashes. Indeed, for the destruction of the Vrishnis and the Andhakas, Samva brought forth, through that curse, a fierce iron bolt that looked like a gigantic messenger of death. The fact was duly reported to the king. In great distress of mind, the king (Ugrasena) caused that iron bolt to be reduced into fine powder. Men were employed, O king, to cast that powder into the sea. At the command of Ahuka, of Janarddana, of Rama, and of the high-souled Vabhru, it was, again, proclaimed throughout the city that from that day, among all the Vrishnis and the Andhakas no one should manufacture wines and intoxicating spirits of any kind, and that whoever would secretly manufacture wines and spirits should be impaled alive with all his kinsmen. Through fear of the king, and knowing that it was the command of Rama also of unimpeachable deeds, all the citizens bound themselves by a rule and abstained from manufacturing wines and spirits"

And archaeologist Francis Taylor simply does not exist, and the quotation from Robert Oppenheimer also appears to be made up, probably by the author Charles Berlitz.

Regarding Kisari Mohan Gangul, he did indeed translate the Mahabharata into English. But there is a catch. The interpretation was done between 1883 and 1895, a good 50 odd years before the first atom bomb was dropped on Hiroshima, and a good 90 odd years before the interview quoted! He lived from 1842 to 1895.

In conclusion, a lot of these stories circulate in a fairly precise short form on the internet, and do not vary much, but what seems common to all is that they fail to give precise sources. In this respect, they function like Urban Legends, circulating rapidly and widely by means of cut and paste. Because of this, unlike oral tradition, they are often repeated in a very similar form. Given time, the originals can be tracked down, but it takes time to do this because most of the texts picked up by search engines are the same duplicated forms. When, however, one does this, these are invariably often spurious or misleading (using quotations out of context etc). The wide dissemination has a lot to do with the inability of people to check sources, and consequently to copy the pericopes as if they were accurate. Quotations are given from real people to give verisimilitude to what is at first sight a plausible story.

But why should people believe it in the first place? As I stated in my introduction, I think it has a good deal to do with alienation from modern technology. The cataclysms of the myths are "literalised" into forms which speak directly to the emotional fears of today. The need to believe in these warnings also has much to do with the impotence of people in today's society to do anything about these fears, for some of the threats are very real. If countries like Iran have nuclear weapon capability, who knows how unstable the world may become again? Nuclear power is still feared because of appalling failures in safety, and radioactivity is an invisible, unseen, but potent killer. Is it any wonder that people look to the past and create a dark scientific mirror of the present?

If I was going to coin a term for this kind of fear, I'd call it "Ozymandias Syndrome", after the poem by Shelley, which gave warnings about the transitory nature of all societies, except that unlike Shelley, his modern counterpart sees everywhere warnings from the catastrophes which they think engulfed civilisations just like out own, or even more advanced.

I met a traveller from an antique land
Who said: "Two vast and trunkless legs of stone
Stand in the desert. Near them on the sand,
Half sunk, a shattered visage lies, whose frown
And wrinkled lip and sneer of cold command
Tell that its sculptor well those passions read
Which yet survive, stamped on these lifeless things,
The hand that mocked them and the heart that fed.
And on the pedestal these words appear:
`My name is Ozymandias, King of Kings:
Look on my works, ye mighty, and despair!'
Nothing beside remains. Round the decay
Of that colossal wreck, boundless and bare,
The lone and level sands stretch far away".

Sunday, 19 September 2010

Hellhound on His Trail

I got to keep moving, I got to keep moving
Blues falling down like hail, blues falling down like hail
Mmm, blues falling down like hail, blues falling down like hail
And the day keeps on remindin' me, there's a hellhound on my trail
Hellhound on my trail, hellhound on my trail

"Hellhound on his Trail: The Stalking of Martin Luther King, Jr. and the International Hunt for His Assassin" is a book by the historian Hampton Sides, documenting the final days in the life of Martin Luther King, and the way in which is path converged with the hellhound, deliberately out to destroy him - James Earl Ray.

Ray escaped from prison and created a new identity for himself as Eric Starvo Galt, and was convinced of his mission to kill King. The book is also the story of King worn down by the pressure of the campaign for equal rights for blacks, and seeking to continue his struggle from the legal right to equality towards moves against economic discrimination. The story follows both Ray and King as they cross the country, Ray stalking king, until the moment on 4 April 1968 at a Memphis hotel, when the Ray booked a room at a motel overlooking King's hotel balcony, and finally caught up with his prey. Nationwide riots were sparked by the assassination, followed by the largest manhunt in American history.

The story also story unfolds against the larger backdrop of the Civil Rights movement in America. It takes its title from the Robert Johnson blues song, and is a taut story, cutting back and forth between the Martin Luther King and Ray, calling himself in 1968, Eric Starvo Galt.. These two parts to the story were presented effectively in the BBC Radio 4 "Book of the Week" which used two voices to read the different narratives, cutting between the two to effective dramatic effect.

After the shooting, Ray fled from the scene, dumping his rifle, then driving off in his Mustang, before abandoning the vehicle, and making his way by train to Canada. There he boarded in a guest house, and searched back copies of the newspaper's archive for birth records for a false identity. Having established a living individual did not have a passport, he first obtained a copy of a birth certificate, and used that to obtain a passport with a photograph of himself. From there he flew first the Portugal, and then to London, from where he planned to fly to Ian Smith's apartheid Rhodesia and work as a mercenary.

Yet ironically, the same FBI machinery which had been targeted at surveillance on Martin Luther King (because Herbert Hoover mistrusted King as a dangerous tool for communists), was instrumental in tracking down Ray. His gun was located, his fingerprints found in the central fingerprint registry that had been established - within a few days, over 500 prints had been checked, then his located, and his identity as a former prisoner, complete with photographic record, established. Meanwhile, the other end of his route to the railway, and to Canada had been established, and a search for recent passport applications turned up trumps. With better photographic material, and his passport tracking his flights, the FBI had rapidly established his route to London. The international liaisons were mobilised, and Scotland Yard issued a description and photograph in the police gazette, notified guest houses and rooming houses, and all port authorities. It was as he was leaving from Heathrow that Ray was apprehended, initially arrested on the count of carrying an unregistered hand gun and having a false passport. It was enough to keep him until he was repatriated to the US, where he was given a life sentence. He died in 1998.

The author Hampton Sides noted that:

After King's assassination, Robert Kennedy tried to take up his mantle. I think he felt that someone needed to pick up that standard. And he was the only one who actively supported the Poor People's Campaign. Following the riots after King's assassination, Kennedy went to the inner cities and tried to figure out how to rebuild them.

A child at the time, in an interview he recalled:

I remember being scared. I remember my parents being scared. I remember radio and television voices - people were terrified that the city was just going to rip apart. I remember the next day my parents yanked me out of school and we left the city for three days, because there was a fear that there would be major riots. There wasn't a major riot - partly because the National Guard was already there clamping down on things. Mainly, I remember feeling that it was the first time I was aware of history happening, feeling the weight of history, the glare of it on my home town.

What is forgotten about Kings--often willfully--is that he was an advocate for racial and economic justice. From a speech he gave to striking sanitation workers in Memphis on March 18, 1968:

If you will judge anything here in this struggle, you're commanding that this city will respect the dignity of labor. So often we overlook the worth
and significance of those who are not in professional jobs, or those who are not in the so-called big jobs. But let me say to you tonight, that whenever you are engaged in work that serves humanity, and is for the building of humanity, it has dignity, and it has worth. One day our society must come to see this. One day our society will come to respect the sanitation worker if it is to survive. For the person who picks up our garbage, in the final analysis, is as significant as the physician. All labor has worth.

You are doing another thing. You are reminding, not only Memphis, but you are reminding the nation that it is a crime for people to live in this rich nation and receive starvation wages. I need not remind you that this is the plight of our people all over America..

Now the problem isn't only unemployment. Do you know that most of the poor people in our country are working everyday? They are making wages so low that they can not begin to function in the mainstream of the economic life of our nation. These are facts which must be seen. And it is criminal to have people working on a full-time basis and a full-time job getting part-time income.

I will hear America through her historians years and years to come saying, "We built gigantic buildings to kiss the sky. We build gargantuan bridges to span the seas. Through our spaceships we were able to carve highways through the stratosphere. Through our airplanes we were able to dwarf distance and place time in chains. Through our submarines we were able to penetrate oceanic depths."

But it seems that I can hear the God of the universe saying, "even though you've done all of that, I was hungry and you fed me not. I was naked and ye clothed me not. The children of my sons and daughters were in need of economic security, and you didn't provide for them. So you cannot enter the kingdom of greatness."

So in Memphis we have begun. We are saying, "Now is the time." Get the word across to everybody in power in this town that now is the time to make real the promises of democracy. Now is the time to make an adequate income a reality for all of God's children, now is the time to make the real promises of democracy. Now is the time to make an adequate income a reality for all of God's children, now is the time for city hall to take a position for that which is just and honest. Now is the time for justice to roll down like water, and righteousness like a mighty stream. Now is the time.

It is a message which still resonates and needs to be heard today, not just in America, but in all the richer countries of the world, including our own Island.


Saturday, 18 September 2010

Trading Futures

What will happen if we listen to the climate change deniers, and purely count costs, gambling away tomorrow on the standards of the stock market? Here is a glimpse....

Trading Futures

Winds sweeping across the world
Melting ice caps, glaciers thawing
Myths speak of a serpent curled
Around the world, coils tightening

Climate change, moment of doubt
Do nothing, waiting until the end
The gods fall, wisdom dying out
Skeptics wail, and clothing rend

Who will live, and who will die
Trading futures, financier gambles
Fates cut the thread, say goodbye
All will end in final shambles

Doubting climate change, a liar
Too late, the world ends in fire

Thursday, 16 September 2010

Disabled hit next in cuts

Jacob Marley: In life, my spirit never rose beyond the limits of our money-changing holes! Now I am doomed to wander without rest or peace, incessant torture and remorse!
Ebenezer: But it was only that you were a good man of business, Jacob!
Jacob Marley: BUSINESS? Mankind was my business! Their common welfare was my business!

There are two kinds of injustice: the first is found in those who do an injury, the second in those who fail to protect another from injury when they can.' (Roman. Cicero, De Off. I. vii)

Disabled hit next in cuts

Jersey's Health and Social Services Department will reduce funding to Les Amis, Jersey Mencap and Family Nursing and Homecare. As part of the 2011 Business Plan debate the States have been attempting to stay true to their word and achieve 50 million pounds worth of savings. (1)

It is, I think, a measure of how far our society has moved from principles or ideals towards a truly purely pragmatic approach that the States is deciding to introduce these cuts. Limited as it was in terms of understanding, the Victorian and Edwardian age did attempt to introduce provisions in the form of various institutions for the State to take care of those who are disabled either in body or in mind. We can criticise those institutions and rightly for regimes that were often harsh and uncaring yet the notion of having something in place was driven by moral values that looked to the suffering of the weakest, the most vulnerable, and said this should not be so. Those moral values derived in part from those parts of the Bible and the religious traditions which looked to praise the good Samaritan, and took to heart the commands to look after the widow, the orphan, the stranger, and all who were outcasts from society. These are the values that can be heard in both the words of Pope Benedict in Scotland, and his speech today.

It seems that these values have been decaying and in their place we have a purely pragmatic approach that looks for the easiest way of making cuts. And of course the easiest way is often the way which hits hardest at the people on the margins, those without power, those without influence, and often those with a voice that can easily be stifled.

If one compared the States with the salesman, the kind of values they now have of looking for the easy options such as targeting the disabled for cutbacks would make them the kind of salesman who was out for a quick buck, and easy sale, a get rich quick salesman and not a salesman who thought he had something valuable and worthwhile to sell, a pearl of great price.

And it is not as if they are bringing in "gift aid" as a panacea to try and boost those charities, like Les Amis, in their fund raising; on the contrary, when they take with one hand, they make a closed fist with the other.

A civilised society cannot afford to be totally pragmatic in this way. The kind of values that ignore questions of justice, of helping the weak and powerless, and simply pushing through something that works regardless of those considerations will end up creating a society that will devour itself. When the government of John Major decided to promote the value of families and traditional notions of right and wrong with their campaign to go back to basics, it fell apart when it became patently clear that the members of the government did not hold those values themselves and were sinking into a quagmire of sleaze. To lead by example and give the only example as one of expediency, of what works and is easiest to implement, is to teach younger generations either to enter politics and society to take what they can out of it, without any of the past traditions of service, of "putting something back in the community", or to buck that trend and try to act responsibly and help charitable events, and give freely of time, while at the same time despising those politicians who show by their actions in the States that they just don't care - however much members may go to a "token" gala event where they can be snapped by photographers - because when it comes down to making a real change, they don't care.

That is not to say that all States members follow this lead. Senator Ben Shenton in particular has criticised this position strongly. But others do not, and they seem to have lost their way. Perhaps they might consider helping for a weekend at Le Geyt, or Les Amis, and seeing exactly those vulnerable people who are being helped. They seem to lack the imagination to see these people; so perhaps they could reach out and touch. As Jacob Bronowski said: "We have to close the distance between push-button order and human act. We have to touch people." Instead, they seem to have distanced themselves, and it is easy to make cuts at a distance, when all that matters is words, and the people who are effected by the decisions are invisible. That is precisely the "push button" philosophy that Bronowski said we must reject, the deliberate deafness to the cry for help.

And Chief Minister Terry Le Sueur (who is himself a Catholic) seems, with these decisions, to be going contrary to over a hundred years of Catholic teaching on "the common good". Is ignoring that teaching as some kind of religious idealism what he means when he says "get real" and opts for expediency instead? Here are some key texts on Catholic Social teaching to ponder:

When there is question of defending the rights of individuals, the poor and badly off have a claim to especial consideration. The richer class have many ways of shielding themselves, and stand less in need of help from the State; whereas the mass of the poor have no resources of their own to fall back upon, and must chiefly depend upon the assistance of the State. (Pope Leo Leo XIII , Rerum Novarum, 1891)

"It is imperative that no one, out of indifference to the course of events or because of inertia, would indulge in a merely individualistic morality. The best way to fulfill one's obligations of justice and love is to contribute to the common good according to one's means and the needs of others, and also to promote and help public and private organizations devoted to bettering the conditions of life."
- Gaudium et Spes: Pastoral Constitution on the Church in the Modern World
Second Vatican Council, 1965

There are needs and common goods that cannot be satisfied by the market system. It is the task of the state and of all society to defend them. An idolatry of the market alone cannot do all that should be done."
- Centesimus Annus (Donders), The Hundredth Year
John Paul II, 1991

Your forefathers' respect for truth and justice, for mercy and charity come to you from a faith that remains a mighty force for good in your kingdom, to the great benefit of Christians and non-Christians alike (Pope Benedict XVI, Scotland 2010)

The decision to make the cuts was in the business plan. The amendment to keep the support for Les Amis, Mencap, etc was proposed by Daniel Wimberley.
Draft Annual Business Plan 2011 (P.99/2010): thirteenth amendment paragraph 4 Third Party SLAs) 16 September 2010
POUR means keeping supporting the services with funding, CONTRE means taking away the funding:

Senator Terence Augustine Le Sueur
Senator Paul Francis Routier
Senator Philip Francis Cyril Ozouf
Senator Terence John Le Main
Senator Ben Edward Shenton
Senator Frederick Ellyer Cohen
Senator James Leslie Perchard
Senator Alan Breckon
Senator Sarah Craig Ferguson
Senator Alan John Henry Maclean
Senator Bryan Ian Le Marquand
Senator Francis du Heaume Le Gresley, M.B.E.
Connétable Kenneth Priaulx Vibert
Connétable Alan Simon Crowcroft
Connétable John Le Sueur Gallichan
Connétable Daniel Joseph Murphy
Connétable Michael Keith Jackson
Connétable Silvanus Arthur Yates
Connétable Graeme Frank Butcher
Connétable Peter Frederick Maurice Hanning
Connétable Leonard Norman
Connétable John Martin Refault
Connétable Deidre Wendy Mezbourian
Connétable Juliette Gallichan
Deputy Robert Charles Duhamel
Deputy Frederick John Hill, B.E.M.
Deputy Roy George Le Hérissier
Deputy John Benjamin Fox
Deputy Judith Ann Martin
Deputy Geoffrey Peter Southern
Deputy James Gordon Reed
Deputy Carolyn Fiona Labey
Deputy Collin Hedley Egré
Deputy Jacqueline Ann Hilton
Deputy Paul Vincent Francis Le Claire
Deputy John Alexander Nicholas Le Fondré
Deputy Anne Enid Pryke
Deputy Sean Power
Deputy Shona Pitman
Deputy Kevin Charles Lewis
Deputy Ian Joseph Gorst
Deputy Philip John Rondel
Deputy Montfort Tadier
Deputy Angela Elizabeth Jeune
Deputy Daniel John Arabin Wimberley
Deputy Trevor Mark Pitman
Deputy Anne Teresa Dupre
Deputy Edward James Noel
Deputy Tracey Anne Vallois
Deputy Michael Roderick Higgins
Deputy Andrew Kenneth Francis Green M.B.E.
Deputy Deborah Jane De Sousa
Deputy Jeremy Martin Maçon