Sunday, 31 October 2010

Thin Places

A Meditation for Samhain / Halloween...
Thin Places
 
Dusk comes, and in the evening light, the stars begin to shine. I look up and see the great square of Pegasus, and the swirling star dust which forms the Andromeda Nebula. When the universe was half its present age, the light was leaving this distant island universe, and has travelled for millions of years to reach the earth.
 
I cross a stream, and see three small pebbles on the ground below me, and pick them up, and they are icy cold within the palm of my hand, and I intone the incantation of the dreaming stones:
 
I will lift the stone
For substance, virtue, and strength;
May this stone be in my hand
Till I reach my journey's end.
 
It is a clear sky, the patterns of light bright against the dark backdrop of night, and the cold wind blows across the moor. Lyra and Cygnus are overhead, and between them is the dark void which forms the Cygnus Rift. I shiver in the bitter wind, and walk towards the old forest nearby.
 
The forest is dark, and scattered starlight barely penetrates the canopy of branches. But there is a light shining ahead, and I make my way towards it. There is a clearing, where a large tree has fallen, and two lanterns hang from the branches of other trees, their flames flickering yellow. Nearby is a small pyramid of stones, and I bend down and place one of my stones upon the pile.
 
Suddenly I am aware of an old man standing still near me, in a white robe, with a staff in his hand and a golden sickle in his belt, and as I stand up, he pushes back his hood, and I see his white hair, and his sweeping silver beard. He smiles, and beckons me closer, and points.
 
I follow his finger, and see between two branches of a tree that a spider had spun a web, delicate, gossamer, and fine. The silver threads gleam with dew in the lantern's flame. In the centre, the spider waited for its prey, small and black. The man looked at me; his eyes were bright and fierce. Yet he spoke gently.
 
"The fates spin their web," he told me, "and we too weave our own web, the pattern of our lives, of good or evil, of memories of joy and goodness, of our successes and our failures."
 
I watched as the spider crept slowly across the web to where a fly was caught in its meshes. "Here are the ghosts caught in the web of dreams," said the old man, "and now is the night to face the ghosts, for this night the ghosts are unleashed. Here are the phantoms of past hurts, of fears, of regrets, of the roads not travelled, those moments that haunt our days."
 
"Can nothing be done?" I asked, in my distress.
 
"Yes indeed," he told me, "but you must face and ponder your past, and face those ghosts, or they will return from the dark recesses of your mind and haunt you still. But now you must go on further, for not all is dark.  There is fear at the roots. You must look to the deep springs for strength and seek the well of dreams."
 
He handed me one of the lanterns, and gestured towards the forest path. And I left the old man, and went along the path, the trees crowding in against me, branches like fingers trying to catch me. But then there was another clearing, and in its midst, I saw a well, its wall of ancient granite stones, some covered in moss.
 
I gazed down into the well, and the lantern light flickered in reflection. I dropped one of my pebbles down, and the light danced in the water, as the waves spread swiftly out, and the reflection faded, and an image, indistinct, began to form in the swirling ripples.
 
Then the image cleared, and I saw the sun shining warmly upon a green and pleasant meadow, with an apple tree ripe with fruit at its centre, and a river of cool water flowing by. I saw myself there, feeling full of joy and hope, and all those I have known as friends and those I have loved, whether alive or dead, were there, holding hands, and dancing in the sun around the tree.
 
And a woman's voice speaks softly, "Here are the summer lands, the hopes of the days to come, to be yourself as you truly are, and where nothing that is good is ever really lost. This is but a glimpse, and you are seeing only a reflection, darkly, but later you will see face to face. You know it within yourself, that even those you love and befriended are never gone, because you remember them, and they live in you."
 
 I turn my gaze up, and see an old woman in a shawl, with a ruby ring shining on her finger, and she points me towards the path.
 
Once more, I walk the old forest way, covered with wet leaves, but the path suddenly opens up and I am back in the open, once more out on the heath. The night is inky black, and out of the blackness shines brightly and steadily the pale white stars. I look up, and find Capella shining brightly in the night sky, and suddenly there are flashes across the sky, as the Orionid meteorite shower strikes the upper atmosphere and burns up.
 
A bitter cold assails me and then I see a bonfire is blazing, and beside it, I see once more the elder, cloaked in white, and the old woman. Together they gaze upwards where Saturn is shining brightly in the night sky before dawn breaks, and chant together:
 
Come Saturn, ancient planet
In far distant space, cast a net
And draw in rings, many bands
Of colour, falling light on lands
Antiquity rising, now come down
Cold pressure descending, a gown
Of mystic purpose, heavy burden
A crushing weight of glory then
Like mountains of centuries past
Layered, deep, so huge and vast
Freezing waters, such biting cold
Unendurable sorrow, so very old
Yet strength as well, hard as rock
As granite walls, the waves do mock
Fling back the breaking seas, endure
This is Lurga, ancient of days, sure
To strengthen us with powers blast
But a fraction of the planet cast
More would unmake us, take care
Saturn descending, become aware

I warm myself in the glow of the fire while night fades, and the stars fade one by one, and watch the final embers as they die, and then presently the sun rises, and I hear the sound of birdsong. The old man and woman wave at me as they leave, returning to the forest, and I walk away from the trees, into the new year dawning, feeling born anew. I feel the stone within my hand, and it is warming.
 
May this stone be in my hand
Till I reach my journey's end.
 
I let the last stone gently fall onto the deep grass. And I have reached my journey's end.

Saturday, 30 October 2010

Gravestone

As All Souls or Halloween approaches, a reflection on life and death...

Gravestone
 
A final word laid down to rest
Memory awakes, a name is said
Awaking thoughts of all the best
Life only complete when dead
 
Moss grows, words fade in rain
Time dissolves all, even stone
Weeps like tears, loss and pain
Of once breathing flesh and bone
 
A dusty road, the gravestone tells
That death comes to each, to all
Each life of heavens and of hells
Until at end of our days, we fall
 
In forests of stone, remember here
Those now gone, and once so dear

Thursday, 28 October 2010

A Taxing Dilemma

BBC Radio 4's documentary programme looked this week at tax matters, and in particular, how large corporations manage to re-arrange their corporate structure to avoid paying tax.

While the government axes public spending to try to cut the deficit, Michael Robinson investigates loopholes which let big businesses slash their UK tax bills. This month George Osborne said he plans to make Britain the most attractive corporate tax regime in the G20. But some companies have already moved abroad for tax reasons. And for others able to operate on a global scale, there are many ways for them to reduce their tax liability. So how does the Government square the tax circle?

http://www.bbc.co.uk/iplayer/episode/b00vhgpl/File_on_4_A_Taxing_Dilemma/

Surprisingly, there was little about offshore jurisdictions. The main problems came from variable tax regimes within the European Union, and the fact that European law trumps British tax law.

In the Republic of Ireland, for example, there are offices where the name plates bear reference to subsidiaries of UK companies but where the companies themselves are simply wealth holding companies. All they hold is money - they have no fixed assets, no employees, and while they have to have directors, the directors receive no remuneration. In essence, they are empty shells, a channel for profits, and yet any tax they would pay is levied at Irish corporation tax rates, and not British ones, which are higher.

The UK had sought to stop this loophole, by means of the CFC (Control of Foreign Company Rules) which declared that companies who structured their corporation to avoid paying UK tax would still be caught in the net - it declared that profits would be applicable at UK corporation tax rates where there were "wholly artificial arrangements intended to escape the [UK] tax normally payable".

The UK therefore decided to pursue this in the case of Cadbury Schweppes:

The position of Cadbury Schweppes Cadbury Schweppes had set up two subsidiaries in Ireland to raise finance and provide that finance to other subsidiaries in the Cadbury Schweppes group. The Irish profits were subject to tax at 10 per cent under the rules then applicable to companies established in the International Financial Services Centre in Dublin. It was agreed by the parties that the set up in Ireland was to enable the profit from the intra-group financing transactions to benefit from the low tax regime in Ireland.(1)

The arguments centred around the "motive" of the company, which is a notoriously difficult area for anything to be proven. The UK argued that the company was subject to CFC rules and should pay UK tax, Cadbury Schweppes maintained it was just part of a general corporate strategy with no particular intent to avoid paying UK tax:

In its written statement to the ECJ before the case was heard the UK Government put forward the proposition that the Irish subsidiaries were solely incorporated to avoid UK taxation and the activities were superfluous to the group's commercial business. Cadbury Schweppes maintained that it had incorporated the Irish subsidiaries to conduct a commercial business of raising and lending money. (1)

The EU courts decision was that any tax avoidance structure had to be shown to be one set up with "wholly artificial arrangements" and the CFC rules would not apply if it could be shown "that controlled company is actually established in the host Member State and carries on genuine economic activities there". Otherwise this would be contradictory to EU law, and a restriction on intra-EU free movement. Clearly, despite to all intents and purposes, there being no operations in the Cadbury Schweppes arrangements in Ireland, the Court accepted that it was set up to "conduct a commercial business of raising and lending money", and therefore the ruling was that the CFC rules could not apply.

The same situation arise with Vodaphone and Luxembourg in 1999:

There are always a number of twists and turns to these UK/ECJ cases and Vodafone is no exception. The case centres around the takeover of Mannesmann in Germany by Vodafone in 1999 and, in particular, the establishment of a subsidiary in Luxembourg which owned the European sub-subsidiary companies in Europe and lent money to those sub-subsidiaries and, in return, earned interest on the loans. The UK Revenue argued that the interest income of the Luxembourg subsidiary should be treated as if it had been received by the UK parent company under the then CFC legislation (2)

But once more this was challenged in the Courts, on the basis of the previous ruling, effectively saying that member states could not interfere in the tax regimes of other member states, and that a company had its own freedoms:

The objective of freedom of establishment is to allow a Community national (including a company) to participate on a stable and continuing basis, in the economic life of another Member State. (2)

The Court of Justice in its judgement yet again provided a reminder to national courts that they are obliged to interpret domestic legislation in a manner consistent with Community law. The treaty is directly effective and supreme over domestic law. (2)

The Court reminded us that it is settled case law that the fact that a taxpayer sought to benefit from a tax advantage provided by another Member State does not deprive them of the right to have their freedoms protected.(2)

What this means, essentially, is that while low corporation tax regimes outside the EU may be subject to challenge, tax competition within the EU could not be subject to the same kind of challenge. It is a major headache which is still present within the UK, as more companies seek to minimise UK corporation tax by restructuring their tax systems to take advantage of the ruling, and billions are lost in UK revenue.

As a result - and this will be familiar to Jersey readers - the UK is facing increasing pressure to increase taxes on that part of its tax intake that cannot be restructured abroad - namely domestic taxes - duties on drink, tobacco and petrol - widening the social security payments (essentially starting to function as a payroll tax) - and increasing VAT, as well as cutting back on benefits expenditure.

This targets the home population, who cannot so easily avoid the tax, and it is almost a mirror image of Jersey's solutions to its zero / ten regime.

But the Cadbury Schweppes ruling has other implications for Jersey. Jersey's Comptroller of Taxes has a very similar clause against tax avoidance schemes in Jersey tax law, but if a corporation structured its system to hold profits elsewhere without direct Jersey shareholdings - ostensibly to "conduct a commercial business of raising and lending money", but at an effective tax rate less than the 20% on local shareholders, Jersey could face a real challenge in proving that its rules applied. Whether it is commercially viable yet is debatable, but in principle the opportunity may yet arise. Of course any dividends or funds that eventually ended up back with Jersey residents from the corporate group would be taxed at 20%, but in the meantime, potentially taxable revenue would be outside the Jersey tax system.

Clearly the move to seek tax harmonisation within the EU would go some way to correcting these anomalies, as the situation as it stands is leading to a "race to the bottom", with the money moving to areas within the EU where it is least taxed. But this is unlikely to happen while EU countries such as Ireland are struggling to cope with the world economic downturn:

Dublin's favourable tax regime for big corporations - currently only 12.5 percent - will remain "a cornerstone of Irish industrial policy," a spokesman for the ministry of finance told Dow Jones news wire. His comments came after the American Chamber of Commerce in Ireland urged Prime Minister Brian Cowen to "categorically rule-out" EU pressure on corporate tax. "We have to realise that we are still way out of line in terms of our cost competitiveness, and Ireland's competitive corporation tax rate is one of the few competitive advantages we have" (3)

EU officials have frequently raised the issue of greater tax harmonisation in Europe, with a recent report by ex-commissioner Mario Monti identifying tax divergences as a damaging factor to the internal market. (3)

It is ironic that it is not (for once) offshore "tax havens" that are causing most disruption, but the way in which tax regimes and competition operate with in the EU itself.

Links
(1) www.icaew.com/index.cfm/route/142022/icaew_ga/en/Technical_and_Business_Topics/Faculties/News/Cadbury_Schweppes_and_the_UK_CFC_rules__The_ECJ_Judgment
(2) http://www.accountancyireland.ie/Archive/2006/December-2006/Cadbury-Schweppes--Is-it-really-the-Tonic-Irish-Revenue-Ordered/
(3) http://euobserver.com/19/30950

Tuesday, 26 October 2010

Henry Mayhew and the Jersey Poor

If a man, his wife, and two children, all go out in the streets selling, they breakfast before starting, and perhaps agree to re-assemble at four o'clock. Then the wife prepares the dinner of fish and potatoes, and so tea is dispensed with. In that case the husband's and wife's board would be 4d. or 4½d. a day each, the children's 3d. or 3½d. each, and giving 1½d. extra to each for Sunday, the weekly cost is 10s. 3d. Supposing the husband and wife cleared 5s. a week each, and the children each 3s., their earnings would be 16s. The balance is the surplus left to pay rent, washing, firing, and clothing. (London Labour and the London Poor, 1861)

"London Labour and the London Poor" (1861) was a pioneering work by Henry Mayhew on Victorian Poverty. Mayhew not only described the habits and daily life of the poor on the streets, he also investigated their finances, and detailed how they tried to make ends meet.

There is a great deal of well-justified concern about how a rise in GST locally will change from 3% to 5%. Clearly it will impact most severely on the poorest, and while there is income support, this often does not apply to pensioners who have saved, and managed to pay off a mortgage on their home or flat. They will have to sell their home, and use all their savings, and then go, cap in hand, to the States. This will impact on the rental market, and the degree to which it will cannot yet be ascertained.

More generally, the poorest in Jersey, who are renting already, will be forced into needing income support to make ends meet, and a culture of dependency will arise, which is not good either for self-respect, or for the finances of Jersey. It means more means-testing, more paperwork (and more staff), and more money needed from the States to support it. And there will be less money in the economy as a result, as people have less to spend, leading to lower returns on GST.

The impact of any rise in GST will be more severe in Jersey than, for example, in the UK, because here it effects the very basics of life - of heat, light, water and food. This is where GST really bites, because it hits essentials, not luxury items, which everyone needs, regardless of income.

I have been told of pensioners who are already finding it difficult to make a balance between heating in winter or eating, and the situation will only get worse. At the very least, the removal of GST from the utility companies bills to householders would ease the situation, and would be fairly simple to implement with modern computerised record keeping.

A letter to the JEP complaining about the low increase in the cost of living says it all - they said how, when the price of a loaf of daily bread - one of the staples of life - has risen so dramatically - and gas costs have just risen - can the index have shown a reduction? Clearly, they could not easily reconcile the increase cost of their personal outgoings with the drop in the RPI. But this is, in fact, understandable when we look at the Retail Price Index.

According to the Statistics Unit, inflation in Jersey has fallen - the Retail Price Index in Jersey was 2.8% in June 2010 and dropped to 2.1% in September. But this is how it is compiled, and note that it is a general measure on goods and services:

The RPI is compiled using a large and representative selection of over 500 separate goods and services. The price movements for each of these are measured at a representative range of outlets. About 2,500 separate price quotations are used each quarter in compiling the index

What we don't have, and clearly need, is not simply RPI statistics of an overall nature, in which the poorest and elderly get swallowed up in the figures, but an index of the price index faced by the poorest - the lowest quartile - and see how that has risen - how the daily household bill of that lowest quartile has gone up, and what proportion of income that consumes. We also really need to know how well the income support system is doing - how are people coping who are on income support - to see that enough is being given to them. A letter to the paper highlights the problems:

I accept that people have no work at home and are following work all over the world but we have less work now and it is becoming scarce. It's a frightening time for residents, and with tax being raised, monies spent on finance, no diversity is being supported. Benefit payments are at an all time high, but only those on benefit get help. Special payments for emergency assistance don't come into play for desperate working families if they have a crisis. (2)

Not only are food costs on the increase (because of the price of wheat worldwide), but also poorer people have problems with dental costs or medical expenses when trying to make ends meet. It is well attested that, in a situation where medical expenses are high, mothers with young children will struggle on and try to do without medical attention when they need it. This was written in 1952, but I have come across Jersey families where it is as true today as then:

Preventable pain is a blot on any society. Much sickness and often permanent disability arise from failure to take early action, and this in its turn is due to high costs and the fear of the effects of heavy bills on the family. The records show that it is the mother in the average family who suffers most from the absence of a free health service. In trying to balance her domestic budget she puts her own needs last. (3)

That is why, of course, so many people on lower incomes make use of the accident and emergency department at the hospital, because it is the only way they can easily make ends meet, especially when they need medical help out of house, when a call out can cost upwards of £80. And it should be notice that matters will be harder soon in the new budget proposals, which aim to severely restrict the use of A&E to just "emergency cases", rather than tackling the root problem of need.

What is needed is the kind of survey that Henry Mayhew did - anecdotal information, no doubt, but accurate nonetheless, and important in understanding just how the daily budget can be balanced, and how difficult it may be. This doesn't mean naming people, but it brings home the individual, out of the mass of statistics, and for those on lower incomes, that will probably turn out to be typical rather than the exception.

Figures depersonalise the situation, they take the politicians away from actual hardship, because they are abstractions from real people. Just as the reductions of grants to Les Amis are made by people who have probably never visited the place (and just a day helping out would let them see what work is done), so too the increase in GST is done by people who have never had to live on a basic pension. That's why we desperately need someone - to highlight what in means to live on a tight budget, and how hard it is to economise. That is often done around Christmas, with the JEP articles, but we need a more comprehensive report that just one or two pages of news print, which are often forgotten once Christmas is gone.

Here is Henry Mayhew again:

One Irish street-seller I saw informed me that she was a "widdy wid three childer." Her husband died about four years since...In the summer she sells green fruit, which she purchases at Covent-garden. When the nuts, oranges, &c., come in season, she furnishes her stall with that kind of fruit, and continues to sell them until the spring salad comes in. During the spring and summer her weekly average income is about 5s., but the remaining portion of the year her income is not more than 3s. 6d. weekly, so that taking the year through, her average weekly income is about 4s. 3a.; out of this she pays 1s. 6d. a week rent, leaving only 2s. 9d. a week to find necessary comforts for herself and family. For fuel the children go to the market and gather up the waste walnuts, bring them home and dry them, and these, with a pennyworth of coal and coke, serve to warm their chilled feet and hands. They have no bedstead, but in one corner of a room is a flock bed upon the floor, with an old sheet, blanket, and quilt to cover them at this inclement season. There is neither chair nor table; a stool serves for the chair, and two pieces of board upon some baskets do duty for a table, and an old penny tea-canister for a candlestick. She had parted with every article of furniture to get food for her family. She received nothing from the parish, but depended upon the sale of her fruit for her living.(1)

Links
(1) London Labour and the London Poor, 1861, Henry Mayhew
(2) Letter, JEP
(3) In Place of Fear, Aneurin Bevan, 1952

Monday, 25 October 2010

Climate Catastrophes and the Écréhous

It is instructive when looking at the present, where we seem to be entering a period of increasingly volatile weather, with violent storms, and increases in flooding, that this kind of volatile weather is nothing new, and we may have to brace ourselves for a period of very catastrophic change.

I'm not assuming much about causal factors which may have been involved, and which may have been quite different from those of today, but simply noting how climatic changes can introduce very unsettled weather, capable of reaping great devastation across the European landscape, and which have largely been forgotten.

The 13th century (1200-1300) seems to have been a time of well documented (not legendary) storms which caused severe coastal erosion in France and England, and locally one of the most significant losses of land mass appears to be the Écréhous. In the book on the reef, Warwick Rodwell suggests the archeological evidence points to a significant reduction in land mass (so that the Écréhous could no longer easily support the monastic community). There was also a small but significant rise in sea level.

An example of how damaging the storms were can be seen in the UK, where numerous storms and a rise in sea level destroyed the port of Old Winchelsea and the River Rother altered its course from its exit to the sea at New Romney to a new position near Rye. This was due to the inundations of the Marshes after the great storms from 1234 to 1336.

Also in the Netherlands: the storm Grote Mandrenke (Great Drowning of Men) strikes the Netherlands in January 1362. Hurricane-force winds with enormous waves and a considerable sea level rise (a storm surge) due to the combined action of push by the wind and lifting of the sea surface because of low air pressure flooded extensive areas of the Netherlands, killing at least 25,000 inhabitants. This number should of cause be seen in relation to the much smaller population at that time than now.

The storm also flooded and eroded large land areas in western Slesvig, Denmark, whereby sixty parishes disappeared totally. Also southern England was severely hit by the storm, with much damage on buildings and infrastructure. The 1362 storm resulted in severe coastal erosion, contributing to the opening of a pre-existing topographical low in the Netherlands towards the North Sea.

Returning to the Écréhous, Warwick Rodwell in his synthesis of the examination of the region mentions this:

" The progressive inundation of the French coast during the Middle Ages, and earlier, is a subject that has preoccupied numerous antiquarian writers. A string of dates has been cited when major storms and floods are alleged to have occurred, resulting in great land losses. Among the early data cited, 709 is the most persistent, but 541 and 603 also receive mention. Later inundations consequent land losses are well tested, especially in the 13th and 14th centuries. " (p363)

A "cross-bearing" comes from the pollen examined, which reveals a larger shoreline than that of today, and suggests there might well be a basis in history for the possible 709 land losses:

" It is worth noting that pollen sequence examined in the ancient soil of the marsh on La Maître Ile is relevant to the environment in the early Christian period. The pollen reveals a substantially different vegetation regime from that obtaining today, although confirming the location was close to a shoreline. The presence of a broad range of free pollen in each of the palynozones examine is interesting, especially the occurrence of fir in the lower levels. Taken at face value, this implies woodland on the Écréhous in early historic times.. " (p366)

Regarding the later land loss of the 13th century, the evidence is for a larger population of monks (because of the expansion of the buildings) and the archeology shows again another "cross bearing" on the incursions of the sea:

" St Mary's Priory was, in its own modest way, prospering in the middle years of the 13th century. The new chapel [built in this period] bears testimony to this; so does the addition of other buildings to the nucleus. Although little now remains it appears that a substantial rectangular structure was added to the West, which we may suspect was a new common hall. It was however destroyed -- seemingly in the 13th century -- by the inroads of the sea from the West. We have here a specific piece of archaeological evidence for marine transgression, in a period where there are numerous historical references to catastrophic incursions by the tides. " (p367)

" If the sea could engulf recently built structures, and penetrated within a few metres of the West End of the old chapel and hall, the implication must be that the reef had fragmented and shrunk to something approaching its present form by the 14th century. .. The Assize role of 1309 speaks of only two monks and a servants, and of the hardship of life on the Écréhous. The Priory was in decline and the prior's complaint of the poor conditions of the grounds was probably not an exaggeration. " ( p368 )

John Renouf, on the geology, notes that there is nothing against a rapid land loss, as the geological evidence does not say anything one way or another (he does note that the "legend of the plank", however, is in direct contraction to the geology of the region). But the supposition is of a much larger Écréhous in historical times, one still cut off by the sea from France and Jersey, but undergoing cycles of stormy weather when erosion took place very rapidly:

" while the physical evidence cannot be used to prove a greater land area, it also has nothing to say gained such a situation. .. The climatic deterioration began after A.D. 1200, and had such dire consequences in our immediate area from the first half of the 14th century, is the most likely moment for serious inroads to have been made into any greater land area that existed hitherto on the Écréhous "

Incidentally, the well was examined closely, and is designed for ground water; it does not - contrary to water diviners - go deep in the bedrock to hidden underground streams:

" The well on La Maître Ile is undatable but could be mediaeval, and may have been contained within a circular well-house. The shallowness of the feature -- which hardly penetrates the solid rock -- demonstrates that it is essentially a cistern or dipping-well deriving its supply from surface water, and not from an underground spring. " (p73)

Again the archeological evidence is that in the early Middle ages, there could well have been live animals on the reef; the middens show:

" bone assemblage comprising sheep, pig and cow. These together with hare/rabbit, clearly comprise the principal types of red meat consumed on the grounds and the archaeological evidence points strongly to the existence of live animals on the reef not of importation " (p356)

Rodwell draws this in his synthesis for a larger reef until the storms of the 13th century:

" The implications for the historic environment keeping sheep, cow and pig on the Écréhous - even if the only in small numbers - are considerable. First there must be adequate salt free vegetation for grazing. Secondly the ground conditions had to be suitable for keeping and probably for breeding animals. In the case of cows and sheep, a significant area of fresh grass was a basic requirement. Nor could water locked ground be utilised since that would cause foot rot. " (p356)

and he contrasts this with the position today:

" The tiny area of grass to grow on the marsh on the Maître Ile, whether or not it was waterlogged, could hardly have supported more than a single cow. " (p356)

In conclusion, it is certainly clear that during the 13th and 14 centuries, perhaps as the Medieval warm spell came to an end, the weather became increasingly violent, and the effect of this can be seen in the Écréhous, although they would have undoubtedly been also having an effect on the softer shale rocks of Jersey.

It is dangerous to predict too much from the past, but the increasing prevalence of violent storms in Europe certainly suggests we may be entering another period of very unsettled and stormy weather, and the incidence of flooding, wind damage, and coastal erosion (despite sea wall defenses) may well be significantly greater than during the last century.

References
The Écréhous, edited by Warwick Rodwell, 1996

Saturday, 23 October 2010

Fire Bringer

It is cold outside, but as Halloween gets nearer pagan priest is gathering wood to make a sacred fire, full of enchantment....
 
Fire Bringer
 
Cold be heart, and cold be stone
Icy winds come from the east
Frosty fingers chill to bone
Chanting now a pagan priest
 
Earth is frozen, hard as rock
Branches broken, fallen lie
Cold is mist around the loch
And here a pagan priest I spy
 
Waters freezing in the sea
Firewood taken from the land
And on the rocky cliff I see
A pagan priest upon the sand
 
And now the sacred fire burns
A pagan priest, the warmth returns

Friday, 22 October 2010

Look A Like


Sam the Eagle -------- Ben Muppet

Has anyone noticed the similarity between Sam the Eagle, the beaky politician who is always flying away from States sittings, and Ben the Muppet, a comic character who represents a political puppet?

For more local look-a-likes, click on the "Look A Like" label just below.

Thursday, 21 October 2010

Rose Tinted Ignorance?

After years of steady decline, Jersey is on the brink of a crisis in the overall quality of the States...Rose-tinted nostalgia is a dangerous trap but there can be little doubt that the average calibre of States Members has declined significantly over the last two or three decades.

http://www.thisisjersey.com/2010/10/19/countdown-to-an-election-that-must-raise-standards/


Of course, we miss those great statesmen of the past. But the trouble is one remembers one or two who made a mark, and tends to forget the rest. Ralph Vibert, John Le Marquand, and the like. We don't remember those who made quite a different impression, and largely faded from public consciousness.

My mother was told (a long time ago) by one person (who was very naive) that he was hoping to get a planning application passed, but he would have to wait "until xxx [a parent] was back in the States"! They got back in, and it was duly passed. Purely on merit, of course! Incidentally, the parent is now long retired from the States.

But that's a private anecdote. More publically, who can forget Vernon Tomes riding to power on a platform of populist reform after being sacked as Deputy Bailiff - "I'm going to change the Bailiff's position if you elect me and we'll have a president of the States instead". But once he was in, that was all too soon forgotten as he drank deeply of the heady draughts of power. And here is a list of some of the others - names are omitted to protect the guilty, some of whom are dead anyway. But if you track back through the JEP, you can probably fit a lot of names to the tales.

There were trappists in the 1970s, like one of the Deputies for St Clement who said nothing for all the years he was in the States, and voted just the way he was told to. Members did not leave the Chamber like today, instead they just meditated for forty winks.

Of course, in those days, States members were not paid like today, but there were quite a lot of farmers elected in the country parishes who had no knowledge of the finance industry but suddenly became (in a Sark like manner) non-executive directors of companies, and collected a handsome job lot of directors fees every year. Talk about buying votes! But there was no register of members interests, so it was often easy to do that.

On buying votes, one Senator went on the rampage spending - in the 1970s - huge sums of money on election expenses - remember the kind of thing - glossy brochures, personalised with the electors name, in full colour, large posters around the Parishes, adverts in the JEP over many days etc. All posted and coming through the letter box. He got re-elected.

One Senator was drunk in charge of a tractor. Another jumped on a table at a party at the Grand Hotel, waving some women's knickers in the air above his head - he is actually still in the States!

Then there was the Postal Committee who went on fact finding holidays to the Caribbean - sorry, I mean fact finding trips in the Winter months. They also gave themselves first day covers, and some of the Committee went on to sell them for a profit. As a result of the ensuing scandal, one Deputy never managed to get re-elected to the States again.

The Senator whose hotel somehow always managed to get picked (during the time it was closed) for the renewal of the road tax in January, and whose hotel thereby gained extra revenue.

The President of IDC who made the most extraordinary planning decisions, and apparently asked one lady for "favours" for planning approval.

The pompous idiot of a Senator who didn't want sponsored bus shelters because that would be vulgar, or the Senator who had the brilliant idea of having all registry office functions (namely weddings) at the Crematorium! The same Senator rearranged all the Town traffic flow from the West massively overnight, and then reversed his decision when it caused total chaos.

The Senator who decided to dump potatoes at Beauport (on the basis of his officials advice) even though common sense suggested there would be problems caused by that.

The Constable who decided Haut Vallee did not need any physically disabled access - because it would have no intake of disabled pupils. Never mind if any of their parents were disabled, and would thereby find it difficult to get to school events!

The Senator who was caught out because of his sexual peccadilloes in a "sting" by a private detective.

Yes, rose-tinted nostalgia is a dangerous trap - we can rest assured there were giants in those days!

The Paranormal Experience

There are concerns a show in Jersey featuring spiritual mediums could upset those who have been bereaved. The claim is being challenged by the medium Derek Acorah who is appearing in the forthcoming 'Paranormal Show' at the publicly-owned Fort Regent. Deputy Kevin Lewis is questioning whether it is suitable entertainment for a publicly-owned building. One of the acts, Alan Bates, questioned how much Deputy Lewis actually knows about "high calibre" medium shows. Deputy Lewis said he was ok if it was put forward as entertainment. He said: "If this performance is an entertainment then I don't have a problem with it. "If there are people who are bereaved and they get messages from the other side, then I do have a problem with it." Alan Bates said that modern medium shows are more than just cold reading. He told BBC Jersey: "When was the last time he came to see our show or a medium show of high calibre. "This cold reading of saying does anybody have a J in the audience or a John, they may have done that many years ago. The accuracy of Derek Acorah is beyond any reasonable doubt." (1)

It is difficult to know what Deputy Kevin Lewis is objecting to. According to the BBC Report, he is objecting to people "getting messages from the other side" and not a pretense, a fun act, where there is cold reading - as for example Derren Brown's act on the subject of mediums. What the Deputy is reported as saying doesn't really make any logical sense, unless he has some way of proving scientifically true or false that people are "getting messages from the other side" (wherever that is); otherwise, there is no way to tell whether Derek Acorah is a fraud or genuine. And on public stage, evenings of clairvoyance have been advertised as such and held at the Arts Centre and the Opera House without grumbles from politicians (and licensed by the Bailiff). Don't politicians do their homework any more before speaking out?

In fact, when Alan Bates said, "The accuracy of Derek Acorah is beyond any reasonable doubt", I would agree, although I suspect he does not mean that to be as ironic as me. One has only to read various reports of Derek Acorah to see how he has been caught out on various occasions to see this, for example:

I found Derek Acorah hilarious on occasions. The night they investigated the Witchfinder General, Derek was taken over by a spirit who called Yvette "wench" in a deep gruff voice. When Yvette asked for the spirit's name, Derek said "Francis" in the same deep gruff voice. Back in the studio, they confirmed the Witchfinder indeed had an assistant called Frances...but it was a woman! Another time, they were exploring an old castle. My daughter watched Derek suddenly say he was picking up that this room was used for torture. The camera changed angles and in the background was a visitors' information sign that said the room was used for torture. Oh dear! (2)

My article written, I just had to wait for the show to air. And when it did, 30 seconds after Derek was shown to be possessed by the fictional Kreed Kafer (Which was an anagram of Derek Faker), I published my article. Conspiracy theories were thrown about by fans of Most Haunted. Some claimed it was pure coincidence, others claimed I simple lied and made it all up. Many more set-ups were revealed in the following weeks, more anagram names and so on. (2)

TV Medium Derek Acorah, famous for his appearances on UK TV show "Most Haunted" exposed himself as a fraud whilst filming at Bodmin Gaol. He overheard members of the crew talking about an inmate called "Kreed Kafer", and, minutes later, became possessed by the ghost. However, "Kreed Kafer" never existed and his name is an anagram of - "Derek Faker"(3)

I suspect that Deputy Kevin Lewis, in attacking the "Paranormal Experience" at the Fort Regent, may well have an implicit religious agenda. I know that fake mediums can prey on the gullible, but surely the sceptic is more likely to find that at a Spiritualist Church, where people seem sincere, and hence draw in the gullible, than the showy bogus performance that Derek Acorah seems to put on.

If Deputy Lewis is really concerned about preying on vulnerable people, why does he just target Derek Acorah, and not the Greater World Spiritualist Church? I think I detect a whiff of hypocrisy, and the real reason behind his criticism is a Christian agenda, probably fundamentalist, which wants to prevent anyone from going to Acorah and then going on to places where local mediums are present; however, he would not dare attack the Spiritualists directly, as that would be seen as too intolerant for our times.

I think Acorah is probably a complete fake (the evidence where he is caught out points that way!), but there are genuine mediums out there, by which I mean people who experience voices or visions which they understand as being the spirits of the dead. That doesn't mean it is necessarily real in an objective sense; these experiences could be a form of clinical schizophrenia, which as anyone who has seen "A Beautiful Mind" will know can be very real to the observer. Not all schizophrenic experiences are paranoid (as in that film), some can be benign - I had a friend who was schizophrenic, and the "voices" were just there, they didn't tell her to do anything in particular. Barbara O'Brien's autobiographical account - "Operators and Things" of being schizophrenic for a time is another example.

Equally, there may well be no scientific way of telling whether a particular subjective experience (as that of a medium) has an objective correlate or not - a classic thought experiment on this is the partially sighted person trying to explain the experience of seeing to a blind person. How could you prove that you could see something that someone else could not, and which came and went (because of course a partially sighted person cannot see in the dark, but they would not necessarily know that)? People who could not see would not be able to understand.

H.G. Wells said this strikingly in his story "The Country of the Blind". With all the craft and intelligence that he brought, for Wells, blindness is not just lack of sight, but a metaphor for a society that cannot see beyond its blinkered views of the world:

The old became groping, the young saw but dimly, and the children that were born to them never saw at all. But life was very easy in that snow-rimmed basin, lost to all the world, with neither thorns nor briers, with no evil insects nor any beasts save the gentle breed of llamas they had lugged and thrust and followed up the beds of the shrunken rivers in the gorges up which they had come. The seeing had become purblind so gradually that they scarcely noticed their loss. They guided the sightless youngsters hither and thither until they knew the whole valley marvelously, and when at last sight died out among them the race lived on. They had even time to adapt themselves to the blind control of fire, which they made carefully in stoves of stone. They were a simple strain of people at the first, unlettered, only slightly touched with the Spanish civilisation, but with something of a tradition of the arts of old Peru and of its lost philosophy. Generation followed generation. They forgot many things; they devised many things. Their tradition of the greater world they came from became mythical in colour and uncertain. (H.G. Wells, The Country of the Blind) (4)

There, the sighted traveller thinks he has the advantage over the others, because he can see.

"Why did you not come when I called you?" said the blind man. "Must you be led like a child? Cannot you hear the path as you walk?"
Nunez laughed. "I can see it," he said.
"There is no such word as see," said the blind man, after a pause. "Cease this folly and follow the sound of my feet."
Nunez followed, a little annoyed.
"My time will come," he said.
"You'll learn," the blind man answered. "There is much to learn in the world."
"Has no one told you, 'In the Country of the Blind the One-Eyed Man is King?'"
"What is blind?" asked the blind man, carelessly, over his shoulder.

But, of course, that is false. He is but one person, they are many and know their terrain, and he has to pretend to be blind, or to be starved out of existence. He is accepted into their society, but when he falls in love, and wants to be a full member of their society, with a grim twist, Wells brings in the idea of science - not as a means of objectivity, but as a means of ensuring social control - that which does not fit into a worldview is to be not just ignored but actively attacked as an illusion:

"His brain is affected," said the blind doctor.
The elders murmured assent.
"Now, what affects it?"
"Ah!" said old Yacob.
This," said the doctor, answering his own question. "Those queer things that are called the eyes, and which exist to make an agreeable depression in the face, are diseased, in the case of Nunez, in such a way as to affect his brain. They are greatly distended, he has eyelashes, and his eyelids move, and consequently his brain is in a state of constant irritation and distraction."
"Yes?" said old Yacob. "Yes?"
"And I think I may say with reasonable certainty that, in order to cure him complete, all that we need to do is a simple and easy surgical operation--namely, to remove these irritant bodies."
"And then he will be sane?"
"Then he will be perfectly sane, and a quite admirable citizen."
"Thank Heaven for science!" said old Yacob, and went forth at once to tell Nunez of his happy hopes.

There is a great arrogance with a new kind of scientific fundamentalism that believes it has all the answers and that any strange phenomena, such as that of mediums, if it can't be accepted on its own terms (which perhaps it should not be), must simply be an illusion. I'd advise them to read Well's short story, as it is a master class in dealing with the arrogance of those who think they have all the answers.

Part of this stems from the lack of knowledge of the history of science. It is perhaps significant that one of the scientists who I have learnt from most, the late Stephen Jay Gould, was both an agnostic, and very attuned to history (and finding primary sources) in the history of science, while some of the modern scientific reductionists (dogmatic atheists) do not seem to have the same degree of historical understanding.

If we look back to the period from 1890 to 1920, as the new century broke, the optimism of a start spread into science. As C.P. Snow tells in his book "The Physicists", many scientists believed that all that was needed was to "tidy up loose ends and refine measurements"(5). This confidence was shattered by the discovery of radioactivity, the publication of Einstein's relativity and the First World War in Europe (which also had the effect of accelerating change and discovery in science, as elsewhere). Let's hope we can avoid a new wave of scientific hubris.

Links
(1) BBC Jersey News
(2)
http://moh2005.proboards.com/index.cgi?action=display&board=mhl&thread=8639&page=1#142408
(3) http://tmghosthunters.proboards.com/index.cgi?board=news&action=display&thread=
(4) H.G. Wells, The Country of the Blind
(5) C.P. Snow, The Physicists

Wednesday, 20 October 2010

Road Transport Questions

A couple of questions on Mike Jackson's proposals regarding the increased use of public transport. I don't know the answers to these, but they would all seem quite pertinent to any sensible decisions being made on cutting commuter traffic. None of them seem to have been mentioned in the statements made by the Constable in the JEP.

1) If people are to be persuaded to take cars, we need more bus shelters to keep them out of the rain. I know that back in the 1980s, Simon Crowcroft was looking at sponsorship deals (advertising as a trade off for various UK style overhang shelters). What plans are there for more bus shelters? There are plenty in the UK, and plenty of people catch buses as a result. Are we still in the dark (and wet winter morning) ages on this one?

Obviously not everywhere is wide enough for a shelter, but I know of at least 8 places in St Brelade where there would certainly be a place for one - the "hub" at Red Houses by the Co-Op being one of them.

2) What spare capacity is there on rush hour bus services in/out of town on the various routes? The bus drivers must know when they pass stops and cannot pick up passengers. Are these statistics recorded in any scientific way?

3) Has any mapping been done to check population density against bus routes? People who live in houses in remote areas, far from a bus lane, are not likely to catch buses. Are there any housing estates / large clusters of houses which are remote from bus routes (or may be - are considerations of changing routes being incorporated into the Island plan regarding new proposed housing estates - joined up government anyone?)?

4) What is the policy on standing for school buses? At least one of the school buses from St Lawrence, for example, regularly has standing room only for quite a number of students. Is this acceptable on safety grounds, and how much spare capacity is there on school bus routes (evidently none on some buses!)? How is this monitored?

5) If people are to use the bus more often, they need a better way of paying. How early is the 21st century technology of smart cards, used widely in England and Guernsey, to be brought in? Shouldn't it be brought in as a sweetener (with commuter discounts) at the same time as the stick of rising parking charges?

6) Are there any ways of assessing capacity in short stay car parks to tell if rises in parking are having an effect on the people who come to town not as commuters but as short stay shoppers?

Postscript:

Mike has said: "Thanks for your observations and I shall give a considered response as soon as I can."

Tuesday, 19 October 2010

Degrees of Evasiveness

WRITTEN QUESTION TO THE MINISTER FOR EDUCATION, SPORT AND CULTURE
BY SENATOR J.L. PERCHARD
ANSWER TO BE TABLED ON TUESDAY 19th OCTOBER 2010

Question

How many student places are available in each of the non fee paying secondary schools and which year groups of those schools have the spare places?

Answer

Due to the designated catchment areas assigned to each school, two of our secondary schools are full. There is capacity for a further 318 students in the remainder of the non-fee paying secondary schools, across all year groups. If additional spaces are required, the department has a degree of flexibility to accommodate more students if circumstances dictate.

What this appallingly weasel answer means, of course, by "degree of flexibility" is that class sizes will have to rise. But Deputy Reed, the man who described himself as "blunt" recently in the JEP, now reveals himself to be really shy of making any declaration that is blunt at all. Instead there is the kind of rambling jargon that one might expect from Jim Hacker in "Yes Minister".

The current thinking behind the reductions in the subsidy to private schools is that it should be rapid, and be at 25% as quickly as possible. That means, of course, as we have seen in letters in the JEP, that parents struggling already will have to transfer their children to the States school, and the child's education will undoubtedly suffer as a result.

Yet Deputy Reed has a point with relation to spaces. If there are waiting lists, and not all children can get into the private schools, he believes the demand is fee related, and the fee is too low. If the fees rise, the numbers on the waiting lists will reduce until an equilibrium point is reached. It does mean that the private schools are ruled out of the pocket of those who might choose them for other reasons - religious, for example - but it does make sense in a crude Thatcherite economics.

But like Thatcher's economics, the speed of the change fails to address the distress it will cause for parents who simply cannot make ends meet, and have to give up, and the child who is snatched away from one school and has to suddenly fit in - and avoid bullying at the hands of children who see the posh kid on the block, and want to take away any airs they may have. Of course we are told that schools have anti-bullying policies, and bullying does not happen, but anyone with children at school knows this is palpable nonsense. The bullies will always find ways to avoid the teacher's gaze, or the bullying will take place after school, on the way home, outside the responsibility of the teacher as loco parentis. There is also the stigma to parents of apparently failing their children, despite their best efforts, and perhaps here sowing the seeds for disrespect and adolescent crime.

I don't have children at fee paying schools, and I have no axe to grind. I think the education they give is probably mixed, with some excellent teachers, and some pretty poor ones. But I dislike the way in which the economic arguments seem to trump any consideration of social implications, and when there may be an impact on States education, such as rising class sizes (judged by these median not the mean size), this can somehow be glossed over as a "degree of flexibility", as if somehow the human element does not enter into Deputy Reed's calculations.

The Discrete Charm of the Losers

I've been trawling through the back catalogue of the Mensa Magazines, and this article was written in the early 1980s by the President of Mensa Spain, and was translated by Tania Szabo.

It is an interesting thesis, looking at the other side of the coin, against the "lust for power", those who are resigned to not making a mark, who do not seek power, but who confront injustice with dignity. Does it seem fanciful? Would it really show dignity?

Yet Tolkien's "Lord of the Rings" shows this can make sense. All of the wise stay away from the one ring, the ring of power, because they know both its corrupting influence, and how much they would wish to use that power. Nowhere is this seen more clearly than in Galadriel who is offered the choice, and decides against it

Frodo: If you ask it of me, I will give you the One Ring.

Galadriel: You offer it to me freely? I do not deny that my heart has greatly desired this.

Galadriel: In the place of a Dark Lord you would have a Queen! Not dark but beautiful and terrible as the Morn! Treacherous as the Seas! Stronger than the foundations of the Earth! All shall love me and despair!

Galadriel: I have passed the test. I will diminish, and go into the West, and remain Galadriel.

But it can also be seen in the quiet dignity of ordinary people, such as those downtrodden, surviving on a meagre pension, who don't complain, but just accept their lot, and get on with life, with whatever hand a fickle fate deals to them, and whatever those who rule dictate.

Here, then, is the discrete charm of the losers:

The Discrete Charm of the Losers
by Antonio Casao Ibanez

That power is something immensely tempting proves to be as old as the world. He who succeeds in grasping
it certainly never wishes to lose it and, the fact is, nothing produces as much pleasure as being in command. For want of better, we call it the "lust for power".

So true is this that there are some who think that humanity lost its innocence, more so than with the eating of the forbidden fruit, when men discovered they were able to rule over other men and that this was pleasant.

Fortunately not everyone is obsessed with being in command and there have always been those crazy people who have dedicated themselves to other things, rather than attempting to garrot his fellow human being.

Those good men, veritable tributes to humanity, will never appear in history books unless within the principal pages. For example, it may well be that, in some small niche, they shall be compared to Saint Francis of Assisi or to Doctor Fleming where they will surely have a place of honour in the eternal and collective conscience of mankind. They are thus rewarded for having taken an interest in people rather than ruling over them.

But for me, more admirable still are those men (and women) - defeated in advance - whose nobility ensures they confront the injustices of destiny with dignity. Aware of which, by not participating in the struggle for power, they are cast into perpetual losers - beings who bear the anger or mockery of one and all with patience and with dignity. All things considered, it is they who have prevented this our world from not yet having gone adrift.
 
I would like to believe that, in spite of everything those losers may win. But how? By obliging us through the moral strength of their example to ensure one day the world they dream of will indeed be a reality for everyone.

So may it be.
Antonia Casao Ibanez, President, Mensa Spain

Sunday, 17 October 2010

A Tale of Two Quangoes

Last weekend was the cider festival at Hamptonne, which is now one of the few weekends when the museum is open. We went on a Saturday and it was lively with Morris men, the farm horse dragging the heavy wheel around the cider press, and we enjoyed some cider from last year, some warmly baked Jersey Wonders, and bag freshly roasted chestnuts. There was face painting, juggling, preserves for sale, and of course a pleasant walk down through the cider orchard and back up through the field. But the one thing which was missing from past years was the livestock. There were no roosters, chickens, chicks, no rabbits, the pigsty was empty of pigs, and there were no cows or heifers with the exception of one large artificial plastic cow -- an ominous reminder of what might happen to the Jersey breed.

The reason why Hamptonne is so seldom open is because Jersey Heritage is strapped for cash. And yet the Maritime Museum is an excellent site with nearby moorings and yacht marina, and would make money if it didn't have to pay Jersey harbour rent for the site. It is argued of course (by Senator Terry Le Sueur among others) that the rent is actually levied at below true market value - but nonetheless a most peculiar chain of transactions takes place.

The Maritime Museum which is part of Jersey Heritage pays a goodly portion of its income in rent to Jersey harbour and that goes into the general coffers of the States, after the harbour running costs are taken into account. The State pays out money to subsidise Jersey Heritage because it hasn't got enough cash which it might well have if it didn't have to pay rent to the harbour department.

Now let's look at another quango -- that of the Waterfront Enterprise Board (WEB) and land which is managed by WEB is not rented by WEB from the States but on the contrary has been ceded by the States into the ownership of WEB - for a nominal sum of a few pounds. WEB's income comes from charging its tenants rents or selling leaseholds on the land; it is in WEB's interest to develop the land. Web has a huge wages bill and an extremely high managing director's salary. Money is reinvested in WEB and doesn't seem to go back into the States coffers at all.

One of the sites paying rent to WEB is Liberation Station, which is rented by Connex the bus company. Recently, in the last year, Web raised its rents considerably. Now Connex is paid to operate the buses are certain sum according to the service level agreement by the States of Jersey. The increase in rents including that on Liberation Station went to the States subsidy to Connex had to be increased to take account of that. So that unlike the cash-strapped Jersey heritage, WEB is doing very well nicely thank you, principally because its land does not suffer any rent payable to the States, and some of its rent is even indirectly coming from the taxpayer - with no control on the amount levied. Another bizarre chain of transactions.

It seems to be a manifestly unfair that Jersey Heritage should have such a punitive relationship with the States while WEB has such a generous one. At the very least, the States should cede the Maritime site to Jersey Heritage for the same kind of nominal sum for which WEB obtained its own land.

Saturday, 16 October 2010

Stormbringer

"The latest tale we know of is that once, under Elizabeth, a strange ancestor of mine, who had fled to England from the authority of the King of Spain, raised the winds which blew the Armada northward past Scotland."  Nancy wrinkled her forehead as he paused. "Do you mean," she began, "do you mean that he...I'm sorry, darling, I don't seem to understand. How could he raise the winds?" "'The beating of the cards is the wind'," he answered, "but don't try and believe it now. Think of it as a fable, but think that on some point of the sea-shore one of those wild fugitives stood by night and shook these cards--these"--he laid his hand on the heap of the suit of staffs or sceptres--"and beat the air with them till he drove it into tumult and sent the great blasts over the seas to drive the ships of King Philip to wreck and destruction. See that in your mind; can you?" (Charles Williams, "The Greater Trumps")

This poem was written on a very windy night - I don't like strong winds... mostly after a bad experience driving from Grouville to St Brelade at 11.30 pm in October 1987, as the great storm was gusting over the Island. The story of the storms wrecking the Spanish Armada being conjured up is an old one which I found in Charles Williams ("The Greater Trumps") and elsewhere.
 
Stormbringer
 
The wind is rising, in gusts it beats and beats
Air hitting hard, hammers the window pane
Tunnelling down the town's deserted streets
No sign of ending, that it will abate or wane
 
Branches dancing wildly through a stormy night
Sea foaming, waves churning against sea walls
As if an elemental force was loose, an evil wight
With destruction in its wake, as darkness falls
 
The Cards are loose, the House of Clubs arisen
Once when England faced the might of Spain
Raised a mighty wind, the Armada driven
And ships lost beneath the Tarot's bane
 
The wind is rising, and I am full of fear
The Falling Tower comes so ever near

Thursday, 14 October 2010

And in conclusion?

For two years we have been told that the decision to suspend (the then police chief) Graham Power was taken after a report was received on 11 November 2008. We now know that preparations were being made months before that, in a series of secret meetings and exchanges; some of which did not even involve the minister. It also appears from the Napier report that the key letter from Mr Warcup used to justify the suspension was altered before it was used, and that. Mr Warcup. denies that he was the person who made the changes I know that Mr Napier says that he did not find evidence of a conspiracy, but firm evidence such things is hard to find.

However what he did find was evidence which contained many features of a conspiracy, including secret meetings; the suspicious alteration of a key document and the disposal of another key document. Whether we call that a conspiracy or not, what nobody can call it is good-government .or conduct. It also shows the lack of judgment of the heavily conflicted acting police chief whose surprise resignation shortly before the submission of the Napier report can now, be seen in a different light. It is now up, to the Chief minister to make a statement confirming that he will not only address the immediate issues arising from Napier; but will put an end to the secretive and seemingly sinister way of conducting government business that this report describes. It is important that Islanders can trust their government: The revelations in the Napier report destroy much of,, that trust, Firm action and leadership are needed if that trust is to be restored.

(Deputy Bob Hill, Letter to the JEP 13 October 2010, print edition of paper only)

The episode of "Yes Minister", entitled "The Greasy Pole", is particularly instructive with regard to the Napier report.

A chemical factory is being set up, and it is producing "meta-dioxin", an inert compound of dioxin. After the hazards caused by dioxin in Italy, Jim Hacker is under political pressure to turn down the application for the factory, but Sir Humphrey sees this as the wrong decision. The final decision is based on Professor Henderson, who is producing a report, which appears to be in favour of the chemical. Henderson is "a brilliant Cambridge biochemist, chosen with some care."

Jim Hacker decides to take matters into his own hands, and "coincidentally" arranges to bump into Professor Henderson, and tells him that the report "leaves some important questions, unanswered"; "some of the evidences are inconclusive", "the figures are open to other interpretations" and "and that some of the main conclusions have been questioned.". He then tells Henderson that if anything were to go wrong, that the press would be merciless, and it would be a millstone around the Professors neck, a black mark on his career.

Henderson: I don't know what to do! I can't alter the evidence, the report says it's a safe drug.
Hacker: Quite. I see you have no choice.

Another University don, Lord Crichton, supplies Henderson with his solution:

Lord Crichton: Stop talking shop. Our Professor of Economics is dying to talk to you.
Henderson: You're not worried about this report?
Lord Crichton: I've done lots of these things. It's the phrasing of the conclusion, that's all the press ever read.

Lord Crichton: Now... how does it end? "On existing evidence, the committee can see no reason not to proceed." Well, it's just a question of a tidy bit of re-drafting. "While the committee feel there's no reason not to proceed on existing evidence, it must be emphasised that metadioxin is a recent compound, and it would be irresponsible to deny, after further research, its manufacture might be proved to be associated with health risks."
Henderson: Yes, that seems perfectly fair.

Now we know that there was an earlier draft of the Napier report, which we might call Napier 1, which was produced earlier - there seems to have been one present by the middle of July - and this was subsequently sent off to "persons whose conduct was or might be seen as the subject of criticism" and amended accordingly after that:

In accordance with normal practice in investigations of this nature, a draft version of this report was made available to persons whose conduct was or might be seen as the subject of criticism. Comments and observations were made, and the final version of the report takes these replies into account. .

What we don't know is how the draft (Napier 1) was altered into the final version (Napier 2). However, as is well known in historical source criticism, evidence of changes often leave their mark because of odd inconsistencies, and the phenomenon known as "editorial fatigue" where an alteration is not consistently carried forward.

An example of this comes with the "not wholly accurate" statement, which could well be an amendment made to tone down the criticism of Mr Lewis in the draft version Napier 1. We know from the next section that Deputy Chief Officer David Warcup had been briefing Mr Lewis on the conduct of the Haut de La Garenne investigation "who had shared with him his concerns about the management of the investigation under Mr Power".

Mr Lewis' statement made to Wiltshire Police as part of their inquiry, to the effect that he had no reason to believe before reading the letter sent by Mr David Warcup (the Deputy Chief Officer of Police) to Mr Ogley (the Chief Executive) that the police were not managing the investigation well was not wholly accurate.

Compare and contrast with....

These briefings [by David Warcup to Andrew Lewis] had contained not only criticisms of how the inquiry had been managed when DCO Harper had been in operational charge of it, but also criticisms of Mr Power's failure to engage with the attempts that were being made (by Mr Warcup) to put right mistakes that had been made.

But the most significant finding of Napier was that there was clear evidence of meetings being held and the ground being prepared, weeks before the suspension, for precisely that eventuality and no other - and when Mr Power was summoned to the meeting with Andrew Lewis and Bill Ogley, he had no forewarning of what had been going on behind his back and was completely unprepared.

If we look at what is being said about conspiracy, we find a very narrow line being taken:

Mr Power believes that Mr Walker then coerced Mr Lewis into taking the decision to suspend him. But I have to say that there is no independent evidence of such a conspiracy

But we know that Mr Lewis was being briefed against Mr Power by Mr Warcup, so why was coercion by Mr Walker needed? At the time, Mr Power clearly would not have been aware of the extremely critical nature of the briefings, so he was clearly trying to find an explanation for Mr Lewis' behaviour, and he was also aware of Mr Walker's criticisms of the investigation.

And so we come to the conclusion:

There was no conspiracy to act against Mr Power because he was seen as a threat to the political status quo and to the vested interests of people of influence within Jersey.

I have found no evidence of a "conspiracy" to oust Mr Power for some improper reason.

But there is clear evidence that (1) proceedings for suspension were proceeding apace, in secret; (2) there was clearly a private collusion between Mr Ogley and Mr Warcup; (3) while the "highest level of the administration", and that could possibly include Chief Minister Frank Walker took no direct part in this, they were most probably aware of this, and had no objections to it - which might be construed as deniability.

Mr Power confirmed in interview that he saw Jersey society as characterised by a lack of integrity and a dislike for openness in government. He described Jersey culture as being one where things are kept secret unless someone can force you to tell it, and where there was little support for what he termed "proactive enthusiasm" on the part of the police. That view of the status quo fits with the reports which the consultant took away after his meeting with him, and which were then relayed to Mr Ogley via Mr Warcup.

and consider the lack of "openness" with the preparations behind his back, the political pressure, and these statements:

Efforts were accordingly concentrated on preparing for that scenario, to the exclusion of other possible mechanisms for resolving perceived failures in performance

I am inclined to think that the answer is that there was, at the highest level of the administration, a belief that the suspension and the taking of disciplinary action against the Chief Officer was not only what was likely to occur (by reason of the decision of the Minister, after the changeover from Senator Kinnard to Mr Lewis), but also what should happen.

Mr Lewis mentioned that immediately prior to the suspension he was coming under a lot of pressure from fellow politicians about how the historic abuse enquiry had been handled.

Having set up a "straw man" of a political conspiracy pretty much by Senator Frank Walker, in his conclusion, Brian Napier proceeds to knock it down. But what we have is clear evidence of some kind of private collusion between interested parties behind Mr Power's back, preparing for his suspension (or resignation) as the planned outcome, and briefing interested parties (such as Mr Lewis) against Mr Power, without making Mr Power aware of the full weight or details of those criticisms, and certainly with the approval of "the highest level of the administration".

The well known "Duck test" says that "If it looks like a duck, swims like a duck, and quacks like a duck, then it probably is a duck.". Applied to Brian Napier's conclusions regarding conspiracies, and given the evidence he did unearth, this would run something like "If it looks like a duck, swims like a duck, and quacks like a duck, then it probably isn't a tortoise".

It ignores what Deputy Bob Hill calls "evidence which contained many features of a conspiracy, including secret meetings; the suspicious alteration of a key document and the disposal of another key document".

Now I'm not saying there was any pressure put on Napier like that of Jim Hacker to Professor Henderson, but there was certainly feedback (not just factual) from interested parties on the draft report, and this may well have led to a softening of its presentation, the apparent contradictions between first and final draft, and the definitive nature of its conclusion - "no conspiracy" being able to be blazed across the media headlines. And the lesson from "Yes Minister" is certainly true:

Lord Crichton: I've done lots of these things. It's the phrasing of the conclusion, that's all the press ever read.

Senator Le Sueur evidently wants to "put the matter to bed", as he puts it, and certainly as far as the press are concerned, the conclusion - "no conspiracy" is an end to the matter. Wiltshire - or the selective redaction of Wiltshire - is seen as the final word on the competence of Graham Power and Lenny Harper, despite it being clearly only half of a disciplinary process that ran out of time. Whether "put the matter to bed" is the best phrase, or "sweep the dust under the carpet" might be a better one, I leave to the reader.

Wednesday, 13 October 2010

The Gladdest Game

(Written in memoriam to Annie Parmeter, who died 13 October 2009)
 
Kate Amy, in her tribute to Annie, told me the following:
 
"We shared a love of simplicity, of plants and of people which in Annie seemed to flow out of her overall gratitude for life. I remember very clearly her speaking to me (a few years ago) in tones of outrage, of her inability to understand how people could lack gratitude for the simple fact of being alive."
 
That sense of gratitude, even in her condition, reminded me of the story of  "Pollyanna". "Pollyanna" is often used in a pejorative way, for someone who is unrelentingly optimistic, but the story has far more depth than that, and also some resonances with Annie's condition.
 
Pollyanna explained how she came to play what she called "The Glad Game":
 
"Why, we began it on some crutches that came in a missionary barrel.  You see I'd wanted a doll, and father had written them so; but when the barrel came the lady wrote that there hadn't any dolls come in, but the little crutches had. So she sent 'em along as they might come in handy for some child, sometime. And that's when we began it."
 
Making the game up on the spot, Pollyanna's father taught her to look at the good side of things-in this case, to be glad about the crutches because "we don't need 'em!". And Pollyanna sets to work to tell other people in the town where she lives with her aunt how to look upon the flip side of misfortunes, how there can be something to be glad about in every situation, although it may be sometimes very hard for the person to see that. As Annie wrote in her notes:
 
"It is logically possible and certainly desirable to end the ancient habit of paying attention to distress, and replace it by a new attitude or posture of paying attention to interesting and rewarding concerns including the present situation. So I now decide to do this and will repeatedly so decide until the ancient habit is broken"
 
When Pollyanna is struck by a car, and loses the use of her legs, she is initially despairing, because there is no room for complacency, for any kind of the superficial optimism about her condition. Then the town people come and tell her of how she has changed their lives, by taking them out of their complacency, and giving them a different and better perspective on their lives, rather than just complaining about matters all the time.
 
And this resonates with me regarding Annie's heart condition. Despite all the problems it caused, she always managed to overcome that and reach out to people, and challenge them in all kinds of ways, and I am privileged to see myself amongst that number
 
I was also struck recently by the comments of Emma Restall-Orr, an English Druid, who was on Radio 4's "Beyond Belief" discussing religion and disability. She persistently refused to accept the designation "disabled" in referring to herself, and instead continually used the term "differently abled".
 
I think that is very much how Annie saw herself; she often asked me the same question - if someone had a magic wand, and could take away your health problems, would you let them? Her answer was that she had come to be whom she was with her heart condition, and she was concerned that she might lose all the things she had learnt, and her attitude to life, because of that.
 
"A continuing challenge in this area for me comes in the form of a fine long-standing co-counselling relationship with someone who also has a chronic illness. One particularly useful tool that my fellow co-counsellor brought to our relationship was a package of three questions.
 
.        Why did I choose this disease?
.        What can I learn from it?
.        Would I be without it?
 
At first sight these questions or their imagined answers might seem quite strange, but the consideration of them has provided a really valuable and powerful 'way in' to addressing some of the issues experienced by a person with chronic illness and it continues to be a useful and effective tool for both of us."
 
Here is Emma Restall Orr speaking on being "differently abled" (she is confined to a wheel chair, and has heart trouble as well), and much of what she says speaks to me of so much of how Annie also lived her life:
 
"One of the things that I need to work out every day is my commitment to living the day, so I can understand the story that you just told. And every day I do make that decision - to live through the day - and that commitment is a commitment to myself, to those who love me, to those I love, and to everything that inspires me, to everything that I give my life to. But also I think one of the important parts of that decision is that I don't do things, which are beyond my ability, my capacity - because my state of being 'differently abled' I suppose, means that if I push myself, I crash very quickly"
 
"Happy.no. I think 'happy' is a massive challenge and a word we can use too flippantly. I would say 'happy' is a broad and powerful word that I aspire to. But no, I wouldn't say my life is happy. I work very hard in order to live a fulfilled life and to have moments of serenity and of happiness. Life is too hard for me to say it's happy."
 
Moments of serenity and happiness, I shared with Annie. And also the times when I would try to help her, massaging her feet, or tapping my hands on her back with a regular beat as this would help with her pulmonary cough.
 
There were times when it was too much to bear, and she did weep, and cry about how hard life was, and how little other people appreciated what they had. Here's what Annie wrote about a bad day:
 
"It's like this... on a bad day the effects of this illness can be most debilitating rendering one not only physically weak but utterly lacking in emotional stamina, stimuli of any kind can be 'too much', noises, the phone ringing, someone walking past the door and the idea of having to interact with even one other person can be very daunting."
 
But even when she was down, her attitude was one of gratitude in life, because she was still alive, clinging on sometimes, it seemed, by her fingertips on the edge of a precipice, but still alive, and open to the joys of life. That came over very clearly in her counselling course, where she wrote the following notes on one of her classes:
 
"One of the first exercises in class this evening was for each person to ask 'Who am I? What happens when we continue to present to others and ourselves a somewhat jaded view of what should be at the very heart of our delight in life.our self and all its different facets and possibilities, a limitless reason for gratitude? Repeat something often enough and we'll all end up believing it, time to change the record I think lest we reach death with a nasty feeling of having been seriously underwhelmed by our lives. "
 
"Taking delight in the self is usually seen in our culture (although to a degree gender variant) as being boastful or narcissistic but it can be an enormously valuable tool for self-empowerment, unlearning all our patterns of self deprecation can be a lengthy, difficult and upsetting business and is not the consumption of substances such as cocaine and ecstasy the cheat's way to attempt it albeit with temporary results?"
 
"I once attended an Co-Counselling workshop themed on the idea of 'feeling good about ourselves' and 'giving up feeling bad about ourselves'. It's quite amazing at how much 'stuff' there is to shift in this area for just about everybody; most of it comes away in laughter as people start to shift embarrassment and fear often followed by tears of grief as memories surface of how others put us down, or punished and discouraged us from expressing our delight in ourselves."
 
In conclusion, I think this quotation from Emma Restall Orr, sums up a lot of how Annie engaged with the world, and what she taught us, and still inspires us with our own lives.
 
"We are all 'differently-abled' and if we work within those capacities then we're doing fine. If we can stretch and push, and aspire beyond them, that's wonderful - but really it's about each of us individually finding  our own inspiration that allows us to live well."
 
And when I look back on Annie's life, I find memories of a life that was certainly full of inspiration, and a friend and partner who certainly lived well - she lived very well indeed.

Tuesday, 12 October 2010

The Skeptical Blogger

I always keep a sharp eye out for Graham Cluley's blog. He is one of the gurus of Sophos (and ancient computer bods, like me, remember that before that he was the clever clogs at Dr Solomon's Antivirus Toolkit. On his blog at http://www.sophos.com/blogs/gc/ , he warns about all kinds of scams and viruses that have a high profile, so it is always worth keeping an eye out for his blog - I keep a link on the right hand side of my blog with the latest snapshot. The latest thing is a Facebook scam:

Earlier this year I blogged about how scammers were abusing Facebook users' curiosity about who might be viewing their profile. Surprise surprise, they're at it again. Right now we're seeing messages spreading across Facebook claiming to have found a way to allow you to sneakily tell who has been looking at your profile. And it's no shock to see that many people are intrigued as to who might be checking them out online (maybe it's a secret admirer? or an ex-girlfriend or boyfriend? or a prospective employer?), and clicking on the link.

A typical message reads: See who viewed your profilee original version 2.0:
now you can see who viewed your Facebook profile
<LINK>

However, this is not new legitimate functionality that Facebook has built into its social network. Instead, if you click on the link you are taken to a third-party website which (to the untrained eye) may at first glance appear to still be on the real Facebook site, but is in fact designed to trick you into sharing their link further. As we've seen in the past in connection with other scams, the page encourages you to "Like" it and "share" it numerous times before it will hand over the ability to has viewed your Facebook profile. .. Scams like this don't need to exploit security vulnerabilities in Facebook's code - all they need to do is socially engineer users into making poor decisions. In this case, the desire to see who might be investigating you on Facebook might be enough to convince you to share and endorse a link to your other online friends.

Snopes is so well known now that scammers often use it in their emails. This virus cannot be detected by anything etc. Pass this on. This information has been verified from Snopes. It hasn't of course, but chain mail email hoaxes use that as another kind of social engineering to get you worried, and to pass on the email. It assumes Snopes has authority, and that the reader is simply to lazy to check out the hoax for themselves. But another good site for hoaxes is http://www.hoax-slayer.com/ - it gives all the latest kind of email scams:

Hoax-Slayer is dedicated to debunking email hoaxes, thwarting Internet scammers, combating spam, and educating web users about email and Internet security issues. Hoax-Slayer allows Internet users to check the veracity of common email hoaxes and aims to counteract criminal activity by publishing information about common types of Internet scams. Hoax-Slayer also includes anti-spam tips, computer and email security information, articles about true email forwards, and much more. New articles are added to the Hoax-Slayer website every week.

They also have a monthly issue, which you can get by email subscription, or view on line. Here's part of the October edition:
(http://www.hoax-slayer.com/107-4.shtml )

UK Pensioners v Asylum Seekers Protest Message
Harry Potter Author J.K. Rowling Avowed Satanist Hoax
Bogus Microsoft Critical Upgrade Notification Email
Moon Split Miracle Chain Letter
Death From Poisoned Rhino Horn Rumour
Collapse Of 13 Story Building in China
Rebirth Of The Eagle Hoax
Facebook Virus Using Your Pictures Warning
Spider Under Florida Toilet Seat Hoax
Facebook Hacked 'BBC News Team' Warning Message

Read enough of these, and you get a "nose" for obvious hoaxes. For more general hoaxes, not all by email, and some going back hundreds of years, however, I'd recommend The Museum of Hoaxes at http://www.museumofhoaxes.com/ . You can even get a nicely printed book version (properly done, not a web site dump) with pictures from Amazon. The Hoax archive is at http://www.museumofhoaxes.com/hoax/archive . My favourite is from 1959-1962 - The Society for Indecency to Naked Animals which took in thousands of Americans (some even wanted to donate!). I'd love a poster saying "A Nude Horse is a Rude Horse"!

Clifford Prout was a man with a mission, and that mission was to put clothes on all the millions of naked animals throughout the world. To realize his dream, Prout founded an organization, the Society for Indecency to Naked Animals (abbreviated as SINA). . Prout first appeared before the American public to promote his organization on May 27, 1959 when he appeared on NBC's Today Show. His appearance generated a huge viewer response and soon thousands of letters were pouring in to SINA's headquarters. (Prout had provided a New York mailing address while on the air.)

More interviews followed after the success of this first appearance. Wherever he went Prout promoted his anti-animal-nudity philosophy and repeated his society's catchy slogans: "Decency today means morality tomorrow" and "A nude horse is a rude horse."... Prout's campaign continued for a number of years until it reached a high point on August 21, 1962, when SINA was featured on the CBS News with Walter Cronkite. As the segment was airing, a few CBS employees recognized that Prout was actually Buck Henry, a comedian and CBS employee. SINA was subsequently revealed to be an elaborate hoax. Although Henry played the role of SINA's president, the hoax had been dreamed up and orchestrated by Alan Abel, who played the part of SINA's vice president.

My favourite historical site, however, is Michael Sheiser's PaleoBabble found at http://michaelsheiser.com/PaleoBabble/ , described as "Your antidote to cyber-twaddle and misguided research about the ancient world". If you want real archaeology, and all the atomic supercivilisations, ancient astronauts etc etc debunked, while learning something about ancient history, this is the site to visit; it also has lots of links to even more stuff. There is even some stuff debunking Dan Brown.

And speaking of Dan Brown, the all time favourite piece debunking his prose that I've seen is by linguist Geoffrey K. Pullum on his blog which caused me to laugh out loud (http://itre.cis.upenn.edu/~myl/languagelog ):

A voice spoke, chillingly close. "Do not move."

On his hands and knees, the curator froze, turning his head slowly.

Only fifteen feet away, outside the sealed gate, the mountainous silhouette of his attacker stared through the iron bars. He was broad and tall, with ghost-pale skin and thinning white hair. His irises were pink with dark red pupils
.

Just count the infelicities here. A voice doesn't speak -a person speaks; a voice is what a person speaks with. "Chillingly close" would be right in your ear, whereas this voice is fifteen feet away behind the thundering gate. The curator (do we really need to be told his profession a third time?) cannot slowly turn his head if he has frozen; freezing (as a voluntary human action) means temporarily ceasing all muscular movements. And crucially, a silhouette does not stare! A silhouette is a shadow. If Saunière can see the man's pale skin, thinning hair, iris color, and red pupils (all at fifteen feet), the man cannot possibly be in silhouette.

Brown's writing is not just bad; it is staggeringly, clumsily, thoughtlessly, almost ingeniously bad. In some passages scarcely a word or phrase seems to have been carefully selected or compared with alternatives. I slogged through 454 pages of this syntactic swill, and it never gets much better.

There is a lot of nonsense on the internet, some of which takes the form of hoaxes, conspiracy theories, fake history and the like. By taking lessons from people like Graham Cluley, the Hoax Slayer, PaleoBabble and Geoffrey Pullum, and others like these, we can learn to sift the sense from the nonsense, and not waste our time and other peoples (to say nothing of bandwidth) by propagating the nonsense like a web version of bindweed.

Monday, 11 October 2010

Handwritten Notes in Napier

The Chief Minister was forced to admit that States chief executive Bill Ogley - the most senior civil servant - had destroyed hand-written minutes of the meeting to suspend the police chief before Mr Power had agreed that they were accurate. Senator Le Sueur told the States yesterday that a typed transcript had been made from the notes before they were thrown in the bin. The transcript was subsequently signed off by the then Home Affairs Minister, Andrew Lewis, but without the original notes being shown to the police chief.

(http://www.thisisjersey.com/2009/02/04/top-civil-servants-under-fire/#ixzz11zqUUnqm)

Of this meeting with Bill Ogley and Andrew Lewis and Graham Power, Brian Napier's report says:

"Subsequent to the meeting, the handwritten notes of the meeting taken by Mr Ogley were destroyed. That, I was told by Mr Crich, was in accordance with normal practice. I have to say that, in all the circumstances, it is my view that it would have been wiser to have retained all that was available by way of record of that crucial meeting. But I accept Mr Ogley's account - that he transcribed the notes immediately after the meeting and that they were subsequently typed up for the parties to sign."

Now Bill Ogley is Jersey's equivalent to the Cabinet Secretary in the UK Government (and is probably paid almost as much). But when we look at what happens with the Cabinet Secretary in the UK, we find quite different record keeping in place The National Archive notes that:

"The Cabinet Secretaries' Notebooks are the hand written notes which the Cabinet Secretary makes when he attends Cabinet Meetings as the Senior Secretary. (1)

Of course, as I'm the first to admit, that doesn't apply to all meetings, only to important Cabinet ones, but nonetheless there are lessons there for the situation with the meeting at which Graham Power was suspended. This is because whether or not it is standard practice to destroy notes in Jersey, it is certainly questionable whether the written minutes were an exact transcript of the meeting. For example, returning again to the Cabinet Secretaries notebooks (the equivalent of Bill Ogley's hand written notes), the official British Archives site notes how these differ in important respects from the final minutes:

"Q. How do the notebooks differ from the official cabinet minutes?
A. The main difference is that the official minutes do not attribute views to individual ministers as the Notebooks do. Nor do the items necessarily correspond: the Cabinet Secretary did not note every item, but sometimes included incidental discussion not reflected in the official minutes."(1)

Minutes then may well represent a form of redaction, which the transcript (the raw data) does not. A situation depicted with humour in "Yes Prime Minister":


"It is characteristic of all committee discussions and decisions that every member has a vivid recollection of them, and that every member's recollection of them differs violently from every other member's recollection; consequently we accept the convention that the official decisions are those and only those which have been officially recorded in the minutes by the officials; from which it emerges with elegant inevitability, that any decision which has been officially reached would have been officially recorded in the minutes by the officials, and any decisions which is not recorded in the minutes by the officials has not been officially reached, even if one or more members believe they can recollect it; so in this particular case, if the decision would have been officially reached, it would have been recorded in the minutes by the officials and it isn't so it wasn't." (Yes Prime Minister)

A Tribunal on this subject further commented on the Cabinet Secretary's handwritten notes of a Cabinet meeting:

". the manner in which an individual takes contemporaneous notes is likely to be idiosyncratic and could well give a false impression as to the weight and importance that should be attributed to a particular part of the debate or the tone in which the points of discussion were expressed."

But the Tribunal also considered that there could be exceptional circumstances in which it was important to check the handwritten handwritten notes with the formal minutes:

"Were the handwritten notes to reveal something of significance which was not recorded in the formal minute, the Commissioner might take a different view. Each case, however, must be considered on its own particular merits" (6)

It is clear that this practice of handwritten notes was also not continued with the suspension review meetings under Ian Le Marquand where there are not minutes of the meeting but a complete transcript of the audio recording - Mr Crich's normal practice did not apply then, nor of course with scrutiny hearings, for which there is also a written transcript of the
audio recording.

One would have expected - given Senator Le Marquand's subsequent use of full audio transcription - for Brian Napier to have commented on how matters had been improved, or why matters had changed between Mr Crich's comments to him and the later meetings with Mr Power, and perhaps noted that this had been done precisely to avoid the accusation that the minutes distorted or omitted matters of significance.

This also comes under the sphere of data retention policies, where requirements, especially for handwritten notes of substance (which can always be easily scanned as PDF images), can be important:

Document retention, especially the retention of electronic data has become a hot topic in the legal industry. In the 21st century business world, companies are creating and storing the electronic document and information at light speed. Electronic documents are not only found on desktops and laptops but also stored on the phones like Blackberry's etc. But for modern business organizations storing all this business information can be expensive not only because of the cost of physical storage of tapes but also because of the potential liability of keeping sometimes seemingly useless information for too long.

A document retention policy provides for the systematic review, retention and destruction of documents received or created in the course of business. A document retention policy will identify documents that need to be maintained and contain guidelines for how long certain documents should be kept and how they should be destroyed. (2)

Those notes are from India which is striving to comply with the data protection laws of the EU, and to which Jersey is also subject with its own Data Protection Law. On the subject of which documents must be protected, they note:

Temporary Records: Temporary records include all business documents that have not been completed. Such include, but are not limited to written memoranda and dictation to be typed in the future, reminders, to-do lists, report, case study, and calculation drafts, interoffice correspondence regarding a client or business transaction, and running logs.

They note that temporary records need not be kept as long as final records, so that - provided a minute is signed off by all parties as accurate, the documents from which it is transcribed can be destroyed. Regarding how long any documents - including written memoranda - should be kept, the matter is open - and this is the same position as in Jersey's own Data Protection Law. But note the caveat at the end, which would, in my opinion, certainly apply to the handwritten notes that were shredded:

How long should documents be kept? Only for so long as the law requires or for as long as you actually have use for them, and not a moment longer. There is no bright line number. In typical lawyerly fashion, my real answer is that "it depends." Any records management program must ensure that legally required documents are kept for at least the minimum prescribed time periods. But, are there circumstances under which they should be kept for a longer period of time? In my view there are two answers to that question. First, there may be records you think are critical to preserving historical continuity, for example, minutes of strategic planning meetings or of policy development sessions..... The second reason may be litigation or governmental investigations and enforcement actions... These latter circumstances will almost always out trump your retention and disposition schedule.

We can see that handwritten documents also feature in requests to the UK's own Information Comissioners Office. Two examples of this kind of request follow:

Case Ref: FS50113234: Date: 28/01/2008: Public Authority: Northern Ireland Court Service: Summary: On 29 November 2005 the complainant made a request to the Northern Ireland Court Service ("NICS"), for documentation, notes (handwritten, electronic or otherwise), telephone records received into and emanating fromNICS in relation to emails and letters sent by the complainant.

On 14 June 2006, the PA wrote to the complainant with the outcome of the internal review. It states that the reviewer was unable to find a request, prior to 27 May 2006, for the [handwritten] notes taken during the meeting between the inspector and the complainant but encloses them. It goes on to say that the single reference within the inspection evidence to the "difficulties" faced by the governing body does not provide an explanation of what those difficulties were.

Now I do note that it is common practice in offices for handwritten notes to be made and then destroyed after the minutes have been agreed; I also note that on occasions where I have been present, there may have been mistakes in the minutes that I've spotted (or others have noted), and these are corrected by feedback before the minutes are finalised. So - for a start - honest mistakes can be made. But these are meetings where all concerned are not engaged in any form of disputation, and it would seem - particularly in view of the audio transcripts instituted later (a new policy?) by Senator Ian Le Marquand - that such a practice was not appropriate for such an important meeting.

I would not say the minutes differed materially from the transcript although I would be interested in Mr Power's comments on how they differed from what had taken place. But without harking to any great conspiracy here, there may have been different emphases, or items of significance left out. One has only to look at the Minutes of States Meetings (still produced) and compare them with Hansard, or Hansard and JEP reports, or to try and produce a summation of the meetings with Dr Brain, Graham Power and Ian le Marquand to see that some selection and reduction must have taken place, even for a short meeting of 30 minutes.

And this begs the question, which Napier does not ask: why was previous practice deemed sufficient in view of the seriousness of the meeting? Shouldn't a Chief Advisor be aware that more stringent practice was needed, as indeed Senator Le Marquand obviously did later - after, of course, Mr Power had decided to contest his suspension?

Mr Power had part of the letter headed "Disciplinary Code" read to him and was shown the letter. He was then offered, but declined, an opportunity of one hour to"consider his position".

Trying to make sense of this historically, one obvious surmise, given the question about Graham Power "considering his position", was that the expected outcome of the meeting was resignation, rather than suspension, in which case the recording of the meeting would not have been as important as it subsequently became. It is not beyond the bounds of possibility that suspension, which clearly had been prepared for, was not the only option, but was a fall back position in readiness in case Mr Power declined to resign.

In this hypothesis - and I am only putting it as an historical hypothesis, but one which would make sense of the facts, and the brevity of the meeting - that would be probably the real significance of the handwritten notes, rather than an audio transcription being made - normal practice of handwritten notes, put into minutes, was in place because it was not expected that there would be any subsequent meetings after Mr Power's resignation. There the matter would have ended.

Links
(1) http://www.nationalarchives.gov.uk/news/qanda195-19-may.htm
(2)
http://www.legalserviceindia.com/article/l428-Data-Retention-Policies.html
(3)
http://www.ico.gov.uk/tools_and_resources/decision_notices/2008_01.aspx
(4)
http://www.ico.gov.uk/upload/documents/decisionnotices/2008/fs_50124420.pdf
(5)
http://www.ico.gov.uk/global/search.aspx?keywords=handwritten%20minute&collection=ico&start=0
(6)
http://www.ico.gov.uk/upload/documents/decisionnotices/2009/fs_50088735.pdf