Tuesday, 31 May 2011

The Use and Abuse of Vegetational Concepts and Terms: A Review

Observe that noses were made to wear spectacles; and so we have spectacles. Legs were visibly instituted to be breeched, and we have breeches. Stones were formed to be quarried and to build castles; and My Lord has a very noble castle; the greatest Baron in the province should have the best house; and as pigs were made to be eaten, we eat pork all year round; consequently, those who have asserted all is well talk nonsense; they ought to have said that all is for the best."
- Voltaire, Candide, Chapter 1

Adam Curtis latest film dealt with ecology, and how a scientific hypothesis about nature came to be understood as a description of how nature behaved - so completely that it formed an unquestioned part of our culture, and then was taken over to produce ideas about how human systems should also

This is the story of how our modern scientific idea of nature, the self-regulating ecosystem, is actually a machine fantasy. It has little to do with the real complexity of nature. It is based on cybernetic ideas that were projected on to nature in the 1950s by ambitious scientists. A static machine theory of order that sees humans, and everything else on the planet, as components - cogs - in a system. But in an age disillusioned with politics, the self-regulating ecosystem has become the model for utopian ideas of human 'self-organizing networks' - dreams of new ways of organising societies without leaders, as in the Facebook and Twitter revolutions, and in global visions of connectivity like the Gaia theory. This powerful idea emerged out of the hippie communes in America in the 1960s, and from counterculture computer scientists who believed that global webs of computers could liberate the world. But, at the very moment this was happening, the science of ecology discovered that the theory of the self-regulating ecosystem wasn't true. Instead they found that nature was really dynamic and constantly changing in unpredictable ways. But the dream of the self-organizing network had by now captured our imaginations - because it offered an alternative to the dangerous and discredited ideas of politics. (Curtis)

Curtis goes back to A.G. Tansley, an ecologist, who proposed looking at nature as a complete "ecosystem". This was modeled on very early computer systems, and the data was simplified to fit the model. This was a model of nature as a self-balancing ecosystem, where "feedback loops" maintained the stability of the system. The models, as Curtis pointed out, took the raw data and had to ruthlessly oversimplify it in order to construct feedback models. Bizarrely, some of the early models were also presented diagrammatically as a kind of electrical circuit, because the other idea seeping into the overall model was that of nature as a self-regulating machine.

Tansley said that the world was composed at every level of systems, and what's more, all these systems had a natural desire to stabilise themselves. He grandly called it "the great universal law of equilibrium". Everything, he wrote, from the human mind to nature to even human societies - all are tending towards a natural state of equilibrium. Tansley admitted he had no real evidence for this. And what he was really doing was taking an engineering concept of systems and networks and projecting it on to the natural world, turning nature into a machine. But the idea, and the term "ecosystem", stuck. (Curtis)

The basic idea was that the earth, as a whole, was a self-organising, self-correcting, vastly interconnected system.

This ecological model then mutated into a model for how human societies should be run. There was a massive exodus from the cities in America, as hippy communes were set up as self-regulating societies. In these societies, there would be no political control, but one individual would seek to resolve conflicts with another between themselves, with the rest of community deliberately (and by agreement) not taking sides but standing off while the conflict was resolved.

all the individuals in the self-organising network can do whatever they want as creative, autonomous, self-expressive entities, yet somehow, through feedback between all the individuals in the system, a kind of order emerges. At its heart it says that you can organise human beings without the exercise of power by leaders.

It also fed into the "Club of Rome", with their "Limits to Growth", which was based on Jay Forrester's work on dynamical systems. Now it was obvious that the natural world had limits, and this book considered the effects of industrial production, food production and pollution, and consumption of natural resources,

A population growing in a limited environment can approach the ultimate carrying capacity of that environment in several possible ways. It can adjust smoothly to an equilibrium below the environmental limit by means of a gradual decrease in growth rate. It can overshoot the limit and then die back again in either a smooth or an oscillatory way.

But the way the models were constructed were themselves flawed. As Professor Vaclav Smil observed:

Those of us who knew the DYNAMO language in which the simulation was written and those who took the model apart line-by-line quickly realized that we had to deal with an exercise in misinformation and obfuscation rather than with a model delivering valuable insights.

The way in which "equilibrium" comes out - the ecological concept returning - is stated in the "Limits to Growth". After warning that left alone, there will be catastrophe, with a runaway population, and too little food and other resources, their solution is as follows:

It is possible to alter these growth trends and to establish a condition of ecological and economic stability that is sustainable far into the future. The state of global equilibrium could be designed so that the basic material needs of each person on earth are satisfied and each person has an equal opportunity to realize his individual human potential.

This sounds fine - but it is like the American Declaration of Independence, which stated that:

We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable Rights, that among these are Life, Liberty, and the Pursuit of Happiness. That to secure these rights, Governments are instituted among Men, deriving their just powers from the consent of the governed

But this was drawn up and signed by people like George Washington and Thomas Jefferson who were more than happy to have slavery still in existence; it shows how careful one must be in reading modern assumptions back into older texts. The Limits to Growth is an ideal if every person had their needs satisfied, but in fact, it rapidly becomes clear that what they mean by equilibrium is a condition of stasis, and moreover, one that is advantageous to Western civilisation, because of the way in which the system is to be frozen into position:

The result of stopping population growth in 1975 and industrial capital growth in 1985 with no other changes is that population and capital reach constant values at a relatively high level of food, industrial output and services per person. Eventually, however, resource shortages reduce industrial output and the temporally stable state degenerates. However, we can improve the model behavior greatly by combining technological changes with value changes that reduce the growth tendencies of the system.

Population and capital are the only quantities that need be constant in the equilibrium state. Any human activity that does not require a large flow of irreplaceable resources or produce severe environmental degradation might continue to grow indefinitely. In particular, those pursuits that many people would list as the most desirable and satisfying activities of man -education, art, music, religion, basic scientific research, athletics, and social interactions- could flourish.

Despite saying that this is "dynamic equilibrium", in 1975, this effectively meant stopping Third World countries from increasing their populations, or using any extra resources, unless those would be rescinded by the West - and there is no statement that would be the case. In fact, they look at Mexico's expanding population, and note that:

We have repeatedly emphasized the importance of the natural delays in the population-capital system of the world. These delays mean, for example, that if Mexico's birth rate gradually declined from its present value to an exact replacement value by the year 2000, the country's population would continue to grow until the year 2060. During that time the population would grow from 50 million to 130 million.

In fact, it is about the West controlling the situation to preserve the status quo:

Equilibrium would require trading certain human freedoms, such as producing unlimited numbers of children or consuming uncontrolled amounts of resources, for other freedoms, such as relief from pollution and crowding and the threat of collapse of the world system.

Curtis shows how Field Marshal Smuts (one of the most powerful men in the British empire) ruling in South Africa, presented something very similar for a model of an ideal society. Smuts introduced the idea of thinking about nature as "holistic" - every part meshes with every other parts, and human beings are part of this whole, and just as everything in nature has its place in the whole, so human society must also be a holistic one, which should aim to be part of the greater whole.

In 1926 Smuts created his own philosophy. He called it Holism. It said that the world was composed of lots of "wholes" - the small wholes all evolving and fitting together into larger wholes until they all came together into one big whole - a giant natural system that would find its own stability if all the wholes were in the right places. (Curtis)

This sounds very rosy, until - as Curtis illustrates - Smuts' vision of a holistic society of interlocking parts in natural equilibrium was the British Empire!

it was clear that the global self-regulating system that Smuts described looked exactly like the empire. And at the same time Smuts made a notorious speech saying that blacks should be segregated from whites in South Africa. The implication was clear: that blacks should stay in their natural "whole" and not disturb the system. It clearly prefigured the arguments for apartheid.(Curtis)

This in fact brought a riposte from A.G. Tansey who was not happy to see his ideas about ecology used in this way; he penned "The Use and Abuse of Vegetational Concepts and Terms" in which he criticised those bringing "holism" into models of human society. Here he critiqued the idea of holism, and suggested that the:

enthusiastic advocacy of holism is not wholly derived from an objective contemplation of the facts of nature, but is at least partly motivated by an imagined future "whole" to be realised in an ideal utopian society whose reflected glamour falls on less exalted wholes, illuminated with a false light the image of the" complex organism." (Tansey)

But the use of "natural" systems to justify human societies is, in fact, not new. Karl Popper showed how Plato wanted to created a static society which had its own kind of equilibrium:

Social life is determined by social and religious taboos; everybody has his assigned place within the whole of the social structure; everyone feels that his place is the proper, the 'natural' place, assigned to him by the forces which rule the world; everyone 'knows his place'.

The idealist formula is: Arrest all political change! Change is evil, rest divine. All change can be arrested if the state if made an exact copy of its original, i.e. of the Form and Idea of the city. Should it be asked how this is practical, we can reply with the naturalistic formula: Back to nature!

Back to the original state of our forefathers, the primitive state founded in accordance with human nature, and therefore stable; back to the tribal patriarchy of the time before the Fall, to the natural class rule of the wise few over the ignorant many.

In fact, ecology itself was changing, as detailed work showed that the early models had been made by oversimplifying complex systems, and the feedback loops and tendency to natural equilibrium was a chimera. Even Tansey had noted this:

It is now generally admitted by plant ecologists, not only that vegetation is constantly undergoing various kinds of change, but that the increasing habit of concentrating attention on these changes instead of studying plant communities as if they were static entities is leading to a far deeper insight into the nature of vegetation and the parts it plays in the world.

What was found was that where natural forces had destroyed or damaged complex ecosystems, such as flood, fire, hurricane etc, that far from "the balance of nature" reasserting itself, that a completely different ecosystem would come into being, with different outcomes from that observed before in terms of fauna and flora and their interactions.

It was in miniature what Stephen Jay Gould had mentioned in the context of evolutionary history, that change in evolution was subject to "contingency" in the way events took place, and if one "replayed the tape of life", the outcome might be very different in many ways:

I am not speaking of randomness, but of the central principle of all history-contingency. A historical explanation does not rest on direct deductions from laws of nature, but on an unpredictable sequence of antecedent states, where any major change in any step of the sequence would have altered the final result. This final result is therefore dependent, or contingent, upon everything that came before-the unerasable and determining signature of history

In fact, it was becoming apparent that nature had not provided a natural system of ecosystem classification or rigid guidelines for boundary demarcation, but those had been imposed on the data, and the data manipulated to fit the model; rather ecological systems vary continuously across the planet and were constantly changing through time.

And not only was the ecological basis for the "balance of nature" being replaced - with much better observation - by chaotic systems, but also the social experiments based on and underpinned by those concepts were also flawed.

The idealistic communes failed, most within around five years, because while the ideal of a self-regulating non-hierarchical system had been very attractive, there were no mechanisms in place to prevent bullying. In the absence of what they saw the official tyranny of appointed rulers, there was a vacuum which was filled by the unofficial tyranny of the bullies, the strong personalities who could ride roughshod over others; and the mechanisms for excluding political debate or having community leadership worked in favour of allowing those individuals to exercise unofficial but real control.

In many communes across America in the late 1960s house meetings became vicious bullying sessions where the strong preyed mercilessly on the weak, and nobody was allowed to voice any objections. The rules of the self-organising system said that no coalitions or alliances were allowed because that was politics - and politics was bad. If you talk today to ex-commune members they tell horrific stories of coercion, violent intimidation and sexual oppression within these utopian communities, while the other commune members stood mutely watching, unable under the rules of the system to do anything to stop it. (Curtis)

One of the significant failings was the lack of checks and balances. Both C.S. Lewis and Karl Popper advocated democratic systems because those powerful had to be held in check, and you had to assume that human beings could and would behave in very bad ways.

But the communes also fed off the prevalent philosophy of the time, as can be seen in the idea of psychologists such as Carl Rogers with human beings having a natural tendency to "self-actualisation" which is the psychological equivalent of a balanced system. This was based on the premise that human beings are naturally good, and led to a dispute between Carl Rogers and Rollo May. May's existentialism was more realistic about the capacity of human beings to innately possess both good and evil, but it drew criticism on this:

This conceptualization of the "daimonic" forces in man's interactions was a source of much criticism from theorists from both within and outside of the existentialist paradigm (May, 1969).

Carl Rogers took May to task for writing of inherent evil in man, a concept with which Rogers vociferously disagreed. Rogers held that man was essentially good and constructive, and the atrocities of which May wrote were a product of damaging relationships.

And even with the "Facebook" or "Twitter" revolutions in the former USSR states, and the Middle East, it is becoming apparent that while protest movements can used these to mobilise and drive tyrants from power, what they do after that is not coherently planned in political terms, so that invariably the same problems, and the same kind of tyrannical rule reasserts itself.

As Curtis mentioned, the first modern "internet revolution" in the Ukraine - the Orange Revolution of November 2004 to January 2005 succeeded in ousting Viktor Yanukovych. He is now back in power, re-elected in what was described as a "fair" election in 2010. Other revolutions such as those in Egypt may well face the same problems, of what to do when the protest succeeds, but no one has any idea of planning what to do next.

The idea that the societal systems will self-regulate themselves into a kind of balance is a myth.

"...and private misfortunes make the public good, so that the more private misfortunes there are, the more everything is well."
- Voltaire, Candide, Chapter 4

If there is to be successful change in society, and more justice, then it requires effort, and (as Popper noted) it requires institutions to effect that change and make it work. We cannot hope that market forces will lead to their own kind of equilibrium, and we cannot avert catastrophes by taking shelter in a bunker of equilibrium, which always only holds the chosen few.

Likewise with ecology, as Stephen Jay Gould noted on more than one occasion, there is no special balance in nature that is somehow beneficial; the history of life on the planet is one of extinctions, and if we do not make an effort where necessary to prevent it, there is no reason to suppose that we will be any more privileged than those lords of creation, who lived for millions of years - the dinosaurs.

"If this is the best of all possible worlds, what are the others?"
- Voltaire, Candide, Chapter 6

Energy at the crossroads: global perspectives and uncertainties (2003), Vaclav Smill
Being in the World: The Existentialist Psychology of Rollo May, B.L. Jones, 1999
The Open Society and Its Enemies, Karl Popper
Wonderful Life, Stephen Jay Gould

Sunday, 29 May 2011

The Challenge

He answered, "I was sent only to the lost sheep of the house of Israel." (Matthew 15:24)

I've just been listening to Dorothy Sayers brilliant dramatisation on Radio 4 More recently - "The Man Born to Be King", and it is fascinating to see how she weaves together the stories. The story of the woman who is first turned down, then asks for the "crumbs from the table" always strikes me as taking what appear to be some very strong words of Jesus - his mission is purely to the Jews, and presenting a story in which that mission can be expanded; in other words, a story told later in the Christian community to counter sayings that suggested a narrow mission.

That doesn't mean the story is made up, but it could suggest that there were some problems over sayings of Jesus that seemed to suggest a purely Jewish and less universal mission, which must have been circulating at the time. Sayers, on the other hand, suggests an alternative viewpoint - she sees Jesus as not simply handing out cures, but engaging with people so that they have to respond to him first.

In Sayer's dramatisation, she makes the narrative a recounting of the original incident, rather than dramatising it directly, which allows her to get inside the feelings and thoughts of the Syro-Phoenician Woman, and thus get her reaction. This is very clever, and it enables her to present it Jesus words not as deliberately stating an exclusive mission so much as issuing a challenge to her - "His voice wasn't cruel. He looked at me with a sort of challenge." which changes the understanding of the narrative and Jesus motivations very cleverly. He knows she can respond to him, and he wants her to do this before he heals her child. I'd never seen the narrative that way; but I certainly like that presentation, which gives an extra dimension to the story, and to the characterisation of Jesus.


THE EVANGELIST: Now at this time, Pontius Pilate was Governor of Judaea...

ATTENDANT: Was the bath to your ladyship's liking?
CLAUDIA : Yes, thank you.
ATTENDANT: You are not too hot?
CLAUDIA : Not at all.
ATTENDANT: Will you have your massage now?
CLAUDIA : Yes, please.
ATTENDANT: Your ladyship's usual attendant is ill, I am sorry to say. But we have a new woman-a Syro-Phoenician-who is very good. All the ladies like her.
CLAUDIA: That will do quite well. As long as she has good hands.
ATTENDANT : I am sure you will be pleased with her, madam... Eunice ! ... Come here, girl, and do your very best. It is the Governor's wife, the Lady Claudia Procula.
EUNICE : I will try to satisfy your ladyship.
CLAUDIA : I'm not hard to please. You have a nice cheerful face; I like. that. There's a little pain here in my shoulder. See if your fingers can charm it away.
EUNICE : Yes, madam.
CLAUDIA : Where do you come from?
EUNICE: I live near Sidon, madam. My husband was a bath-attendant there. But he died a year ago. So I came to Jerusalem, thinking to get a little more money, as I have a small daughter to keep.
CLAUDIA: You are young to have lost your husband. Your little girl must be a great comfort to you.
EUNICE : She is now, madam. But she used to be my greatest grief. She never was quite normal, and had fits, poor little soul. People said she was possessed. But last spring she was healed by a most wonderful miracle.
CLAUDIA : Indeed ! To what god or goddess did you pray?-
EUNICE : To all of them, madam. I had prayed many years in vain.
CLAUDIA : Who wrought the miracle, then?
EUNICE: Madam, a Jewish prophet.
CLAUDIA : A Jewish prophet ! And you a Greek ! I thought the Jews would have nothing to do with the Greeks.
EUNICE : I thought so too. But this man had a great reputation, and I was determined to try, if ever I got the chance. So one day - but I am wearying your ladyship.
CLAUDIA : No, no-go on.
EUNICE: One day he passed through our town, and I ran after him, calling for help. His disciples tried to drive me away. But I was desperate, and pushed my way through to him, crying "Sir, sir, have pity on me !" They said, "Send her away, Master - she keeps on pestering us". And he looked at me and never said a word. So I fell at his feet and implored him to heal my child. Then he spoke, rather sternly : "I am not sent to you, but only to the sons of Israel". "Oh, sir," I said, "do please help me". But he answered, "It is not right to take the children's bread and throw it to the dogs".
CLAUDIA : Oh, cruel !
EUNICE: That's what the Jews call us-heathen dogs. But his voice wasn't cruel. He looked at me with a sort of challenge. I thought "I must say the right thing quick !" So I said, "That's true, sir. But the dogs eat the crumbs that fall from the children's table." Oh, madam ! You should have seen now his face lit up! "Well done !" he said, "your faith and your wit have saved your daughter. Go home now-she is healed." So I ran to the house, and there she was-as fit and bonny as a child could be.
CLAUDIA : How wonderful !-I should like to see this prophet.
EUNICE: Madam, the Jews' Feast of Tabernacles begins tomorrow. They say he's expected. It lasts eight days, and on one of them he's pretty sure to be preaching in the Temple.
CLAUDIA : I will make enquiries. What is the prophet's name?
EUNICE: They call him Jesus of Nazareth.

Saturday, 28 May 2011

Casualties of War

Two Royal Marines from 42 Commando Royal Marines were killed in Afghanistan on Friday 27 May 2011. (Ministry of Defense release)

Over three hundred and fifty UK soldiers have died in Afghanistan since 2002, and this latest report from the Ministry of Defense is just two more. A war in a remote arena of the world, where figures come and go. Even in the First World War, there was a detachment from those at home from those serving on the front line, and even today, with the immediacy of communication, there is still a detachment. Afghanistan seems more and more like Vietnam, a war zone which persists, with no end in sight. But I know the grandfather of one of the young men (who was only about 28 years old, and had a wife and young child), so I cannot be so detached as that. I think it is about time we re-thought precisely why and if we should be there.

Casualties of War

A medal for bravery, under fire
Rescuing others while still in pain
Bullet in the head, courage inspire
Healed, returned, to fight again

Armchair strategists decide to fight
In comfort, not knowing the fear
Of the combat zone, and blight
When young men lost so dear

Ambush again, and luck ran out
A casualty of war, numbers mount
Armchair strategists sit firm: no doubt
They will not face death's account

Time to weep, and time to pray
And another remembrance day

Thursday, 26 May 2011

Family Nursing and Home Care Cutbacks: A Comment

PATIENTS using Family Nursing and Home Care may soon have to buy their own medical products after the charity announced cuts to its service. In a letter sent to FNHC patients on Monday, the charity's finance director, Andy Cook, said that there were plans to get patients to purchase their own dressings from their local pharmacy. In the letter Mr Cook said that the range of dressings and other medical items distributed by FNHC district nurses would be reduced to 'conform to an agreed list of products between us and Health'. The move has been heavily criticised by Unite union official Nick Corbel, who has warned that patients will be put at risk.

What will happen in the future if you are one of those who require medical products that are currently supplied by Family Nursing & Home Care (FNHC) who have recently announced the closure of their outlet?

Currently you have to join FNHC and pay a membership fee of £50 upwards to be able to access this service, and the scheme includes the provisions of feeding tubes, dressings and incontinence pads for children three years and above. Dietary drinks are also medically required by the person/patient for their well-being (to keep them alive).. The change in policy means that members will no longer be receiving the service they have paid a membership fee for.

Financial assistance is currently provided to FNHC by Health & Social Services and Social Security Department fund, and there are free medical supplies to under five year olds. Families with children over five years pay 15% of FNHC retail price for the products.

According to the staff of FNHC stores, who received their redundancy notices on Easter Saturday, the outlet closes on the 1st July 2011. One of my correspondents commented that "The staff runs efficient and personal services which believe no private company would, or could provide."

The alternative will be purchasing items required from chemists or other outlets at full cost.

This reminded me very of the true story told by theologian Frances Young, in her book, "Face to Face", and this was about the NHS in England. Cuts there came in earlier than in Jersey, under the regime of Margaret Thatcher and the so-called policy "care in the community", which actually often simply meant State care on the cheap:

Arthur's incontinence has always been with us, and the way we have handled it has really been an extension of the babyhood practice of using nappies. We are geared up to it with suitable washing machines and drying arrangements. But plastic pants became a problem: he got too big for the typical baby-pairs you can get in chemists' shops. We heard from other parents about the supply of disposable rolls and plastic pants. I asked our social worker. She said I could call in at the Community Health centre and pick up what we needed. I could and did. There was a funny old man who would just take your word for it, fill a plastic sack with rolls, produce a couple of pairs of plastic holders and all was fine. We went about every three months. We only needed rolls for school.

Then came the cuts. So what did they do? They employed a secretary to check up on every issue from the Community Health stores. The secretary must have cost more than they saved. The informal arrangement no longer worked. A call from the social worker got us on the list, but then they would only give us a couple of rolls at a time, and we were lucky to get any plastic pants. There was no way we could call frequently enough to get enough rolls for school use. School kept pressing. Other parents were on the laundry service; they had a regular supply delivered every week. Why didn't we apply? Eventually I tracked down the District Nurse and a formal application was put in. We were put on a two year waiting list. Think of it - people coping with incontinent old people on a two year waiting list! They're likely to die before they get what they need

That is the trouble with removing a system that works. The alternatives usually require form filling, and bureaucrats checking, and replacing the front-line staff who know the people and their needs, decisions become bedded down with line managers checking decisions at a lower level; instead the whole enterprise, as I am sure will also happen in Jersey, becomes more formal, with forms to complete, assessments to check, before any alternative support is given to the needy.

They now will have to justify their need to clerical staff, rather than it being assessed on a common-sense basis by an organisation which can supply nurses to change dressings, for example, and who will know how people are coping. It is another burden, another hoop to jump through. As Frances Young says:

Professionals are always telling us to keep fighting for our rights, but we have got better uses of our time and energies. What concerns me is not our particular situation, but what it reveals about the stupidity of the whole set up, what it reveals about the hardships more vulnerable people must suffer. And this is supposed to be a caring society. Those who need the care are subject to suspicion and discouragement. They are exposed to unnecessary indignities - like the time my husband and I were sent separate bills to cover the parental contribution to Arthur's care. I hear people from disadvantaged backgrounds, immigrant groups, crying out at the way they are treated and saying this society is racist; I tell them it is not just those with the `wrong' colour skin who suffer in this way in our society. It should not simply be interpreted as racist. Granted that it is worse for them at times because of racist attitudes, it is still a fact that even people like us, white, Anglo-Saxon, Protestant, comfortable, middleclass and articulate, are subject to being treated as non-persons when we present our vulnerable face to officialdom.

There is something about the way state services are organized which creates an 'us' and `them' situation which is profoundly alienating. I am glad that I have experienced something of this, and can stand with at least a small measure of understanding alongside the real poor and inadequates in our society. It is time we realized just how uncaring and inhuman our institutions are. It is time Socialists realized that this is what their ideals have produced -- it has gone bad on them. It is time Conservatives realized that cuts have hurt the most vulnerable members of society whatever they say, and that stopping waste has created waste, and hardship .

And she notes what we will see in Jersey, that more expensive options will be available, and an extra financial burden placed on those who are struggling with enough burdens as it is:

It is since they came to power that supplies for incontinence have mushroomed in Boots and in chemists' shop windows. At last we can get what we need - by paying for it. Society may need handicap, but it will not bear the cost of handicap. The unfortunate are made to feel that they are to blame for their misfortune.

One of the comments on the JEP website is particularly pertinent in this respect:

Someone needs the Nurse opinion on this one as some patients, like my late father have leg ulcer problems and the amount and cost of dressings is extortionate to them. For the old its often a choice between food and electricity or changing dressings regularly. Looks like we'll be back to the old days when the patients had to rewash bandages.!!

"Face to Face", Frances Young, 1986

Wednesday, 25 May 2011

Superinjunctions, Libel Tourism and Justice

"If the law supposes that," said Mr. Bumble,. "the law is a ass-a idiot. If that's the eye of the law, the law is a bachelor; and the worst I wish the law is that his eye may be opened by experience-by experience." (Oliver Twist by Charles Dickens)

"Most of us do not make our living by holding ourselves up as paragons of virtue. However, politicians, CEOs, celebrities, and the rich and famous often do exactly that (the Charlie Sheens of the world excepted). Those public figures make their money based on their image; it's what they get paid for. So if that image isn't accurate, it's a deception on the public."
(Report on FoxNews, 7)

I don't keep up with football at all, and had not ever heard of the name of Ryan Giggs until recently. Now, of course, the whole outcry over his "superinjunction" being broken by Twitter has led to even a soccer ignoramus like myself knowing who he is, although I have to take the newspapers word for it that he is a top footballer! As the Guardian reported, this has led to the law becoming a laughing stock, because the judge is trying to act like King Canute, and stop an event occurring over which he has no power or jurisdiction; Twitter, after all, is based in America.

The athlete's lawyers argued, and the judge in the case agreed, that not only was posting the player's name on Twitter a violation, which had been done tens of thousands of times by then, but that also Twitter itself, despite being a US company, must follow UK law. (1)

The notion that the United States must follow UK law has of course already arising in the case of "libel tourism" whereby punitive and damaging libel actions are taken out to silence people and prevent, among other matters, criticism of pharmaceutical products in academic journals, and criticism of regimes such as Saudi Arabia in their ambivalent attitude to terrorism.

In the case of the latter, the Dr Rachel Ehrenfel's book "Funding Terrorism", which exposed the ways in which Arab nations funded terrorism and played a double game with the West, led to the author being sued in British courts by multi-millionaire Saudi Arabian businessman Sheikh Khalid bin Mahfouz on the basis of 23 copies being sold in the UK via the internet,
and because the first chapter was online:

Ehrenfeld refused to respond to the litigation, and the high court awarded summary judgment to Sheikh bin Mahfouz and his sons. The New York legislature acted - and made its legislation retrospective - after the state and federal courts held that the state's citizens could not be protected from the enforcement of judgments by foreign libel courts. (2)

This has now led to the following States passing legislation to stop their courts enforcing "libel tourism" judgments from other jurisdictions, which usually means England: New Jersey, Hawaii, California, Florida, New York, and Illinois. And the list is growing. The judges in British courts, meanwhile, seem oblivious to these developments, and the fracturing of International Law that their actions have caused.

In the case of Twitter, I suspect they will find it difficult. As California is one of the States which has acted aggressively to curb "libel tourism", I suspect any demands by British courts will fall on deaf ears. UK courts claim worldwide jurisdiction but this is based on mutual co-operation between different nation states. One country trying to lay down the law to another and being extremely unconciliatory in its demands, will not lead to improved relations, and for Americans will undoubtedly call to mind the days before Independence when the remote and out of touch British government tried to control matters overseas. It will be seen once more to be claiming an arrogant sovereignty which it does not deserve, and which will not be permitted.

The view from America on Cnet is as follows:

Here's the quick version of the story. British judges tend to favor those who have an awful lot of money. So they have begun to issue things that have been called super-injunctions. These basically state that a famous person who might have behaved badly outside of his marriage or merely outside of a pub, cannot be publicly outed. It's called a super-injunction because news organizations cannot even publish the fact that such a super-injunction exists. In this case, a seemingly very nice Welsh lady called Imogen Thomas wanted to reveal details of her affair with this married and very famous soccer player after he allegedly told her he loved her and then, well, allegedly didn't quite live up to those elevated feelings. The super-injunction prevented her from revealing the player's name, so she has been forced merely to reveal her distraught feelings on British television and in British newspapers.... How long, though, can the English legal system continue to protect those who have money from being accountable to those whom they might have disappointed? For Twitter is a stunningly immediate, sweetly contemporary and really rather effective way of transmitting information to a rather wide swathe of the human race.

The lawyers commenting on the breaking of the superinjunction cite the judges as having to follow the law, and balance the right to privacy against the right of freedom of speech, and I've heard quite a few cite the arguments that if the allegations have been made but not tested in court then the person has a right to privacy until they have been proven to be true.

But why is there so much of a furore about a football star's extra-marital affair? Or for that matter about BBC's Andrew Marr's affair, again protected by a superinjunction?

Part of it has to do with the dislike of the fact that money can buy the kind of privacy that ordinary people can't afford, and can be used to cover up blemishes in one's reputation. As the New York Times notes:

This is where the pursuit of Giggs fits in. He is accused of hypocrisy, of selling the dream of the sports icon, of drawing a salary of millions for playing a game and at the same time seeking to restrain the news media from prying into his apparently life.(4)

No one likes to be exposed as having committed adultery, and people like to keep their reputation unsullied and as perfect as possible, and keep the skeletons firmly in the cupboard. That kind of publicity can also be very painful, especially if the affair is over, but the wounds can be re-opened. So it is understandable that these people behave in this way. We all have behaved at times in ways in which we are not proud, so I have a degree of sympathy. I would not cast the first stone.

However, what is not the case is that they are denying the affairs or claiming the accusations are false. If that was the case, then that is a matter which could be tested in the courts against the individual or newspaper making the allegation; and they are certainly rich enough to sue if it is a wrongful accusation. In the case of Andrew Marr, he has come clean and admitted the affair. Mr Giggs seems annoyed because his private life has been exposed, but he has not denied the matters exposed.

And I think this is the reason why it rouses such passions in those exposing these affairs - these injunctions are designed not to cover up something which might be false - there would certainly be a case for Captain Alfred Dreyfus taking out a superinjunction to save his reputation because he had been falsely accused - but to cover up a misdemeanor. In some cases, and Mr Giggs appears to be one such case, it is to cover up someone behaving like a cad. That is surely not a good application of the law, and it suggests that the law is being used to hide moral shortcomings, and protect such people against those they have damaged emotionally though their behaviour.

More than 80 privacy injunctions have been granted by the courts in recent years, many of them to footballers, celebrities and businessmen who want to prevent reporting of extra-marital affairs.(5)

I suspect that had the lawyers thought of it at the time, it would have been used by Cecil Parkinson. He was Minister who had an affair with Sara Keays, and who promised her (according to her account, not disputed) that he would divorce his wife and marry her after the election, and then failed to do so, going back on his promises - perfect grounds for a superinjunction!

But there are more serious matters involved. The index on censorship notes of the Giggs affair that:

In this case, as in reportedly many others, injunctions have become a tool of powerful public figures to try to stop embarrassing facts from being discussed, and in this instance the injunction process is ironically being used to require Twitter to pierce the anonymity of its customers based on the content of their speech. Particularly in this situation - where very public figures who actively seek public attention much of the time are trying to ensure that the public only learns the heroic, and not the embarrassing, facts about them - these broad super injunctions raise deep concerns. (6)

The failure of the superinjunction calls the Courts into disrepute. The English courts themselves in the case of Max Mosley, noted that:

"The Court should guard against slipping into playing the role of King Canute. Even though an order may be desirable for the protection of privacy, and may be made in accordance with the principles currently being applied by the courts, there may come a point where it would simply serve no useful purpose and would merely be characterised, in the traditional terminology, as a brutum fulmen. It is inappropriate for the Court to make vain  gestures."

And as Index on Censorship suggests, there is a lack of balance at the heart of this in the judges assessment of the law:

The controversial super injunction and anonymised injunction privacy procedures are born of judge's interpretations of 1998 Human Rights Act which aimed, nobly, at protecting individuals' privacy, while also protecting their right to freedom of expression. However, the balance here is plainly off. Article 19 argues that super injunctions are a form of prior censorship that is not permitted under international human rights law - including permitted limits to Article 19 of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights and Article 10 of the European Convention on Human Rights.

It will be interesting to see what will happen now. I suspect that the day of the superinjunction is at an end, and the British courts, if they do not accept that, will find themselves increasingly in an international legal ghetto, as other legislatures take action to prevent their enforcement elsewhere.

As with libel tourism, the superinjunction seem a peculiarly British occurrence - I have not found them elsewhere - which suggests that they are vehicles especially designed by UK lawyers to sell to rich clients, and where the ultimate aim of the law - to provide justice within society - has been perverted by the desire to make money. As a consequence, the basic privacy of everyone has been eroded as a result of the greed of a few.

(2) http://www.pressgazette.co.uk/story.asp?storycode=43699
(3) http://news.cnet.com/8301-17852_3-20065144-71.html
(4) http://www.nytimes.com/2011/05/25/sports/soccer/25iht-SOCCER25.html?_r=1

Tuesday, 24 May 2011

All Watched Over by Machines of Loving Grace

"As much as government can become corrupt when invested with absolute power, markets can also become corrupt when equally absolutely powerful. We are seeing the effect of that absolute power today - the impoverishment and misery of millions of people and their eventual slavery." (Dr Mahathir Mohamad)

"Freedom (n.): To ask nothing. To expect nothing. To depend on nothing." Ayn Rand (The Fountainhead)

The latest Adam Curtis documentary "All Watched Over by Machines of Loving Grace" was as bursting with ideas as previous ones; it didn't fail to interest. He traced links between Ayn Rand's Objectivism, and the pernicious influence of that in Silicon Valley, and then in the financial markets, until it fell to pieces in the credit crunch. In fact, more than fifty years after it was published, Rand's novel "Atlas Shrugged" still maintains a devout following, especially among business leaders.

"My philosophy, in essence, is the concept of man as a heroic being, with his own happiness as the moral purpose of his life, with productive achievement as his noblest activity, and reason as his only absolute." -Ayn Rand, Atlas Shrugged

"Why do they always teach us that it's easy and evil to do what we want and that we need discipline to restrain ourselves? It's the hardest thing in the world--to do what we want. And it takes the greatest kind of courage. I mean, what we really want." Ayn Rand

Ayn Rand's Objectivism, as expressed in novels like "Atlas Shrugged", resonated very strongly with the idea of the heroic entrepreneur, who carves out their own destiny, and who uses rational technologies such as computer models to control the world.

It was fascinating to see how far her influence spread, especially with respect to her disciple Alan Greenspan, who became hugely influential in the Clinton administration, and who decided, when the evidence appeared to show that factories and business were not producing the vast profits that the market suggested they were, that the market was correct, and the evidence on the factory floor must be flawed.

It also fed into the money men, who fueled the Asian economic boom, and when it collapsed, got the IMF to bail it out. This appeared to be altruistic, but the countries in question - Indonesia, Thailand, South Korea - then all had a stable market for a short time, and then a much more complete and devastating economic collapse, with currencies in freefall. What the IMF loans had done, as Curtis explained, was to provide enough money for these countries for investors to withdraw, without getting themselves burnt.. After that, their economies sank.

Much the same situation was to repeat itself, but this time in the West, where the hubris of thinking as the Bush and Brown governments did, that the market had broken free of the cycle of boom and bust, came tumbling down into ruins. And once more, as in Asia, the money men called for the governments to bail them out, and proceeded with impunity to behave as if nothing had happened. And the taxpayer, as in Asia, has to suffer the consequences.

Power has not become more democratic in the computer age, argued Curtis, it has shifted to a new elite, who like the Randian hero, can behave without any thought for those who suffer from their actions. And as Rand preached, the philosophy of the free market, though fatally flawed, has infused our culture unchallenged and uncriticised; Rand said what the money men wanted to hear, and she gave them the justification that it was "rational" to do so, and government interference was most dangerous. As she said: "A government is the most dangerous threat to man's rights: it holds a legal monopoly on the use of physical force against legally disarmed victims.". Her philosophy is that of the bankers bonus:

"Let me give you a tip on a clue to men's characters: the man who damns money has obtained it dishonorably; the man who respects it has earned it."
(Ayn Rand)

"Run for your life from any man who tells you that money is evil. That sentence is the leper's bell of an approaching looter."
- Ayn Rand (Atlas Shrugged)

But what made Rand's thinking so compelling, and why it was not simply a charter for greed, was that she tied this in with the notion that this is how human beings should behave if they are to behave rationality. In fact, pretty much all of the claims of her philosophy for rationality are in fact rationalisms; she decides that a particular mode of living is good, and uses the term "rationality" to convey a spurious objectivity. The blindness in her view of the world can be seen in her claims that the United States was the epitome to freedom prior to the Sherman Anti-Trust Act, and governments and unions are the enemy of visionary entrepreneurs - but this is a purely economic perspective. For instance, it conveniently ignores the history of slavery in America; that is outside of Rand's blinkered view.

Her theme of "rationality" can be seen most clearly in her personal life; she decided to have an affair with one of her coterie of disciples, whom she called "The Collective", and argued with the man concerned that it was supremely rational decision to do so! Eventually he rejected her, realising the affair was a mistake, and she retreated to an almost recluse like existence.

Reading much of what she has to say, and how she glosses over everything that does not fit the Procrustean bed of what she considers to be "rational", I was much struck by what one blogger quoted on Chesterton about this kind of remorseless pseudo-logical approach to life:

Every one who has had the misfortune to talk with people in the heart or on the edge of mental disorder, knows that their most sinister quality is a horrible clarity of detail; a connecting of one thing with another in a map more elaborate than a maze. If you argue with a madman, it is extremely probable that you will get the worst of it; for in many ways his mind moves all the quicker for not being delayed by the things that go with good judgment. He is not hampered by a sense of humour or by charity, or by the dumb certainties of experience. He is the more logical for losing certain sane affections. Indeed, the common phrase for insanity is in this respect a misleading one. The madman is not the man who has lost his reason. The madman is the man who has lost everything except his reason. (G.K. Chesterton)

Monday, 23 May 2011

Arthur Balfour and the Rapture: A False History

The establishment of a strong, free Jewish state astride the bridge between Europe and Africa, flanking the land roads to the East, would not only be an immense advantage to the British Empire, but a notable step towards the harmonious disposition of the world among its peoples. (Winston Churchill)

My personal hope is that the Jews will make good in Palestine and eventually found a Jewish State (Sir Arthur Balfour)

Our wish is that the Arabian countries shall be for the Arabs, Armenia for the Armenians, and Judea for the Jews (Lord Robert Cecil)

The recent "Rapture" prediction, which has just failed, has thrown up a number of interesting comments which have been circulating from place to place on the internet, but without much in the way of critical checking of sources. This is, of course, par for the course, where the internet is concerned.

One of these involves the modern state of Israel, and the Balfour Declaration of 2 November 1917 which announced that "His Majesty's Government view with favour the establishment in Palestine of a national home for the Jewish people, and will use their best endeavours to facilitate the achievement of this object"

The way in which it ties up to the Rapture is as follows:

The modern state of Israel owes its existence at least in part to the decision of Lord Balfour to grant a homeland to the Jews from the British colonial holdings in that region. Balfour was among those who, like the Rapture-oriented Christians in the United States, believed that Israel would need to be restored in order for other end-times events to occur...The belief emerged that Israel has to become a nation again, the temple rebuilt, and the Roman Empire reconstituted, simply to have the references to those institutions in certain Biblical passages still be in the future - whereas it is much simpler, and more faithful to what these Biblical texts say, to take them as referring to the situation of Christians as it really existed in the first century. Be that as it may, Lord Balfour believed these things had to happen because the Bible supposedly said so, and he made them happen. (1)

But is this historically true? Was Lord Balfour a "believer in the end times"? On 11 August 1919, Balfour sent a memorandum to Lord Curzon, who opposed the Balfour Declaration, in which he stated that:

In Palestine we do not propose even to go through the form of consulting the wishes of the present inhabitants of the country, though the American Commission has been going through the form of asking what they are. The four Great Powers are committed to Zionism. And Zionism, be it right or wrong, good or bad, is rooted in age-long traditions, in present needs, in future hopes, of far profounder import than the desires and prejudices of the 700,000 Arabs who now inhabit that ancient land. (2)

Now it all to easy to read into the "far profounder import" the proof of some kind of belief that the foundation of Israel was tied up with some kind of belief in the end times. And the literature for that was certainly around at the time. Grattan Guinness' "The Approaching End of the Age Viewed in the Light of History, Prophecy, and Science" wrote that biblical prophecy "predicted that the Turkish empire would lose control of the land of Palestine, and that the Jewish Diaspora would begin to return there, followed by `the restoration of Israel to a national existence in Palestine', and the second coming of Christ."(3). And now the Ottoman Empire had collapsed in the wake of the Great War, after they had sided with the German forces.

But that is to completely ignore both the way in which Balfour reasoned about political matters, and his reflections on matters of belief. Neither showed any indication of a man driven by the desire to fulfil prophecy.

On political matters, Balfour argued that a governing elite was always inevitable, and the traditional structures of political authority would be needed for the smooth running of a state (4). He followed closely the ideas of Sir James Fitzjames Stephen who argued that if political power was in little bits that "the man who can sweep the greatest number of them into one heap will govern the rest'.

Towards the end of the Great War, the Ottoman Empire was collapsing, and would leave a power vacuum of "little bits", and Balfour wanted to pre-empt the reorganisation of the Middle East so as to ensure that Britain had the dominant role, before the other great powers, including France, managed to do so.

Why was Balfour so committed to Zionism? Part of this was a personal encounter. In her biography of Balfour, his niece remarks how:

Balfour's interest in the Jews and their history was lifelong. It originated in the Old Testament training of his mother, and in his Scottish upbringing. As he grew up, his intellectual admiration and sympathy for certain aspects of Jewish philosophy and culture grew also, and the problem of the Jews in the modern world seemed to him of immense importance. He always talked eagerly on this, and I remember in childhood imbibing from him the idea that Christian religion and civilisation owes to Judaism an immeasurable debt, shamefully ill repaid. His interest in the subject was whetted in the year 1902 by the refusal of the Zionist Jews to accept an offer of land for settlement in British East Africa, made to them by his own Government through Mr. Chamberlain, then Colonial Secretary. (5)

His Jewish friends, such as the Rothschilds, did not at that time belong to Zionist circles, and he was curious as to find out why they rejected the offer of land. He met with Dr. Weizmann, who was the leader of one of the Zionist circles, who tried to explain why their homeland in Palestine was so important:

"I began to sweat blood to make my meaning clear through my English. At the very end I made an effort, I had an idea. I said: 'Mr. Balfour, if you were offered Paris instead of London, would you take it? Would you take Paris instead of London?' He looked surprised. He: 'But London is our own!' I said: ' Jerusalem was our own when London was a marsh.' He said: 'That's true!' I did not see him again till 1916." Balfour for his part told me often about the impression the conversation made on him. "It was from that talk with Weizmann that I saw that the Jewish form of patriotism was unique. Their love for their country refused to be satisfied by the Uganda scheme. It was Weizmann's absolute refusal even to look at it which impressed me."(5)

So there was certainly a sympathy for the Zionist dream, but on rationalistic and compassionate grounds rather than connected to any idea of the fulfilment of prophecy - this was Balfour's "profounder import". But Balfour was also a hard-edged realist politician, who had rejected woman's suffrage on the grounds that while it was a just cause it was not the right time to succeed politically. Unlike that issue, in the 1917 situation, there was a good deal of self-interest for Britain in moving towards a Jewish settlement, if it meant they had political control in Palestine, as the Jewish settlers would be more amenable to British rule than Arabs. It satisfied both the personal sympathy and the political expediency, and as well, the final control of Jerusalem under British rule would show how the Empire had succeeded where the Crusaders had not; it was an act of Imperial triumphalism.

The British had become convinced of the desirability of a post-war British Palestine, but still needed to convince the French, since this contradicted the terms of the Sykes-Picot Agreement of 1916 which determined that Palestine was to be under international control. The best way for the British to gain French support was first to convince them to support a Jewish national home in Palestine, which was achieved in June 1917.3 As a result of this diplomacy, the Balfour Declaration was issued on November 2, 1917. French acquiescence to British rule in Palestine was a result of the realities brought about by British military successes in the Arab provinces of the Ottoman Empire and Palestine in particular - in which the French played practically no role at all. (6)

Much as American realpolitik later came to support a number of different regimes in order to keep them within the American sphere of influence, so the British Empire was also trying to work out the best situation to support its own advantage over that of the other great powers.

The British issued the declaration for a number of reasons: to preempt what was expected to be a similar announcement by Germany; to win the support of worldwide Jewry, especially in the United States and USSR, that would aid the war effort; and to have a group beholden to British interests in Palestine in order to protect the right flank of the Suez Canal, act as a buffer between the anticipated French position in Syria and the British position in Egypt, and provide a land bridge from the Mediterranean Sea to the Persian Gulf (from Palestine across Transjordan and Iraq to the Gulf. (7)

The conflict with Lord Curzon was not over some prophetic beliefs, but a difference of opinion over control. Balfour argued that the best form of control was Zionism as a regional proxy; Curzon argued that the Zionists would now seek a Jewish state and self-determination - "They not only claim the boundaries of the old Palestine, but they claim to spread across the Jordan into the rich countries lying to the east, and indeed, there seems to be very small limit to the aspirations which they now form"; these ambitions would run counter to British control.

Regarding Balfour's religious beliefs, his Christianity, as expounded in his Gifford Lectures, and the book "The Foundations of Belief", seem to have been a particularly rationalist kind of theism. He was well aware of Biblical criticism, and noted that the theologian of to-day must have "knowledge at first hand of the complex historical, antiquarian, and critical problems presented by the Old and New Testaments, and of the vast and daily increasing literature which has grown up around them. He must have a sufficient acquaintance with the comparative history of religions ; and in addition to all this, he must be competent to deal with those scientific and philosophical questions which have a more profound and permanent bearing on Theology even than the results of critical and historical scholarship." His own kind of belief might be considered a sort of ethical rational liberalism, arguing that science could only answer questions in its own domain, but also aware that it was absurd to pit religion against science in conflict. This passage is particularly interesting:

Poets and artists have been wont to consider themselves, and to be considered by others, as prophets and seers, the revealers under sensuous forms of hidden mysteries, the symbolic preachers of eternal truths. All this is, of course, on the naturalistic theory, very absurd. They minister, no doubt, with success to some phase, usually a very transitory phase, of public taste ; but they have no mysteries to reveal, and what they tell us, though it may be very agreeable, is seldom true, and never important.

Instead, he seems to have been of the conviction that there were "Christian verities which, once secured for the human race, cannot by any lapse of time be rendered obsolete" and noted that:

The feeling of trusting dependence which was easy for the primitive tribes, who regarded themselves as their God's peculiar charge, and supposed Him in some special sense to dwell among them, is not easy for us ; nor does it tend to become easier. We can no longer share their naive anthropomorphism. We search out God with eyes grown old in studying Nature, with minds fatigued by centuries of metaphysic, and imaginations glutted with material infinities.

And in Theism and Humanism, written in 1915, just two years before the Balfour Declaration, he notes that:

There have been mystics endowed with gifts of spiritual intuition which gave them, as they believed, immediate access to the loftiest realities. Of these seers, or of some of them, it may perhaps be said that, having found a better way, they rate discursive reason lower than it deserves. But I am not of their number. Though I do not undervalue their gifts, I have never pretended to share them. The humbler method, so well praised by Mr. Russell, which I endeavour to practice, is laboriously, even ostentatiously, different. It deals in argumentation almost to excess. It aspires to apply the test of rational examination to the most privileged assumptions. Neither the authority of science, nor the consentient belief of all mankind, nor the individual opinions of eminent philosophers, are permitted to confer immunity or paralyse criticism; and if criticism shows that the duty of rationalizing beliefs has so far been most imperfectly performed, remember that this conclusion is itself the work of reason (9)

An anecdote from the winter of 1909 also shows his rationalist mode of thought. He lectured in Edinburgh on "The Moral Values Which Unite the Nations."

Mr. Balfour was introduced in due time and went through with his lecture. It was just such a masterly presentation as anyone would have anticipated from that speaker of the different ties that bind together the peoples of the world, common knowledge, common commercial interests, the intercourse of diplomatic relationship, and the bonds of human friendship. The speaker sat down amid a great outburst of applause. After the applause had died down, in the moment of silence when, after the Scotch fashion, the presiding officer had arisen to make his own little address of appreciation, Professor Lang said he saw this Japanese student stand up and lean over the balcony. Before the chairman could open his lips, the Japanese student had spoken. But, Mr. Balfour, said he, "what about Jesus Christ?" Professor Lang said that one could have heard a pin drop in the hall. Everybody felt at once the justice of the rebuke. The leading statesman of the greatest Christian empire in the world had been dealing with the different ties that are to unite mankind and had omitted the one fundamental and essential bond. (10)

So we can see that between 1895 and 1915, there is a certain consistency in his beliefs, and there is not the slightest indication anywhere, either here or in his private papers that when he wanted the Zionists to settle in Palestine, it was because "he believed these things had to happen because the Bible supposedly said so", but rather because he saw the rationality of the Zionist cause, the argument presented to him by Weizmann, and this also coincided with what he saw as the best means of ensuring British interests in the area.

(1) http://www.patheos.com/community/exploringourmatrix/2011/05/22/cleaning-up-another-apocalyptic-mess-israel-and-the-palestinians/
(2) Document number 242 from: EL Woodward and Rohan Butler, Documents on British Foreign Policy, 1919-1939. (London: HM Stationery Office, 1952), 340-348.
(3) Christabel Pankhurst: Fundamentalism and Feminism in Coalition, T Larsen, 2002
(4) Deity and Domination: Images of God and the State in the Nineteenth and the Twentieth Centuries, D. Nicolls, 1994
(5) Arthur James Balfour, First Earl of Balfour K.G., O.M. F.R.S., Etc. Volume: 1. Blanche E. C. Dugdale, 1937
(6) Could and Should America Have Made an Ottoman Republic in 1919?. Paul D. Carrington, William and Mary Law Review. Vol 49. Issue: 4., 2008
(7) The Middle East and the United States: A Historical and Political Reassessment. David W. Lesch, 1999.
(8) The Foundations of Belief, A.J. Balfour, 1895
(9) Theism and Humanism, A.J. Balfour, 1915
(10) Christianity and Modern Thought. ,Charles R Brown, 1924

Sunday, 22 May 2011

Mary Magdalene: A Comment

A European theological scholar, Elisabeth Moltmann -Wendel, in differentiating between Mary Magdalene, and Mary of Bethany, and the unnamed woman who anointed Jesus, writes, "The early Christian Church fathers, e.g. Irenaeus, Origen, and Chrysostom, were still unfamiliar with the identification of the three women of the Bible."

The Greek Orthodox church celebrated three feast days in commemoration of Mary of Bethany, Lazarus' sister, the unnamed woman who was labeled a sinner, and for Mary Magdalene, the first witness to Christ's resurrection. The Western church followed the interpretation of Pope Gregory the Great and combined these three feast days under the name of Mary Magdalene and celebrated one feast day in honor of the "passionate penitent" on July twenty-second, and this is still held in the Catholic church to this day, but a number of Protestant scholars have criticised it..

The person of Mary Magdalene was conflated with those of Mary of Bethany and the anonymous sinner of Luke who anointed Jesus' feet. With that in mind, it
is often assumed that the "sinner" who anointed Jesus' feet was a prostitute, and the connection is made. This conflation also occurs in "The Woman with the Alabaster Jar" where there is the same mistaken assumption, for there is no evidence in the text for it.

As a result , as Moltmann-Wendel puts it, "the image of Mary Magdalene has been distorted by Western theologians who have "located sin one-sidedly and
clearly in human corporeality, and specifically in woman."

And of course, populist accounts, such as the pop-opera Jesus Christ Superstar, have fed into this picture.

While Biblical scholars have, for more than eighty years, agreed that Mary Magdalene's story is one which has been distorted, there is still little accuracy to be found in writings about her. The definitive exception to this can be found in the writings of Elisabeth Moltmann -Wendel.

What did this Mary, whose distorted story became one of aberrant sexuality, look like? There is no way of knowing from the references to her in the Bible. But the projections of the collective imagination are evident in the following: "We can be confident she was a woman who walked erectly, even to the tomb, one who was young and pretty, well-favored and warmhearted. The master painters depicted her with auburn hair, a woman beautiful of face and form." (Edith Deen, All the Women of the Bible).

The above description is typical in its presumptive notions regarding Mary Magdalene's youth and beauty. But Elisabeth Moltmann-Wendel disagrees with these assumptions, stating: "In male fantasies she usually seems to be unmarried, young and beautiful. But perhaps she was already aged, had a marriage behind her which provided the means with which she was able to help the Jesus movement, and showed traces of the illness which she had overcome. We do not know."

There is no sign of any marriage of Mary to Jesus, even in the Gnostic gospels; people often cite these as "proving" that Jesus was married, but it is notable that they never give any quotations, simply because there are none! That is to be expected, because the Gnostics had a violent antipathy to anything material, and any notions of sex would have been repellent to them. The idea that Jesus married and had children is a modern fantasy.

Whatever her appearance, Mary Magdalene is depicted as a woman who truly loved Jesus, who was present at the cross (when the other apostles had run
away), who came to anoint his body, and who was first to see the Risen Jesus - not something that would be made up - as women had no status as witnesses in Jewish law.

Saturday, 21 May 2011


A poem about not closing one's eyes to the suffering of others...


Inside the citadel, all is fine, all is well,
And no one hears the tolling of the bell;
Young people, struggling, no work at all,
Unseen, invisible, behind a towering wall,
Quite desperation, casual work, then none,
The cracks between, shadows in the sun;
They met together to share bread in dismay,
How many times to promise, then betray?
The wasteland of youth; a generation lost,
Because the rulers would not pay the cost;
Smug, satisfaction, doing the best they can,
A neatly ordered world; a fine financial plan;
But will there be justice, come one fine day?
Bankers bonuses, valued talent, so they say,
Neither sow, no reap, a different kind of toil;
Not hard work like those who plough the soil,
And sell for a pittance, when others set the rate,
At which good food ends up on rich man's plate;
Outside that all, the lost, handicapped, remain;
And they have no voice, and others cry in vain,
For inner blindness has come to blind the sight:
Men would sooner live in dark than see the light;
And here is desolation, hell built brick by brick,
Into luxurious apartments behind walls so thick,
They prevent the screams of those outside in pain;
Passing by on the other side, go by another lane,
So as not to see the victim, calling out to blame,
But consider reputation, and never feel shame
For everyone can be an island, cut off by a sea,
While others are means tested, charged a fee;
Mirror, mirror, on the wall, who is fairest of all:
Nemesis after hubris, pride before a fall.

Thursday, 19 May 2011

Pub Grub in 1986

In 1986 the BBC launched an ambitious project to record a snapshot of everyday life across the UK for future generations. A million volunteers took part. The BBC has launched the new Domesday Reloaded website which has lots of memories from 25 years ago.


To celebrate this, I will be posting occasional extracts from 1986 editions of "Thinks!", the Journal of Channel Islands Mensa, on which I worked as Assistant Editor in the 1980s; the Editor was Ken Webb.

In this piece from February 1986, the pseudonymous gastronaut, Yvonne Ronez, reports on the monthly dinner.

Henry Cooper, whom she mentions, was a well known boxer and personality of that time, who died very recently on 1 May 2011. He was a heavy-weight fighter, whose left hook was called "Enry's 'Ammer", and he is most famous for fighting world champion Muhammad Ali (then known as Cassius Clay). The fight nearly ended in Henry winning, had it not been for the chance coincidence of his punch and the bell:

Cooper finally connected and Clay went down. Hard. This was no flash knockdown. Clay was the recipient of a perfecty timed hook and sent reeling into the ropes, his body falling against the middle strand of the ropes on the way to the canvas. As everyone in Wembley jumped to their feet in unison, Clay lay on the canvas for a few brief seconds with a look akin to shock on his handsome face. Clay scrambled to his feet as the timekeeper tolled four. Fortunately for the American, the bell rang just as he got up. Clay had been fortunate in two ways: the punch that floored him came at the very end of the round; the punch that floored him came near the ropes and the ropes cushioned his fall. Under other circumstances, perhaps the outcome would have been different. There's no denying Clay's recuperative powers, but there's also no denying that Clay was more than just dazed. He was hurt. (1)

Clay went on to win, and it was Cooper who was defeated. He later retired from boxing and became almost as well known as a "character" in BBC quiz shows such as "A Question of Sport" and advertisements, notably for Brut aftershave.

The dinner mentioned by Yvonne Ronez took place at La Bourse Pub, which still exists at 8, Charing Cross, St.Helier. A guide notes that: "Located just off the main high street this small ale house has a friendly mix of local and visitors. The pub offers a great selection of beers and lagers along with a cosy atmosphere." The price of £6.95 for three courses plus coffee would probably be around £15.20 today, which would still be extremely good value for money. Unfortuunately I've not been able to find what a meal there would actually cost today, but I suspect it would be more!

Yvonne Ronez Returns!

Well, my little Jersey Wonders, guess who is back. And very glad too - as big, beautiful and bouncing as the US is, I got sick to the back teeth of burgers, brunch and bourbon. So I was rather pleased to be joining everyone on the 1st at La Bourse. Also, having read what that silly old fool, the Colonel, called a feature, I should think you are all pleased I am back too.

One should not be put off by La Bourse's grim green Victorian facade, I know it looks like a film set for Jack the Ripper, but the upstairs restaurant is extremely pleasant. The decor here is also turn of the century but without the clutter, Dark green swagged curtains, mushroom coloured walls and soft but good lighting give the room a pleasant restful atmosphere. Another bonus is that for once we did not have to compete with 40 watts of sound system going full blast. There were some pleasant prints, something Renoirish, a few framed Chinese Government Bonds, a couple of excitable looking ferns, a mother - in - law's tongue, and some other plants which I recognised but can
never remember the names of.

Like many Jersey eating houses, the bar is extremely small. It is also en route to the kitchen and a constant stream of staff bearing laden dishes had us all ducking and weaving like 'Enery Cooper.

We had opted for the table d'hote menu which was arranged not by fish or meat category, but by the length of wording so that It formed a pyramid display.

The starters included such delicacies as oysters, smoked salmon, clams, escargots, ripe melon, and avocado. Then came the soup - hot, thin and complete with croutons, but I was not really sure what the flavour was except it was tasty. This was followed by a warm prawn concoction in a sauce and served in scallop shells. The main course consisted of various types of good steak, veal, Jersey plaice, sole, chicken and trout. To round off, a selection of sweets, and for once I had no room left to try one. The coffee was Rambout, which is nice enough but means you only get one cup. Not that one could complain for the whole meal was only £6-95 and very good value, The house wine was also excellent and
not expensive. All in all a thoroughly good evening.

(1) http://www.eastsideboxing.com/news.php?p=1478&more=1
(2) http://www.measuringworth.com/ukcompare/result.php

Wednesday, 18 May 2011

Maintaining Madness

This is the question asked by Deputy Baudains of Deputy Guy de Faye back in July 2008:

Question: With regard to the proposed sunken road at the Esplanade Quarter, would the Minister advise whether the annual maintenance and running cost of the fume extraction equipment is budgeted for within the suggested £500,000 annual spend, and would he further advise whether the fumes will be filtered before release into the atmosphere and, if so, the annual cost of so doing? Would the Minister further advise precisely where, and what height, the fumes will be released?

Answer: The estimated energy and routine maintenance costs for the tunnel ventilation plant are included in the suggested figure of £500,000 per annum for the total operating costs for the tunnel. There are no plans to filter the air exhausted from the tunnel. The pollution extract system will move the air through the tunnel prior to it being discharged at the tunnel portals. The air will not be filtered prior to discharge.

The key fact here is the cost - in 2008 - of half a million pounds for maintenance of the tunnel, once it is complete. This will surely be considerably more now, and this is a cost in perpetuity - something for all future generations to pay. In this time of cutbacks, you would think that States Members might just pause before voting cheerfully for that kind of expense today, but that was not the case, when they rejected Deputy Rondel's proposition yesterday.

The whole development, including the sunken road, is the Waterfront Enterprise Board's project, but in the States sitting of 3 July 2008, the Attorney-General, William Bailhache, said that they didn't have to pick up the cost of this in their accounts, but "he obligation to carry out the maintenance is being placed with Transport and Technical Services".(2)

The second part of Philip Rondel's  proposition was:

(b) to agree that the underground road agreed as part of the Esplanade Quarter Masterplan should not be constructed in any early phase ofdevelopment and that any proposals for significant  modification to La Route de la Libération should be brought to the States for approval before the commencement of such works, and to request the Chief Minister, in accordance with Article 22a of the Articles of Association of the Waterfront Enterprise Board Ltd., to give directions to this effect to the company (or to its successor company).

This proposition was lost, so the tax payer again will be cheerfully paying for the States desire to burden future generations with the maintenance cost. Everywhere else, Philip Ozouf is calling for cuts, and consistent with this, he did vote for the proposition; he was not going to be caught out in an inconsistency. Mike Jackson, Minister for TTS, whose department has to find the funds for ongoing maintenance costs, and whose head might roll if the disruption angers the public, also voted for. Even Senator Le Sueur, the Chief Minister thought it was a good idea.

But a lot of others voted against this proposition, and perhaps anyone concerned should think twice about voting for them at the next elections. They obviously don't care about money and some are clearly are ideological fanatics where the Waterfront is concerned. Others seem to have wanted to vote against simply because the Council of Ministers (apart from Senator Cohen) were in favour.

Do you really want to vote for someone who is so obsessed by an idea or the desire to make a political point that they can't look at the economic picture too, and consider how that money might be better spent?

"It's a small price to pay" is the cheap excuse of those who don't have to pay the price; it's about time they realised we might not want to pay their salaries either! If we cut the States by 12 1/2 members, it would just about pay for the maintenance costs!

Half a million pounds - just one year's maintenance - saved can be see this way:

Steven Izzat, Managing Director of the Waterfront Enterprise board, is on £280000 a year. Half a million would pay his salary for a year and three-quarters.

The States voted against giving public money for school visits to the Durrell Wildlife Conservation Trust  as part of cuts. About £33,000 is paid to the trust annually to supplement free entry for school groups. Half a million would pay for this for 15 years!

Free school milk for children in Jersey has been scrapped. Three quarters of the House agreed to end the provision that cost £183,000 a year. Half a million would fund this for two and three quarter years.

And now the States members are committed to spending half a million (or more as prices rise) on maintenance for a sunken road that the public most certainly do not want, in perpetuity.

POUR: 20    CONTRE: 30    ILL: 1    NOT PRESENT: 2

These voted CONTRE - the rollcall of shame:

Senator Paul Francis Routier
Senator Terence John Le Main
Senator Frederick Ellyer Cohen
Senator James Leslie Perchard
Senator Sarah Craig Ferguson
Senator Alan John Henry Maclean
Connétable Kenneth Priaulx Vibert
Connétable Alan Simon Crowcroft
Connétable John Le Sueur Gallichan
Connétable Daniel Joseph Murphy
Connétable Silvanus Arthur Yates
Connétable Peter Frederick Maurice Hanning
Connétable Leonard Norman
Connétable John Martin Refault
Connétable Deidre Wendy Mezbourian
Connétable Juliette Gallichan
Deputy Robert Charles Duhamel
Deputy Roy George Le Hérissier
Deputy John Benjamin Fox
Deputy Carolyn Fiona Labey
Deputy Collin Hedley Egré
Deputy Jacqueline Ann Hilton
Deputy Paul Vincent Francis Le Claire
Deputy Sean Power
Deputy Kevin Charles Lewis
Deputy Ian Joseph Gorst
Deputy Montfort Tadier
Deputy Angela Elizabeth Jeune
Deputy Anne Teresa Dupre
Deputy Edward James Noel


Tuesday, 17 May 2011

The Good Old Days - from 1986

In 1986 the BBC launched an ambitious project to record a snapshot of everyday life across the UK for future generations. A million volunteers took part. The BBC has launched the new Domesday Reloaded website which has lots of memories from 25 years ago.


To celebrate this, I will be posting occasional extracts from 1986 editions of "Thinks!", the Journal of Channel Islands Mensa, on which I worked as Assistant Editor in the 1980s; the Editor was Ken Webb.

In this piece, Ken Webb looks at Woolworths, which was facing a financial crisis in 1986 which - that time around - it surmounted, largely by closing unprofitable stores. It seems that financial problems were recurring, coming back in cycles, until at last, of course, all the stores closed between 27 December 2008 and 6 January 2009, under the administration of Deloitte's.

I was personally of the opinion that they didn't really make enough of an effort to sell off profitable parts of the company as a going concern, and of course, whether they did so, or simply closed Woolworths down, they still took their administration fees, so there was no direct incentive to keep some stores going. In Jersey, the closure was badly handled due to the lack of any proper compensatory scheme for staff, and an absence of legal redress. A report on the legal hearing in 2 March 2009 noted that:

The Bailiff made clear his concern and displeasure that the joint administrators had been exercising their duties without authority of the Court. Deloitte lawyers argued that as a matter of law they acted as agents of the Company and did not need express sanction of the Court, albeit with a possible risk as to their personal liability more so than if they had been acting under such express authority. However, in order to undertaking conveyancing required registration and that is why their lawyers were in court. The hearing had been due to proceed last Monday and clearly had been delayed as the wrangling and haggling progressed. Deloitte lawyers were reluctant to mention details of what they alleged were commercially sensitive matters and reference to precise financial details was avoided in open court. They were also clearly embarrassed at not having registered sooner, and squirmed at having to be reminded by the Bailiff that the draft Order failed to recite the request for registration in the jurisdiction. The Bailiff granted the Order in the terms set out and had to be called back again to reconvene the Court because the lawyers were still unsure about the precise status of Deloitte and whether the Court had now officially appointed them. It was made clear to Deloitte that their appointment was a limited one to the terms agreed in the Order. Clearly Deloitte have been cavalier in their dealings with the liquidation of Woolworths. They abused the good will of staff who worked hard to sell off all stock in a grand sale, and in doing so raised millions, knowing all along they had no intention of paying redundancy or notice. (1)

Back in 1986, Woolworths was downsizing, but unlike the situation under Deloitte's administration, on this occasion it survived. Nevertheless, part of its problem may have been with the change in its original market position as a "bargain basement", and the shift upwards to more competitive markets. Here is Ken Webb reminiscing on the early days of Woolworths:

The Good Old Days! by Ken Webb

In order to fight a take-over bid and to expand their B & Q outlets, F.W.Woolworth are selling several of their major stores and closing down a further 22 which are unprofitable. I remember the good, old-fashioned Woolies of the old - the very old - days.

When I was a kid, Woolies boasted that nothing in their store sold over 6d, in fact they were known as the "3d and 6d store". Considering that the Woolworth family made millions one wanders how this could be so when the top price was - in modern parlance -- 2 new p. Doubtless something to do with the intricacies of turnover and profit margins.

I recollect as a lad, barely of school age, I had an intense desire for a gramophone but, our family being exceedingly poor, it was but a pipe dream.

Imagine my surprise and delight when, that Xmas, I was presented with my heart's desire. Woolies had done it again! A gramophone for 6d? Well, not quite. The case was 6d (Dad); the clockwork motor 6d (Mum); turntable 6d (Aunt & Uncle); Pick-up arm 3d (Uncle); sound head 4d(Aunt); box of needles 2d (two cousins) - two shillings and three pence all told (11 new p).

How about the records, you might say. Well, Woolies sold them for 3d and 6d each but, family finances being as they were, my source of supply was a second hand shop where you could pick them up for 1d each - scratches and all included!

My present system cost some hundreds of pounds but never gives me the happiness of my first ever -2 shillings and 3 pence at at Woolies.

Such is progress!

(1) http://www.isthisjersey.com/print.php?news.713

Monday, 16 May 2011

Modern Art: Another Opinion from 1986

In 1986 the BBC launched an ambitious project to record a snapshot of everyday life across the UK for future generations. A million volunteers took part. The BBC has launched the new Domesday Reloaded website which has lots of memories from 25 years ago.


To celebrate this on this blog, I will be posting extracts from 1986 editions of "Thinks!", the Journal of Channel Islands Mensa, on which I worked as Assistant Editor in the 1980s; the Editor was Ken Webb.

For background, I previously had posted a piece from "Thinks!" on Modern Art which I had written under the pseudonym of Dr Gideon Fell, which can be found at:


In the March 1986 edition, artist, art teacher (at Victoria College Prep), Derrick Rolls (father of famous local artist Ian Rolls) replied.

I agree with much of what Derrick says, and regarding more abstract art, I like the work of the late Robert Tilling, especially his seascapes. But I still think there is something amiss about how art is valued, not by the artist (as in the case cited of Whistler), but by critics who often are speaking absolute nonsense.

The best experimental verification of this was the "blind assessment" when an anthropologist put an "abstract" piece of art in a museum alongside other art - it looked liked colourful scrawls in paint - and gleaned all kinds of interesting comments about what the artist was intending, and what emotions he was trying to portray, also valuing it with a high price tag. It was, of course, painted by a chimpanzee!

Anyhow, here is Derrick on Modern Art:

Modern Art: Another Opinion
Contributed by Derrick Rolls.

In a recent edition of the Mensa magazine "Thinks", there was an article entitled "Modern Art". In some ways think the title is a misnomer. Perhaps it would have been more appropriate if he had called it "Art I Heartily Dislike", if you will forgive the pun!

Modern Art is a term frequently used today, but what on earth does it mean? Does it mean art that has been executed In the last twenty five years or so, or does it mean - as in the case of a modern history book which I have on my shelf entitled "Modern History from 1500 to the present day" - works of Art originating as far back as the sixteenth century? Therefore I suggest the term "Modern Art" is rather vague and valueless, far too general to describe exactly what one means.

The attractiveness of a picture, painting, a piece of sculpture, a watercolour, be it what it may, lies very much In the eye of the beholder. What one person can live with I'm quite sure another would detest. Therefore the true artist paints because he has to. He paints that which he likes; he does not paint, necessarily, for the general public. His art is a very personal thing.

Art has never been solely concerned with the true, the good, the beautiful. Artists throughout the history of Art have depicted the gruesome and the grotesque. One has only to look at the paintings of Bosch (people with weird monsters and torturing demons) or the wood cuts of Durer (depicting apocalyptic prophesies) to have proof of that.

Durer also, incidentally, produced many studies of nature which speak of nothing but beauty and innocence. When an artist exhibits his paintings he is presenting his work to the public, not necessarily for approval but for reaction and that public is no more compelled to like or live with any of the exhibited works than the television viewer is compelled to watch a programme he dislikes.

Since all artists, to some extent, are a reflection of what goes on around then, by necessity, the ugliness must be recorded alongside the beauty, for without the one we cannot know the other.

But to return to the opinion of Gideon Fell: it is not very clear to my mind what kind of "Modern Art" he is referring to because, on re-reading the article I find he does not mention the word "Abstract" at all, which rather surprises me. Most people think of "Modern Art" as the abstract art which one finds so frequently in galleries and exhibitions.

As far as abstract art is concerned, I personally like some abstract art but on the whole, I do not like much of what I see. In fact I think, especially when one hears a painting described or "explained" by an art "expert", much of what is said is the speaker's own opinion which is often very far from what the artist intended. I am quite sure there are the unscrupulous artists whose art is a "big con". They are almost poking fun at the general public and at the same time, I suggest, "laughing all the way to the bank".

It must also not be forgotten, for example, that in the days of the "Impressionists" their work was as evolutionary and detested just as much as some of the art referred to by Gideon Fell. Whistler is the classic case of an artist whose paintings today are considered to be sublime exercises in good taste but in whose day were thought to be extreme and outrageous and an attempt to "con" the public.

E.H.Gombrich in his book "The Story of Art", relates how in 1877 Whistler exhibited nine pieces in the Japanese manner which he called "Nocturnes", asking 200 guineas for each. A critic wrote:- "I have never expected to hear a cockscomb ask 200 guineas for flinging a pot of paint in the public's face." Whistler sued him for libel and the case once more brought out the deep cleavage that separated the public's paint of view from that of the artist. When cross examined as to whether he really asked that enormous sum for 'two days' work, Whistler replied - "I ask it for the knowledge of a lifetime".

Artists ( who are by nature observant and receptive) have always borrowed, and always will borrow, elements from many different sources. These may include tribal art but will almost certainly include art from different cultures which cross fertilise at regular intervals. So when an artist uses elements from the art of a different culture, perhaps even unknowingly, he is not consciously imitating but utilising qualities of colour, shape,
line etc. , which be admires for their own sake. Whistler in particular and the Impressionists in general were greatly influenced by the aesthetic simplicity of Japanese Art but in no way could be accused of imitating another culture's art.

However, on the whole, I cannot help agreeing with much of what Gideon Fell has written. There is a great deal in so called "Modern Art" which I dislike and could not live with. However, there is also much that I find beautiful, colourful and appealing and could live with, quite happily, in my own home.