Sunday, 28 February 2010

The Honest Lie


A Socratic Dialogue

Socrates: Ah,-there you are, Plato. You have a moment to spare for talk?

Plato: I'm busy, Socrates. I have an appointment to keep. You mustn't think ill of me If I bid you farewell.

Socrates: Very well, my young friend. Tell me, are you some distance from the place of appointment?

Plato: It is a good way that I must travel - yes. Why do you ask?

Socrates: Why, because then I may still have an opportunity to speak to you. I will walk with you - we may converse on the way there.

Plato: That will delay me. I shall be late. No, I'm sorry but -

Socrates: Do you want to speak to me?

Plato: I would speak to you, but I simply don't have the time to spare.

Socrates: Answer me honestly, Plato. You are trying to avoid my conversation, aren't you?

Plato: That question is insulting! I demand an apology.

Socrates: Oh! So I have offended you?

Plato: Of course!

Socrates: I confess ignorance! I ask a simple question, and you take offence at it. Be a good fellow, and explain to me how this offends you.

Plato: It casts doubts upon my honesty. Haven't .I told you that I would speak to you, but do not have the time to do so.

Socrates: It is offensive to cast doubts upon a person's honesty?

Plato: Obviously!

Socrates: It is not obvious to me, I assure you.

Plato: It is ill-mannered to doubt a man's word!

Socrates: Indeed! So I must believe that which everyone tells me is the truth?

Plato: No, obviously not. That would be silly. But you must not openly doubt a person's word.

Socrates: So I should pretend to believe you are telling the truth about your "arranged meeting", while at the same time suspecting you tell a lie?

Plato: Correct. That is indeed the position that you must take.

Socrates: Tell me, If I lied to you, would you not be offended by my deception of you?

Plato: Yes, very much so.

Socrates: And, as a general rule, to lie to someone is to offend them?

Plato: Yes.

Socrates: Think carefully, Plato, and tell me this. A lie deceives by pretending that something is true when it is, in fact, false. Is this true?

Plato: It is true.

Socrates: So a lie is a false pretence to truth?

Plato: That follows surely from the nature of the lie.

Socrates: Well, It seems to me that if I pretend to believe your story of an appointment, while, in fact, I do not believe you have spoken the truth, then my pretence is a false pretence to truth. Yes?

Plato: Certainly, that is true.

Socrates: Then by the logic of this argument my pretence is insulting to you, because a lie is offensive and a false pretence to truth is a lie. So, If I should not offend you then I should, in fact, not pretend to believe you. Correct?

Plato: The logic is true, Socrates. But you should still refrain from stating your disbelief of my explanations.

Socrates: By dog! I am not to disbelieve you, yet I am not to pretend to believe you either. How am I to speak? What am I to do?

Plato: That is your dilemma, Socrates, not mine,

Socrates: How little you care for honesty, Plato.

Plato: The world cares little, Socrates.

Saturday, 27 February 2010

Byzantium Falls

"Surely, Allaah will collect the hypocrites and disbelievers all together in Hell" al-Nisaa' 4:140
"O Prophet! Strive hard against the disbelievers and the hypocrites, and be severe against them; their abode will be Hell, and worst indeed is that destination" al-Tahreem 66:9 (1)

I know it is the norm to criticise Christianity for the Crusades, and rightly so, but the historical poem below explores the bloody side of Islam, which could be just as cruel in its way. Byzantium is now Istanbul, part of modern day Turkey.

At present Christians in Turkey "are prevented from constructing, and even from restoring, their places of worship, from possessing buildings and land, and from opening schools. Christians are forbidden from taking up some offices and professions, particularly in the military."(2). Of course, it is not just Christians who suffer discrimination - the Alevis are also suffer - "It is illegal for the Alevis to build their own place of worship, called a cemevi. The government systematically refuses building permits and the Alevis are obliged to perform their rites in secret." (4). I have tried in vain to see what the position is with any Pagan groups in Turkey; there is no evidence that any exist, but the murder of the atheist and former imam Turan Dursan in 1990 suggests it would be difficult for them. Certainly, modern Turkey does not have:

The right to believe, to worship and witness
The right to change one's belief or religion
The right to join together and express one's belief.

It is little wonder that discrimination remains present when such inflammatory quotations as those which began this piece are still very much part of present day Islam, even here in Jersey, which is where I found them (on an official website (1)). Where that kind of intolerance is fostered, the spirit of Mehmet is not far behind.

Byzantium Falls

In Fourteen Fifty-Three, Mehmet attacked;
His armies numbered many, odds stacked
Against the defenders of the City. That day
Constantinople fell, defenders held no sway,
As troops poured in, with mighty blood lust;
Mehmet let them kill, where he might be just,
And stay his hand, instead encouraged these
Till blood ran in rivers. Like a dread disease,
They slaughtered, leaving bodies to adorn
From heights of Petra to the Golden Horn;
In Saint Sophia, they were singing, prayers
Offered for deliverance, but all their fears
Were realised, when doors battered down,
Mehmet's forces broke in. Such is renown
That Sophia became a Mosque, to assuage
That day when soldiers in a berserker rage
Tore into women and children. Do they still
Haunt this place, with melancholy sobs fill
The void of time, and the vaults of space,
Here where bloody Islam fell from grace?
Does the endless ritual of daily prayer atone
For the way that Mehmet seized the throne?
The walls seem mute, but listen, and hear
As Byzantium falls, they cry in despair.

Useful Links:

Wednesday, 24 February 2010

The Neutral Zone

Time and again, suspension in Jersey is described as "a neutral act". To those individuals who are subjected to the media spotlight, and are unable to defend themselves, or bring any public action (as for unfair dismissal), it can surely seem anything but that.

In Star Trek, the "Neutral Zone", was in fact an area in which any attempt for the Enterprise to enter was met by armed Romulans, who seemed to patrol the zone at will, and despite its name, had almost complete control over it; far from being "neutral", the "Neutral Zone" was really the boundary marking Romulan hegemony. What the viewer was told, and what the viewer saw were significantly at odds with one another.

I couldn't help feeling a sense of déjà vue with the way that "neutral act" is used in connection with suspensions. On one side, the media can make all kinds of allegations, or publicise allegations - as in the case of Mr. John Day, and the court case in which he was not called as witness; on the other, he had to keep silent on the matter, and just accept all the accusations flung at him in court. The same is the case with Graham Power, although there at least, he is prepared to speak out when former Ministers, such as Andrew Lewis, cheerfully break their own silence.

So let's look at a few things Mr. Lewis says about "neutrality":

The act of suspension was fully in line with the disciplinary code and is designed as a neutral act in order to give the Chief Officer sufficient time to defend his position uncompromised by the constraints of office. The code has a clear process of appeal despite Mr. Power's allegations that such provision does not exist.

Graham Power notes that this is false on two grounds. First, that the Royal Court strongly criticises his actions, and secondly, and even more significantly, that there is no right of appeal.

This claim is made in spite of the strong criticism of his actions by the Royal Court. He does not address this criticism and appears to prefer to pretend that it does not exist. Contrary to his claim, the disciplinary code provides for no appeal against suspension. There is a right of appeal against the findings of a disciplinary hearing. No such hearing has yet occurred and none has been arranged.

I think that Mr. Power is absolutely right in this. If there were grounds for appeal, he would have been the first to take them. But as with Karen Huchet, or John Day (to note two other recent "neutral suspensions"), there is no recourse until a disciplinary hearing has occurred. For Andrew Lewis to come out with something so blatantly incorrect is amazing. How are we to make sense of this? Apart from deliberately trying the muddy the waters, which I am at present ruling out, I can only propose the following explanations:

- he has been misinformed - despite his statement that he was well briefed on the law
- he was well briefed, but misunderstood the briefing
- the passage of time has clouded his memory of exactly what he was briefed about

In any case, he should issue a retraction on this, and make it clear that he was making a false claim about appeal from a suspension.

Now we come to a complete contradiction:

Andrew Lewis: Mr. Power had also been regularly briefed on the progress of the review in even more detail than I. He was also informed that the Deputy Chief Of Police was planning to brief Ministers on the 11th November on the findings of the review that were expected to be shocking.

Graham Power: Mr. Lewis states that I was aware of the planned briefing to Ministers on 11th November 2008. This is just plain untrue. Pure and simple. This was planned and executed without my knowledge. If he claims that I was aware it might be useful for him to state who told me, and when.

Graham Power is absolutely right to ask this. If he was informed about the briefing on 11 November, where is the record of this? If it was as significant a briefing as Mr. Lewis states, surely there must be documents (letters, emails) to Mr. Power informing him about it? In the absence of any corroborative evidence, the balance of probability surely favours Mr. Power's version of events. Again, how do we understand Andrew Lewis strange statement?

- he has been misinformed - despite his statement that he was well briefed by those concerned with the 11 November briefing
- the passage of time has clouded his memory of exactly what he was told about the 11 November briefing

We now come to the statement about Mr. Power's resignation:

During my final meeting with Mr. Power he was not asked to resign he never has been, it was an action that I did not wish to invoke because it was important that a thorough investigation of the allegations made in the Met review was undertaken before any further action was taken in respect of Mr. Power's position. Hence the suspension was an important neutral act.

Mr. Power says that:

Lewis states that I was not "asked to resign." All parties agree on at least one thing. That is that at the start of the meeting I was asked to "consider my position." I leave it to others to decide what is commonly understood to be meant by this statement.

Andrew Lewis comments here remind me of the Isaac Asimov detective story in his "Black Widowers" series. In one story, a man whom we are told never tells any lies has been accused of stealing bonds and cash, but he persistently denies this. He says "I didn't steal the bonds or the cash". The Black Widowers are at a loss, because he is known to be almost pathological about not lying. It takes the clever Henry, their waiter, to spot the obvious, and he asks the question: "Did you steal the bonds AND the cash?" which of course he did.

By sticking to the exact form of words "asked to resign", and avoiding saying whether Mr. Power was ever asked "to consider your position", Mr. Lewis is using literal exactness to avoid giving a direct lie. But if Mr. Power's statement is true, and there is no reason to doubt it, Mr. Lewis is giving a very slippery reply, which if factually correct, is definitely misleading.

With regard to the form of words, these caused came up in 1994, and "made headline news and triggered an unprecedented debate in the House of Lords. It concerned correspondence between the Lord Chancellor, Lord Mackay, and the President of the Employment Appeals Tribunal, Mr. Justice Wood". In the course of the correspondence, Lord Mackay wrote:

I ask you again for your immediate assurance that Rule 3 is henceforth to be applied in full and that preliminary hearings are not to be used where no jurisdiction is shown on a notice of appeal. If you do not feel you can give that assurance, I must ask you to consider your position.

Diana Woodhouse notes that "the phrase 'consider your position' raised a matter of considerable constitutional concern. In the subsequent debate in the House of Lords Lord Lester considered that he 'would have interpreted it as an official and formal invitation... to consider whether [he]... could properly continue in that office'. (HL Debs., col. 257, 27 Apr. 1994.)"

So I don't really think Andrew Lewis can honestly state that Mr. Power was not asked to resign - in any form of words - if the House of Lords considers it as an "official and formal invitation" to resign.

Lastly, on suspension as a "neutral act", the following case should certainly be considered, which in my opinion, makes it clear that the legality of suspension as "neutral" is certainly open to challenge.

Suspension of employee is "not a neutral act" and may be restrained by injunction.

In Mezey v South West London and St George's Mental Health NHS Trust the Court of Appeal refused the Trust leave to appeal against a High Court injunction to restrain its suspension of Ms Mezey, a consultant psychiatrist. While Ms Mezey had given a voluntary undertaking to abstain from her clinical work pending an internal disciplinary hearing, she disputed the contractual lawfulness of her suspension. Pending trial of that issue, Ms Mezey obtained an interim injunction from the High Court.

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

Text of Andrew Lewis and Graham Power's responses; grateful thanks to:

In Pursuit of Good Administration: Ministers, Civil Servants, and Judges. Diana Woodhouse, 1997, p118

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

Tuesday, 23 February 2010

Stuart Syvret for the Orwell Prize?

I came across the "Orwell Prize" during my rambles around the internet. In case anyone does not know what it is, it is named after George Orwell. As the site itself notes.

The Orwell Prize is the pre-eminent British prize for political writing. There are three annual awards: a Book Prize, a Journalism Prize and a Blog Prize. They are awarded to the book, the journalism and the blogposts which are judged to have best achieved George Orwell's aim to 'make political writing into an art'. Homage to Catalonia, Down and Out in Paris and London, The Road to Wigan Pier, Nineteen Eighty-Four, Animal Farm and Orwell's incomparable essays still resonate around the world as peerless examples of courageous independence of mind, steely analysis and beautiful writing. (1)

According to Booktrade, there are "More entries than ever before in all three categories"; these being books, journalism,blogs. For 2010, there are now 164 bloggers competing:

164 bloggers - nearly double last year's total of 83 - will do battle in the Blog Prize. Professional journalists, including BBC economics editor Stephanie Flanders and Sky News foreign affairs editor Tim Marshall, will compete with blogosphere heavyweights including Iain Dale and Hopi Sen. There appears to be a 'Nightjack' effect after last year's Blog Prize was won by a pseudonymous detective, with a postal worker ('Roy Mayall'), a teacher ('Mr Teacher'), a social worker (named after the main character from 1984, 'Winston Smith'), a police officer ('PC Bloggs') and even a dominatrix ('sensory regulation') putting themselves forward anonymously. Joining a number of local councillors are MEPs Dan Hannan and Mary Honeyball, and MPs John Redwood and Douglas Carswell. Legal campaigner Jack of Kent ( and exiled Jersey senator, Stuart Syvret ( are among the more campaign-oriented entries.(2)

And I've checked, and there on the list itself (3) is:

Senator Stuart Syvret Senator Stuart Syvret Blog

Of course there are 164 bloggers, and I'm not convinced that Stuart's style of polemic is quite the way Orwell would have done things. To use a metaphor, Stuart often seems like someone with a blunt cleaver, where Orwell's concise prose was more like a sharp scalpel. But it is quite a remarkable achievement that he has appeared on the list.

Anyone can make a submission, and the key test is whether he reaches the shortlist. However, the submission guidelines for blogs are interesting:

29. A submission for the Blog Prize will consist of ten blogposts by a single blogger. These blogposts may be taken from a range of blogs.
30. Submissions for the Blog Prize will be made electronically. The 'signature' referred to in clause 24 will be taken to mean verification of entry from an active email address.

So presumably, as I understand it, item 30 means he had to actually submit the blog entries himself.

I wonder where he heard of it? And the other interesting question: what ten blogposts did he choose?


Monday, 22 February 2010

Madeira Floods

I heard on the Radio that Side by Side Jersey are arranging to collect local donations, which can be made online at

Their website says:

Jersey has very strong established ties with Madeira over many years, which was endorsed by the signing of the Friendship Agreement by the Bailiff and President Jardine more than 12 years ago. At that time the islands recognised the value of each community and their inherently close ties over many years. We are very conscious and proud of the number of Portuguese and Madeiran families who have contributed and lived in the island for several generations. In recognising the great contribution that they have brought to our community we would without hesitation suggest that at least 80% of our population if not every one of us relies on their services in one way or another.

They are to be congratulated for their speedy response, and the way in which they are geared up to accept online donations; this only takes a matter of a few minutes. I know there are many calls on people's generosity, but even £10 to £20 can help. Please donate as generously as you can.

This is the BBC News story.

Portugal is expected to announce three days of national mourning following the floods that have hit Madeira island, killing 42 people. Officials say the announcement will be made at an emergency cabinet meeting convened to discuss the crisis. Search teams are continuing to look for victims amid debris, after mud and rock swept through towns on Saturday. Cars were buried, buildings damaged, and people swept along in raging waters through the regional capital, Funchal. Specialist army teams are working to get through to communities that remain cut off, with roads blocked and bridges collapsed. There were fears that the death toll could rise, particularly in three remote parts of the island, officials said. Funchal Mayor Miguel Albuquerque said: "It is very probable that we will find more bodies," AFP news agency reported. Paramedics and divers have been sent from the Portuguese mainland. A temporary morgue has been set up at the international airport, which reopened for international flights on Sunday. More than 120 people were injured in Saturday's rainstorms in which the rainfall exceeded the monthly average, meteorologists said.

Water, power and telecommunications were cut in some areas, with roofs ripped off buildings and roads buckled by the amount of water.About 250 were made homeless and are staying in temporary shelters. Prime Minister Jose Socrates, who visited the island on Sunday, said he was "profoundly shocked" by the severity of the floods. Portugal has requested emergency funds from the EU, and Spain has offered help. Construction firms on the island offered equipment to rescue teams to help shift the debris.

Saturday, 20 February 2010

Armenian Odyssey, 1915

Armenian Odyssey, 1915

Journey's end, the weary traveller's hope:
But for now resettlement, a trial to cope
Along the desert path, a dry and arid land,
Towards the heat and dust, desert sand;
This was the year of exile, year of lying,
Because Turkey's leaders wanted dying,
And sent us into a wilderness, a death
Without shelter or provision, the breath
Of life cannot be sustained; but memory
Of those who escaped, who could see
The parched pilgrimage to destruction,
Because we were in the way, obstruction;
And we still are, Turkey lives in denial
Without justice, and with no fair trial,
To hear the voices of innocent abused,
But the graves ring out to the accused;
An Armenian odyssey, time to mourn,
For families, and children yet unborn,
Bearing witness for them, and for all,
Who trod that road, and came to fall,
Trampled by officialdom, by decree;
Pray that the world may someday see
Ravaged orchards, the houses in ashes,
And a people taken, a terror that lashes
Out, destroying. Agony remains still
In our blood, a testament, a living will,
To all whom we lost, of love and hope,
And future robbed. Perhaps time heals
The blooded history, the scars that feel
Old and sore. And let our God be there,
In the wounded story, in all our fear,
And feel the pain, the deaths, the hate,
And destroy the strands of cursed fate:
That at last forgiveness may be given,
That be our destiny for so long striven.

Wednesday, 17 February 2010

The Strange Whistle Language of the Clangers

"In the beginning was the void and the void was dark and without form, being 'eight by five' sheets of battened hardboard painted midnight blue. And on the first day took we a bucket of white emulsion and big floppy brushes and threw white stars thereon, even unto the extremities thereof. And we looked upon it and saw that it was terrible. And on the second day we painted it out and started again..." (Oliver Postgate)

"Oliver Postage: A Small Life in Films" explored the remarkable animations produced by Oliver Postage. With little more than a camera capable of filming frame by frame, and a good deal of ingenuity in construction with mechano, cotton wool, etc, and clever storytelling, Oliver created worlds that delighted generations of children - Pingwings, Pogles' Wood, Noggin the Nog, Ivor the Engine, Clangers and Bagpuss.

I remember probably one of his most famous creations, the Clangers, from my own childhood. It was extraordinarily simple in design, yet the use of clever scripts, his warm and friendly narration, and the use of music to substitute for dialogue was extremely innovative.

The Clangers were so popular that they make a brief appearance in the 1972 Doctor Who story, The Sea Devils, where the Doctor's arch-enemy, the Master, watches them on television and whistles along, saying that they are a most interesting life form!

As the documentary on Oliver Postgate showed, all of the Clangers was scripted, including the words which were replaced by sounds. The use of swanee whistles was quite consistent with the scripted "dialogue" of the Clangers, and should probably end up as a thesis by a linguist one day; certain it is mentioned in passing in the paper "Pingu's Lingo, or How to Get By in Penguinese" by Tony Thorne, Director of the Language Centre at King's College, University of London.

Thorne is looking at Pingu's language, which like the Clangers, possesses a certain consistency. He actually states that "Other kids' favourites like Sooty's companion Sweep, Bill and Ben the Flowerpot Men, the Clangers and the Teletubbies, all have their own very different ways of 'speaking', but charming as they are none of these really amounts to a language."

I would dispute this; having seen the way in which the dialogue of the Clangers was taken from a script, which occasionally included swear words - not "full of swearing" as Thorne states - the "translation" seems to be exact; a phrase would be represented consistently by the same sequence of notes on the swanee whistle. It is not as recognisable as a distorted speech as Pingu, but that is because the means by which it is generated is different. I think this is where Thorne makes his mistake; he is looking for analogues that sound "speech like" rather than sounds that don't, but which may have the linguistic pattern of speech.

Thorne notes that "Pingu's speech is so rich because it consists not only of a wide range of different sounds, but of the body language that goes with them.", and the same, I think is true with the Clangers.

On another linguists site, one observer notices that the grammar of the whistles can be understood, if you put your mind to it; it is the ear that is not attuned to a non-human range of sounds that finds it hard:

The Clangers indeed speak English in whistle tones. Once you get your ear in, you can make out what they say surprisingly often. The Soup Dragon and Iron Chicken also speak English, but are harder to understand.

In fact, with a discussion of Simlish (the language used by the strategic life-simulation computer game), one writer notes

The clangers discovered a universal language years ago :) It was a children's TV show in which the script wasn't read by actors - they played it on whistles. Worried mothers wrote in saying that their kids claimed to understand the words. It stunned everyone when they found that the kids were largely spot on.

Curiously enough, real whistled speech does occur in part of the world. The book "Whistled Languages."(1976) notes that:

"All whistled languages share one basic characteristic: they function by varying the frequency of a simple wave-form as a function of time, generally with minimal dynamic variations, which is readily understandable since in most cases their only purpose is long-distance communication."

The French linguist, J Meyer, who spent 14 months in fieldwork on these languages notes that:

"Whistled speech relies on phonetic elements of the original spoken voice in order to communicate in the distance or in the ambient noise. It enables high intelligibility of sentences in difficult conditions of listening."

He notes that:

"The transformation at play in whistled speech is a practice that requires complementary learning but it is based on natural perceptive capacities. For example the results of a perception test show that French persons knowing nothing of whistled Spanish vowels can intuitively identify them."

This, is I think, part of the appeal of the Clangers to young children, that they could learn and intuitively understand the language. It is the more remarkable that a children's programme, made using some of the most primitive technology available, provided something for children to actively engage with, rather than passively sit back and watch.

And as Tony Thorne comments:

Language specialists today think that hearing strange languages stimulates children, who soon come to understand how voices are used for comic effect and learn to appreciate the emotional resonance of sounds.


Monday, 15 February 2010

Contradictions and resolutions

Nobody, Socrates believed, knowingly does what is wrong:  they always think that what they are doing is right.

I have been examining one particular part of Graham Power's Affidavit, in which he tells of how Wendy Kinnard, was, in his opinion, subjected to a verbal attack:

15. Further indications of an gulf between the Chief Minister and his associates, on one hand, and the force, supported by the then Home Affairs Minister, Senator Wendy Kinnard, on the other, emerged the day on which it was decided that Senator Kinnard was no longer able to maintain political oversight of the Historic Abuse Enquiry. This was because a few days previously she had made a witness statement which created a conflict of interest. At the time of writing I do not have access to my diary and notebooks and cannot be sure of the exact date. A meeting was arranged to discuss how this would be managed. The meeting was attended by me, Senator Kinnard, The Chief Executive and the then Chief Minister. The Chief Minister entered the room and immediately began a verbal attack on the historic abuse enquiry claiming that it was causing damaging publicity for the island. Senator Kinnard, who was the Minister to whom I was actually accountable, attempted to defend the enquiry but she was effectively shouted down.

16. I knew that the views being expressed by the Chief Minister were not the views of the Home Affairs Minister. She had been regularly briefed on the enquiry by members of the force and by senior advisors appointed by the Association of Chief Police Officers and had expressed her strong support for the conduct of the investigation. The Chief Minister said that he was "under pressure to suspend both the Chief and the Deputy Chief". He did not say where the pressure was coming from but he said this in a way which gave the impression that he was not hostile to that pressure. The heat of the exchanges rose and the Chief Minister spoke to Senator Kinnard in a way which I found offensive and I saw that she was clearly becoming upset. She was the only woman present and I was her only friend in the room. I intervened forcefully and told the Chief Minister that from my management experience, I considered that he was behaving in a way which, in a workplace, could be classed as bullying and lead to a claim or constructive dismissal.

In Frank Walker's comments to Channel Television, he makes the following statement:
I did not shout at Wendy Kinnard. At the meeting GP has referred to I, acting upon the wishes of, and reflecting concerns held by, the entire COM, asked her to confirm, given the conflict she had revealed, if she felt she was in a position to continue to act as HA Minister. That was a very important question that had to be asked and I did so in a calm and proper manner. I and others in the meeting were shocked at GP's vehement reaction which was in no way justified by the question I asked or the manner in which I asked it.

How is the historian to reconcile these two apparently conflicting statements? One way, which I have noted on other blogs, is to take Frank Walker's statement as a lie. But I don't think it is necessary to do that. For a start, let's just look at the exact words each participant gives.

Graham Power says of Wendy Kinnard that "she was effectively shouted down", while Frank Walker says that "I did not shout at Wendy Kinnard". There is a world of difference in that single word "effectively". It is quite possible to "effectively shout" a person down by simply continuing to speak, even "in a calm and proper manner", but not allowing them to get a word in edgeways to make their own case, and continually interrupting any attempts by them to speak "in a calm and proper manner". That, I would consider to be "effectively shouting down" someone, and it  simply may mean no more than preventing the other person from speaking. If one looks as instances of the phrase, that is what it means, not actually physically shouting. So Frank Walker's denial, while on the face of it contradictory, is only superficially so.

But what of the other accusation?

I intervened forcefully and told the Chief Minister that from my management experience, I considered that he was behaving in a way which, in a workplace, could be classed as bullying and lead to a claim or constructive dismissal.

and the contradiction:

That was a very important question that had to be asked and I did so in a calm and proper manner. I and others in the meeting were shocked at GP's vehement reaction which was in no way justified by the question I asked or the manner in which I asked it.

Here we have, I think, a difference of perspective. From his own perspective, Frank Walker acted - as he saw it, in a calm and proper manner, but to a relative outsider, who had not seen how he behaved - like Graham Power, this could well be construed as "bullying" - especially given how we may understand "effectively shouted down".

So what actually occurred, and was Graham Power correct in his assessment, or Frank Walker in his? We have no verbatim transcript of this meeting, or even better, an audio recording with all the nuances of expression. So we must look elsewhere, and for examples of private behaviour, rather than public behaviour; this is sensible, because people may behave differently in the public arena.

We have, unfortunately, only one real example of Frank Walker's unguarded behaviour, which came in the well-known Newsnight interview of 2008, where he was filmed retorting that Stuart Syvret was out to "shaft Jersey internationally". The unedited version ran:

Syvret: "Frank, we're talking about dead children."
Walker: "Yes Stuart, exactly, so you shouldn't be politicising it. You should be throwing your support behind the police and behind every effort to find out."
Syvret: "I have. I've made every effort."
Walker: "No, you're trying to shaft Jersey internationally."

Despite the fact that he had used language unbecoming the dignity of his office, no real apology was offered to the public for this remark, which seems to indicate that Frank Walker did not think it as more than the kind of rough and ready remark a politician might make; politicians have been known for bruising remarks to other politicians. But this kind of tone, to a relative outsider, like Graham Power, or indeed any ordinary member of the public, might well come across as something which in a workplace could be "classed as bullying".

So there is a resolution between Graham Power saying in an Affidavit that Frank Walker behaved in a way which could be classed as bullying, and Frank Walker denying that - simply because it might well have been so much part of the way in which he behaved in private - as we can see in at least one example where he was accidentally overheard - that he was not aware of the way he behaved, or how his manner might appear to others who were not used to it - as coming across as bullying. In a like manner, people who customarily punctuate their language with swearing, are also often completely oblivious to the reaction it might give to people who are not used to that kind of language.

The real question is how Wendy Kinnard perceived this. Did she get upset, as Graham Power noted, or was she used to this as part of Frank Walker's style? It is notable that Mr Walker's statement does not address the issue of whether she became upset, and a third party clarification by Wendy Kinnard would certainly help to put the record straight.

Even if she did become upset, Frank Walker may not have been aware that it was his remarks or delivery which caused it, because from his own perspective he did not see it as anything outside his normal manner of behaviour. But the fact that an outsider, Graham Power, saw it differently, and is prepared to state as such in a document made under oath, suggests that Frank Walker may not be the best judge of his own behaviour.


Sunday, 14 February 2010

Catholic Secrets

This information is for Catholics only, and even Dan Brown has not disclosed it!

It must not be divulged to non-Catholics. The less they know about the rituals and code words, the better off they are.

AMEN: The only part of a prayer that everyone knows.

BULLETIN: Your receipt for attending Mass.

CHOIR: A group of people whose singing allows the rest of the Parish to lip-sync.

HOLY WATER: A liquid whose chemical formula is H2OLY.

HYMN: A song of praise usually sung in a key three octaves higher than that of the congregation's range.

RECESSIONAL HYMN: The last song at Mass often sung a little more quietly, since most of the people have already left.

INCENSE: Holy Smoke.

JESUITS: An order of priests known for their colleges with good basketball teams.

JONAH: The original 'Jaws' story.

JUSTICE: When kids have kids of their own.

KYRIE ELEISON: The only Greek words that most Catholics can recognize besides gyros and baklava. (for you non-Catholics it means Lord have mercy)

MAGI: The most famous trio to attend a baby shower.

PEW: A medieval torture device still found in Catholic churches.

PROCESSION: The ceremonial formation at the beginning of Mass consisting of altar servers, the celebrant, and late parishioners looking for seats.

RECESSIONAL: The ceremonial procession at the conclusion of Mass led by parishioners trying to beat the crowd to the parking lot.

RELICS: People who have been going to Mass for so long, they actually know when to sit, kneel, and stand.

USHERS: The only people in the parish who don't know the seating capacity of a pew.

Saturday, 13 February 2010

Valentine Memories

Valentine Memories
A Valentine, along the Canterbury trails,
Where Chaucer's courtly love prevails;
The martyr forgotten, and in his place,
Comes a maiden, finely dressed in lace;
And there are so many romantic fictions,
Predicated by emotions, not convictions;
Yet behind all the cynicism, all the cards,
All the commercial toys to show regards,
There is an inner heart, a different view:
And we knew this joy, where I loved you;
The rose, both a sign and a scent so sweet,
Of life together, of how we would meet,
And I still recall your smile, your embrace;
Then to the Bistro Soleil, our favourite place,
To enjoy best of food, shared lover's plate,
And forget, for a little time, impending fate;
That tragic day, the phone call broke my heart,
And my world shattered, broke apart;
And you were gone, I wept, a last amen:
I held you in my arms, kissed, once again;
My lovely Valentine, taken from my sight,
Until I come to join you in that darkest night.

Thursday, 11 February 2010

To Infinity and Beyond: A Review

Consider an n-dimensional hypercube, and connect each pair of vertices to obtain a complete graph on 2n vertices. Then colour each of the edges of this graph using only the colours red and black. What is the smallest value of n for which every possible such colouring must necessarily contain a single-coloured complete sub-graph with 4 vertices which lie in a plane?

I watched the Horizon programme last night on infinity, which began very promisingly when it was on the subject of large numbers and mathematics, but then took a speculative turn for the worse, when it began to make all kind of assertions about an infinite universe, infinite parallel universes, identical versions of people, and so on, without giving anything really in the way of hard science.

The mathematics was pretty good. After a brief digression with so-called "large numbers", which involved a googolplex and Graham's number (which was only vaguely stated as a boundary solution to a problem), we were treated to a good illustration of Hillbert's paradoxical "infinite hotel", and what it showed about infinity - and the dangers of just treating infinity like any other number, although it stopped there, just on the verge of the branch of mathematics known as analysis was; it might have mentioned that kind of mathematics was developed for avoid paradoxes with infinity. And as might have been expected, we also had Cantor on infinity defined by counting by matching one set against another, and different infinities, which are now part of any mathematical syllabus.

A set of elements can be defined as infinite if the set has a seemingly paradoxical quality: a subset of elements in an infinite set can be matched up, one-to-one, to all of the elements in a set

It would have been nice to hear about the continuum hypothesis (which after all is related to different infinities), and back in the 1980s, I remember a Horizon on the unsolved problems of mathematics which did just that. But now we are 2010, and programmes are dumbed down to what a character in one of Gregory Benford's novels called a public 'with the attention span of a commercial'.

Professor Gregory Benford's book Cosm, which is a good adventure story with cutting edge physics does explore exactly what parallel universes might be like, and how the physics of this works. This is the publisher's blurb, which gives some idea of the story.

Of all the things one expects to get from slapping heavy nuclei together in a high-energy accelerator one would not expect a football-sized particle, yet that is exactly the result Prof Alica Butterworth got when she started hurling uranium nuclei together at close to light speeds: well, that and a wrecked collider. Amid the wreckage her colleagues do not realise what the 'football' may be, so she was able to discretely remove it to her own university lab. There she finds that the object may hold the secret to the Universe's creation. However physicists from the collider are hot on her trail. Who will unravel the mystery first?

Benford uses hard edge cutting physics; he is an active professor of physics himself. But instead of that, there was a lot of talk, mostly made interesting (or so the programme makers must have thought) by bizarre lighting, a sinister face (Steven Berkoff ) looming in black and white, and intoning in a sepulchral voice (suitably jazzed up by some kind of voice modulator). I don't know who puts these programmes together, but they seem to assume people have the attention span of a pickled newt.

Yet Armand Leroi on Channel 4 ("Aristotle's Lagoon") or BBC4's "Chemistry a Volatile History" show that science can be presented without dumbing down. But instead of a physics of Benford calibre, we got a someone telling us that ""I think the universe is infinite on Mondays, Wednesdays and Fridays, and I think it's finite the rest of the week. I'm having a really hard time making my mind up."

There were periodic diversions to a monkey in front of a typewriter, supposedly typing what people had just said, while a voiceover repeated it. This was an allusion to the statistical paradox - if infinitely many monkeys are set before typewriters, with infinite lifespans and infinite time, the statistical paradox goes, they will sooner or later produce Shakespeare's plays.

But the programme, while starting well, lost its way when it began to explore the physics without any physics, and I'd sooner recommend Benford's Cosm to anyone who really wants to explore the infinite.

'". Well, the Cosm isn't just a footprint it's the real thing, a direct quantum gravity artifact sitting still in the lab, big enough to put your hands on. We're taking fundamental physics back to a human scale!"' (Gregory Benford, Cosm p253)

'To peer through the quick stubble of mathematics and see the wonders lurking behind was to momentarily live in the infinite, beyond the press of the ordinary world where everyone else dwelled in ignorance.' (Cosm, p333 )


Wednesday, 10 February 2010

The Classics that Time Forgot

I was reflecting on the "Classic Serial" which used to be the staple of Sunday afternoons around tea-time. During the early eighties, this underwent something of a revival, when the Doctor Who team of Barry Letts as Producer and Terrance Dicks as Script Editor moved onto the show. They demonstrated that they were as capable as taking on "classics" as science fiction, and during their tenure, some very watchable serials were produced.

There were the odd "duff" serials. "Alice in Wonderland" was over reliant on poor quality CGI (an overreliance on which was one of Barry Lett's few failings), and really did not work well. The Tom Baker Sherlock Holmes was solid, but not inspiring; Tom Baker was never as watchable as Holmes as Jeremy Brett, or even Peter Cushing. Terence Rigby was a dull Watson.

One of my favourites, but sadly not yet out on DVD was "Goodbye Mr Chips". With Roy Marsden as the schoolteacher, Mr Chipping, this was a superb production, and one to rival Robert Donat's film portrayal. The ITV version with Martin Clunes was also good, but not as good as this four part serial.

The Pickwick Papers starred Nigel Stock as Mr Pickwick, with Clive Swift providing wonderful comic support as Mr Tupman. The other supporting roles were also excellent with Patrick Malahide, Colin Douglas and Milton Johns all playing part of Mr Pickwick's entourage. With 12 episodes, this somewhat rambling narrative never lost the viewer's interest, and can be seen as the literary equivalent of a soap opera, with comedy, drama and tragedy all interwoven. Phil Daniels as Sam Weller steals the show. Carl Davis provided music. A classy classic.

Timothy Dalton, once James Bond, and most recently President Rassilon in Doctor Who, starred as Mr Rochester in this superb production, with Zelah Clarke providing good support as Jane Eyre (1983). At ten episodes, this was still a tight and strong narrative, and allowed room for the characters to breath, in a way that just does not happen in any of the film or mini-series versions. This is available on DVD, and I would recommend it. It received a BAFTA.

"Beau Geste" was a good example of what can be achieved on a low budget! Having seen the story spoofed (wonderfully in Carry On, Follow that Camel), the original story still has some power, with Benedict Taylor as the erstwhile Beau Geste, Anthony Calf in the lesser role as Digby, with a young Jonathon Morris (later to achieve fame in "Bread") as John. John Forgeham does a good turn as the sadistic Sergeant. The story begins with the blazing remains of a Fort in the desert, where all the soldiers of the French Foreign Legion are dead. The patrol who encounter this try to make sense of the mystery, and it is only in the flashbacks that we learn of the tragic tale of a missing jewel, and the Geste brothers.

When Barry Letts gave up producing, Terrance Dicks took over as producer, bringing a touch of the modern to the classic serial, with a sparkling production of ""Vanity Fair", and an excellent "Bratt Farrar". There were still some old stalwarts, like David Copperfield, where Simon Callow as Mr Micawber stole scenes.

But probably the best production that I can remember under his tenure was the "The Diary of Anne Frank", which still has not been bettered by later productions. Emrys James starred as Otto Frank, with a young Katharine Schlesinger bringing an adolescent vitality to the part of Anne that has never been equalled. It is, unfortunately, not available on DVD, although I really think it deserves to be.

Perhaps it is time for the BBC to mine their back catalogue of stories, and release a few more of these to DVD!

Monday, 8 February 2010

Ten Commandments

"It seems obvious that our country would be better off if we followed the Ten Commandments." (Ann Widdecombe)

I watched Moses and the Law, part of Channel 4's ongoing series The Bible: A History, with Ann Widdecombe last night.

The more I watched, the more I became incredulous at both the style of presentation, and this obviously clever woman who was simply not prepared to countenance anything that she disagreed with, or even listen to opposing points of view. She simply waited until they had given their replies to her questions, and then restated her own position. I suppose that is why she is a politician, and not a philosopher, because it was the kind of dialogue you might expect her to give with an encounter with Jeremy Paxman, but it did not sit well with this kind of programme.

There were a number of encounters in which she did not always come off best - with a Jewish scholar, an Old Testament scholar, and people like Stephen Fry. On all these occasions, her solution was to supplement the conversation with a "direct to camera" monologue in which she stated how wrong they were.

"We've departed from the law of Moses," , she said, and stated categorically that Moses had received the Ten Commandments on Mount Sinai, and written the whole first five books of the Bible. When the Old Testament scholar explained that this didn't quite fit with archaeology, because there was no single trace of the numbers involved in either Egyptian records, or the archaeology of the promised land around Jericho, Ann Widdecombe does not attempt to answer this, but simply states: "Well I have to say that smacks to me of 'Let's disregard the whole of the Old Testament because it talks about God" . She never even gets as far as letting the Old Testament scholar point out the three differing versions of the Ten Commandments in Exodus 20:1-17, Deuteronomy 5:6-21 and Exodus 34, or explaining why they are different.

She comments: "The Ten Commandments have been massively important is shaping British society and law - 'Thou shalt not steal', 'Thou shalt not kill', 'Thou shalt not bear false witness against thy neighbour' - these things are very, very central to our law but to our society as well."

Of course British society and the shape of its Christianity have been massively shaped by Henry VIII's split with Rome, and his patent disregard for the commandment about adultery. His example has been cheerfully followed by aristocrats and monarchs down the ages - one has only to name Charles II, Edward VII, or even our own Prince Charles - as examples. Somehow there always appears to be an exclusion for the upper classes, which I am sure she would be the first to condemn, but it does make her history lesson just a little suspect. As Joy Davidman, in "Smoke on the Mountain" shrewdly observes:

In the feudal days, a half-tamed nobility took whom it wanted when it wanted-and the Church, though insisting that marriage was indissoluble, perforce discovered all manner of loopholes by which a marriage could be declared void.

When it came to "Thou Shalt Not Kill", I thought, given the immediacy of the Chilcot enquiry, she might turn her attention to the vexed question of warfare, or even given her attribution of the commandments to the "shaping of society" to the time a few hundred years ago where people could be hanged for stealing a sheep; a case perhaps of one commandment trumping another. As she had voted for war in Iraq, this might have been interesting, and we may even have had a glimpse of just war theory, as to how "Thou Shalt Not Murder" can be used to let in all kinds of nasty practices, such as the Israelites slaughter of the indigenous peoples of their "promised land".

Alas, she turned her guns on the far easier target of euthanasia, although even there she offered little in the way of ethical discourse. Unlike Rowan Williams, who has made a very good case against legalising "mercy killing", all she did was to restate and state again and again that the commandment said "Thou shalt not kill", and that should be the final word on the matter, and it was not obeying the commandment that was letting in the floodgates for legalised murder.

Some of the examples she gave in support of her case for the Ten Commandments were quite bizarre. She took a puritan preacher of the 17th century who had taken a fire as a judgement from God on the sinful practices of his town and presented him as someone who brought his community back to godly, puritan ways. This is disturbing. By colluding in this kind of thinking, how far is she from those people who saw the fire at York Minister as a judgement on the appointment of David Jenkins as Bishop of Durham? Or, closer to today, how far is this thinking from Pat Robertson, the USA TV Evangelist who notoriously said that the destruction on Haiti was a result of a pact with the devil?

When she encounters Stephen Fry, he points out that the Ten Commandments cannot be that wonderful, because they somehow omitted to condemn slavery, and left that justifiably both within Judaism and Christianity. She never really answers this criticism, but just goes on to press him with the question "Don't you think they are good precepts for living", and Fry counters by saying that virtually all of them are moral truisms, and found in philosophers like Socrates, Aristotle, or in Buddhism. She just ignore this and goes on repeating her question until the usually affable Fry finally snaps, because she simply won't listen to the criticisms he is stating mildly, and tears into her saying they are responsible for centuries of suffering and persecution.

Fry might have added that the commandment against "covetousness" mentioned not "coveting your neighbours wife" but not "coveting your neighbours husband" because women were simply chattels, property, and hence enter the commandments alongside other property. To say that this is somehow time bound, part of the culture of the day, begs the question: how do you judge what can be discarded and can is not? Ann Widdecombe never really addresses this question, because it would expose a fatal weakness in her position that the commandments are for all time.

Curiously, while concentrating on other commandments, "Thou shalt not make unto thee any graven image, nor any likeness of anything"  gets very little mention. If she had been watching Diarmaid MacCulloch's excellent nuanced account of "A History of Christianity", she would have seen the Reformers such as Zwingli and Calvin use this to justify the destruction of all the statues so beloved of her own Catholic faith, along with wall paintings, and stained glass windows". They took this commandment very seriously. Again if she wishes to sideline this, because of her own Church tradition, she should explain how the Puritans, in her opinion, got it wrong.

Instead she comments "perhaps we could do with a bit more Puritanism", and never even comes to terms with the severity of this kind of Puritanism, that quite happily went on a rampage of destruction, and even tried to abolish Christmas. She does acknowledge that all is not sweetness and light, that "nowadays Puritan is a dirty word", but by just looking at its strengths and never at its failings, she never really explains to the viewer as Diarmaid MacCulloch does, why it became a byword for a detestable killjoy Christianity.

Joy Davidman, in her "Smoke on the Mountain" also discusses the Ten Commandments but her presentation is in startling contrast to Ann Widdecombe's fanatical diatribe. One of the comments that Davidman - a Christian and a Jew - makes in her interpretation of the second commandment is something that is particularly pertinent to Christians, and one wishes Ann Widdecombe would reflect on it:

There can hardly be a more evil way of taking God's name in vain than this way of presuming to speak in it. For here is spiritual pride, the ultimate sin, in action-the sin of believing in one's own righteousness. The true prophet says humbly, "To me, a sinful man, God spoke." But the scribes and Pharisees declare, "When we speak, God agrees." They feel no need of a special revelation, for they are always, in their own view, infallible. It is this self-righteousness of the pious that most breeds atheism, by inspiring all decent ordinary men with loathing of the enormous lie.


Saturday, 6 February 2010

The Desert Call

The Desert Call
I walk the desert sand by nights
Bleak, so desolate and wild
Watching where the scorpion fights
Existence here is Darwin's child
The sun so scorching all the day;
An empty desert, filled with dread
A spectre haunts the sand-strewn way
Life hanging on by slimmest thread
The refugees their sorrow share
Fleeing from the war zone's bane
Crying with unceasing prayer,
Children hungry and in pain
Where is hope in such distress?
Come all nations, hear their call
Starving in the wilderness
Now do not overlook this all
A portion gifted at the shrine
Such gladness ours shall be
Brothers and sisters, face divine
Calling us over land and sea
See, O see now, costing dear
The poverty that cannot hide
That we may bring some little cheer
And pray with eyes so opened wide

Thursday, 4 February 2010

Lies and Lawyers

Just been reading the Veritas report regard Mr John Day. Readers will recall that various allegations were made against him during Dr Moyano's trial, and as he was not called as a witness by either side, those allegations were allowed to stand; a matter with which even the judge expressed surprise.

If Mr Day had appeared in Court, it would, of course, be his word against Dr Moyano and the lawyer making the accusations on her behalf. Where the Veritas report is so much better is that the authors have access to background checks, they seek, time and time again, to verify from external and uncontestable sources what the truth of the matter was.

Example 1:

Dr Moyano recollected that after leaving the operating theatre she telephoned Mr Day again because she was not happy with his advice. He does not remember receiving this call and the hospital phone log does not show any calls to his mobile or consulting rooms at that time.

Example 2:

It was suggested at the trial that Mr Day left the hospital to see patients in his private consulting rooms eight to ten minutes drive from the hospital. Mr Day's private Tuesday afternoon clinic ran from 2.30pm, but he had patients booked from noon that day. Mr Day told both us and police that he had phoned his secretary during the morning list to cancel these appointments. His mobile phone records and the phone records of the hospital show that a short call using the hospital phone was made to his private rooms at 12.02pm and a shorter one on his mobile at 12.10pm. His private clinic diary for 17 October shows that the appointments of patients booked in before 2.30pm were cancelled. The first of these patients has written to confirm that she recalls arriving for her noon appointment and being told by the receptionist that it had been cancelled, with the receptionist apologising that she had not been able to contact her before she left to come to the clinic. This fits with Mr Day's mobile phone call to his secretary at 12.02pm.

They note that "the only evidence that Mr Day wanted to leave early comes from Dr Moyano and is contradicted by the stronger evidence that Mr Day cancelled his pre-clinic appointments and remained in the day surgery unit until Mrs Rourke was in theatre."

Example 3:

Was Mr Day speaking constantly on his mobile phone while he was in the operating theatre? This criticism is based on comments in Dr Moyano's statement. Other people in the operating theatre made no mention of this in their statements and no one could remember this behaviour. Mr Day's mobile phone records for 17 October show that the only calls he made on it that day before leaving the hospital were one to his home at 12.05 pm lasting less than two minutes, one to his private rooms at 12.10pm referred to in section 7, which lasted for 10 seconds and one at 12.33pm lasting 23 seconds which was unrelated to the events of the day.

It seems to us that others present on the day would have noticed if Mr Day's phone was constantly ringing. They have no such memories. The only calls Mr Day made from his mobile that morning were during a 10-minute period between patients. The weight of evidence is against the allegation that Mr Day was constantly on his mobile phone.

Would the Court case regarding Dr Moyano have been adversely effected had these checks been part of the record? It is impossible to say, but it is very clear that the allegations made in the Court case against Mr Day were based upon one individual's recollection - Dr Moyano - and for whatever reason or motive, these recollections were massively incorrect. 

I'm not going to say she was lying, because the memory can play tricks, especially when stressed, and the work of Elizabeth Loftus on False Memory Syndrome demonstrates conclusively that a vague recall (perhaps mixed with other memories) can harden into certainty by going over the memory again and again, something which she would certainly been asked to do. But clearly allegations were made which it was possible to check on - phone records, appointment diaries etc - and it was extremely lax for them to be left standing unchallenged in Court.

It was not for the Dr Moyano's defence to check on the veracity of the statements. Acting on her behalf, it was quite proper for them to take what she said at face value. But the prosecution - Crown Advocate Howard Sharp - clearly failed to investigate these claims.

In summing up, he asked four questions

Did Dr Moyano owe Mrs Rourke a duty of care? Did she breach that duty of care and expose Mrs Rourke to risk of death? Was that breach a cause of death? And was Dr Moyano's conduct so bad in all circumstances that it amounted to a criminal act?

The fifth question was left unsaid: Was the mitigation by Dr Moyano's lawyer that Mr Day failed to provide proper supervision and support justified, or was it her memory at fault?

The question not asked, or even raised by Advocate Sharp, meant that the allegations against Mr Day were unchallenged, and therefore presumed to be true. It would be extremely odd if this mitigation argued for by the defense was not in the minds of the jury when they left to deliberate.

Perhaps Advocate Sharp would now like to explain why he did not challenge the evidence, or even perhaps call Mr Day?

Wednesday, 3 February 2010

Rites of Spring

Rites of Spring
It is cold, wet, drizzle, sometimes sleet, and we make our way along the cliff path towards the little cottage. Even before we reach there, the door opens, and the old woman greets us, welcoming us inside. "Be seated," she tells us, and brings us each a warm cup of sweet tea, and we sit back in the chairs, in front of the warmth of the fire, blazing brightly. The room is dark and cosy, lit by the flickering flame of candles, placed on the window ledges around us. The window rattles with the sound of hail, small pellets of ice harshly battering against the glass.
She takes a larger red candle, inscribed with a large gold circle, inside which are three interlocking eclipses. This is placed on the table, and she takes a taper and lights it. She asks why we have come.
My mother speaks. She explains why we have come, of how the frost could destroy the crops, lay barren the earth, and how winter still holds the land in an icy grip, even though the time of spring is upon us. I remain silent, I am an observer, not a speaker, the dutiful daughter. My time has not yet come, but it is near. I am the maiden, the promise of new beginnings.
This woman is a weather worker, it is an ancient art, mostly lost, and she tells us of her path. "This is not lightly done, for rain and sun here could mean blizzards and snow elsewhere. There is a balance, and it takes wisdom to see the path, and find the way. Your daughter will help us find the way."
She moves the candle in front of me, and asks me to tell her what I can see. My time has come. I look into the flame, yellow, flickering, smoky.
I see to the east, the storm clouds, and the swell of dark waves beneath the moonless sky. Images flicker into my mind. A mansion stands on the hill, and music comes from within, and it is ablaze with light, and the sound of partying. Over the hill, a small house, an old couple clutching each other for warmth, as their fire dies, the wooden embers a dull glow. Birds fly outside, seeking in vain for water beneath a frozen pond. The world is covered in a canopy of white, and it is a cold and silent land, as quiet as a grave. The candle burns, a cold blue flame, with no heat.
A voice cries out "In a cold and loveless world we have kept the love to ourselves".
I see to the south, the dry lands. Planes are landing, and food is being loaded, and flown away into the distant sky while children watch with hunger in their bellies. Elsewhere fires burn fiercely, fanned by strong winds, and there is no water. The streams have run dry, the crops are failing, the cattle are dying. The candle burns with a red fire, hot and scorching, and my face is seared with heat.
A voice cries out "In a hungry and despairing world, we have failed to share our bread"
I see to the west, and the earth is in convulsions, the planet screaming in pain. Poorly constructed houses have fallen apart, roads collapsed inwards. Amidst the wreckage of the buildings are the moans of the injured and the dying, and limbs askew of the dead. A rain falls, a black rain of ashes, and there is much weeping. The candle burns with a purple flame, lighting the path for rescuers, and in mourning for those who have died.
A voice cries out "In a dark and disfigured world, we have not held out the light of life".
I see to the north, the northern lights. The church is beneath the blazing colours, the ancient stones lit by a curtain of lights, and inside all is ablaze with light. I am inside, and I look down the aisle, and a hundred small candles light the path towards a blazing cross of candles. The people sing of sorrow and of joy, of suffering and the refiners fire, and of how they must pass through the flames. They have been waiting for a long time, and now their time is near. They leave in silence, departing in peace, and their task has just begun. The candle shines with glory, and burns with a white flame, calm and gentle.
A voice cries out: "This is the moment to speak, to act, to change, to hope, and wrestle for wholeness and the light of justice and freedom. Kindle in us the fire of love."
And I return, and it is over. There is only the silence, and my mother holding my hand firmly in hers, and I know what I must tell the old woman, that we must each take up our appointed task. And she nods, and takes up a handful of dust from an earthen bowl, and faces to the east, and blows softly, until it leaves her hand, falling to the west. The rites of spring have begun, and we must depart.
Dawn is breaking, and the ice upon the path is thawing, as the wind changes slowly from east to west, and the sun rises. Ahead is the dolmen, the ancient stones that are our past, our present, and our future. The past is behind us. The present moment is complete. And we vanish down the stone passage, into the darkness, to rest beneath the sacred earth until the future calls us forth once more.

Tuesday, 2 February 2010


'Imbolc, when the ewes are milked at spring's beginning'. (The Tochmarc Emire)

Ronald Hutton, in his ground breaking "Stations of the Sun", tells us that this celebration, taking place on 1st or 2nd February, marked the start of spring. It is mentioned in the Irish texts, but he places this caution about what exactly it entailed:

"The festival must be pre-Christian in origin, but there is absolutely no direct testimony as to its early nature, or concerning any rites which might have been employed then. There is, in fact, no sign that any of the medieval Irish writers who referred to it preserved a memory of them, and some evidence that they no longer understood the meaning of the name itself."(1)

He notes that the cult of Brigid also arose in Ireland, and is also associated with this time as "St Bride's Day", and has so overwhelmed the original festival that it is unclear what it ever entailed. Regarding Brigid, he says that:

"The Irish feast of Imbolc, rededicated to St Brigid, was kept with the same rite all over Ireland, and also in Man and the Hebrides; but not anywhere on the British mainland. There its role was taken by the universal Christian holy day of Candlemas."(3)

The goddess Brigid, and the saint of the same name St Brigid, are intermingled, and it is difficult to separate fact from fiction:

"What is by no means clear is whether there was one goddess, or a triple one, or several, and whether there was in addition a real Christian woman of the same name with whom the deity became conflated."(1)

The story of the saint is given by Bonnie Blackburn in "The Oxford Companion to the Christian Year". She notes the legendary aspects of the story:

"Brigid (Brigit, Bridget, Bride, in modern Irish Bríd, formerly Brighid) of Ireland (d. c.525), abbess of Kildare. Brigid is one of the many saints of whose lives legend and folklore have far more to say than history. Having become a nun at an early age, she founded the monastery of Kildare (meaning 'Church of the Oak') for both sexes and ran it with hospitable (one might say housewifely) compassion, changing her bath-water into beer for the benefit of unexpected visitors, multiplying butter, and producing milk three times a day from miraculously obliging cows (her emblem is a cow). Her name means 'the exalted one', akin to the British tribal name Brigantes and the Welsh brenin, 'king'. A twelfth-century martyrology calls her ard-ogh Erenn, 'the high maid of Ireland'; legend represents her as a rich man's daughter, so supremely self-confident as to give away his wealth to beggars without his consent. She was also a friend of learning, for in her previous life she had been the Celtic goddess of art and wisdom whom Julius Caesar equated with Minerva." (4)

The Anglo-Saxon festivals of February, and the start of spring, Bede as involving the making and eating of with sweet cakes, but little more.

The Christian festival of candlemas, is to do with the story of Jesus being taken to the Temple, and of the purification of Mary and Bonnie Blackburn explains that the date has in fact "slipped backwards".

In accordance with Mosaic law Mary came to the Temple forty days (inclusively reckoned) after bearing Jesus both to be purified and to present him, as a male firstborn, to the Lord ( Luke 2:22 ff.). The commemoration began c.350 at Jerusalem, where it took place on 14 February, the fortieth day of Epiphany, combining Christ's Nativity and Baptism as still in Armenia; in 542, after the end of a plague, the emperor Justinian proclaimed it for 2 February, the fortieth day of the separate Christmas, in honour of the Christ child's encounter with Simeon and Anna. This remains its significance in the East; but when it spread to the West it was understood as the Purification of the Virgin and was enriched by Pope Sergius I ( 687-701) with a solemn procession.(5)

This is one Christian celebration which may be on the same day as the Irish one., but is clearly quite different in purpose and form. As Hutton notes:

"The Christian celebration was concerned with purification and lights, not with cakes. The Christian feast has, therefore, no demonstrable links with ancient northern European practices. "(2)

Instead the focus was on "images of the appearance of divine light in the darkness of human sin, of renewal and rebirth of light in the dark time of the year, and of the new light of heaven manifested to an old world."(2).

The candles would be carried in procession on the feast, but unlike today's services, the parishioner brought the candle!
"Every parishioner was obliged to bring and carry one, and to offer it to the priest to be blessed, paying a penny for the service. The benediction was accomplished by placing each candle before the high altar, sprinkling it with holy water, perfuming it with incense, and pronouncing the blessing over it. Part of the latter stated that once the sanctified candle was lit 'the devil may flee away in prayer and trembling'. What happened to the consecrated objects next seems to have varied according to local custom or to individual wish. They were carried round the church again after mass, and then some seem to have been burned before a statue of the Virgin, and others taken home to be lit in times of storm or sickness, or in the hands of the dying."(2)

(1) Stations of the Sun: A History of the Ritual Year in Britain, Ronald Hutton, 1996 p134ff
(2) Hutton, Op Cit, p140
(3) Hutton Op Cit, p411
(4) The Oxford Companion to the Year, Bonnie Blackburn, p61
(5) Blackburn Op Cit, p62

Recommended Book:

Monday, 1 February 2010

Media Bias

""I eventually had to go down to the cellar..."
"That's the display department."
"...with a torch"
"The lights had probably gone."
"So had the stairs."
"Well, you found the notice, didn't you?"
"Yes. The plans were on display in the bottom of a locked filing cabinet, stuck in a disused lavatory with a sign on the door saying 'Beware of the Leopard""

(Douglas Adams, The Hitchhikers Guide to the Galaxy)

Heard a snatch of "Talkback" on Sunday. I though Deputy Tracy Valois was a little disingenuous when she said that "Citizen Media" can be biased, while the accredited media has to present a balanced viewpoint.

While that is certainly true of the BBC under the terms of its charter, it cannot be said to be the same of newspapers. They may report facts, but how they select facts, and the way in which they present them is often partisan, and balance is not a requirement.

Should she be naive enough to think otherwise, I suggest she follows the election coverage in the U.K., which usually leads up to some papers putting statements in bold big print on their front pages "Vote Labour" or "Vote Conservative". Under Tony Blair, part of the campaign to win against John Major involved getting Rupert Murdoch, and the Murdoch newspapers to support the Labour Party.

This has always been the case, and the Jersey Evening Post is no exception to the rule. It has its own biases, and while it needs to be careful over factual reporting, it can decide how to present that. The criticism of Lenny Harper is a case in point - the Appeal Court judgement criticising his failure to return pocket books was on the front page, while his reply - when he stated that there were no pocket books, and they could check with Scotland Yard - was tucked away on the bottom of an inside page with a much smaller headline. It reminded me of the locked filing cabinet in the "Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy"; it was there, but effectively in the cellar. Incidentally, it does not appear that they did check with Scotland Yard, an omission which is another way in which bias shows.

Unlike "Citizen Media", I do not see conspiracies around every corner. The BBC, for example, has been so emasculated by the Hutton Report and its aftermath that they have to follow massively strict rules on balance, and take great care in sources. There was a lot of rumpus on the blogs that they would not accept Lenny Harper's guest posting until they had it confirmed by him. Now there are lots of complaints that people are posting comments on the JEP and using the identity of those same people who were so keen to criticise the BBC. So it seems that checking on sources does matter after all, especially when you are on the receiving end of a kind of identity theft.

With regard to the JEP, some of their journalism, like their typesetting, is just plain sloppy - hence the lack of follow up. They chase the headlines, and Lenny's reply would probably have not have sold as many papers in the judgement of the editor. Sometimes articles end mid sentence, sometimes the weather is listed on page x, but is on page y. There is a variety of bias. Sometimes Ben Queree is extremely critical of all the States members, over time, everyone, including Daniel Wimberley or Geoff Southern has been praised. Letters columns are notorious, as Chesterton observed, for an editorial like and dislike, but all kinds of letters do get published. Yet the strictures about length are sometimes patently forgotten, most notably for a politician getting their voice heard. Sean Power's victory over Philip Ozouf was given a massive amount of coverage, probably because it involved drink, and the average man in the pub would clearly be pleased with the result, but it was hardly a serious matter, anymore than the froth on a pint.

The final, and best word on political bias goes to "Yes Minister". I still think that this should be recommended viewing for all politicians, especially those who, like Sir Humphrey, forget that any microphone could be a live one! But here is Yes Minister on newspaper bias:

Hacker: Don't tell me about the press. I know exactly who reads the papers: the Daily Mirror is read by people who think they run the country; The Guardian is read by people who think they ought to run the country; The Times is read by people who actually do run the country; the Daily Mail is read by the wives of the people who run the country; the Financial Times is read by people who own the country; The Morning Star is read by people who think the country ought to be run by another country; and The Daily Telegraph is read by people who think it is.

Sir Humphrey: Prime Minister, what about the people who read The Sun?
Bernard: Sun readers don't care who runs the country, as long as she's got big tits.